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Good Comics For Kids
Inside Good Comics For Kids

The Best Comics for Kids 2009

Katherine Dacey

Best-of lists can be fiercely difficult to compose, as even the most voracious reader can miss a great title or favor certain genres over others. That’s why we at Good Comics for Kids assembled a crack team of reviewers to ensure that our list reflected the depth and breadth of 2009′s best kid-friendly offerings. Our contributors included librarians Robin Brenner, Esther Keller, Eva Volin, and Snow Wildsmith; self-described "manga mom" and blogger Lori Henderson; and comic-professional-cum-library-science-student Scott Robins.

A few words about our list. We divided the winners into three broad categories: The Best Comics for Young Readers (4-8), The Best Comics for Tweens (9-12), and The Best Comics for Teens (13-18). Though our list encompasses a variety of serious genres — historical fiction, memoir — we also felt it was important to include titles that were just plain fun, especially for beginning readers. We also realize that there can be a gap between what critics deem "excellent" and what kids are actually reading, so we encourage you to share your own experiences: How have kids reacted to the books on our list? Do you agree with our age recommendations? Are there titles that we overlooked?

N.B. For the librarians in our audience, we have provided a separate list of ISBN numbers at the end of the article. For ongoing series, we have provided the full ISBN number for each volume.

BEST COMICS FOR YOUNG READERS (4 – 8)

cover majoko The Best Comics for Kids 2009The Big Adventures of Majoko. By Machiko Fuji and Tomomi Mizuno. UDON Kids. (2 volumes; ongoing)
For years, the only kid-friendly manga available in the US had direct tie-ins with established toy-game-cartoon franchises such as Pokemon. UDON Entertainment is one of a handful of publishers working to change that, launching a new imprint this year called UDON Kids. Of the four debut titles, The Big Adventures of Majoko is the standout, a fantasy-adventure for young girls who have outgrown picture books but aren’t quite ready for stories with longer, more complex narratives. Though Majoko teaches the importance of teamwork, courage, and friendship, these lessons are imparted in an unobtrusive way; Majoko‘s real strength is its cute, anime-influenced artwork and its plucky heroines, who meet mermaids, one-eyed monsters, and thieves in the course of their many adventures. –Katherine Dacey

Binky the Space Cat
. By Ashley Spires. Kids Can Press.
Binky has been preparing for years to be a Space Cat and defend the universe against aliens (aka: BUGS), but when it comes time to leave home, how will he be able to leave his family? Just the right mix of silly and sweet, combined with crisp illustrations and a purposefully limited color palette, make this a terrific read for children and their parents. –Snow Wildsmith

Dinosaur Hour. By Hitoshi Shioya. VIZ. (1 volume)
Silly jokes have an enormous appeal to kids and tweens, and this series explores the truths about dinosaurs while mocking them mercilessly. Every short chapter makes me laugh out loud. The clear line art is relatively accurate but also fluid enough to engage kids with gags and slapstick. I fear too often when people think of "best of" lists they turn to the more serious, dramatic-impact sorts of titles (myself included) and while this might be a light, goofy choice for this list, I can just see all those guys sitting around chortling over Dinosaur Hour, pointing out favorite jokes to their friends and family, and re-reading with pleasure.  –Robin Brenner

frankie The Best Comics for Kids 2009Frankie Pickle and the Closet of Doom. By Eric Wight. Simon & Schuster.
Frankie Pickle is a boy with a wild imagination and sees himself as an Indiana Jones-style adventurer. Frankie’s next big adventure comes when he must confront the consequences of not cleaning his room in the form of… THE CLOSET OF DOOM. Hilarious and imaginative, this is hands-down the best graphic novel/early chapter book hybrid available.  –Scott Robins

Happy Happy Clover. By Sayuri Tatsuyama. VIZ Media. (3 volumes; ongoing)
If Beatrix Potter had been a manga-ka instead of a proper Edwardian lady, she might have produced something like Happy Happy Clover, a charming series about a spunky rabbit and her woodland friends. Like Peter Rabbit and Benjamin Bunny, Clover has an insatiable curiosity that frequently gets her into trouble, whether she’s looking for the tastiest berries in the forest or trying to steal a carrot from a farmer’s field. Each story has a moral to impart — look before you leap, listen to your elders — but is never didactic or condescending to the reader. Button-cute artwork and gentle humor make this a great choice for young readers.  –Katherine Dacey

Little Mouse Gets Ready. By Jeff Smith. Toon Books.

