Extremely Graphic Content

September 22nd, 2011 · 22 Comments · Children's Books, Gifts, Culture, Posts by Andy, Rituals, Uncategorized

It’s hard to know who was more excited when the Amazon box landed with a thunk on our doorstep last week, Phoebe or her parents. We knew from the heft what was inside: All 640 pages of Brian Selznick’s new book, Wonderstruck. We’ve spent many dinners and car rides and bedtimes discussing Brian Selznick. His last book, The Invention of Hugo Cabret, for me, was one of those books where you just think, Wow, that’s amazing. I guess I’ll never write a children’s book! I mean that in the nicest possible way: it’s hard to imagine even attempting to create something that transporting and beautiful, let alone succeeding at it. If you gave me a different brain and some artistic talent and a million peaceful years to make it happen, no. But that’s just me. For Phoebe, our resident dreamer and book critic, Brian Selznick is something different: he’s a writer who has taken her beloved graphic novel form and turned into something bigger and better. Phoebe just seems to love the added layer that imagery adds to a story, the way she can keep going back and getting more out of it. This is not to say that she doesn’t like chapter books, but if you asked Phoebe to pick her ten favorite books, a hundred bucks says all ten would be graphic novels. I kind of hope that never changes. Wonderstruck is not a graphic novel, just to be clear. I don’t know what to call it. It’s a chapter book with hundreds of luminous, moody, full-bleed illustrations, which unspool in these amazing ten, twenty, thirty page stretches, like the greatest flip book ever created. As Phoebe says, when asked why she loves it so: “He makes you feel it.”

We thought we’d use this book’s arrival as an excuse to round up our latest favorite graphic novels for 8- to 12-year-olds. And, like always, I’m going to turn the mic over to the reader herself. – Andy


Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick: “If you liked The Invention of Hugo Cabret, you’ll like this book. I can’t really explain it, because this author makes his books really complicated, but it’s about a deaf boy and a deaf girl. It makes you think about how hard it must be to be deaf. It’s half pictures and half words; the girl’s story is pictures and the boy’s story is words. He puts so much feeling into his stories. And there’s a surprise at the end, which is always good.”

Phoebe rating: 9*

Parent note: Why not a 10? Because Phoebe said it wasn’t quite as good as Hugo Cabret.

Astronaut Academy: Zero Gravity by Dave Roman: “This is one of my favorites. I read it like three times on vacation. It’s about a school in space and it’s cool: they have anti-gravity drills and time-bending watches and things like that. Everything that’s impossible on earth is possible there, pretty much. It’s funny and adventure-y. My favorite character is Miyumi San because she has a watch that lets her travel in time and because she acts tough. She’s like a tomboy.”

Phoebe rating: Half 9, half 10*

* Parent note: I assume this means 9.5.

Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword* by Barry Deutsch: “Okay, this is a tale of knitting and pig-chasing. Weird, right? It’s the story of an Orthodox Jewish girl named Mirka who has nine brothers and sisters and she’s always wanted to fight dragons and trolls. I know all this sounds really strange, but if you read it, it’ll make sense. This is a good book for people who like adventure. It makes you want to go grab your own sword and start fighting some trolls!”

Phoebe rating: 9

*Parent note: Gets our vote for best tagline on a cover ever: “Yet Another Troll-Fighting 11-Year Old Orthodox Jewish Girl”


The Unsinkable Walker Bean by Aaron Reiner: “This is a mysterious, strange, creepy book about a little boy named Walker Bean whose father is rich and whose grandfather is sick. His grandfather would tell him stories about being at sea, stories from when he was little, and stories about these sisters who look weird — like lobster crab-creatures, in my opinion. The reason his grandfather is sick is because he once looked at a stolen, enchanted skull — if you look at it, you get horribly sick and cursed. Walker’s grandfather tells him to go out to sea to return the skull to its owners, but another ship attacks them and… I’m not telling you what happens next. It’s exciting, and a little sad.”

Phoebe rating: 10

Hera by George O’Connor: “If you’ve seen my other posts about Zeus and Athena, you know about George O’Connor. I waited and waited for this book for about a year. It took forever. Anyway, Hera is one of Zeus’s wives and she has a temper, I’ll tell you that. Hera is a very jealous wife. She wanted Zeus to only have her as a wife, but Zeus would still try to marry mortal girls down on Earth. So one day, he married a lady named Alcmene. Together, they had a baby named Hercules. Do you like Hercules? Well, Hera has got a lot to do with him. Hercules’s cousin sends him on twelve labors and Hera tells his cousin what sort of labors she wants Hercules to do. She picks really hard, dangerous things. One is to defeat the hydra, a monster with a lot of heads. There are many others, and they’re all in this book. In the end, Hercules is lifted to Olympus and Hera grows to like him.”

