There Goes the College Fund

I can’t remember ever making this Official Family Policy, but Jenny and I are completely powerless against a kid — our kid — who asks us to buy her a book instead of check it out at the library. (Full disclosure: We love books and are happy to encourage as much reading as possible in our house, but if we’re honest, there’s also an element of self-preservation at work here. I’m in the book business as an editor, and Jenny is in the book business as a writer, and I guess we see this as doing our part to keep the ol’ boat afloat.) I’m not about to revoke this policy, but I can’t pretend it doesn’t have its drawbacks, either: It isn’t cheap with Phoebe around. Her graphic novel and comic book obsession continues apace, and now seems to be infecting her little sister, Abby. We’ve spent many dinners lately — and many car trips, including one to Virginia over the holidays where Abby was so deeply immersed that she ended up actually puking on the book — talking about Raina Telgemeir’s latest book, Smile. The girls seem to connect to this one on some primal level –in no small part because they’ve both racked up crushing dental bills in the past month, and this seems to offer some measure of comfort. We’ll be ordering Raina’s other books within the week, I’m sure.

We couldn’t vet all of the following books on our own — I haven’t read a word of some of them, as Phoebe is impossible to keep up with and I have, you know, a life — so it only seems fair to cede the floor to the third grader herself (with some help from her second grade sister, Abby), and let them tell you why they like them. Rankings are from 1 (not good) to 10 (the best ever). I suspect there’s some grade inflation at work here, as always, but these kids are enthusiasts. What can we say?

Smile by Raina Telgemeir “This is a true story about a girl named Raina who has an overbite and a little bit of gum damage and she knocks her permanent two front teeth out. She goes through a lot of trouble at the dentist and her friends make fun of her. It takes place a long time ago, when the author was little. In the book, she’s in sixth grade. Boys might like this, but it depends on their style.”

Phoebe rating: 10.

Abby rating: 11 (And, yes, that’s out of 10. As Abby says, “I love it because I’m lucky not to have that tooth accident.” This coming from someone who had two molars yanked yesterday.)

Parents note: We realized before it was too late (Abby had already devoured the book 3 times) that there was a page or two of teen talk (body changes, boy crazy girls, etc)  that might have been confusing and maybe a tad inappropriate for a seven-year-old. So just be warned.

Lunch Lady by Jarrett J. Krosoczka: “I totally grew out of this last year. But I liked this series. It’s about a lunch lady who is really a superhero but she pretends to be a lunch lady. She has all kinds of cool gadgets and an assistant who makes the gadgets and will go in disguise so she can distract the person they’re fighting. Is it funny? No, not very. But you always want to know what’s happening next. Boys might like it. It’s probably good for seven year olds. On the back of each book, it says, ‘Serving Justice and Serving Lunch.'”

Phoebe rating: 7.

Tall Tales (the Bone prequel!) by Jeff Smith with Tom Sniegoski: “If you like Bone, you’ll love this. It’s mostly about Big Johnson Bone, who was a gigantic hero in Boneville. It’s about when Smiley is teaching Boy Scouts and it’s funny because he’s always taking orders from a big hat! Seriously! And he eats a sandwich that has peanut butter and pickles on it. Hehehehe. It doesn’t have, um, Fone Bone or Phoney, just Smiley, Ringo, Bingo, and Todd. I like the monkey named Mr. Pip. He’s fuuuuuunny. He talks in his sleep about joining the circus.”

Phoebe rating: 10.

Parent’s note: Whoever this Tom Sniegoski dude is: I like you. I was initially skeptical when I saw your name, next to the great Jeff Smith’s on the cover. But you won us over. We believe! For Phoebe to say this is one of the best Bone books yet: the highest possible praise.

Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick: “I don’t know how to do this one. It’s about a little boy who uses his dad’s notebook to try to make this machine and there’s a man across the street who makes toys, and the two things are somehow connected. You just have to read it. I’m not telling you more. The art is AMAZING. It even won the Caldecott medal. It makes me feel like I’m actually there. And P.S. It’s not really a comic book.”

Phoebe rating: 10.

Parent note: Wowwowwowwowwow. This book is humbling and transporting and outrageously beautiful. I want to marry this book.