Little Mouse gets ready to go to the barn with his mother and siblings. While getting ready, Little Mouse details how he gets dressed and all the things he plans to do in the barn. The lively, full-page illustrations make this read like a picture book, though the dialogue is in comic form. The punch line at the end… that mice don’t wear clothes… will delight young children. This is a great read-out-loud or a great choice for emergent readers.  –Esther Keller

Luke on the Loose. By Harry Bliss. Toon Books.
While visiting Central Park with his dad, Luke spies a flock of pigeons and gives chase, pursuing them through the park and onto the streets of Manhattan, sowing chaos in his wake. Author Harry Bliss, a frequent contributor to The New Yorker, captures the geography and cultural diversity of New York City in energetic, appealing illustrations that abound in clever details: a cameo by Harold of Magic Crayon fame, a "Wanted" poster featuring The Hulk. Like all Toon Books, the vocabulary is just right for beginning readers, whether they’re tackling the book solo or with a parent, and the durable binding is designed to withstand grubby fingers and many readings. –Katherine Dacey

Ninja Baseball Kyuma. By Shunshin Maeda. UDON Kids. (1 volume; ongoing)
Kyuma Hattori is a ninja-in-training who has been living alone in the mountains with his dog Inui, waiting to be called to duty. Kaoru is the captain of his baseball team and is searching for someone to help them win. Their chance meeting gives Kyuma the purpose he’s been looking for and Kaoru and his team a chance to childrens classic comics The Best Comics for Kids 2009win. This series has some really well-written characters as well as entertaining stories. The combining of ninjas with baseball works. Both boys and girls will enjoy this title. –Lori Henderson

Even middle schoolers are enjoying this title! –Esther Keller

Toon Treasury of Classic Children’s Comics. Edited by Art Spiegelman & Francois Mouly. Toon Books.
I’m amused when people tell me that kids won’t read "old fashioned" comics. I see them do it all the time, especially the eight-to-ten year-olds, for whom everything is new. This is an amazing, huge collection of Golden Age comics published for children — some of them famous for either their creator or their characters, some more obscure, but all of them fun. –Eva Volin

BEST COMICS FOR TWEENS (9-12)
Adventures%20In%20Cartooning The Best Comics for Kids 2009Adventures in Cartooning. By James Sturm. First Second Publishing.
A princess who can’t draw. An elf who’s willing to teach her. And a knight who needs to find the princess. All while showing young readers the elements of how to create their own comic book. –Esther Keller

 
Easily the best non-fiction graphic novel of the year, I see everyone picking this book up — kids who want a good story as well as kids who want to learn how comics work. This book could not have been done any better. –Eva Volin

A Family Secret and The Search. By Eric Heuvel. Farrar, Straus, and Giroux.
A young teen boy digging through his grandmother’s attic makes a discovery that brings to light his family’s experiences during the Holocaust. The story of both his Christian grandmother and her Jewish best friend are told realistically, with the feel of a lot of research behind the tales. The Tintin-like art adds to the historical feel, but is updated enough to keep the story from being old-fashioned. A vital and fresh addition to Holocaust literature for children and teens. –Snow Wildsmith

Jellaby: Monster in the City. By Kean Soo. Hyperion.
Jellaby is back and in this second volume, he’s off to Toronto with Portia and Jason in search of his home. As the clues to Jellaby’s origin begin to unravel, things turn a bit sinister with the reveal of another monster like Jellaby, but one that eats children. The combination of the sweet relationship between Jellaby and his friends and the darker mysterious undertones offer something for every reader.  –Scott Robins

kitfeeny The Best Comics for Kids 2009Kit Feeney: On the Move. By Michael Townsend. Knopf.

