Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

7 off-the-beaten-path graphic novels for your kids’ reading pleasure

Graphic: Rebecca Fassola
Field Guide To ParentingOur A.V. Club Field Guide To Parenting is designed to guide you toward the best kids’ books, shows, movies, and music, just like we do with The A.V. Club for adults. Every month or so, we will feature a new subject with a few essential pop culture takes.

Whether serving as a gateway to chapter books or an entry into comics in their own right, graphic novels can help parents transition from reading to their kids to having them curl up with a book by themselves. The kids get to feel more independent, and what could be better than some guilt-free downtime for parents?

In case you’re a little flummoxed by the ever-expanding kids’ section at your local comic book store, two A.V. Club parents are here to help you pick out some graphic novels off the beaten path, from engaging one-offs to addictive series. (A reminder: As your kids get older and wander through the comic book store, stick to titles with a big “T” on the front, which means it’s appropriate for most readers. “T+” is for teenagers. Some titles for adults can get pretty graphic, so keep an eye on what they’re flipping through.)

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Dear Justice League by Michael Northrop and Gustavo Duarte

Is there anything more heartening for a kid to discover that even superheroes aren’t perfect? That’s the not-so-subtle message of Dear Justice League, a delightful rendition of the famed superhero team, as they answer various letters from kids. The book starts out with someone asking Superman, “Have you ever messed up? I mean, big-time?” Refreshingly, Superman has, and as the chapters unfold, headed toward an alien bug invasion, we learn that Aquaman fears that he smells like fish, Wonder Woman once embarrassed herself at a birthday party, and Batman wants the crusts cut off his sandwiches. If your kids are getting into superheroes via the Wonder Woman or Aquaman movies, Dear Justice League offers a winning, non-traditional look at the heroes, along with a humbling message. [Gwen Ihnat]

Suggested grade: One through four


Making Friends: Back To The Drawing Board by Kristen Gudsnuk

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Any middle-schooler struggling to fit in with a new set of classrooms, cliques, or crushes will appreciate Kristen Gudsnuk’s two volumes on the subject: Making Friends and Making Friends: Back To The Drawing Board. In the first book, Dany receives a magic sketchbook, in which she creates Madison, the perfect best friend. In the sequel, Dany and Madison are still best friends, but now there are lunchroom squabbles, along with the basic insecurities that pop up in tweens. For example, Dany creates a clone for herself to help her with homework and her social standing, but when watching her clone shows Dany how awkward she is, it almost makes things worse. Eventually, though, Dany learns to embrace all parts of her personality, even the awkward parts—Making Friends takes clichéd “be yourself” credos to an entirely new level.  [Gwen Ihnat]

Suggested grade: Middle-schoolers


Space Dumplins by Craig Thompson

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While Craig Thompson has always been preoccupied with childhood and coming-of-age stories, Space Dumplins is his first graphic novel aimed at kids. The story takes place in a colonized outer space wracked by random attacks from mysterious space whales. Poor residents, like hero Violet, live in loose trailer park-like colonies where they’re vulnerable to whale rampages, while the wealthy dwell in great, armored space stations away from the danger. At first, Violet’s dream comes true when her school is eaten by a space whale, but her leisure is short-lived. Her father soon disappears from a questionable job he took in hopes of landing a financial windfall for his family, and Violet decides that she has to go rescue him. She brings along with her Zacchaeus, an aggressive little jellybean, and Elliot, a neurotic, tweed-wearing chicken afflicted with bizarre religious visions. It’s a fun, classic kid’s adventure story given some extra depth from Thompson’s signature philosophical and metatextual touches, but it’s also just wildly, unbelievably gorgeous. Every panel Thompson draws has the enthusiasm and attention to detail as if it were his first, and Dave Stewart’s colors make every well-rendered panel pop with energy. [Nick Wanserski]

