I’m raising a nerd. Academic nerdom is totally supported but ultimately my daughter’s prerogative, but in terms of familial and cultural indoctrination, Lila has been knee deep in comics since birth. At a day old, still in hospital, I have a photo of her and her dad, slumbering in a smiley cuddle around an open copy of Willow Wilson’s Cairo. Later, at three months, a photo shows our girl grasping sweetly at the quiet, melty comic book pages of Tiny Titans. Now at four, Lila is as eager to dawn her Green Lantern ring as she is her tiara. When exasperated, my daughter says the words “sigh!” and “moan!” as if there are a little thought bubbles drifting just above her head. When my friends ask if she is on the princess bandwagon, I hesitate. Not because we don’t belt out Let It Go in the car like every other Mouse-fearing American, but because her cartoon du jour is Justice League; while Wonder Woman is technically an Amazonian princess, we all know Dianna would rather take a hot poker to the eye then chase a happily ever-after with any man, let alone a Ken-doll eunuch prince.
Perhaps my husband and I could’ve kept our reading preferences to ourselves. We could’ve gone to Vault of Midnight every Wednesday without a kid in tow to pick up that week’s issues. We could’ve hired a sitter and wondered the Comic Con halls child-free. But these work-arounds are way less fun, and they also prove to be a logistical nightmare since my husband is a graphic novelist.
Lila is skeptical of her dad Shaun Manning’s writer creds, since she won’t be allowed to read his books for another 10 years or so. His web-series Hell, Nebraska is about a high school teacher that brings actual hell on earth in America’s 37th state, and his original graphic novel, Interesting Drug, is about time travel via drug abuse; neither are what you’d call good bedtime material. That said, Lila has shadowed her dad at Chicago Comic Con and has even been his booth babe at the Cincy Con. She’s sketched diligently at his book signings and author events and has schlepped a surprising amount of hardcovers for a skinny kid who weighs 35 pounds sopping wet.
In our time nerding out as a family, we’ve learned a few things. Perhaps most importantly, we’ve learned that comics aren’t just something to read; they are something a family can bond over. There are so many options that really are just as entertaining for parents to read aloud as they are for kids to listen to. Plus, comics are great tools for developing early reading skills such as sequencing and word recognition; one of Lila’s first read “sight words” was GASP!
Unfortunately, the “all ages” stamp that publishers use isn’t the best indicator of something that might be age appropriate for younger readers. Violence and cleavage aside, many of these stories would simply be boring for kids. My advice? Browse the comic before you buy it, and don’t be shy about asking questions. And remember: the Ann Arbor District Library has an incredible comics and graphic novel portion of their kids section if you want to take a story out for a test drive. Here is a handful of our family favorites, good for kids ages three to eight.
Chi’s Sweet Home by Kanata Konami
A New York Times bestseller and translated into a shocking number of languages, this Japanese manga style comic series chronicles the life and times of Chi, a mischievous house cat. While the art is expressive, warm, and nothing short of immaculate, it is the sound effects and descriptive copy that really make this story hilarious to read. Chi’s snuggly cat antics are accompanied by exclamations such as “nuzzle!”, “cuddle!”, and “cram!” Pop quiz: what sound does a cat make when burying litter? Answer: skiff, skiff, skiff. Now what four-year old isn’t going to laugh at that?
The Adventures of Sticky Burr by John Lechner
With two books in this sweet series and a companion website featuring printable coloring sheets, drawing pages, and games, these stories are about a ukulele-playing burr named Sticky Burr. Unlike the other burrs in the forest, Sticky does not have a prickly personality, which creates challenges for him as he navigates the world of his coarser peers. The books end with original sheet music, so if you have a uke at home (or just a willing singing voice) you can make music just like Sticky.
Magic Trixie by Jill Thompson
This three-book series follows the adventures of an elementary-school aged witch named Magic Trixie. She’s spunky, smart, brave, and thinks she should be able to do everything the grown-up witches in her house do. Nevermind that she can’t ride a broom. Or touch the cauldron. Or say words from grandma’s spellbook. What Magic Trixie lacks in magic expertise, she makes up for with good humor, warmth, and mistakes well worth making.
Sketch Monsters by Joshua Williamson and Vinny Navarrete
What’s a girl to do when she just can’t find the words to express her emotions? Draw monsters, of course! This tactic starts out all well and good, but what happens when the monsters come to life and escape the sketchbook? This playfully rendered story stars the sarcastic but sweet nine-year-old Mandy who is kept plenty busy chasing down her escaped monsters. Can she catch them all? Let’s hope so, because those beasties sure know how to make a mess.
Mermin by Joey Weiser
When a fish-boy prince washes ashore, a group of neighborhood kids make a pact to befriend him and give him shelter from the sinister sea-forces he’s running from. The relationships in this story are remarkably genuine, giving the characters plenty of room to grow as they learn new things about their world, each other, and what being a loyal pal is all about.
Fairy Tale Comics edited by Chris Duffy
This hard-cover anthology features fairy tales from all over the world as told by royalty of the indie graphic novel scene. Readers will get to know tales from Russia, Japan, and the Arab world alongside some of the more well-traveled European favorites like Snow White, Little Red Riding Hood, and Hansel and Gretel. Plus, the stories are told in their original form. The archaic nature of the stories combined with the contemporary, expressive art of comics makes for some serious laugh-out-loud moments.
Tiny Titans by Art Baltazar and Franco
Art Baltazar has kids and you can tell. He knows exactly what young readers like about superheroes; it isn’t so much the plots but the superhero identities that kids are suckers for. The Tiny Titans are a group of superhero kids, mutants, and pets that don’t exactly save the world as much as they get in trouble for making epic messes in the batcave.
Comics are nerdy. But nerdy is cool. Just ask Huey Lewis. So embrace your inner geek, broaden your family’s reading horizons, and get lost in a great comic together. Don’t worry, you don’t have to do cosplay. Yet.
Truly Render is the Press & Marketing Manager for the University Musical Society. When not at work or enjoying Michigan’s vibrant cultural offerings, you can find her getting her face splashed off at a community pool or cuddled up in a book nest with her family. You can contact Truly at firstname.lastname@example.org.