Put Down the Book, or No Dessert Tonight

July 22nd, 2010 · 28 Comments · Children's Books, Gifts, Culture, Kitchenlightenment, Posts by Andy, Rituals

There’s a girl, all 42 inches of her stretched out on the family room couch, reading a comic book. There’s a dad or a mom, standing over her, failing to get her get her attention.

“Phoebe.”

No response.

“Phoebe?”

Not a muscle moves.

“Phoebe. Come on. It’s time for dinner.”

Crickets.

“Phoebe! Put the book down. Time to eat!”

The comic book is slowly, reluctantly lowered to her chest, and the face of an eight year old girl is revealed. “Do I have to?” says Phoebe. “Just a few more minutes.”

Some variation on this scene has played out pretty much every night before dinner in our house for the past two years, with one of us trying to pry Phoebe away from her book as dinner sits on the table, growing colder, and Phoebe so deep into her world of comic book heroes that her ears seemingly cease to function. It’s the good kind of problem, but still: it’s a problem.

And it all started with Jules Feiffer.

In the summer before first grade, Phoebe discovered a book at our local library called Meanwhile… by the great Jules Feiffer, which is about a boy who loves comic books – loves them so much that he dreams he is living inside of one, fighting pirates and running from mountain lions and floating weightless through outer space. From there, it was a short trip to Phoebe trying to draw her own comic books (called “Mini Man,” which drew, um, heavily from Feiffer), and then from there, onto The Adventures of Tintin. We bought her all six volumes, eighteen stories in all, and she read them non-stop for the next few months, over and over and over again, until she practically had them memorized. When that phase ended, she looked around like, “So anyway, that was fun. What’s next?” We needed some new material. Not knowing where to turn, I asked my much smarter and comic-savvy former colleagues at GQ, Alex P and Raha, for some cool suggestions – comics that were girl-friendly but not princessy, challenging but not too adult, not likely to cause nightmares. Raha actually went to her local comic shop in Brooklyn and mailed me a few that she approved of. Alex P employed a crazy new technology known as “Twitter” to poll his friends and sent me a long list of amazing suggestions. We bought them all. And a year later, Phoebe is still staring up at the world from the bottom of a deep, deep comic book hole. She can’t get enough.

Since this is her own world and we’re barely allowed in it — and since she’s read these so many times, and we really haven’t read them at all — we thought it was only fair to let her review them, if you (or your kids!) are interested. Reviews are courtesy of Phoebe, with a special assist from her six-year-old sister, Abby. Rankings are from 1 (terrible and horrible) to 10 (the best ever). — Andy

The Adventures of Tintin by Herge: “Whoever likes mystery stories and gangsters and people like that should read Tintin. It’s about a little boy who tries to catch a lot of bad guys. He has a white dog named Snowy. Ummm. My favorite one is… I can’t pick a favorite. Daddy, before you write this, tell the people that I thought of all this, okay?” Phoebe scale: 10.


Zeus and Athena by George O’Connor: “People who like Greek myths should read these. They’re separate books, Zeus and Athena. Okay. They’re very adventurous books. The pictures are great! Hmmm. If I look at the pictures before I go to bed, then I get good dreams.” Phoebe scale: 10.*
*Parent note:
These are incredibly beautiful books. This picture doesn’t do them justice.


Amelia Rules by Jimmy Gownley: “If a kid likes really really crazy boy characters, read these books. They’re starring Pajama Man, Reggie, Kyle, Ed, and a little girl named Amelia who just moved into a new town. (Dad, this is like homework!) Her parents are divorced, and she lives with her aunt and her mom. Her aunt is a rock star. Boys and girls will like it.” Phoebe scale: 10.*
*Parent note: There are a few references — and a game of spin the bottle, where Amelia wants to shake hands instead of kiss — that might be above an eight-year-old’s head.


Amulet by Kazu Kibuishi: “Also an adventure story. It’s about a little girl with a very very very powerful stone called an amulet. This stone talks to her and warns her of danger, but it’s hard to control it. So far, there are two books. The third one is coming next in September and I can’t wait. In the first one, she’s in a car crash. Then they find an old house. Then the little girl named Emily finds the stone, which is the amulet. It’s kind of scary. It’ll give you the chills, but you also get excited when you read it.” Phoebe scale: 10.

