Every two months, all of the children’s librarians from my entire system (73 libraries!) gather downtown for an information order meeting. One of the presentations at a recent session? You guessed it – graphic novels for kids. Our fearless leaders in Children’s Services have been trying to broaden the world of graphic novels in the Los Angeles Public Library. The battlecry? No longer will the Young Adult area hold a monopoly over the graphic novels! Publishers, children’s librarians, and patrons are demanding more content for younger kids.
I managed to coerse the graphic novel committee into letting me post their great powerpoint overview of the graphic novel genre and how Los Angeles Public Library is incorporating these books into the children’s collections… and programming around it! As a verified non-expert in this genre, I appreciated the synthesis of a huge amount of information into a simplified format. I only wish I could’ve grabbed some snapshots of the cute insanely cute crafts that were demonstrated. I hope you enjoy the efforts of Marc Horton, Eva Mitnick, Carey Vance, Joanna Fabicon, and Maddy Kerr – I know I did.
The September issue of School Library Journal reflects this trend. Peter Gutiérrez wrote an article entitled “Good & Plenty: It used to be hard to find good graphic novels for the K–4 crowd. My, how times have changed.” Okay, the title is a bit of a clunker, but the article itself offers a great primer to some of the awesome material for children. And I decided to challenge myself to read a few of the novels mentioned.
My favorite of the bunch? Frank Cammuso’s Knight’s of the Lunch Table series, without a doubt.
I accidentally ordered the second volume of the series, the Dragon Players, instead of the first volume, the Dodgeball Chronicles. No matter – the story was easily picked up without needing an introduction.
King Arthur and the Round Table seemlessly fits into this modern day story about middle school. Artie attends Camelot Middle School with his evil sister Morgan. Of course, there’s a Mr. Merlyn, a science wiz with a mysterious raven as a classroom pet. And Percy and Guen show up as Artie’s best friend and love interest respectively. That’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to references to the Camelot legend. At times, I really want to go back and grab my copy of the Once and Future King, just to catch more obscure allusions in the text.
In the Dragon Players, Artie finds himself in a competition of dueling dragons – robot dragons, that is. The bullies of the school, appropriately named “The Horde,” have forced Percy to build them a fearsome dragon competitor. Cammuso weaves the theme of duality from the beginning of the story to the narrative climax. I particularly loved the scene where “the ladies of the lunch” dispense a warning.
Arthur, King of Middle School,
Within thy heart, two dragons duel.
One is warm and one is cook,
In thy life just one shall rule.
All pretty standard stuff, right? Of course the mystic lunch ladies would speak in cryptic gibberish. But Cammuso continues the exchange… with an appropriate food-related sense of humor. This, of course, totally confuses Artie.
French fries… or veggie sticks?
Who knows which dragon you shall pick?
Chef salad… or pizza cheesy?
One is right and one is easy.
I couldn’t stop laughing, and then I forced several co-workers to listen to the dialogue.
A shadowy figure in the guise of a dorky kid named Evo shows up with an easy answer to Artie’s dueling robots dilemma. And of course, Artie and his friends have to go through harrowing hijinx before they must make a decision. Kids will definitely identify with Artie; he’s savvy, street-wise, but a little uncertain at the same time. Like most kids, he looks to his friends and his mentors for advice… but Artie can also look to his magic locker (a middle school version of Excalibur) for a more unique form of guidance.
The art is fantastic – the characters are drawn with deft, broad strokes. The coloring is vibrant, appealing to both younger kids and their parents. I’m not extremely visually oriented; I read text too fast. But I found myself going back through the pages a second (and even a third) time to absorb all of the small details in the background of the panels. The stories pertain to middle schoolers, but younger elementary school readers will eat up this series.
Kelly Jensen is a former librarian turned editor for Book Riot. She's the author of IT HAPPENS: A Guide to Contemporary Realistic Fiction for the YA Reader and the forthcoming Feminism For The Real World (Algonquin Young Readers, Spring 2017).