Even as kids become old enough to read books without pictures, reading a graphic novel is a great way to relax or get a grasp of a complex subject (like quantum physics). 11 year old Harald, an avid reader, recommends some of the best ones he's read that other kids his age might also enjoy.
I like reading in general. I read a lot of books without illustrations, too, but graphic novels are good when I don’t want to do so much imagining. That sounds bad, but sometimes less effort is nice. I first read Asterix when I was six, and I still love to read them to relax. Comics and graphic novels are good if you are finding a story hard to follow or a bit boring, but some novels shouldn’t be put into graphic novels because they don’t need that.
With graphic novels the art is really important. The ones I’ve picked for this interview all have very different art styles, and they’re all really good.
Your first pick of the best graphic novels for 10-12 year olds is Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood. It’s an award-winning memoir about growing up in Iran. What do you like about it?
It really gets into the feel of what it was like then, throughout the Islamic revolution and the Iran-Iraq war. It shows the history of Iran through one person’s life, and the people around her. The author’s family wanted the revolution, which was when the people in Iran revolted against the monarch. Her grandfather was a prince, but he became a communist. They were a pretty well-off family, but they still wanted the Shah to leave. The Shah wasn’t doing a good job of ruling, and I think most people wanted that to change. But they had no idea that Iran would become even more oppressive than before, after becoming an Islamic republic. This graphic novel describes how it got worse and how horrible it was.
What age is the narrator?
She is 10 years old at the start of the book. At the end of the book she is 14 and leaves Iran without her parents. There is a second volume about her life in Vienna and her adult life back in Iran. She is looking back at her childhood, so we get a look into her life but also a look into the political story of Iran at that time. There are some traumatic bits so I wouldn’t recommend this graphic novel for people younger than 10 years old.
The author did the art herself. It’s quite different to most graphic novels. It’s all black and white. It’s a bit cartoony but still serious.
Let’s talk about your next pick of the best graphic novels for 10-12 year olds, The Legend of Sally Jones, which won a prestigious children’s book prize in Sweden.
It’s great. It’s got very nice art. The art is by the author in this book as well. It’s kind of sad but also quite happy because in the end Sally Jones goes back to her troop of gorillas, but then she decides to return to sea instead. The gorillas see her off so they like her, it’s not that they don’t accept her. I like to think that maybe she learnt too many skills and she has to use them. By the end of the book she has learnt to crack safes, pick locks, sail and fully maintain a ship’s engine. It’s an adventure, and it’s about animal welfare and perseverance. I like it a lot.
Can you talk a bit more about what happens in the story?
In the Congo rainforest, an infant gorilla is taken by Belgian explorers on an illegal hunting expedition. A merchant buys her as an engagement present for his fiancée. He smuggles her to Turkey and pretends she is a human baby. He gives her a false passport saying she is the orphan daughter of an Irish missionary couple who disappeared in the jungle; that is how she gets her name. The fiancée is so disappointed with her present that she breaks off the engagement, and the merchant sells Sally Jones to a rich widow from Hamburg, Frau Schultz, who has a villa on the outskirts of Istanbul. She nurses Sally Jones back to health.
Sally Jones’s favourite game is hunting for presents. The games gradually became more difficult and after she has mastered finding bananas she learns how to seek out precious stones and jewellery, even from safes. One night they go to a private mansion where Sally Jones steals all the family jewels. The police have no idea who it was. Eventually she gets caught and handed over to the zoo. Frau Schultz runs away. Later, Sally Jones is sold to a circus.
After a long adventure, Sally Jones meets a ship’s engineer from Finland called Koskela, who buys her. Sally Jones becomes a good engineer. They go to America, where she finds Frau Schultz and steals all her money in revenge for leaving her. Sally Jones and Chief Koskela buy their own ship and sail the seas together. They go to the Congo but when Sally Jones goes back to the gorillas she doesn’t want to leave the Chief or her new life, so they go back to sea until the next book when their ship sinks and Sally Jones goes on a new adventure. That’s a great story, too.
Yes, and there is one after that, The False Rose. Those are illustrated novels, not graphic novels. I love Sally Jones. These books are probably best for children age 8-12, so for younger readers than the other graphic novels I’ve picked for this interview. But I think older people would enjoy all of them as well.
