How to Pick the Right Comics for Your Kid

Comics and graphic novels can fire a child's imagination beyond words.Comics and graphic novels can fire a child's imagination beyond words.By Michael Berry, guest blogger for Common Sense Media

Take one look at news coverage from Comic-Con in San Diego this week, and you'll understand why it's such a cliché to say that "comics aren't just for kids any more." Comics-related entertainment is a multibillion-dollar business, enjoyed by audiences of all ages and backgrounds. But, as a parent, how do you foster a love of graphic storytelling without overwhelming your kids with age-inappropriate content? By knowing what to look for -- and being careful about what to avoid.

When my son, Lowell, was in grade school and enjoying the Captain Underpants books and Calvin & Hobbes collections, I would bring home comics from the office, as part of my job as a freelance book critic. But there were a whole lot I never shared with him, because they were simply too dark, too complicated, or too adult.

Between trying to explain character backstories that change constantly and confusingly (when I was a kid, Batman had just one Robin -- now there are five!) and being a gatekeeper against sex, violence, and rough language, it can take a lot of work to find good comics for young readers. But I believe the quest is well worth the effort. Done right, comics and graphic novels, with their interplay of text and illustration, can fire a child's imagination in ways that straight-ahead prose might not. Here are three tried-and-true ways parents can find good comics for kids:

  • Pay attention to graphic novelists who have a knack for writing for a younger audience (Dav Pilkey, Jane Yolen).
  • Look for graphic adaptations of beloved middle grade and YA novels (A Wrinkle in Time).
  • Ask comics-store staffers for the "kid-friendly" editions of superhero titles, such as Marvel's Ultimate Spider-Man and DC's Tiny Titans.

Now when I bring home comic book review copies, I don't have to worry that any will upset my 18-year-old. Having zoomed through all five volumes of George R.R. Martin's hyper-violent fantasy series Song of Ice and Fire (the source of TV's A Game of Thrones), Lowell is able to handle anything the new, grittier Batman can dish up.

Here are five comics series and graphic novels that are sure to click with kids and may also lead them to other science fiction and fantasy.

The Adventures of Captain Underpants, by Dav Pilkey (for ages 7 and up) -- A silly introduction to superhero themes and potty humor.

The Stonekeeper: Amulet, Book 1, by Kazi Kibuishi (for ages 8 and up) -- A beautifully illustrated fantasy set in a strange subterranean world.

A Wrinkle in Time: The Graphic Novel, by Hope Larson (for ages 9 and up)-- Madeleine L'Engle's classic science fiction novel, elegantly adapted to a different medium.

Foiled, by Jane Yolen and Mike Cavallaro (for ages 11 and up) -- A mix of Celtic folklore and modern-day adventures, with a strong female protagonist.

Watchmen, by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons (for ages 15 and up) -- A sophisticated re-imagination of superheroics, suitable for older teens.

What comics or graphic novels have hooked your kids?

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