Phoebe rating: 10

D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths by Ingri D’Aulaire: “As you probably noticed, I like Greek myths. This one has every single Greek myth tale in it (pretty much) and the illustrations are really cool, too. My favorite myths are Artemis and Apollo, because they’re twins and they have these cool arrows. Apollo’s arrows were made to cause painful death, like the rays of the sun. Artemis’s arrows were made to be as soft as moonbeams, and brought painless death. That’s how they write in the book. They make you think.”

Phoebe rating: 10

Rapunzel’s Revenge by Shannon, Dean, and Nathan Hale: “This one I like because it shows that girls can be tough, too. Rapunzel is like half-cowgirl, but she’s also got a little princess in her. She’s named after a vegetable: rapunzel, which is a kind of leaf. She meets an outlaw boy named Jack — who’s a bit like the guy from Jack and the Beanstalk — and they team up and do all sorts of crazy adventures. The kind of people who might like this book are the kind who like stories that show what girls are made of.”*

Phoebe rating: 10

*Parent note: There’s some projection going on here, for sure.


Calamity Jack by Shannon, Dean, and Nathan Hale: “This is the sequel to Rapunzel’s Revenge, except it’s mostly about Jack instead of Rapunzel. It’s about a boy who was born to scheme. He stole things, and thought of plans and did all kinds of stuff. Sometimes he would get a little out of hand. It’s also about giants who grind human bones to make flour for their bread. Jack and Rapunzel have to beat the giants and save the town. It’s definitely thrilling, I’ll say that. The end? Well…you have to read that for yourself.”

Phoebe rating: 9

The Yellow M: Blake and Mortimer by Edgar P. Jacobs: “This will definitely remind you of TinTin, except it’s a little bit more fantasy-ish. It’s a complicated story, and you may not get it the first few times you read it. I didn’t. But when you do get it, it’s a real interesting, cool story. Blake and Mortimer are detectives. There’s lots of other books in this series, too. It’s like TinTin because they solve mysteries and use guns and, well, if it was a movie, it’d probably be rated PG. The artwork is pretty good*.”

Phoebe rating: 8

*Parent note: Phoebe’s a tough critic! This art is beautiful, very retro-y and noir, and very — as Phoebe says — TinTin. If it was made into a movie, you’d expect to see a young Orson Welles starring in it.


Ozma of Oz by Erik Shanower and Skottie Young: “This is the third book in the series*. There’s a chicken who’s a girl and her name is Bill. Her name is Bill and she’s a girl! And there’s a robot named Tick Tock, and a little girl named…Dorothy! You know Dorothy. Remember, this is the third book in the Wizard of Oz series. What else? Well, look at that. That artwork is awesome. I’d say, if you like good comic books, you’ll love this. Yeah. The story continues in the next book, but it isn’t out yet!”

Phoebe rating: 10

*Parent note: Such a cool series, such weird, otherwordly artwork. I liked, but did not love the L. Frank Baum books. I love these.

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22 responses so far ↓

  • 1 abbyglassenberg // Sep 22, 2011 at 9:26 am

    I just wanted to let you know how much we appreciate these reviews. My daughter, Roxanne, is a year younger than Phoebe and loves to read. We have read every one of Phoebe’s suggested graphic novels and it has been wonderful! Bone is Roxanne’s favorite book. She’s read all nine books three times. Please let Phoebe know how great her reviews are! Thank you!

  • 2 Melissa@HomeBaked // Sep 22, 2011 at 9:49 am

    As always, thanks to Phoebe for her guidance. We refer to it regularly when looking for new material at the library. Funny–I just saw Hereville on the shelf yesterday, but wasn’t sure my son would like it. Next time I’ll pick it up! And we’ll check out Hugo Cabret as soon as we finish our current installment of The Great Brain series. Thanks!

  • 3 Mary // Sep 22, 2011 at 9:54 am

    D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths was my gateway ‘drug’ into a lifetime love of classics. I got it when I was 8. 20 years later I still pick it up from time to time. I hope your girls enjoy it as much as i do.

  • 4 Melissa@Julia's Bookbag // Sep 22, 2011 at 10:46 am

    YAY! I love it when you talk books. I’m pinning everything on this list for when Julia is old enough for these!

    Where to start?? The D’Aulaires Greek Myths was my FAVORITE when I was young! LOVE THAT ART!!! And excuse me, but there’s a graphic novel of Ozma of Oz, MY FAVORITE OZ BOOK?? (I did love with all of my being the Oz books! :) I’m getting that one for myself.

    You guys are so cool.

  • 5 jo // Sep 22, 2011 at 2:15 pm

    i LOVE it when you guys do these reviews. they are so helpful to me. my daughter just turned 8, and the only books she’s really gotten into so far have been graphic novels. thank you so much and keep them coming!

  • 6 Rachel // Sep 22, 2011 at 3:56 pm

    Andy, I have a six-year-old boy who is just starting to read. I noticed that he REALLY loves stories written in graphic novel format, and enjoys pondering the images and deciphering what is going on. Do you have any suggestions for graphic novels for younger (new) readers that might spark his interest further?