Kit doesn’t want to move and leave his best friend behind, but is packing his friend in a moving box really the best idea? Townsend’s first book in a series is Babymouse for boys–lots of silly fun, brightly colored pages (orange here, rather than pink), and a realistic look at the troubles of being a kid. –Snow Wildsmith

Leave it to PET! The Misadventures of a Recycled Super-Robot
. By Kenji Sonishi. VIZ Media. (3 volumes; ongoing
)
The premise of Leave it to PET! sounds like something dreamed up by a well-meaning group of educators: make recycling seem fun and exciting by writing a comic book about a super-powered robot who began his life as a plastic juice bottle. Though recycling does play a minor part in the ongoing story, Leave it to PET! is actually fun and subversive, as its robot hero turns out to be an inept goofball whose super powers have a tendency to make situations much worse. The jokey script is nicely complemented by bold, simple artwork that’s easy for first-time manga readers to follow. A great introduction to the medium. –Katherine Dacey

Lockjaw and the Pet Avengers. By Chris Eliopoulos and Ig Guara. Marvel Comics.
Lockjaw, the Inhumans’ teleporting dog, embarks on a quest to find all the Infinity Gems. Along the way, he meets fellow superhero pets Throg, Hairball, Red Falcon, Lockheed and… Ms. Lion? This motley crew of animals travel through time, jungles, and oceans to face the powerful Titan, Thanos, who seeks to reclaim the Gems. This was a fun series to read with lots of comedy and adventure that kids will love. It even features a guest star appearance by presidential pup Bo!  –Lori Henderson

MyMommy 500 The Best Comics for Kids 2009My Mommy Is In America, And She Met Buffalo Bill. By Jean Regnaud and Emile Bravo. Fanfare/Ponent Mon.
When we meet five-year-old Jean, he’s anxious about his first day of kindergarten: what will he say when the teacher asks him about his long-absent mother? Eager for information about her, Jean is all too willing to believe his neighbor Michele when she claims to have received a postcard from Mme. Regnaud. The reader quickly realizes the truth about these colorful (and colorfully spelled) missives, but Jean has a longer, more painful journey to learn what happened to his mother. Regnaud’s memoir is funny and bittersweet, with a script that captures the rhythms of grade school speech with great fidelity, while Emile Bravo’s muted, earthy palette and slightly naive illustrations add a distinctively 1970s flavor to the story.  –Katherine Dacey

The Storm in the Barn. By Matt Phelan. Candlewick.
Jack Clark’s family is struggling to survive the hard times brought by the Dust Bowl. When Jack sees a mysterious figure "with a face like rain" in a neighboring barn, he will have to hope that his courage is enough to face danger greater than he has ever known. This part fantasy/part historical fiction title is a masterpiece of subtlety, both in words and in art. Phelan measures each word carefully and doles out color sparingly, echoing the privations of the 1930s. –Snow Wildsmith

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. By Eric Shanower and Skottie Young. Marvel.
Eric Shanower and Skottie Young offer a faithful rendition of Frank L. Baum’s classic fantasy novel, restoring many of the episodes and characters trimmed from the 1939 movie. The resulting story is darker, weirder, and more like a fairy tale than the Technicolor version we’re used to seeing; tweens may be surprised to learn just how baroque Baum’s imagination could be. Young’s sharp, stylized character designs bring fresh life to the story — what’s not to like about a Cowardly Lion who looks like a giant Pomeranian or a Tin Man with a thick, brushy ‘stache? — while Jean-Francois Beaulieu’s expert use of color emphasizes the strangeness of the setting.  –Katherine Dacey

BEST COMICS FOR TEENS (13-18)
BAYOU ZUDA bookphoto The Best Comics for Kids 2009Bayou. By Jeremy Love. Zuda. (1 volume; ongoing)
In thinking about the comics that lingered in my mind, Bayou has to be at the top of my list for 2009. Although periodically horrifying, given that Bayou deals with the realities of racism and lynching during the Depression in the South, this title has strong appeal to smart teens interested in how history and storytelling have been intertwined and skewed. Jeremy Love introduces readers to a vividly imagined mirror world populated with the best and worst of southern folklore and stereotype, all rendered in lush art that seems like it might just creep off the page. The whimsical style of legends combines with malevolent prejudice in this gripping, unforgettable journey.  –Robin Brenner

Cat Burglar Black. By Richard Sala. First Second.

