What are Graphic Novels?
Graphic novels are increasingly popular for both adults and kids, and it isn't hard to understand why. A tremendous graphic novel has interesting images, plots and characters.
The graphic novel sector grew by 61% in Australia in 2020, according to Neilson Book Services. Australian Consumers purchased over 25k unique graphic novel titles, totalling one million copies in book sales (includes both Adult and Children's titles.) The same trend can be seen overseas. In the US and Canada, graphic novels are increasing in popularity year on year. In 2020 it accounted for approximately $1.28 billion in sales.
So what is a graphic novel? Quite simply, they are comics in a novel format, and people love them.
But that isn't an actual book, I hear you say...
Yes, they are in the fact that they encourage children to interact with the written word. They have lots of text, but this text is combined with incredible artwork. If a love of reading graphic novels encourages kids to sit and enjoy a book away from screens, they are just as good as a standard novel.
I find graphic novels are particularly useful for emerging readers and children transitioning to chapter books. They can be less confronting than a page of solid text. These books also encourage readers to practise important reading skills such as building a strong vocabulary, understanding a sequence of events, discerning the plot of a story and making inferences. On top of that, Graphic novels help with visual literacy and learning how to read and interpret images.
Graphic Novels and Navigating the Schoolyard
On top of this, graphic novels have had the added benefit of being able to communicate mental health and social issues in a gentle way to kids. It can be hard to approach some of these issues, but graphic novels have helped in encouraging young children (particularly young girls) to talk about them.
Raina Telgemeier books are brilliant at this. She has several graphic novels that deal with social issues for middle-grade readers. Her first book was Smile, followed by Sisters, Drama, Ghosts and Guts. Most of her books have featured on the New York Times Best Seller lists and won numerous awards. Her most recent book, Guts, won the Eisner Award for Best Publication For Kids and the Best Writer/Artist award.
Raina also created the Babysitters Club graphic novels encouraging many younger readers to grow a love for Dawn, Mary Anne, Claudia, Kristy and Stacey (did I forget one? I am going back a few years into the memory banks here).
Selection of Raina Telgemeier graphic novels
Her popularity has spurred on many other graphic novels that are in a similar style. There is Kayla Miller's Click, Camp, Act, Clash and her just released Besties: Work It Out ( you can find it here). This is a spin-off series to the Click books. Terri Libenson books Positively Izzy, Becoming Brianna, Invisible Emmie, Just Jamie, all dealing with social issues for kids aged 8 plus. Jennifer L. Holm's is another popular author in this space with the Sunny series of Graphic Novels.
Besties: Work It Out by Kayla Miller
Although American authors are dominant in this genre, there are some brilliant ones from around the world. Joris Chamblain and Aurélie Neyret's Cici's Journal and Cici's Journal: Lost & Found (can be found here and here) was originally published in French in 2014 and has been translated into English. Kirkus described Cici's Journal: Lost & Found as "movingly shows how human life contains more mysteries than any hidden room or secret code". Cici's Journal (Les Carnets de Cerise in French) won the Youth Prize at the Angoulême International Comics Festival in 2014 and more than twenty awards.
Excerpt from Cici's Journal by Joris Chamblain and Aurélie Neyret
The Cardboard Kingdom series is also worthy of a mention. This series organised and drawn by Chad Sell is a unisex offering tackling social issues. It is unusual in the fact that nine different authors contributed to the stories, each telling a tale from a different point of view. The Cardboard Kingdom was named one of the best books of the year by Kirkus Reviews, The New York Public Library and The School Library Journal. You can find a copy of The Cardboard Kingdom here and The Cardboard Kingdom #2 The Roar here
Graphic Novels and the Classics
Fancy reading Anne of Green Gables, The Secret Garden, Little Women, To Kill a Mockingbird or the Great Gatsby as a Graphic Novel? Well, you can. All of these classics have been rewritten for a younger audience in a more digestible format. Even more recent classics such as Roald Dahl's The Witches has been recreated in Graphic Novel format. As this genre continues to grow, I am sure there will be many, many more.
Roald Dahl's Witches getting the graphic novel treatment
Space Aliens, Witches, Fairies and Unicorns
Graphic novels are brilliant in taking you to another world. There are some excellent examples that dominate the fantasy genre.
Some popular graphic novels in this area are The Tea Dragon Society books by Kay O'Neil. The Tea Dragon Society is a two-time Eisner Award-winning gentle fantasy that follows the story of a blacksmith apprentice and the people she meets as she becomes entwined in the enchanting world of tea dragons. These Graphic Novels are beautifully drawn and showcase an incredibly diverse cast of characters.
Cover of the Tea Dragon Society by K. O'Neill
Studio Ghibli is also a strong player in the graphic novel space. Originating from Japan, they produce animations and graphic novels. A good example of this is Kiki's Delivery Service: Picture Book by Hayao Miyazaki, one of Japan's most beloved animators. Kiki is a young witch in training who has reached the age of 13. According to tradition, all witches of that age must leave home for one year so that they can learn how to live on their own. Kiki, along with her talking cat Jiji, flies away to live in the seaside town of Korico. After starting her own delivery service (using her broom as the delivery vehicle), Kiki must learn how to deal with her new life, especially after she loses the power to fly.
My personal favourite is the Okay Witch Series by Emma Steinkellner. These books are similar to Sabrina the Teenage Witch in topic and style. 13-year-old Moth Hush discovers she is actually a witch, and her new powers soon get out of hand. The story is packed with humour and heart. School Library Journal awarded Okay Witch best Graphic Novel for 2019, and it was a YALSA 2020 Quick Pick for Reluctant Young Adult Readers and a YALSA 2020 Great Graphic Novel for Teens. You Can find Okay Witch here, and Okay Witch and the Hungry Shadow # 2 can be found here
Cover of Okay Witch by Emma Steinkellner
Let's Not Forget the Younger Kids.
So far, I have concentrated on graphic novels for Middle-Grade readers, but there are increasingly more and more graphic novels available for kids aged 6-8 years old. One of my favourites is the Arlo and Pips series by Elise Gravel (of Olga fame). There are currently only two books in this series. The first Arlo and Pips: King of the Birds was listed in the Chicago Library Best of the Best list and New York Public Library's Best Books for Kids list.
Arlo and Pips tell the story of an arrogant crow and a sarcastic little bird named Pips. What is not to love? I will let you in on another little secret....because you have made it this far, and I think you deserve it.
The second book in the Arlo and Pips series. Arlo and Pips: Join the Crow Crowd will be our 'new release' pick for the Intrigue Club in November. I am very excited.
Cover of Arlo and Pips: Join the Crow Crowd by Elise Gravel
We have barely scratched the surface in the world of graphic novels, but I hope this has given you a taste of what is out there in this fabulous genre. If you would like to explore some of the graphic novels available at Be Curious Books, then you can follow the link here.
What are your thoughts on this genre?