Graphic novels for first-time readers? It was a banner year.

Younger readers, seeing older children reading “Dog Man” and Raina Telgemeier’s books, also want comics. Here’s a look at some new and upcoming graphic novels for early readers, ages four to eight.

The boom in mid-level graphic novels had two consequences that coincided perfectly: publishers were urged to expand the category to reach young readers, and those young readers, seeing siblings and friends reading “Dog Man” and Raina Telgemeier’s books, also wanted to read comics. The result has been an explosion in the past year of graphic novels for early readers, ages four to eight, most of the major book publishers have taken the plunge with their own titles.

The concept of graphic novels for early reading is not new; Françoise Mouly pioneered this with her Toon Books line, and school / library publishers Capstone and Lerner have been doing it for years as well. Last year, Capstone introduced Discover Graphics, which is a bit more sophisticated than its old My First Graphic Novel books.

The model for the most recent wave of graphic novels for early readers is that of Ben Clanton. Narwhal: Unicorn of the Sea (Tundra, 2016), a very silly and simply drawn story about an easy-going narwhal and a more conscientious jellyfish. The book won an Eisner Award and the first five volumes in the series have sold over a million copies. (The sixth volume, Narval School of Awesomeness, published in September). Most importantly, the kids loved them.

Clanton not only gave publishers a reason to create graphic novels for early readers, but he also provided a model: silly stories about animals or other non-humans that go by the name of food, told with simple shapes and easy to follow layouts. The lack of human characters, however, does not erase concerns about diversity. While animals, food, ghosts, or anthropomorphic shapes often make up a visually diverse group of characters, few stories allude to non-white culture, and most (though far from all) of the main characters are featured. like men, with names of boys and he / he pronouns.

Publishers and creators have adopted a wide variety of approaches to early-reading graphic novels, including stand-alone series and books, adaptations and original works, and level readers. The latter is an important category which includes I Can Read Comics by HarperCollins, Little Simon Graphics and Ready-to-Read Graphics by Simon & Schuster and I Like to Read Comics by Holiday House. Some are adaptations of existing books and characters for early readers, such as Scaredy Squirrel and Clark the Shark, while others are completely new.

This variety expands in format as well, with graphic novels that range from short and simple enough for the youngest reader to longer, more complex stories that approach the level of Dog Man books, including the age range of seven. at ten overlaps with the first drive. Category. Almost all of them are divided into short chapters, which makes the length of each less intimidating. For the most part, the text is straightforward and easily decoded, although the creators often add a new word or two to it, and books aimed at ages five and up (as opposed to age four and up) typically have a larger vocabulary.

As a nod to the novelty of the format, publishers typically open each book with a brief explanation of the basics of graphic novels – signs, word bubbles, and page flow. Some are aimed at the adult who is likely to read, and some are aimed directly at the child. The background often includes a support discussion.

Even though sales of mid-level graphic novels are starting to cool down a bit, the early readers category is heating up and the number of books is on the rise. Here’s a look at some new and upcoming titles.

A difficult thing by Silvia Vecchini. illus. by Sualzo. In fire. 2021.
A wheel rolls down a low grassy hill, and a dog runs after it. The return trip is much more difficult, however, as the dog climbs a hill that becomes increasingly steep and rocky. At the top of the hill is a chicken sadly staring at a broken cart. The dog puts the wheel back on and says, “Sorry,” and together they fix the cart and come back down a grassy slope that is again shallow. The point is simple and the story is almost silent, but the blue and white illustrations convey a lot of meaning. The book can be read on its own or with an older person, and the spine of the book includes both discussion questions and a template for making your own comic book. Vecchini wrote the medium level book The red zone: a story of an earthquake.

Apple of my pie by Mika Song. illus. by author. HR chart. 2021.
The squirrel quartet of Norma, Belly, Gramps and Little Bee, the stars of Donut Feed the squirrels, are back in a new adventure. As the squirrels enjoy a fall bounty, Gramps falls into a truckload of apples and is transported to a farm. The other three chase after him, only to find out that the farm is also an apple pie factory and now they’re filling! Song’s blend of watercolor and stroke is dynamic, delicate and expressive, and the story is full of surprises.

Clark the shark and the school sing by Bruce Hale. illus. by Guy François. HarperAlley (I can read comics, grade 1). 2021.
Hale and Francis take Clark the Shark from picture books to graphic novels with this light school drama. Clark and his classmates prepare for a musical program, but Clark has a dilemma: he can sing and he can dance, but he can’t do both at the same time. The solution unexpectedly comes on the night of the show, when everyone freezes and Clark saves the day, realizing all he has to do is relax and enjoy what he’s doing. Francis has a knack for drawing funny characters and he does a great job with Clark’s facial expressions.

