As a graphic novel fan and expert, I get asked about the appropriateness of all kinds of series. Different age ranges and different institutions, especially schools, are working under various restrictions and in communities with different standards. I am always happy to discuss titles with librarians and educators, but much depends on their own community’s standards and institutional guidelines.
When I get asked about a series, the first thing to do is check the most obvious: read reviews and check with the publisher for their recommended age rating. Age ratings are particularly noticeable and explained on manga series (check out VIZ and Yen Press), but mainstream comics publishers use them as well, including DC and Marvel. How accurate they are, and how much they reflect what librarians need to know, is debatable, but they are at least the first indication of a title’s place in a collection.
Vendors also offer age ranges for titles in their catalogs, sometimes gleaned from the publishers but more often independently applied from internal standards. Brodart has an excellent explanation of how they rate graphic novels (Doc). Ingram and Baker and Taylor both include age ratings or estimations of a title’s appeal within their systems.
Then there are the reviews. If you can find them, check out reviews for series from library sources, including Library Journal, VOYA, Kirkus, Publisher’s Weekly, School Library Journal, and Library Media Connection. Then check further out on industry sites like The Manga Bookshelf, About.com’s Manga site, Comics Alliance, and Comic Book Resources.
Here’s what I found out for the two titles folks asked me to investigate:
Publisher Age Rating: TEEN. May be suitable for early teens and older. For example, may contain violence, infrequent use of strong language, suggestive themes or situations, crude humor, alcohol and/or tobacco use.
Vendor Age Recommendations: Baker & Taylor: Teen – Grade 7-9, Age 12-14, Ingram: Target Age Group: 14 to 17, Brodart: Included on Essential Manga for Young Adults list (Age range 12-19)
Library Journal, Chosen for Quick Picks for Young Adult Reluctant Readers, LJ Xpress review of volume 11, Publisher’s Weekly Review
Manga Bookshelf: Saturday Spotlight: Fullmetal Alchemist, Anime News Network: Fullmetal Alchemist 1-3, Manga Maniac Cafe: Fullmetal Alchemist 1
Publisher Age Rating: TEEN PLUS. May be suitable for older teens and adults. For example, may contain intense and/or gory violence, sexual content, frequent strong language, alcohol, tobacco and/or other substance use.
Vendor Age Recommendations: Bakery and Taylor: Audience: General Adult, Ingram: none, Brodart: Included on Best Manga Graphic Novels for Young Adults List
LJ Xpress Review of volume 9; Death Note v. 1 review from Kliatt, March 2006
About.com Manga Review: Death Note v. 1, v. 12; Anime News Network: Death Note v. 1; IGN Review: Death Note v. 1
Finally, I find it’s frequently most useful (and fast!) to ask the people who’ve read the series, and can thus comment specifically on content, or those who know series well because they work with them on a daily basis: your fellow librarians. Check in with the librarians at the Graphic Novels in Libraries listserv (hosted over here at Yahoo!) for responses from all across the country, in different communities (that might well match yours!) to get a sense of how the series stands in the majority of communities. I’ve never known the librarians on such lists to hesitate to discuss a title’s appropriateness with specific examples, so you can depend upon your peers to help you out.
So, with all of this information at my fingertips, I feel most confident to make a recommendation, but I encourage everyone to investigate in this way on your own. I always suggest librarians and educators consider their own community’s standards and, especially with schools, whatever other restrictions they might have to keep in mind (relation to curriculum, for example.)
However, with what I’ve uncovered above, here’s what I say: both are very well reviewed series, and are quality work in terms of both story and art. Fullmetal Alchemist is likely okay for most middle schools, depending on their tolerance for some serious topics and violence. Death Note, given the strong questions it raises about the responsibility for life and death both, could make for a great discussion tool. The series is rated for older teens, and I agree that it’s best suited for older high schoolers. Given the story’s premise (murder and violence are frequently, if mostly bloodlessly, depicted) each school will do best to decide for themselves.
The Good Comics for Kids Question Tuesday column is here to do one thing: answer your questions! To send in your questions for the next Question Tuesday, please go to our form here or send out a tweet to me at @nfntrobin or to all of us at @goodcomics4kids. We will endeavor to answer as many questions as possible in our weekly column. All questions are due in by Friday at midnight so we’ll have a chance to write up the answers for the next week.