How do I figure out age appropriate comic book/media (ages 9-11)?
December 3, 2013 11:46 AM   Subscribe

I have a niece and two nephews. As the one among my siblings who's into comic book culture, my brothers have started asking me for input and recommendations for the kids, and I'm finding myself having some trouble. A lot of superhero comics may or may not be age appropriate and I also worry about some of the weird sexist subtext in a lot of stuff. I am asking this partially for input in picking Christmas gifts, but also in order to be a better family resource.

All of the kids have advanced reading skills and parents who can talk them through problematic stuff if needed.

I am closest to my niece (K, age 9.5). Last year I had good luck with the recent Power Pack collection, and only moderate interest in the manga (Cardcaptor Sakura) and independent collection (Leave it to Chance). I think K didn't have the cultural vocabulary to be thrown into "backwards" reading manga and get the tropes, but she is a year older now. She likes Archie comics. If I could get trade paperbacks of the original 1980's Power Pack run, I'd pick those up in a heartbeat. K seems really sensitive to violence in movies, but can handle it in text or comic form. She really likes the current Spiderman cartoon. Would the current Teen Titans/Young Justice be age appropriate? Are there any of the old runs of Wonder Woman in reprint that might be good?

My nephews (S, age 9, and A, age 11) are a little farther from me, so I don't have as good a feel for them. I did really well with A last year after finding out that he was into Tintin; I tracked down some real old-school Popeye adventure comics. There are probably other old pulps I might find in reprint. I'd love good recommendations there. S is apparently into Greek Mythology so if I can't find graphic novels for him I have some other avenues. I gather from their dad that he's been struggling a bit with finding age appropriate graphic novels for them as well.

So, the question is, what recommendations can folks give for age-appropriate materials that are available (in print, reprint, or used are all fine)?

Also, what parameters can I use to determine age appropriateness? I don't have that good of a feel for pre-teens. What can I look for as a good sign or avoid as a red flag?
posted by Karmakaze to Media & Arts (17 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
There's a wealth of options if you dig past the front-lines of the industry that insist on yelling COMICS AREN'T FOR KIDS ANYMORE as loud as they can. There are some good recommendations here.

My favorites include:

Digests or back issues of the 2009-11-era Marvel Adventures comics, especially Spider-Man and Avengers. They're young-reader-friendly but don't talk down to the audience.

Atomic Robo may go over their heads a bit, but even at the basic level they're fantastic adventure stories with no gore or sex.

DC's Tiny Titans series is a great line of kids' funnybooks. The creators recently spun off their own line of original stuff, called Aw Yeah! Comics, which I haven't read yet.

And Jeff Smith's classic Bone is...well, a classic. Kid-friendly high fantasy with amazing art.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 11:53 AM on December 3, 2013

If it doesn't have to be necessarily all superheroes ... the Archie people have been doing some great stuff in recent years, probably of most interest to the 11 year old.

+1 for Bone, for sure.

Top Shelf's kids stuff is uniformly good, from what bits of it I've read.
posted by jbickers at 12:03 PM on December 3, 2013

Since S is into Greek mythology, maybe the Olympians series by George O'Connor? It's been getting great reviews.

I just read parts of the Amelia Rules series and found it surprisingly deep and tender -- maybe a good choice for K.
posted by Jeanne at 12:11 PM on December 3, 2013

My son is 11 years old. He loves the tv show Adventure Time, and the corresponding comic books. I'd also recommend Bravest Warriors as a favorite of his. I recently let him read the first Groo: The Wanderer TPB and he loved it. He also loves Calvin and Hobbes, which while not a comic book, might still scratch the itch of your niece and nephews.

A lot of the older Marvel and DC stuff is not that bad, as far as superhero comics go. Your average Superman or Spider-Man comic book from the 60s-early 90s is probably okay for your nephews.

Also, a quick Internet search on "age appropriate comic book" yields these results:

Age-Appropriate Comic Books by Manfred J. von Vulte link
posted by Big Chief Little Pants at 12:16 PM on December 3, 2013

Bone is great for anyone of any age.