Suggested grades: Three through six


Lunch Quest by Chris Kuzma

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Here’s an easy way to segue your kids into trippier fare like Adventure Time and Gumball. Chris Kuzma’s Lunch Quest saga starts out simply: A purple bunny searches for lettuce. But when he looks into the lettuce cubby, he finds two interplanetary skateboarders instead. Then he discovers an energetic party going on in his basement, with dancers that can morph into each other, Steven Universe-style. The brightly colored drawings will entertain even the youngest readers, while the simple vocabulary will engage kids ready to read Lunch Quest to themselves (plus they’ll probably find the mild gross-out humor like deer farts pretty funny). Even when the bunny finds the lettuce at the end, it’s still not what you’d expect—actually, the same goes for every single one of Lunch Quest’s busy, kaleidoscopic pages. [Gwen Ihnat]

Suggested ages: All ages


The Baby-Sitters Club Graphix Book Series by Ann M. Martin, Raina Telgemeier, and Gale Galligan

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I tried to get my daughter to tell me what she enjoyed so much about the graphic novel adaptations of Ann M. Martin’s seemingly infinite book series by Raina Telegemeier (volume one through three) and Gale Galligan (volumes four through seven so far). For how badly she wanted them, and as quickly as they were consumed, she had a difficult time expressing why she loved them so dearly. This is partly because 9-year-olds are almost universally uninterested in critical analysis, but also because to her the answer was self-evident. It’s a hilarious and touching exploration of four young women trying to figure out friendships, life, and business together. The stories are largely unchanged from the original books, but the artwork infuses them with a dynamic energy. These artists do not draw straight angles. Everything, from a character’s flailing limbs down to the box of snacks a character is munching on, is rendered in arcs and curves. That and the big facial expressions all the BSC characters are imbued with give these works an animated dynamism. Everything feels like it’s in perpetual motion. Like all good comic adaptions, the Baby-Sitters Club graphic novels take advantage of the medium by infusing the stories with a lot of visual humor that isn’t possible in the original series. More than once, while I’ve been cleaning the playroom, I’ll find I’ve been utterly sidelined by opening up one of these charming books. [Nick Wanserski]

Suggested grades: Three through six


Wings Of Fire by Tui T. Sutherland and Mike Holmes

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My son is a bit of a reluctant reader, but after a clerk at my favorite comic book store—AlleyCat in Chicago’s Andersonville neighborhood—suggested Wings Of Fire, I had a hard time wresting this volume away from him even to write this review. Based on a book series that’s been transformed into graphic novels, Wings Of Fire has a ton of elements that appeal to kids: dragons, treasure, adventure, and a pack of friends as tight and snarky as the Stranger Things kids or the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. This pack is made up of five expressive, elemental-themed dragonets who are on a quest to fulfill the prophecy of the Book One title and end a longtime war. Along the way they come across no shortage of obstacles, from complicated escape routes to a variety of villains trying to get in their way. It’s easy to get absorbed in the dragonets’ plight, as their often-funny ingenuity and genuine loyalty helps them succeed. Honestly, I couldn’t put it down either. [Gwen Ihnat]

Suggested grades: Four through eight


The Tea Dragon Society by Katie O’Neill

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My daughter loves tea—she even has a tea club with her friends at school. I think tea is so popular in her (middle) grade because it’s the kind of grown-up beverage that kids her age can take advantage of (the herbal, decaf kind). All of which made The Tea Dragon Society a quick read in our house. Tea and dragons? Sold. But Eisner Award winner Katie O’Neill offers so much more than that: The New Zealand artist uses a delicate floral palette to depict the world of Greta, a young aspiring blacksmith who gets drawn into the titular society where each adorable dragon possesses the ability to make their own kind of tea (they have names like Jasmine and Chamomile). Greta makes a new friend in Minette, a fellow dragon wrangler, and learns the surprising saga behind the society. This is a joy to read (and again, even kids who aren’t there yet will want to look at the pretty pictures, making this great to read aloud) and also contains valuable lessons about the importance of tradition, and the kind of magic that can exist in memories. O’Neill recently released the sequel, The Tea Dragon Festival, as well as a card game featuring her charmingly infectious characters. [Gwen Ihnat]

Suggested ages: All ages

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