K is invited to a prestigious boarding school by her aunt. But when she arrives, her aunt has fallen mysteriously ill. There are no regular classes and there are only three other students. Kat doesn’t expect that she’s going to have to use her prior experience as a burglar. The story has a bit of a creepy Gothic feel that will appeal to teen readers, and the mysterious twist in the end will have readers wanting to know when there’s going to be a sequel. –Esther Keller

Children of the Sea
. By Daisuke Igarashi. VIZ Media. (2 volumes; ongoing)
Ruka, a young teen girl caught between her parents’ divorce and her own tangled emotions, gets caught up in the lives of two mysterious boys one summer. The boys were raised in the ocean by dugongs and they can hear the same strange noise from the ocean as Ruka can. Igarashi’s art isn’t limited to being shonen or shojo, and neither is his story. This is a manga for teens who don’t fit in, for those who feel that the natural world may be more alive than we can know, and for those who feel that the environment needs us as much as we need it. –Snow Wildsmith

Gunnerkrigg Court, Vol. 1: Orientation. By Tom Siddell. Titan Books, Ltd. (1 volume; ongoing)
Antimony Carter’s first year at boarding school teaches her a lot more than just math and science! Gunnerkrigg Court is awash with mystery and fantasy in Siddell’s first print edition of his webcomic. The writing has just the right touch of droll to make the story believable even while fantastic things are happening. Full-color art and getting to watch the style grow and mature over the course of the volume is a kiminitodoke1 500 The Best Comics for Kids 2009nice plus. Teen fantasy/paranormal fans will find much to like here. –Snow Wildsmith

Kimi no Todoke: From Me to You. By Karuho Shiina. VIZ Media. (2 volumes; ongoing)

With her long black hair, creepy demeanor, and stand-offish ways, Sawako Kuronuma is often mistaken for Sadako, the main character in the horror movie, The Ring. The reality is that she’s just horribly shy, desperate to make friends and fit in with the rest of the class. When Kazehaya, the most popular boy in school, takes her under his wing, the rest of the class is forced to reevaluate their impressions of Sawako as Sawako begins to come out of her shell. Mangaka Karuho Shiina convey the emotions Sawako feels as her world expands, the pain and joy of friendship, the uncertainty and risk that come with letting people get to know you, with a sure hand. This is high school as I remember it and, I confess, I wiped away a tear or two as I read. –Eva Volin

Maximum Ride: The Manga. By James Patterson and NaRae Lee. Yen Press. (2 volumes; ongoing)
The second volume is just out, but the adaptation of the first volume really got me excited (all over again) about the Maximum Ride series. I thought that the artistry and the adaptation/shortening of the story did a great job of capturing the original series, while creating a new fan base. –Esther Keller

photographer The Best Comics for Kids 2009The Photographer: Into War-Torn Afghanistan with Doctors Without Borders, by Emmanuel Guibert. First Second.

When French photographer Didier Lefever accompanied Doctors Without Borders into war-torn Afghanistan in 1986, he recorded a way of life few here in America can imagine. Emmanuel Guibert has taken Lefever’s photographs and fleshed them out using his art and Lefever’s notes to create a narrative of the time Lefever spent in the region, what he saw, and how it changed him. While the book has been marketed to adults, teens gravitate toward this book, first for the grisly reality, then for the moving portrayal of people, families, teens just like them, trying to survive in a war zone. –Eva Volin
 
Pluto: Urasawa x Tezuka. By Naoki Urasawa. VIZ Media. (6 volumes; ongoing)
A German detective becomes caught up in a global conspiracy when he is assigned to investigate a series of murders. Someone is systematically killing the most powerful robots on Earth… and the detective is one of those robots! Old-school science fiction a la Bladerunner meets modern politics in Urasawa’s retelling of one of the Astro Boy stories written by manga master Osamu Tezuka. Urasawa uses every facet of comic storytelling to craft his tale, giving readers a fully-fleshed out premise, even for readers who don’t know the original work. –Snow Wildsmith
 
Of all of the manga I’ve read this year, Pluto is the series I read standing up, too impatient to get back into the world Urasawa has created to bother bringing the book to the couch. –Eva Volin

Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane: Sophomore Jinx. By Terry Moore. Marvel.