K. might like Babymouse (school comedy/drama), the Zita the Spacegirl books (adventure/sci-fi), and the two Hereville books (How Mirka Got Her Sword and How Mirka Met a Meteorite, both adventure/fantasy). I'd also recommend the Secret Science Alliance and the Copyright Crook (mystery/adventure) as well as the two Jellaby books (mystery/fantasy/adventure, though it looks like the first one is out of print). I'd second Amelia Rules; it's wonderful.

For S. and A. the Marvel Adventures series, sure, but also for S. I'd say the Graphic Myths and Legends series is an option (I haven't read most of them, but the Beowulf one was good) and also maybe Owly and Robot Dreams (though they're both wordless, they're brilliant. I'm not sure what genre I'd put them in, though I'd say Owly is cute and genteel, but with a brilliant visual syntax, and Robot Dreams is a sad but wise and wonderful story about relationships). For A. I'd say maybe Into the Volcano (adventure) and Spiral-Bound Summer and/or The Unsinkable Walker Bean (both adventure/mystery/fantasy. Spiral-Bound is mostly mystery; Walker Bean leans much more heavily to adventure). Also, has he read Carl Barks' run on the Donald Duck comics?

K. and A. might both like the Amulet series (adventure/fantasy).

Also, has K. seen the Spectacular Spider-man cartoon? It is fantastic and age-appropriate. Netflix has them; your local library might too (if you want to "try before you buy" and if the local library doesn't have a book you're interested in, they can usually borrow it from another library system.)

If any of the kids are into time-travel and/or choose-your-own adventure stories, I'd recommend Jason Shiga's book Meanwhile. It's brilliant and mind-bending how he turned that conceit into a comic.

I love the new Ultimate Spider-Man comics with Miles Morales but I haven't read it with an eye towards age-appropriateness for younger kids. I'd say it's definitely suitable for teens, but of course K. isn't a teen and she might not like it anyway: I do remember that some of the fight scenes get a bit violent, though IIRC it's all less violent than the sorts of fights Peter-Parker-Spider-Man got into in the same series.

That's all I can think of offhand.

You are familiar with No Flying, No Tights, yes?
posted by johnofjack at 12:56 PM on December 3, 2013

The two that my 9 yo daughter are into are these:

Olympians series by George O'Connor


the Oz books by Eric Shanower
posted by BearClaw6 at 1:29 PM on December 3, 2013

I love the Adventure Time comics for kids of these ages. I have read the entire series along with a 9 year old buddy. He and I both love it. They are age appropriate and great. I know adults who love the show and comics as well.

The Bone books by Jeff Smith are a classic. You can get color volumes put out by Scholastic Books. They're beautiful and I think that the series has 9 books. Great for that age range and boys and girls both love it.

Your niece may like some of Raina Telgemeier's books.
posted by quince at 1:32 PM on December 3, 2013

If it doesn't have to be superheroes or Archie, you actually have lots of options!

Basically everything by First Second is excellent -- go to this page and scroll down to the age categories you want.

I'd check out titles by Raina Telgemeier and Hope Larson (I personally loved Smile, Drama and A Wrinkle in Time), and I've heard great things about the Amulet series by Kazu Kibuishi. Scholastic has actually published a ton of graphic novels for kids.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 1:36 PM on December 3, 2013

Foxtrot. Work safe enough for a bunch of Sunday papers, and smart enough to be enjoyable.
posted by Jacen at 1:50 PM on December 3, 2013

A friend of mine runs this comics blog: New Readers... Start Here! They've recommended lots of comics for kids and teenagers and you can browse reviews by age range.
posted by daisyk at 2:00 PM on December 3, 2013

Not exactly what you asked for, but my favorite kids comic of 2013 is Monster on the Hill by Rob Harrell. I read it with my four year old twins about once a week, and they love it more than all of the Marvel and DC Kids comics of which there are many.
posted by togdon at 2:50 PM on December 3, 2013

I agree with the above recommendation for anything from First Second - I've really enjoyed the comics that Faith Erin Hicks has written and illustrated for them so far (Friends with Boys, Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong) along with Adventures of Superhero Girl.