Bone by Jeff Smith: “Bone is about three bones who are alive, but they don’t look like those doggie bones. They have eyes and mouths and they walk into a desert, and then a locust swarm separates them. Then one of the bones comes into a valley and finds a girl who helps them. It’s funny then because the other bone is named Phoney and he’s tromping in the mud and he eats a stick. Hee hee hee. That’s good. There are nine books in this series. The art is very detailed. Watch out for the mean guy, the Lord of Locusts.” Phoebe scale: 10.*
*Parent note: The depth of imagination here is astonishing. These books — nine volumes plus a prequel — occupied Phoebe for a good three months. Adults will like them, too.


Magic Trixie and the Dragon by Jill Thompson: “This is about a little girl named Trixie, and she’s a witch but a good witch. She accidentally turns her baby sister named Abby into a dragon. Then her sister flies to the circus and then Trixie flies after her and she and her pet cat try to find her sister and turn her back into a baby. First to second grade would like this. It’s funny because she has to make her baby sister’s poop in her diaper disappear.” Phoebe scale: 8.


Baby Mouse by Jennifer Holm: “Funny. She likes pink and hearts. She likes pink hearts. In fact, she only wears hearts. She has a clock that’s in the shape of a heart. She has everything in the shape of a heart. She hates dodge ball. She hates fractions. And her best friend is Wilson the weasel because she’s a mouse. She wants to be the queen of the world. It’s silly and Baby Mouse always says, ‘Typical.’” Phoebe scale: 9.

Glister by Andi Watson: “This one is hard to describe. It’s about a troll and a little girl who lives in a house. The house runs away and gets a different room every single day. The bird poops on a guy’s head. I don’t know. It’s kind of complicated to read at first, but you get used to it. It’s not scary, just a teensy teensy bit sad. Tomboys would like this.” Phoebe scale: 10.

City of Spies by Susan Kim, Laurence Klavan, and Pascal Dizin: “It’s about Nazis or whatever they’re called, and a little girl and a little boy who try to figure out who is a Nazi and tell the police officers so they can put them in jail. But they mess up a lot. It’s a great book. I’ve been reading it a lot lately because I love it.” Phoebe scale: 10.
*Parent Note: I know, I know. Nazis? But we promise: it’s kid-friendly, very Tin Tin-ish.


Marvel’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz: “Well, I bet you’ve seen the movie The Wizard of Oz. But this story might be a little different. It’s about a girl named Dorothy who has a dog named Toto and they were supposed to help in the basement, but Toto went under the bed. So the tornado came too near and they blasted out into the yard. This book is special because the pictures are marvelous, it’s better than the movie, and last of all, it’s a comic.” Abby Scale: 10.*
*Parent Note: Again, like the Greek myth books above, this one is unbelievably gorgeous and spooky and cool. Capital A art. Both kids love it — though, as you can tell, not sure both kids understand it.


Owly by Andy Runton: “Well, Owly is a picture book. Most of the time, there’s two stories in one big book. There are no words, only symbols in a speech bubble. It can get a little sad, like when Owly loses his friend, Wormy. Maybe like up to second grade would like it. It’s a comic. One of the greatest ones ever.” Abby scale: 8.


Laika by Nick Abadzis: “Sad, very sad at the end. It’s about a dog who goes through a lot of trouble and has mean owners but also finds puppy families and lives with them. One day, a dog catcher catches her and she goes to this place where they send dogs up in space to test the very first Russians to go up into space. The grown up girl really really likes Laika and she doesn’t want her to go up into space, and she cries when Laika goes. It’s about dogs and how we treat dogs and how they should be treated a lot better, cause we treat them like barking babies.” Phoebe scale: 8.

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28 responses so far ↓

  • 1 MemeGRL // Jul 22, 2010 at 11:15 am

    You are my hero. Off to the library rightnow to get Meanwhile… for my son. Thank you thank you thank you!

  • 2 Vivek // Jul 22, 2010 at 11:23 am

    I am trying to think of when I first read Asterix — but I had the entire collection and I loved each one.

