When a child is just learning to read, comics can be a great supplement to help foster love and enjoyment for books. As detailed in this wonderful handout, “Raising a Reader,” from the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, comics have a lot to offer young readers. For that crucial first stage of early reading (ages 5-8, grades K-2), though, it can be hard to find appropriate comic book reading material. Many parents will either disregard comic books as a reading option or assume that any old superhero comic will do. The appropriate range of choices for this specific age group and reading level is actually pretty narrow, but it contains some fabulous picks.
I’ve put together a list of 10 great choices to consider giving your early reader. I’ve tried to keep in mind both reading level and content appropriateness. Also, it should be noted that 98% of today’s superhero comics are written for a minimum age of at least 13. Both Marvel and DC publish a couple of choices for younger readers based off their animated TV shows, but even those tend to skew older than the reading level we’re talking about here.
Without a doubt, the best go-to option for parents looking for quality comics for early readers is the many graphic novels from Toon Books. Started in 2008 by comics power couple Françoise Mouly (art and comics editor for the New Yorker) and Art Spiegelman (creator of the literary comics masterpiece Maus), Toon Books is the only comics publisher that organizes their publications by reading level. For early readers they have a number of great offerings spread across two levels: Brand-new readers (ages 3+, grades K-1) and Emerging Readers (ages 4+, grades 1-2). They also publish books for later stages like grades 2-3 and beyond.
The best part about Toon Books is the quality of the creative talent that Mouly and Spiegelman have tapped. There are books in these early levels by outstanding cartoonists such as Lilli Carré, Renee French, and Rutu Modan, and children’s book award-winning contributions from Jeff Smith and Eleanor Davis. Most books come in hardcover and softcover format and are pretty readily available in bookstores, but you can browse them all on Toon-Books.com.
Difficulty: The best part about Toon Books is they clearly label each book according to grade level beginning at K-1 up to Grade 3+.
Content: Think of these as a bridge between reading picture books and reading comics. The varied offerings include lots of books about cute, anthropomorphic animals learning moral and educational lessons.
Where to start: You can’t go wrong with Eleanor Davis’ award-winning Stinky, about a monster who is afraid of people but learns that, once you meet them, they’re really not that scary.