Additionally, I've gotten my 10 year old nephew (and, ahem, myself) a subscription to Cartozia Tales which is gorgeous and fun and all ages. They have a group of core contributors and each issue has guest contributors. Each is assigned a slot of a map grid of Cartozia and write a story for that section of the map. The next issue has them reassigned so the stories get to continue with new storytellers.
posted by jillithd at 2:51 PM on December 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

As far as the "media" in your question Avatar the Last Airbender is four seasons* of beautiful, thoughtful, epic, heartbreaking animated TV (from Nickelodeon: definitely child-safe, definitely will get more on rewatching as they age). A handful of full episodes are at that link, so you can see this wonderful adventure strung together with magical martial arts.

Definitely worth owning in hardback is Shaun Tan's The Arrival. Please click through to the book cover. This completely wordless work highlights a journey from a familiar place to a new place. Good and bad things happen. A family is eventually reunited. It takes my breath away every time I read it. Tan's universe has strange, yet comforting, beasts and buildings and people. It's a book a four year old could read back to you.

*With the tragic exception of the very last episode
posted by Jesse the K at 6:07 PM on December 3, 2013

List of pop culture for kids from NPR's pop culture happy hour.
posted by snarfles at 7:45 PM on December 3, 2013

The Teen Titans cartoon that came out in 2003 is probably age appropriate. I started watching it when I was 11, and I thought it was great. A 9.5-year-old would probably be fine with it. I also watched a lot of Batman Beyond and Static Shock starting around when I was 8 or 9. I saw a few episodes of Teen Titans and Batman Beyond over the summer and they've held up really well since I first saw them.

I didn't understand manga as a kid, but I loved anime. We didn't know it was anime, though (it was just something that turned up on the kids' cartoon channels). I watched a metric ton of Digimon (the first three seasons), Sailor Moon, Cardcaptor Sakura, and Dragon Ball.

As for comics, I really, really love Magnolia Porter's Monster Pulse right now. She does her best to keep the story and even the comments section appropriate for kids. You can buy the book that collects the first six chapters here. I just got mine in the mail today, actually! It's great.

Tom Siddell's Gunnerkrigg Court might also be appropriate. You can buy volumes II, III, and IV on Topatoco here. I think it benefits the author most if you buy through Topatoco, but volume I isn't available through that route right now. It looks like you can buy volume I directly from the publisher here.

I also adore John Allison's Bad Machinery. You can buy the book on Topatoco here if you're interested.

I liked Faith Erin Hicks' Friends With Boys too. I couldn't stand Nothing Could Possibly Go Wrong, though, but that's just me.

If you're serious about the Wonder Woman thing, avoid Wonder Woman: The Twelve Labors. I had to read it for a class on American superheroes, and it was really offensive at times. Really sexist and racist and gross. I feel the same way about Essential Spider-Man, Vol. 2, which I also had to read.
posted by topoisomerase at 9:02 PM on December 3, 2013

Oh yes, Shaun Tan is great! We've given away multiple copies of The Arrival. His The Red Tree and Eric are also lovely, though both are shorter than The Arrival.
posted by daisyk at 1:51 AM on December 4, 2013

My 9 and three-quarters (as she'll be sure to tell you) year old daughter's love of Bone and other comics and graphic novels spurred this question years ago - she's now read her way through most of that list. I'll also agree with the Raina Telgemeier books, Archie comics, Amulet, Adventure time - she reads and re-reads them all. She loves the Olympians too - there are lots of Greek God biography graphic novels out there too.

These days her favourites are Spera (they are so gorgeous) and Willow Dawson's No Girls Allowed (and she has art from Spera's artists and Willow Dawson on her walls - original art is always a good gift!) Sidekicks is another favourite that gets pulled out again and again.

Also good are Little Dee, Courtney Crumrin, and Polly and the Pirates (because my kid likes series - she never likes books she loves to end.)
posted by peagood at 4:22 AM on December 4, 2013

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