Graphic novels, not your average comic book (+Our 5 top picks for 2022)
Kids and adults alike have been reading comic books for many years, but a relatively more recent player on the scene, “graphic novels” was added to the book Industry’s categories of literary genres in 2001. Originally applied to anthologized works, it now encompasses both fiction and non-fiction works and has rapidly become an extremely popular category for bookstores across the globe, with the widely commercial successes of publications such as Art Spiegelman’s Maus in 1986 having paved the way for this immensely popular genre.
When I asked her about the appeal of comics and graphic novels for today’s youth, bookseller Chantal Houetteman says that “The appeal, apart from the obvious fun graphic illustrations, is the accomplishment children get when they finish it. They gain a sense of pride. This is especially true for kids who have trouble with reading, or who don’t have a long attention span. It’s a beautiful gateway to get non-readers or challenged readers interested and to continue with reading.” Due to their widely appealing nature, graphic novels have worked their way into many teacher’s course syllabuses.
Chantal is a bookseller in our absolute favourite children’s bookstore: La Petite Librairie Drawn and Quarterly. This admirable bookstore is stocked floor to ceiling with literary treasures for young people. If bookstores are your thing, you'll get sucked right into the virtual menagerie of colourful offerings from the moment you walk in. When I take my kids there, it’s a minimum 45 minute visit with a lot of ooh and aahs, and the begging of book purchases. Located in the Mile End of Montreal it is across the street from its parent-store, Canada’s most successful and prominent comics publisher Drawn & Quarterly headquarters.
Long champions of the graphic novel, Drawn & Quarterly (founded in 1989) was one of the first publishers who focussed on this format, when founder Chris Oliveros recognized the importance of the emerging long form comic book. Jumping into the market at a critical moment with a keen literary sense of what people wanted to read, Drawn & Quarterly quickly evolved into one of the most influential alternative comics publishers along with Fantagraphics Books of Seattle, Washington. Librairie Drawn & Quarterly opened in 2007 and quickly became a hub of activity for both the selling and promotion of graphic novels (as well as works of prose literature, non-fiction, poetry and fine art books). They also host events with their own cartoonists and authors such as Lynda Barry, Adrian Tomine, Chris Ware, Leanne Shapton, Seth, Chester Brown and many more.
Graphic novels have become an important part of the literary landscape, with virtually every bookstore and library (including my small town one) heralding a wonderful selection of books for anyone from the uninitiated to the aficionado to choose from. With that in mind I have compiled a selection of our family’s favourite graphic novels for children, and if you haven't already I hope it’ll inspire you to add some comic books to your home libraries.
You cannot be a parent in Montreal or perhaps even Canada without having fallen in love with the work of Elise Gravel. Hilarious books like I want a Monster and The Worst Book Ever have become favourites in our household, and any ones that we don’t currently own get checked out of the library often.
Gravel’s latest offering is a series of amusing ‘early graphic novels' called Arlo & Pips about the friendship between Arlo, a self important crow, and a sassy little bird named Pips. Full of witty banter between the two birds, this book also features many surprising facts about the life and intelligence of crows that many young readers will love. There are currently 3 volumes in this series.
My boys fell in love with Hilda when they discovered the Netflix series, and were subsequently quick to dive into the graphic novels when we discovered them at our local library!
Set in a sort of modern day magical world with a bit of a Scandinavian folklore bent, this series tells of a young girl who lives with her mother, but in a world that is inhabited by regular people as well as fantastical creatures like trolls, giants, elves and spirits. With her loyal “deer fox” Twig at her side, the fearless Hilda embarks on a series of wondrous adventures that see her facing challenges that teach her about the nature of the outer world and others, as well as about herself. With 9 books in the series, this title is quick to become a family favourite from children of all ages.
My 10 year old’s current obsession, Big Nate is a humorous comic collection that follows the adventures (and misadventures) of sixth grader Nate Wright. Although it was written in the 90’s, it still finds relevance with young readers due to its relatable tales of elementary school life and the hi-jinx within. This widely loved comic was recently turned into an animated series by Paramount Plus, and debuted this past spring.
Following the supernatural adventures of a group of girls at a scout summer camp, the Lumberjanes series boasts a whopping 75 issues thanks to its immensely popularity and critical acclaim. The books feature a strong, female-led cast as well as several LGBTQ characters. Accessible to many, the series takes readers on a fresh perspective on bullying through the lens of the characters' experiences and has been praised for its ability to weave entertaining stories with a feminist take that manages to avoid heteronormativity. The protagonists band together to solve puzzles, defeat mythical creatures, each character displaying a unique skill that helps them and their teammates rise to the challenge.
Still on our “to read” shelf, this set of novels has gained repeated praise and critical acclaim that have garnered it a label of “modern day classic” in the comic book realm. Another series set in a fantastical land, Bone combines elements of lighthearted humour and romance into mysterious adventures with the classic storyline trope of the “hero’s quest”. Following Fone Bone and his two cousins, Phoncible P. "Phoney" Bone and Smiley Bone as they get run out of their hometown of Boneville, they embark on a series of expeditions, tackling their adversaries with humour, a bit of sarcasm and slapstick. A reader favourite for all ages, this series encompasses some 55 volumes (compound into 9 anthologies) that were produced over a 20 year period with endearing characters who have found their way into the hearts of many.