Allison's Book Bag

Posts Tagged ‘graphic novels for young people

Bad Kitty School Daze is a hilarious graphic novel. Students will relate to the classroom setting, laugh at the antics of the outrageous characters, and maybe even learn a thing or two about cats and dogs from the informational Uncle Murray pages. Whether or not you have yet to discover Bad Kitty, this is an excellent title to check out.

One fine day, Bad Kitty and Puppy land themselves in trouble. Off to obedience school they are sent! This however isn’t like the school your local pet club might offer. Instead, just like human kids, Bad Kitty and Puppy ride a bus to school. They even wear backpacks. And they feel trepidation about the new teacher, who initially seems quite huge and frightening. All of these moments show how well Bruel understands the first day of school experience. Younger students especially will also relate to the obedience school routine, which doesn’t include learning to sit or stay or heel but instead involves going to Circle Time, Arts and Crafts, Show and Tell, and Story Time. One of the most poignant moments happens soon after the onset of school. As Miss Dee ushers everyone into their first class, she tells them that, “I believe you are all GOOD pets and I want you to know that.” Bad Kitty makes a face and Miss Dee adds, “Even you.” The look on Bad Kitty’s face is priceless.

After school activities get underway, personalities become clear. Bad Kitty continues to give attitude. Puppy in contrast displays the most sweetest face, while simultaneously drooling slobber. A militant rabbit insists on calling himself Dr. Lagomorph and interrupting every direction. An oversized bulldog rants about how much she HATES cats: their eyes, their noses, their goofy whiskers. She wants to punch them, bite their heads off, and chew their faces like gum. What saves the text from feeling overly violent is the creative variations Bruel makes of the typefaces. Oh, and it probably helps too that the bulldog’s name is Petunia. 🙂 One of the cutest scenes is where Petunia starts to scrutinize Bad Kitty, Bad Kitty makes the Moo sound of a cow, and Petunia hugs Bad Kitty as if she were a sister. Actually, pretty much every interaction between Petunia and Bad Kitty is hilarious and tender. Except for maybe the one where Petunia finally figures out Bad Kitty is a…. gulp…. cat!

Uncle Murry’s Fun Facts appear three times in the story. The first two-page spread explains why dogs chase cats. The second offers reasons for why dogs and cats don’t like each other. Pet owners, young and old, might find the information is fairly standard. It could also perhaps perpetuate stereotypes or the idea that dogs and cats will never be anything but eternal enemies. Uncle Murry saves himself with the third spread, which explores the question of whether dogs and cats can become friends. The answer is yes, they can, but only with patience. Uncle Murray then proceeds to provide step-by-step directions of how real pet owners might really create friendships between their dog and cat.

Bruel dedicated Bad Kitty School Daze to teachers. I wholeheartedly recommend the placement of the Bad Kitty books in every school library. And, as a teacher, I say thank you to Bruel for creating a series with such high appeal to reluctant readers, boy readers, and a host of other readers. Including me!

My rating? Read it: Borrow from your library or a friend. It’s worth your time.

How would you rate this book?

Graphic novels proved the favorite reading fare of my struggling student readers this year. For that reason, I recently allowed my students to each pick one to read for an end-of-year project. Not only did I read all the books that they choose, but I read a few extras too. After a month of immersion, graphic novels still don’t rack at the top of my personal selections, but I have gained a better appreciation for them for reasons which I’ll soon explain.

First though, let me address the nagging question I had as I read my pile of graphic novels: What’s the difference between comics and graphic novels? After all, a comic and a graphic novel are told through the same format: a combination of text, panels, and images. According to Horn Book, the simplest difference is length. While comic books might stretch a story out to thirty pages, graphic novels can actually reach hundreds of pages. Wise Geek expands upon this to state that comic books are periodicals, typically printed on magazine-style paper and simply bound with staples. Graphic novels, on the other hand, are bound in like other more traditional books.

Wise Geek also lists and explain several other differences. For example:

  • Completeness of Story: A standard comic book usually includes the beginning, middle or end of a story, so a person typically cannot read just one to learn the whole plot or discover all the characters. By contrast, a graphic novel tends to cover one story in its entirety. If writers and artists decide to create a sequel, they design it as a new and complete story.
  • Advertisements: Publishers often include advertisements in a comic book. Many of these ads are in-house, meaning they’re designed to draw attention to other works or products from the same company. Typically, graphic novels contain little or no marketing, which also makes them more expensive.
  • Maturity Rating: Young people are often considered the target audience for comics, although many adults enjoy the themes because some concepts tend to be fairly universal such as good fighting evil, finding romance, or handling everyday life events. In contrast, adults are considered the target of graphic novels. Wise Greek admits that this distinction isn’t always a hard and fast rule because there are a number of comic book titles that are known for their adult content. Also, a comic for kids comic might be collected into a graphic novel format.
  • Acceptance: Even though comic books are enormously popular, they are often viewed as a “lower” art form in the same way that series are. Graphic novels are typically more recognized, with some even making bestseller lists and competing directly with traditional novels.