Fish and sun by Sergio Ruzzier. illus. by author. HarperAlley (I can read comics, grade 1). 2021.
It’s a perfect first comic, with straightforward art, dialogue and storytelling, and a straightforward story. It’s cold, dark, and boring in the deep sea, so Fish rises to the surface and befriends Sun. They play hide and seek, but Sun turns red and disappears, only to reappear the next day, with the promise to show up every day thereafter. Ruzzier uses a line of ink to create easy-to-read characters and lush watercolor washes for the sea and sky. It’s a solid combination that works well with this story.

Johnny Boo and the stupid blizzard by James Kochalka. illus. by author. Top shelf. 2021.
Johnny Boo looks at a snowy landscape and thinks the world is covered with ice; stupid complications ensue. The layout and vocabulary of this book is simple enough for a child to follow, although Kochalka’s letters may be a little different from what they’re used to. Kochalka’s humor is as fresh as in the first volume of this series;The silly blizzard is the 12, and another book,Johnny Boo goes to school, will arrive in June 2022. Kochalka’s Glork Patrol on the wrong planet (Top Shelf, 2020) is a bit more difficult in terms of vocabulary and humor, but still a good choice for enthusiastic first readers. A second volume in this series, Glork Patrol is taking a bath !, will be released in February 2022.

Kraken Me Up by Jeffrey Ebbeler. illus. by author. Vacation home (I love to read comics). 2021.
When Izzie brings her pet Kraken to the County Fair’s pet show, the other kids are afraid of it. Izzie tries to explain, but the Kraken ultimately breaks the ice by squirting ink on everyone, drawing funny pictures on themselves, and spitting out a pirate ship. The art is expressive and exaggerated, and the colors help establish the different parameters of the story. The message, conveyed in both obvious and subtle ways, is that appearances can be deceptive and that we should not judge others on the basis of preconceptions. This is one of the few stories that features human characters; Izzie is a girl of color and the cast is visually diverse.

My pencil and me by Sara Varon. illus. by author. First second. 2020.
With its large format and full-page illustrations, this book looks like a picture book, but above all it is a comic book. Sara, a designer, doesn’t know what to draw, so her pencil helps her create characters and a story. Things take an unexpected turn when the pencil breaks and the characters take over from the storytelling. It’s a fun little story that encourages readers to think about books and creativity in a different way, and it ends with a photo of the designer in her studio, showing the original model for the characters and the book frame. .

Scary squirrel in brief by Mélanie Watt. illus. by author. HR chart. 2021.
Scaredy Squirrel, who had a long career in picture books before moving on to graphic novels, is afraid of a lot of things he thinks he can avoid by staying in his nut tree. When all the nuts fall, however, he is faced with a dilemma and he has to use his ingenuity, which leads to a number of very silly events. Everything ends well and he even makes a new friend. Although the book is aimed at readers aged four to eight, it includes a handful of tricky words such as mammoth, lumberjack, and tentacle. However, there are usually pictures with these words, which will help readers decode them. The book is also divided into small sections, with questions and quizzes, providing opportunities to give and take when read aloud.

Spring Cakes by Miranda Harmon. illus by the author. Vacation home (I love to read comics). 2021.
Harmon takes a classic genre of children’s story, gathering ingredients and baking something, and turns it into a charming graphic novel with super cute characters. Three kittens named Cinnamon, Nutmeg, and Ginger collect eggs, honey, and other ingredients from their neighbors (who are also all animals) and help their mother bake the spring cakes. The colorful panels are detailed, but the dialogue and facial expressions are very clear, which makes this story easy to read and fun to re-read.

Thunder and giggle: friends don’t eat friends by Jill Esbaum. illus. by Miles Thompson. Simon Spotlight (Ready to read graphics, level 1). 2021.
A T. Rex threatens a tiny flying dinosaur who refuses to be intimidated in this oddly philosophical, but nonetheless charming story. Little Cluck simply refuses to take the bait from Thunder, which swells more and more as he gets more and more angry, then relaxes again as the friendship grows. The characters have a Hanna Barbera feel to it, which gives this book a cartoonish vibe. The opening sequence, explaining how to read a comic, is addressed to the reader, a nice touch.

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