Mary Jane isn’t thrilled to start tenth grade at Midtown High. And while it starts out okay, it only gets worse, with a nickname she doesn’t like sticking like glue and a website that ridicules her spreading like wildfire. Even so, MJ finds solace in Spider-Man, who seems to be keeping an eye out for her. This is a great pick for readers who like superhero comics, but even those not familiar with the Spider-Man canon will enjoy the story.  –Esther Keller
ISBN Information
Adventures in Cartooning (9781596433694)
Bayou, Vol. 1 (9781401223823)
The Big Adventures of Majoko, Vol. 1 (9781897376812)
The Big Adventures of Majoko, Vol. 2 (9781897376829)
Binky the Space Cat (9781554533091)
Cat Burglar Black (9781596431447)
Children of the Sea, Vol. 1 (9781421529141)
Children of the Sea, Vol. 2 (9781421529196)
Dinosaur Hour (9781421526485)
A Family Secret (9780374322717)
Frankie Pickle and the Closet of Doom (9781416964841)
Gunnerkrigg Court, Vol. 1: Orientation (9781848561755)
Happy Happy Clover, Vol. 1 (9781421526560)
Happy Happy Clover, Vol. 2 (9781421526577)
Happy Happy Clover, Vol. 3 (9781421526584)
Jellaby: Monster in the City (9781423105657)
Kimi no Todoke: From Me to You, Vol. 1 (9781421527550)
Kimi no Todoke: From Me to You, Vol. 2 (9781421527567)
Kit Feeney: On the Move (9780375856143)
Little Mouse Gets Ready (9781935179016)
Lockjaw and the Pet Avengers (9780785142713)
Luke on the Loose (9781935179009)
Maximum Ride: The Manga, Vol. 1 (9780759529519)
Maximum Ride: The Manga, Vol. 2 (9780759529687)
My Mommy Is In America, And She Met Buffalo Bill (9788496427853)
Ninja Baseball Kyuma!, Vol. 1 (9781897376867)
The Photographer: Into War-Torn Afghanistan with Doctors Without Borders (9781596433755)
Pluto: Urasawa x Tezuka, Vol. 1 (9781421519180)
Pluto: Urasawa x Tezuka, Vol. 2 (9781421519197)
Pluto: Urasawa x Tezuka, Vol. 3 (9781421519203)
Pluto: Urasawa x Tezuka, Vol. 4 (9781421519210)
Pluto: Urasawa x Tezuka, Vol. 5 (9781421525839)
Pluto: Urasawa x Tezuka, Vol. 6 (9781421527215)
The Search (9780374365172)
The Storm in the Barn (9780763636180)
The Toon Treasury of Classic Children’s Comics (9780810957305)
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (9780785129219)
Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane: Sophmore Jinx (9780785130048)
 
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Katherine Dacey About Katherine Dacey

Katherine Dacey has been reviewing comics since 2006. From 2007 to 2008, she was the Senior Manga Editor at PopCultureShock, a site covering all aspects of the entertainment industry from comics to video games. In 2009, she launched The Manga Critic, where she focuses primarily on Japanese comics and novels in translation. Katherine lives and works in the Greater Boston area, and is a musicologist by training.

Comments

  1. Sally says:

    I love Gunnerkrigg Court!

  2. Jesse Post says:

    I’m surprised to see zero superhero comics in the younger readers bracket, actually! Although every title SLJ picked is excellent, kids at that age thrive on action/adventure and Marvel and DC are putting out several consistently amazing and age-appropriate titles.

    Ditto for the tween bracket, though it makes more sense to include more literary genres there.

  3. Angela says:

    Jesse, can you give us a quick lest of the Marvel and DC titles for younger readers? I’ve been searching and can’t seem to find them.

  4. Angela says:

    Urm… that would be a “list” not lest.

  5. Katherine Dacey says:

    Jesse: “Lockjaw and the Pet Avengers” is an all-ages Marvel superhero comic, and Lori Henderson included it in the list. I debated adding “Supergirl: Cosmic Adventures in the 8th Grade” to the tween category, but ultimately felt it wasn’t as strong an entry as the other titles that my colleagues nominated. As for beginning readers, I know that kids love “Tiny Titans,” but that series has been around for a while; we wanted to keep the focus on newer titles.

