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.
Not a muscle moves.
“Phoebe. Come on. It’s time for dinner.”
“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.