  • 3 Amanda // Jul 22, 2010 at 11:54 am

    Great list. My husband has had Asterix and Tintin set aside for our son since before he was born. I don’t have the comic appreciation gene unfortunately, my knowledge only spans as far as Archie comics back in high school. I collected the digests and read them religiously, but never moved onto anything else. When we were in France last year, my husband added to our expanding comic collection by buying so many that we had to pay extra for the weight in our luggage. I am glad to see that comic book appreciation spans far and wide.

  • 4 bianca // Jul 22, 2010 at 1:52 pm

    At 25, I am still obsessed with cartoons, comics and anything illustrated, motion or still.

    Is it weird that I will most likely buy some of these “childrens” reads?!

  • 5 Janelle // Jul 22, 2010 at 2:12 pm

    Thanks for the reviews. My husband is one of the world’s largest collectors of all things X-men and I’ve been trying to find graphic novels and comic books that would be more age appropriate and interesting for them.

  • 6 philippat // Jul 22, 2010 at 2:14 pm

    oh my god…
    I’m married to Andi Watson (and our 8-year old sounds very much like yours except much more picky when it comes to food!).
    Send me an email, I’ll get Andi to send her a special drawing :)

  • 7 jenny // Jul 22, 2010 at 2:19 pm

    philippat – you have got to be kidding me! what great luck!!! email on the way from the 8-yr-old fan herself…

  • 8 Jenni // Jul 23, 2010 at 8:43 am

    Yesterday my 8-year-old son was bummed after a trip to the library “because they didn’t have any Manga.” Well, he loves Babymouse, so I’m taking this list home to share with him and then we’re returning to the library! What a great post, thank you to your very cool daughters!

  • 9 Sarah // Jul 23, 2010 at 8:29 pm

    This is great, thanks. I found it via OhDeeOh. I was *just* wondering how I was going to find a list of good graphic novels for my 10yo niece! This is perfect. thanks!

  • 10 Cindy // Jul 24, 2010 at 9:50 pm

    This is an awsome post. I hope amazon gives you an extra bonus for all the books I’m about to go snap up. My six year old is just starting to get into these kinds of books (Diary of a Wimpy Kid is a current fave.) and I had no clue what to get her for the rest of the summer. Thank you so much!

  • 11 Janet // Jul 26, 2010 at 3:37 pm

    Hey Phoebe

    What a cool list. Thank you!

    Have you read Neil Gaiman’s graphic novels? We thought you and your sister might enjoy these two
    The day I swapped my dad for two goldfish:
    http://www.amazon.com/Day-Swapped-Dad-Two-Goldfish/dp/0060587032/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1280172937&sr=1-1-spell

    Wolves in the Walls
    http://www.amazon.com/Wolves-Walls-Neil-Gaiman/dp/0380810956/ref=pd_sim_b_1

  • 12 Laura // Jul 27, 2010 at 4:37 pm

    Love this list and these reviews! I’m a children’s librarian and in charge of buying graphic novels for my library. She’s picked some of my favorites and I’m so glad to read about a comic-loving kid!

    Has she read Rapunzel’s Revenge? Salt Water Taffy? Jellaby?

  • 13 ClistyB // Jul 27, 2010 at 10:58 pm

    A good friend from high school writes and illustrates The Magic Pickle comic
    books. His name is Scott Morse.
    The history of comics is pretty fascinating.

  • 14 Megan // Jul 28, 2010 at 1:29 pm

    I love these recommendations! My favorite graphic novels are Rapunzel’s Revenge and Calamity Jack, by Shannon and Dean Hale and illustrated by Nathan Hale. They are so much fun.

  • 15 jenny // Jul 28, 2010 at 3:30 pm

    Clisty B- We love Magic Pickle! Forgot about that one. And also, Laura, Salt Water Taffy is up there on the list, too. Megan, Janet, Amanda — I am sending you this month’s amazon bill. We went one-click crazy after getting all your suggestions. Thank you everyone!

  • 16 Tiffany // Jul 28, 2010 at 3:54 pm

    Eeeek!! I luvd reading your daughters synopses. I have been trying to evoke a luv of reading in my 11 year old son. And he enjoys comic style, so these will be FANTASTIC! I think he will really really like these. Thank you so much for sharing.