  • 7 andy // Sep 22, 2011 at 4:16 pm

    Hey Rachel, definitely yes. Here’s a post we did a while back that has some stuff that might work: http://www.dinneralovestory.com/put-down-the-book-or-no-dessert-tonight/
    Owly is v. cool — all graphics, no words, and yet: totally works — and Baby Mouse could be good, as well. Maybe Lunch Lady. And you know what’s really hard to beat? Peanuts. Who doesn’t love Snoopy?

  • 8 Melissa@Julia's Bookbag // Sep 22, 2011 at 4:38 pm

    Hey Rachel! I’ve got a suggestion for you too! My daughter is 5 1/2 and she has been loving these graphic books:

    http://www.toon-books.com/index2.php

    You gotta check them out, my daughter has read several and they are her favorite books right now!

  • 9 Tara // Sep 22, 2011 at 7:13 pm

    Fabulous! My I just read all the reviews to my nine year old and he can’t wait to hit the library tomorrow.

    So excited to hear there is another by Brian Selznick! Hugo Cabret was a huge hit in our house. My son really liked Storm in the Barn. Kind of dark, but very good. Have I mentioned that one here before? Sorry if I’m repeating myself. Another recent favorite has been Foiled, by Jane Yolen. It helps that my son is a fencer, but I don’t think that’s a requirement for enjoying it. It’s another story with a strong girl lead character. Being a big Artemis Fowl fan, he also loves following up reading the novels by reading the graphic novel versions. They’re pretty cool.

    Thanks as always for all the great ideas.

  • 10 Catherine // Sep 23, 2011 at 1:25 pm

    Another fan of your book posts! Thank you!!!

  • 11 Jules // Sep 24, 2011 at 12:50 am

    I can’t tell you how much I love this. My son is 7 year old and a ferocious reader. He loves graphic novels! This list is perfect, thank you.

  • 12 randi // Sep 24, 2011 at 8:21 am

    I just opened up Amazon side by side with this post and ordered three books for my 8-year-old. Thanks Phoebe and Andy!

  • 13 Ann // Sep 24, 2011 at 4:30 pm

    My son really enjoyed last year’s list. This is great! Thank you.

  • 14 Rachel // Sep 24, 2011 at 7:45 pm

    Thanks Andy & Melissa for the suggestions! I’ll definitely check them out!

  • 15 Rachel // Sep 24, 2011 at 7:50 pm

    P.S. Aha! Of course, Peanuts!

  • 16 julie // Sep 26, 2011 at 5:10 pm

    This is SO awesome. I love when you guys do these posts!!!! I just bought Hereville for my daughter. It looks right up her alley.

  • 17 Rena // Sep 27, 2011 at 10:57 am

    I also love these book reviews – but for myself! My daughter is still more than a few years away from reading, but I hope she will enjoy them as much as I do.

  • 18 Jenn // Sep 28, 2011 at 10:03 pm

    Last post of the night, promise. My daughter, who is eight, loves all things fantasy (read: Harry Potter and Sisters Grimm) and graphic novels. I just recently bought her Wonderstruck after our local DC bookstore highly recommended it. I can’t wait to introduce her to your daughter’s list, and the fact that your daughter wrote this herself.

    I heart your blog.

  • 19 Marie // Oct 3, 2011 at 4:00 pm

    I too love the posts about books. My elder is just turned 6 and I actually stumbled across this site originally searching for graphic novel for younger readers.

    I second Owly and Toon Books for the younger crowd (my daughter just turned 6). Mine also enjoyed Binky the Space Cat and the Disney Fairy graphic novels (she likes Baby Mouse too but I am less fond of the rodent than she). For reading aloud, we both loved Mouse Guard and Matt Phelan’s The Storm in the Barn (which inspired me to read Out of the Dust). She has spent hours looking at the Amulet books and the 2 volumes of Totoro comics (of 4) that our library has. I really need to get our own copies of all of those things. Peanuts, Calvin and Hobbes and Bloom County all intrigue her too. I’m planning to try Bone after we finish the last volume of Owly.

  • 20 jennie // Oct 9, 2011 at 9:28 pm

    am loving wonderstruck so far, i picked up my copy today. i’ll have to try hereville. have you seen the travels of thelonious? it’s one of my faves. owly, too.

  • 21 melanie // Oct 11, 2011 at 12:35 am

    Awesome recommendations – my son is 9 and has read several of these, but a couple are new and I’m so excited to be able to share them with him! I love this post, thank you!!

  • 22 KJ // Dec 8, 2011 at 5:52 pm

    My 10 (almost 11) year old daughter and I are both reading The Hunger Games, and devouring it. I highly recommend it, and I recommend reading it together, because the subject matter is disturbing. The protagonist is an awesome young girl. We can’t put it down!

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