Friday, May 31, 2013

The wonderful world of comics (part two)

Last week I shared a little bit about why I really don't mind that my daughter loves superhero comics; you can read that one HERE.  I also admitted that the violence and narrow representations of women do concern me and that I've been on the hunt for more age appropriate and girl empowering options.  As promised, I'm going to share what I've come across. My criteria for selection was based on very few, but very particular criteria.  I wanted to find comics that appealed to Aria's love of fantasy, that featured girls or women in lead roles, and that were interesting enough to hold my own attention.  I think the following comics all fit that bill quite nicely.

Hildafolk is Luke Pearson's debut comic published by Nobrow Press and its a great introduction to the world of comics if the child in your life has never read or looked at a comic before. Pearson tells a great story with few words and plenty of whimsical illustrations. The blue-haired protagonist is spunky and fun; I think most kids will find they relate to her well.  My favorite panel is the one in which she tells her mum she is off to draw pictures of rocks.  I love it because it is something that Aria would totally do.  Actually, I think it is something that she has done.  The comic is listed as intended for ages 10 and up, but I find age recommendations are rather arbitrary.  Aria is five and has no problems following the story line.  *There is one "naughty" word in the comic (specifically the word dammit) so please take note if this is a deal breaker for you.*
The only complaint I have about Hildafolk is that it is so short.  Thankfully, Pearson has already released two other comics featuring the spunky blue-haired Hilda.  Hilda and the Midnight Giant is a longer tale, making it a bit more satisfying.  Readers also get a better chance to really witness Hilda in action as she sets out to save her home.  Along the way, she meets a number of interesting characters and embarks on quite the adventure.  This one is definitely a favorite of Aria's.  And I am not surprised because Hilda reminds me of Aria in more than one way: Artistic, spunky, determined, and curious.  Again, Hilda is billed as intended for ages 10 and up but 5 year old Aria has no problems following the story.  
Hereville: How Mirka got her Sword by Barry Deutsch and published by Amulet Books is probably one of my favorites.  Mirka is just your average 11 year old except she wants to fight dragons and is growing up in an Orthodox Jewish community.  Peppered throughout the story are Yiddish phrases (translations provided) and Jewish traditions.  The characters are believable and likable and the story line is fun and engaging.  This is one of the more word heavy stories.  I was worried that it would not hold Aria's attention but once again she not only likes it but has requested it multiple nights in a row.  Its billed for ages 8 and up, which I find ironic since the Hilda stories are far more simple and billed for 10+.  Again Aria is only 5 and enjoyed it but I'd say this time the age recommendation is a safe bet if your child isn't used to longer stories.  If you buy it and it doesn't hold your child's attention try again in a year and in the meantime enjoy the comic yourself.
Of all my findings, Zita the Spacegirl has to be the ultimate favorite.  Written by Ben Hatke and published by First Second Books, Zita the Spacegirl is a story about an Earth girl who embarks on an intergalactic adventure when her best friend Joseph is swiped by aliens.  She is brave and a wee bit impulsive (but that only adds to her appeal).  There is plenty of action and even betrayal in this fun-packed story of a little girl out to save her best friend in a foreign galaxy filled with interesting aliens.  Aria gives this one two thumbs up; she even wants a Zita costume and THAT is saying something!
Aria loved the first one so much I had to get the second Zita book, Legends of Zita the Spacegirl.  This one follows up on Zita's adventures in outer space as she struggles to contend with becoming a sudden intergalactic celebrity.  All the favorite characters from the last book are here plus you're introduced to a few new ones that provide a hint at the mysterious past life of Piper and Mouse.  The only downside of this one is that Hatke hasn't released the third Zita book yet and he ends the second one with some unresolved issues.  Its hard trying to explain to Aria that she has to wait until the third one is published (sometime in 2014) before we can read it.  But I suppose this is a lesson on patience for both of us.
Just a last thought on comics. If you do decide to pick up a few for the child in your life, its a good idea to run them through how to read a comic.  I're thinking, how hard can it be to read a comic?  It's not hard, but it is different than reading a book.  In a book, the illustrations are typically complementary; in a comic they are absolutely fundamental to the story. A good portion of the story is told through the illustrations.  I pointed out to Aria that facial expressions could tell her a lot about how a particular character is feeling, that bold letters typically indicate someone is shouting, and that thought bubbles mean a person is thinking something rather than speaking out loud.  She probably could have figured this out on her own but I think it made the experience more enjoyable for her since she understood how to read comics from the onset.  Plus, since she can't actually read words yet, it helped her engage in the story more fully.  She carefully examined the panels to see if a character was angry or sad or perplexed and pointed out when they shouting or thinking.

An added bonus is that Aria is suddenly showing an interest in learning to read.  She loves story time but at 5 years of age she hasn't shown a true interest in learning how to read herself.  Since I introduced these comics, she has become very insistent that she be allowed to read some of the words, typically sound effects like BOOM, WOOSH, and BANG, but I'm going with it.  I think this summer we'll incorporate some basic reading lessons as we locate and enjoy more kid appropriate, girl empowering comics into our lives.   

As I come across more comics, I'll be sure to share them with you.  In the meantime, if you check out any of these recommendations, come back and let us know if you or the children in your life like them.  If you know any comics that meet my criteria that you'd like to recommend, I'd love to hear about them!


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