Adventure in Words & Pictures: Short Graphic Hybrids

Boys have long loved comic books — and parents and teachers have long wished they liked “real books” as much.   Well, one of the coolest things to hit kid lit in recent years gives us the best of both:  the hybrid, part graphic novel, part text novel, where the interspersed comic-style pages don’t just illustrate, but actually move the story along.  Here are a couple such series that are already popular with boys at my library.

Dragonbreath, by Ursula Vernon (lexile: 700; AR book level: 4.3; 148 pp)

Danny Dragonbreath is adventurous,  creative — and he can’t yet breathe fire.  The last is a problem, because he’s a dragon.  In fact, he’s the only mythical student at Herpitax-Phibbias School for Reptiles and Amphibians, which is otherwise populated by the likes of snakes, salamanders, his best friend Wendell (an iguana), and the school bully Big Eddy (a Komodo dragon).

When Danny has to redo his school report on ocean life (since his made-up one on “snorkelbats” earned him an ‘F’), he decides to get information straight from the source, and visit his uncle Edward, a sea serpent in the Sargasso Sea.  He drags a reluctant and unadventurous Wendell along for the ride, where they’ll encounter exploding sea cucumbers, a hungry shark, and a giant squid that threatens to end their trip permanently.   (And along the way they’ll even learn something about marine biology!)

Dragonbreath is funny and clever, and the text and comic pages mesh perfectly.  Those moving into chapter books will be enticed to keep reading, even if they don’t catch all the vocabulary, while older readers will enjoy Vernon’s humor and quirky creations, like the Dragonbreath family’s bus system that seems able to take them to anyplace mythical, or the vicious school lunch potato salad (“A school of potato salad can skeletonize a cow in under two weeks, assuming that the cow doesn’t get bored and move…”).

Once you’re hooked, you want to read the rest:

Frankie Pickle and the Closet of Doom, by Eric Wight (lexile: 530; AR book level: 3.5; 96 pp)

“Reality is for grown-ups!”  So says Franklin Lorenzo Piccolini, aka Frankie Pickle, an average fourth-grade boy who may be, in his imagination, a superhero, a brave archeologist,  a race-car driver, or just about anything else exciting and adventurous.  Together with his faithful sidekick, Argyle the terrier, they can handle any challenge.

In this first book in the series, Frankie is all set for a day of playing video games, when his mom announces that he must clean his messy room.   But his imagination soon takes over, and after a gigantic robot fight the room is worse than ever.  So Mom makes a deal: Frankie doesn’t have to clean his room AT ALL — but he’ll have to deal with the consequences himself.  Wow!  What adventures can he and Argyle have now?  But will the mess eventually become Frankie’s greatest challenge to overcome?

The regular text pages tell Frankie’s real-world story, while the comic  pages portray his fantasy adventures with bold, sharp drawings that will remind adults, at least, of video and storybook heroes from Indiana Jones to Speed Racer.   These are easy, engaging reads for those moving into chapter books.  And I like the fact that Frankie’s parents are normal, supportive and savvy — seemingly the exception in children’s literature these days, when parents are often portrayed as absent, crazy or clueless.   The others in the series so far:

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