Given that I had just finished reading ten graphic novels for young people, I found some of these latter differences odd. Horn Book helped me feel less confused by this statement: “In the past, American comics were mostly aimed at children and teens, but today there are graphic novels for everyone from elementary school kids to seniors.” Horn Book also listed and explained some other misconceptions:

  • Graphic novels are full of violence and explicit sex. There are ones with R- or X-rated content, but they are not the bulk of what’s available, nor are those titles intended for younger audiences.
  • Comics and graphic novels are only superheroes. The genre diversity is increasing every day with more and more independent companies publishing a range of genres, from memoir to fantasy to historical fiction. This is partly what has allowed graphic novels to truly break into the book market.
  • Graphic novels are for reluctant readers. The combination of less text, narrative support from images, and a feeling of reading outside the expected canon often does relieve the tension of reading expectations for struggling students. That being said, graphic novels are also for general audiences.
  • Graphic novels aren’t “real” books. The key to categorizing graphic novels is to remember that they’re simply a format, in the same way that audio books and e-books are. While graphic novels work differently than traditional novels, they can be just as demanding and compelling as traditional books.

From the Horn Book and Wise Geek articles, I understand why the books I read are classified as graphic novels instead of comics. However, I’m still not sure how text-dominant books such as Big Nate and The Origami Yoda fall into the category. Anyone have an explanation?

Of the other eight graphic novels, my favorites for both story and visuals were Zita and Bird & Squirrel on the Run. My least favorite on both accounts was Shark King. If I were to pick a graphic novel based simply on its graphics, The Amulet Series is the most impressive. Unfortunately, the content is more mature and its style too much like that of a movie. The rest fall solidly in the middle for story and content, with Fangbone being the funniest and Fight for Freedom being the most educational.

Based on this sampling of eight books, some advantages for me of graphic novels are:

  • Ability to read in a day
  • Appeal to reluctant readers
  • Emphasis on humor and/or adventure

Disadvantages are:

  • Deceptively easy to read because of visuals
  • Appeal to kids, even if content is mature
  • Over reliance on visuals to detriment of story

For convenient reference, all the posts related to my graphics round-up are listed below:

What are your thoughts about the differences between comics and graphic novels? Which do you prefer?

What are your favorite and least favorite graphic novels? Why?

On the fence about graphic novels? Legends of Zita The Spacegirl by Ben Hatke might help you hop off and take sides. This reworked classic tale of two look-alikes who trade places proved a surprisingly enjoyable experience with its modern twist and implicit message about identity.

When Zita’s space adventures thrust her into the spotlight, she doesn’t take any pleasure in it because fame comes with a price. Everyone views her as a hero who can save their particular planet from danger. Then along comes an outcast Imprint-o-Tron (robot) with the ability to imitate Zita’s appearance. Zita takes advantage of this nameless robot to temporarily escape the public eye by switching places, except the joke is on Zita when the robot refuses to switch back.

By this point, I’m thinking this is a modern updating of The Prince and the Pauper, the first novel which I read which used this trick. As in Mark Twain’s version, both Zita and her robot clone use their experiences in each other’s shoes to make decisions about their future. In doing so, they also make choices about the type of girls/robots that they wish to be. Sometimes an adventure story is just an adventure story. What makes Legends of Zita The Spacegirl stand apart is that its whole is greater than all its parts. In other words, beneath its space travel comic format is a story with enduring substance.


As for its space travel comic format, it isn’t so bad either! What stood out most to me is how much, in contrast with traditional text-based novels, I enjoyed the action scenes. Most of the time, I tend to skim long passages about fights. In Zita The Spacegirl, battles never felt dull, because they translated to colorful pictures of enemy skirmishes accompanied by the words: “Boom!” “She’s strong!” “Skree”. This isn’t to say the battle scenes were the parts I liked best, but simply that perhaps for me graphic novels are the best way for me to read them. Kudos to Hatke in also creating reflective moments, funny moments, and all those other kinds of moments I have grown to love in my traditional text-based novels.


One of the reasons my reluctant readers gave me for liking Legends of Zita The Spacegirl is: “I can read it!” For them, most books are an arduous chore of trying to sound out and understand each and every last word, with the hope that they can make sense enough of the story to answer questions about it for an assignment. In contrast, for me, trying to read a book predominantly by pictures feels like my own exercise of frustration. Thank you, Ben Hatke, for reminding me that comic books (and therefore graphic novels) can be fun!

My rating? Bag it: Carry it with you. Make it a top priority to read.

How would you rate this book?

Welcome to another thematic month! Over the next few weeks, I’ll review ten graphic novels. When I previously reviewed a graphic novel, I sought advice from other bloggers about what to focus on in my review, but ended up feeling no less confused about whether to comments on the story or the pictures. As a compromise, I critiqued the story and provided scans of the illustrations. That’s my plan for this round-up too!

Sale display of graphic novels.

Sale display of graphic novels. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One of my first reviews was of a graphic novel for girls; all of this month’s selections are instead aimed at boys. Why? Well, graphic novels are still not my favorite read. (I’m more of a word than picture person.) However, I have a group of elementary-school boys that I teach who prefer them above every other type of book. One of them might even grow up to create his own. So, to reward them for a year of hard work, I borrowed a bunch of graphic novels for them and allowed them to pick their favorites for reading in our last school quarter.

Of course, I can’t simply let my group loose without any guidance. Nor would I benefit fully from their reading experience, if I were to simply hand them over the books. Thus, over the next few weeks, I’ll be reading my group’s selections at home while they read the books at school. As all of the ones they picked are new to them, an added bonus is that I’ll be able to give you their firsthand reactions too.

How did I come to pick the ten that I’ll review? All but one were recommended to me by local librarians. The tenth was recommended by an author acquaintance. If you wish to know what others consider the best graphic novels, check out the below links:

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