By Homa Woodrum
I can’t remember a time when I didn’t love comics, comic books, manga, graphic novels—whatever you choose to call them. I’m the third child out of four, and with an older brother and sister who read comic books, I was just along for the ride. As an adult, and one that reviews children’s literature for Vegbooks.org as a volunteer, I have had a chance to understand the appeal of sequential art as a storytelling medium. Every frame has context for the budding ready, imagery for the pre-reader, and adventure for the more advanced reader. I’ve been fortunate to review a number of books in this format for Vegbooks with a mind to animal rights and plant-based living themes so a roundup is in order! I’ve arranged these in order from youngest reader to oldest so you’ll be sure to find an option for introducing this art form to the little ones in your life.
Owly by Andy Runton is a series of almost wordless graphic novels/comics that use pictograms but mostly the illustrations in general to depict the gentle adventures of a vegetarian owl named Owly. He and his friend Wormy help other creatures, face their fears (like the dark), and make new friends. The author even uses animal friendly supplies for his artwork and the books all have themes that center on kindness and cooperation. (This series is from my own collection.) Read more.
Picture Book Level
The Zoo Box by Ariel Cohn and Aron Nels Steinke is more of a picture book with grouped images and word bubbles for speech, but with a fair amount of silence in the mix. Two children find themselves transported to a world where humans are the exhibits in a zoo and they have to escape home. The reader is left wondering if it was all pretend play and what it would mean to be on display in a zoo. Despite how it may sound, this isn’t heavy handed or preachy at all; it can be a fun fantasy or a talking point, or something in between. (This was originally a review copy I received from the publisher.) Read more.
Chapter Book Level
Hilda and the Bird Parade by Luke Pearson may be hard to find, as it is from overseas, but this book is worth seeking out. A large format book set in a world that mixes familiar things like school and towns with fantastic aspects like spirits and magic, Hilda and the Bird Parade is not the first book about Hilda but it can stand on its own well. Hilda helps a bird and ends up helping herself. (This was a review copy from the publisher that I requested when I read about it elsewhere.) Read more.
Graphic Novel Level
Monster on the Hill by Rob Harrell came highly recommended by none other than Neil Gaiman and Jeff Smith – both fantastic comic book authors in their own right. Every town has its own “monster” but Rayburn is something of an embarrassment until he, you guessed it, manages to save the day. Having empathy for the struggles of a non-human, even if they are a dragon-like creature is a good way to help children put themselves in the shoes of others. Not to mention the pacing and humor in the book make it tons of fun. (This was another review copy from a publisher.) Read more.