Graphic novels for children and young adults are not just comics. Many do have the highly visual elements of comics: multiple panels on a page and text in speech bubbles; but graphic novels are books rather than magazines and come in diverse forms. Many picture books include what I regard as the fundamental element of a graphic novel: framed (or even unframed) panels.
Some book buyers may be wary of buying graphic novels for children, assuming that the content may be ‘graphic’. Of course, content in graphic novels can be ‘graphic’ in the sense of ‘explicit’ but graphic also implies ‘visual’ and it doesn’t take long to flick through a graphic novel aimed at children to check that the content is age appropriate.
Bob Graham is known as one of Australia’s best picture book creators for children. Have a look at most of his books and you’ll notice that many pages are composed as framed panels (pictures inside boxes). Graham’s most recent book is How the Sun Got to Coco’s House (Walker Books). By the second double page, Graham’s story splits into a framed and unframed wide panel showing the sun over an icy horizon. Then it becomes a full double-page spread to show the immense size of a whale, before breaking into three different-sized panels. Graham’s masterful composition and form create a unique reading and viewing experience.
Another Australian master of the graphic novel in picture book form is the incomparable and fondly remembered Gregory Rogers. His award-winning ‘Boy’ series, beginning with The Boy, the Bear, the Baron and the Bard (Allen & Unwin) has recently been published as a trilogy. Encourage young readers to explore Rogers’ Shakespearian London and Renaissance Europe. His colour, verve, humour and innovation are breath taking.
Nicki Greenberg is also recognised as a world-class Australian creator of graphic novels. Her latest book, Teddy Took the Train (Allen & Unwin), is intended for younger readers than some of her others such as Shakespeare’s Hamlet and The Great Gatsby, and is ably reviewed here by Dimity Powell.
Australian publisher of Indigenous literature, Magabala Press, is publishing Australia’s first Indigenous graphic novel trilogy. It’s by Brenton E McKenna and begins with Ubby’s Underdogs: The Legend of the Phoenix.
This has recently been followed with Ubby’s Underdogs: Heroes Beginnings. The stories are set in Broome and will particularly appeal to readers in upper primary and junior secondary school (about 10-14 years). McKenna is a very popular and dynamic figure at writers’ festivals.
KidGlovz (A&U) is written by Julie Hunt and illustrated in black and white by Dale Newman. This is an exquisite collaboration about a young musical prodigy, Kidglovz, who is virtually a prisoner of his uncle and forced to practise and perform the piano. He hears sounds as music and is befriended by tightrope walker, Shoestring, who tries to help him. Kidglovz stands alongside Brian Selznick’s books such as The Invention of Hugo Cabret, Wonderstruck and The Marvels.