New Brighton Archeological Society by Mark Andrew Smith and Matthew Weldon: “This one is very adventurous. The second one is not out yet, but the first one is about four kids who discover that the parents have some club about, like, destroying this fairy guy who wants their library. The library has plenty of important information. So they battle all kinds of yucky monsters and stuff and two Chinese vampires who are their uncles. Then they find out the fairy guy is their grandfather. I like it. It’s impossible to stop reading!”

Phoebe rating: 8.

The Marvelous Land of Oz by L. Frank Baum (adapted by Marvel for Eric Shanower and Skottie Young): “The artwork is very cool. Look at it. It’s about a little boy named Tip who makes a pumpkin head that he names Jack Pumpkin Head. Tip lives with a mean witch. One day, the witch wants to turn him into a marble statue, so Tip runs away with his Pumpkin Head and then he meets all these crazy people and they go to the Emerald City. This is the second book in the Oz series. It looks like the artist just scribbled something down with a pencil, but it’s cool. I tried to draw it, but it’s impossible to. Kind of like Quentin Blake. My favorite character is the saw horse because he’s funny..”

Phoebe rating: 10.

Abby rating: N/A. (She likes to look at the pictures, but claims that “nothing so much happens in it,” story-wise. I don’t want to say my daughter is wrong, but… she’s wrong!)

The Indispensable Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson: “Positively funny. He’s always getting in trouble in school and he’s always doing bad on tests and he hates a girl named Susan and he throws snowballs and acorns and stuff like that at her whenever he can. You can read Calvin and Hobbes anywhere. There are lots of other Calvin and Hobbes books, too, but this is my favorite. He’s a six year old, but he knows so many big words. He makes you laugh out loud and inside.”

Phoebe rating: 9.

Parent’s note: This book kicked off an epic love affair with a Gund stuffed tiger that Phoebe had been given by her Uncle Nick when she was born…and had never looked at twice. Suddenly, she carried it with her everywhere, put it in her school backpack, and it has occupied a prime piece of real estate, right next to her pillow, every night for the past year. We’re talking Velveteen Rabbit-status.

Flight Explorer Vol. 1, edited by Kazu Kibuishi: “There are a bunch of different stories in here. There’s a story by Kazu Kib..ish..umm, a section from a book he wrote called Copper. He’s the guy who wrote Amulet. One of my favorite stories in here is called “Perfect Cat.” It’s about an Egyptian cat who gets jealous of another cat her owner gets, and it’s a little bit funny because it includes a dung beetle. If you like Amulet and the Archeological Society –– if you read it — you’ll like this.”

Phoebe rating: 8.

Brain Camp by Susan Kim, Laurence Klavan, and Faith Erin Hicks: “This one is verrrrry creepy, but it’s also cool. I think this is at least the sixth time I’ve read it. I can’t put it down. It’s about kids who go to boarding school and stuff like that. Then a strange man comes one night and takes two of them to a camp called Camp Fielding. One day, while they’re there, the other kids’ eyes start getting weird, like really wide and strange. Yeah. And they figure out that the camp is using kids to hatch these weird alien birds in their brain. It might sound very scary, but it’s actually very interesting. Beware of kids vomiting up birds!”

Phoebe rating: 10.

When Phoebe says she has read this six times, she is being modest. I think she’s read this 20 times in the past week.

The Far Side Gallery 1 by Gary Larson: “These comics are, like, they’re just…each picture is its own comic. They’re not stories. They’re jokes. I understand most of them, but not all. If I have a question about one of them, I ask my parents, but sometimes they can’t even figure it out. But the other ones are really funny.”

Phoebe rating: 9.

Parent’s note: Phoebe discovered this on the (still largely intact) book shelf in my childhood bedroom in the house where my parents still live. I didn’t think she’d be into it. But she now has three volumes and reads them incessantly and is, as they say, DEEP in the s@&t.

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Have you guys seen the Barbara Lehman junior graphic novels? They have no words, and our 1.5 yr old loves them, so maybe they’re too young for your house, but they are really lovely and fun to read.

We have seen Rainstorm, The Red Book, and Trainstop so far. There might be more.