    @Angela: If you go to http://www.dccomics.com/dckids/, you’ll find a complete list of DC titles for younger readers. Marvel has a similar site to promote its kid-friendly titles: marvelkids.marvel.com/. Hope these websites provide a helpful place to start.

  6. Katherine Dacey says:

    And one more resource: BOOM! Studios is publishing the new all-ages comic based on Pixar’s “The Incredibles.” Those adaptations are solid, and might appeal to a young reader who’s seen the film.

  7. Susan Thomsen says:

    Thank you for this list. I was looking forward to it! I use your collective wisdom here to buy for a 10 year old.

  8. Katherine Dacey says:

    That’s the best kind of feedback we can get–it’s great to know these suggestions were helpful. Thank you!

  9. Stu says:

    Good list. I would have put “Secret Science Alliance” in, too.

  10. Martha Cornog says:

    I agree about Secret Science Alliance, and add the Artemis Fowl graphic novels too.

  11. Katherine Dacey says:

    Stu and Martha: Thanks for your suggestions! I know Snow enjoyed “The Secret Science Alliance,” as she gave it a very positive review here at GC4K. I don’t know why she didn’t nominate it, but I’d certainly agree that Eleanor Davis is a major talent!

  12. David Branson says:

    Marvel’s “Marvel Adventures” titles are also consistently good and all-ages-friendly (and I mean ALL ages: I’m a 42-year-old with a Master’s in English Lit and I love them!). :)

  13. Snow Wildsmith says:

    Wow, why didn’t I remember to include Secret Science Alliance in my nominees? Sorry, totally dropped the ball on that one everyone! But, yes, it is a wonderful title and definitely deserves recognition.

  14. kids says:

    Just wanted to say that this is one of the best sites for kids of all ages. Keep up the good work!

  15. Annabelle says:

    I’m sorry, but your selection kinda sucks ( no offense this is just my opinion >.<) As a seasoned con goer and an anime fan since five with a collection of 200 manga books, I will now give you my selection for tweens:
    Death Note by Tsugumi Ohba
    Future Diary by Sakae Esuno
    Durarara by Ryogho Narita
    Black Butler by Yana Toboso
    A Devil and Her Love Song by Miyoshi Tomori
    Pandora Hearts by Jun Mochizuki
    Dawn Of The Arcana by Rei Toma
    Shugo Chara by PEACH-PIT
    Sayonara, Zetsubou Sensei by Koji Kumeta
    D.N. Angel by Yukiru Sugisaki
    Grand Guignol Orchestra by Kaori Yuki
    Godchild by Kaori Yuki
    Rozen Maiden by PEACH-PIT
    D.Gray Man by Katsura Hoshino
    Bizenghast by M. Alice LeGrow
    Vampire Knight by Kaori Yuki
    A Certain Scientific Railgun by ?
    Bakuman by Tsugumi Ohba
    Alice In The Country Of Hearts by QUINROSE
    Venus vs Virus by ?
    and, for yaoi fans that can't read books rated mature, I have:
    Loveless by ?
    Camera Camera Camera by ?
    Light Novels
    Haruhi Suzimiya no Yutsuu by ?
    Book Girl and the Suicidal Mime by Mizuki Nomura
    I have read all of these books and they are all appropriate and very, very good. This is coming from a tween, so who better to ask?

Trackbacks

  1. [...] If Beatrix Potter had been a manga-ka instead of a proper Edwardian lady, she might have produced something like Happy Happy Clover, a charming series about a spunky rabbit and her woodland friends. Like Peter Rabbit and Benjamin Bunny, Clover has an insatiable curiosity that frequently gets her into trouble, whether she’s looking for the tastiest berries in the forest or trying to steal a carrot from a farmer’s field. Each story has a moral to impart — look before you leap, listen to your elders — but is never didactic or condescending to the reader. Button-cute artwork and gentle humor make this a great choice for young readers. –Originally reviewed at Good Comics for Kids, 12/8/09 [...]

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