  • 17 Ann // Jul 28, 2010 at 10:58 pm

    This is so great! Thanks for doing this! My 8 yr. old son read her reviews and we have a list and we’re going to the library! He just started reading Bone and he is a big comic book enthusiast.

  • 18 Janet // Jul 29, 2010 at 4:14 pm

    Enjoy! We’d love to hear what you think of Neil Gaiman’s books. Oh, and we can exchange amazon bills – we bought Zeus, Athena, (more) Owly and Amulet on your recommendation! :)

  • 19 Janet // Jul 29, 2010 at 4:14 pm

    Enjoy! We’d love to hear what you think of Neil Gaiman’s books. Oh, and we can exchange amazon bills – we’re buying Zeus, Athena, (more) Owly and Amulet on your recommendation! :)

  • 20 Andy // Jul 29, 2010 at 8:27 pm

    Wow!
    Thanks for the kind words, girls!
    Owly and I really appreciate it! ^,^

  • 21 Aimee // Aug 9, 2010 at 12:22 am

    I LOVE this list. I have an 8 year old boy who would love to read these. I am going to link to you in a few days via my reading blog. It’s dedicated to promoting early literacy. I think it’s time for the readers to find out about some great books they may not have considered for their children. Thank you! I’m scheduling it for the 11th so stop by and visit me. Graciously, Aimee

  • 22 Ruby Pucillo // Aug 9, 2010 at 1:32 pm

    Hi, Jenny! Ruby here! I really enjoyed reading the reveiws Phoebe and Abby wrote! I have 7 new ideas for comics, and I especially enjoyed reading about Meanwhile… and Magic Trixie and the Dragon. I’m going to go to my Library when I get back to New York! Thanks! Love Ruby (:

  • 23 Deirdre // Aug 18, 2010 at 11:51 am

    City of Spies is on the way now. Such a treasure trove I’m finding here today!
    My 8 yr old son discovered Franny K Stein in kindergarten, and it really is what made him into an independent reader. Franny is a 7 yr old mad scientist. Some of the humor aims at gross out, but the drawings are fun & I appreciate the underlining conflict of Franny trying to be herself among girls who just want dolls.

    More sophisticated was Aidan’s discovery last year of The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick. Led to lots of pencil shading here:) I think your daughter would really like it.

  • 24 Bethany @ The Paper Pony // Aug 24, 2010 at 7:02 pm

    THANK YOU, Phoebe! I NEEDED this list! My 1st grade daughter has been reading my husband’s Asterix books like mad, and LOVED Shannon and Dean Hale’s Repunzel’s Revenge, but I am unfamiliar with children’s graphic novels. She is now OBSESSED with Jeff Smith’s Bone because of your fantastic reviews.

  • 25 Cindy // Sep 5, 2010 at 1:15 pm

    We had a great time picking up most of these books this summer. Favorites were Amulet, Tintin, and Bone. My six year old is also a huge fan of the Warrior Cats magnas.
    Thanks again.

  • 26 Katie // Nov 24, 2010 at 11:48 am

    A bit late to leave a comment now, I know, but after meeting you guys the other night we checked out your website – fantastic! Our kids are heavily into Asterix and TinTin (in French – lucky them being able to read the originals!) so I’m excited to find some “BD”s in English given that the French ones are a little hard to come by here – am already loading up the Amazon cart! Thanks!

  • 27 marie // May 5, 2011 at 10:55 am

    Thank you so much for this list (and your more recent post on the topic). My 5-and-a-half year old has just discovered the delights of graphic novels and will spend hours poring over them on her own. Finding ones that are “girl-friendly but not princessy, challenging but not too adult, not likely to cause nightmares” has been my challenge. So far we’ve read Mouse Guard, Rapunzel’s Revenge, and we are working our way through Owly. Calamity Jack and Bone are on the TBR pile. I plan on checking our local library for these and expect that the birthday present will contain some favorites. Sadly our currently library has no Asterix (none, not a one) though it does have some Tintin.

  • 28 Allison // Jul 1, 2011 at 5:39 pm

    Thank you so much for the suggestions! I just started working as a children’s librarian, and am now in charge of Graphic Novels. We now have almost everything on your list.

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