Hugo Cabret is amazing. Have you seen Storm in the Barn? Very interesting graphic novel set in Depression era dust bowl. Also just found a really intriguing graphic novel version of Thoreau’s Walden that my almost 9 year-old son seems fascinated by. And Mouse Guard Winter 1152 is quite popular right now. Am striving to keep the spending in check, and have found all of these at the local library. Didn’t even have to employ interlibrary loan, although I may do so for some of the titles you mention. Great suggestions. Thanks.

Jan @ Family Bites

Great post! I long to start a book blog just to share all the wonderful reads we come across. We’re HUGE Hugo fans (can’t wait for the movie, yet also don’t want it to be a movie at the same time), as well as Calvin and Hobbs. My 8 year old collects the Caldecott winning books, and my 1o year old has just started reading the For Better or For Worse series.


I too find it so hard to say no to any sort of book purchase! Also, fruits and veggies … when your daughter is at the store begging for a mango, its hard to say no even if it is pricey


Since our library is within walking distance and we can browse the catalog and reserve and renew books online, we manage to keep our book purchases within budget. As always, your family’s recommendations are sooo helpful. My 8-yr-old has discovered graphic novels and has already earned a patch for that genre in the library reading club. I can’t wait to show him this post and find out which ones he’d like to check out (though he’s already blasted through all the Lunch Lady books).


Can Abby come over for a playdate with my 8 yr old Aidan? 2010 was the year of Harry Potter for him, but he knows all our Calvin & Hobbes collections by heart. I’m getting him the 10th Anniversary collection for his birthday next month. Will be adding Tall Tales to the list—he discovered Bone at school and loves those too.

Aidan loved City of Spies, which we ordered after your August post, and I’m going to let myself believe that you got Hugo Caberet based on my comment to that post:)


Oh…and one of these days, we’d love to read a post of Abby’s mom & dad’s favorite reads too!


I love your book recommendations! I would love it if you’d do a regular post on books being read by everyone in the DALS family!


An advice from a teen mom, don’t introduce them to the Land of Manga. They will get lost and never find the way back. And you will be standing on the border to this strange land and wonder what happened.


as the parents of an 11 year old girl (hannah) with a voracious appetite for books we can soooo relate to the comment,” there goes the college fund”. We simply cannot say no!!


Hannah, Storm in the Barn and Mouse Guard Winter look awesome! We’ll be ordering them shortly. Essie, I checked the Barbara Lehman books out, too and you’re right: probably too young for our kids now, but they look really sweet and beautiful. Have you tried Owly? Very cool books, also graphic novels with no words. Our youngest, Abby, was very into those for a while. Jan, are these the old For Better or For Worse strips that used to run in the funny pages of the Sunday paper when I was a kid? Deidre, you must have worked some subliminal magic on me — and I can’t thank you enough. What a book Hugo is. Thanks for all the suggestions, everyone. We’ll be one-clicking soon. As for what the grownups around here are reading, maybe we’ll get to work on a little list. I’m currently working my way through The Gun by CJ Chivers…

Ann Behar

May I recommend THE DEATH (AND FURTHER ADVENTURES) OF SILAS WINTERBOTTOM BOOK 1: THE BODY THIEF? It’s by Stephen M. Giles. I think your kids will love it!

Tracy Edmunds

If you’re looking for more reviews of graphic novels by kids, try My girls and I used to do lots of reviews and they are all archived here. We stopped writing reviews a few years ago and we make zero dollars off this, but we leave it up so parents and kids can still find good stuff.
New stuff to try: “Rapunzel’s Revenge” by the Hales, the Crogan’s series by Chris Schweizer, “The New Brighton Archaeological Society” by Mark Smith, and the “Amulet” series by Kazi Kibuishi.
And be sure to look for “The Arrival” by Shaun Tan – the most amazing, haunting, beautiful wordless masterpiece!


OMG my 10 year old daughter has the almost exact same list. We live in the Bay Area. Do any of these graphic novels come in the Kindle? We are running out of room!


your kids should try reading zita the space girl it is amazing and reminds me of bone/amulet and the would also enjoy the else where chronicles and mouse guard fall comes before the winter one so check it out