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Check It Out

Courier Article by Charles Sutton
Sunday, December 21, 2008

Tales of graphic novels paint pictures for all ages

Graphic novels are acceptable alternatives to traditional prose and nonfiction. Graphic novels appeal to all ages, including reluctant and struggling readers.

Rocco Versaci argues that comics are as "literary" as other print formats. "American Born Chinese" by Gene Luen Yang won the 2006 Printz Award and was a 2006 National Book Award Finalist for Young People's Literature. These awards are given to books that exemplify literary excellence.

Another award-winning example and 2008 Caldecott winner, "The Invention of Hugo Cabret" by Brian Selznick, stretches the graphic format. Over half the book, like "The Savage," are graphics.

"The Savage" by David Almond; illustrated by Dave McKean

The graphics in "The Savage" help Blue Baker tell his story. Blue began writing his story after a school counselor requested he write down his thoughts and feelings. Journaling wasn't nearly as fulfilling as writing about the Savage.

Blue imagines what would happen if the Savage met Hooper, the town bully. When Blue writes himself into the story, the line between Blue and the Savage blurs.

"The Savage" is a quick read and a good choice for reluctant readers.

"Goong: The Royal Palace" Vol. 1 by SoHee Park

Much of the recent growth of the graphic novel format can be attributed to Japanese manga. "Goong" is manhwa, Korean comic similar to manga.

The Korean monarchy is long gone, and the grand palaces of yore are empty tourist attractions. "Goong" is a modern monarchy story. In volume one, 17-year-old Crown Prince, Shin Lee must choose a bride or accept his parents' choice, which is shocking.

SoHee Park has created believable characters and realistic dialog. I can't wait for the next volume.

"Life Sucks" by Jessica Abel, Gabe Soria and Warren Pleece

"Life Sucks" follows Dave Miller, a vegetarian vampire, trapped in a dead-end night manager position, until he meets and vies for the affection of mortal Rosa. Rosa is fascinated by and romanticizes vampire lore to escape her family problems.

"Life Sucks" will attract readers with its full color format and popular vampire theme. I recommend this to mature teens because of some language and violence.

Nonfiction graphic novels are equally engaging but can be hard to find.

Popular "Maus" by Art Spiegeleman, often regarded as the book that legitimized the literary potential of graphic novels, is shelved 940.531. "The Adventures of Johnny Bunko" by Daniel Pink is in Careers under 650.14. "A People's History of American Empire" by Howard Zinn has Dewey classification 327.73.

"Satchel Paige: Striking Out Jim Crow" by James Strum and Rich Tommaso

The book is about Satchel Paige, the Negro Baseball League, and Jim Crow South told by Emmet Wilson. Published by the Center for Cartoon Studies, this graphic novel has great illustration and demonstrates the ability of the format to engage readers and inform. "Satchel Paige" is classified as a biography. Its call number is 921.

Interesting and complex stories of literary value can be found in graphic format.

Charles Sutton is a teen specialist librarian. Readers may contact him at 428-8217. The opinions expressed in this column are personal and do not reflect policies or official recommendations of the library.