Your next pick of the best graphic novels for 10-12 year olds is Mysteries of the Quantum Universe. It’s not written for children, is it?
It’s for anyone who wants to understand quantum physics. It will be complicated whether you’re a child or not, so I don’t think it makes much difference if you’re an adult or a child reading it. It’s good. It’s nonfiction within a story of the character going into the quantum universe and discovering what it all means.
What I like most about this one is that it explains something really complicated and intimidating really well. If I tried to explain it to anyone, my brain would explode. I like how it goes through each important quantum physicist: Max Planck, Albert Einstein, the Prince de Broglie, Werner Heisenberg, Erwin Schrödinger, Max Born. And it talks about Niels Bohr throughout the book. Then Hugh Everett, who puts it all together into one idea, sort of the eureka moment. It’s not the end, but the furthest we have got so far.
The book goes through each step forward from each breakthrough by these quantum physicists. It’s like each person summarises what the previous person had thought and what their contribution was. By the end, you have each person’s contribution all in one book, so it’s like a history of that particular science as well.
Do you feel that you have a grasp of what quantum physics is about after reading this book?
Yes, but obviously not fully.
What about the art?
The art is great to help explain everything. I don’t think I would understand what the book is talking about if it wasn’t for the art, which is why I think this is so important as a graphic novel. It’s black and white with pops of colour. You need to be at good brain power level when you read it, otherwise you won’t understand a word. It’s not one to read when you’re tired or hungry. It takes a lot of concentration to understand everything. It’s much easier as a graphic novel than if you just read it in a book with no illustrations; I wouldn’t understand it with just a lot of complicated words.
Let’s move on to your next pick of the best graphic novels for 10-12 year olds, Kariba.
You don’t see many stories set in Zimbabwe, which made this graphic novel a bit different for me. The art is nice and colourful and depicts the nature of southern Africa really well. The characters are well written and it’s a good story. I like it.
What is it about?
The main character, Siku, is the daughter of the river god Nyaminyami. She is found as a baby by two treasure hunters, or pirates. One of them stops being a treasure hunter to raise her. White people want to build a dam but the river god wouldn’t like it and would break it down, so they try to kill the river god. The tribespeople don’t want the dam because it will flood them, and they don’t want to have to leave their homes. Siku has to make a decision and face her powers and stop the river god getting killed. So she goes on a big adventure with some pirates and an Italian boy whose mum is an engineer working to build the dam. The Kariba dam really exists on the Zambesi river. It was built in the 1950s so the story is set then, although it is fantasy. It’s about having to make a choice between the environment and development, or whether there is a way to find a balance. This book has quite a lot of pages, I think it’s best for 10-13 year olds.
We have come to your final pick of the best graphic novels for 10-12 year olds, Northern Lights. It’s the first volume in Philip Pullman’s award-winning His Dark Materials trilogy, but this graphic novel adaptation was first published in French.
The other books I have picked were all graphic novels to start with. This one is a bit different since it was a novel first. I thought about some other books that were made into graphic novels as well. The Girl Who Owned a City is good for 10-12 year olds. All the adults are dead because of a virus and a girl uses smarts to battle it out with other gangs of children. The Artemis Fowl series has a good graphic novel version, which I would recommend for 8-12 year olds. It’s about a millionaire child leader of a crime family. The Breadwinner was first a novel and then a film. It’s set in Afghanistan under the Taliban. It’s probably for 9-13 year olds, and the art in the graphic novel is from the animation film. It’s got very nice art.
Anyway, I really like Northern Lights and the other books in that series, so that’s the one I’ve picked. I listened to the audiobook first, then I read the books, and The Book of Dust. Then I watched the film and the TV series. I read the graphic novel recently. All of them are good.
Why do you love this story so much?
It’s very original and very well written. You really get into the world of those characters, and there is lots of adventure.
What is special about the graphic novel?
The novel is not necessarily a children’s book although the main character is a child. Having it as a graphic novel really helps to make it an easier read, so you can give the story to younger children. It’s quite a complicated story. You need less imagination to read the graphic novel, so unless you have a very good imagination it’s a bit more escapism to read it.
The art is very good. They put the story into a graphic novel really well, much better than most that were not originally a graphic novel. And the characters are well represented according to how the author described them and their personalities in the book. The illustrator has to make artistic choices but that doesn’t mean you should completely change the characters’ appearance, but quite a few graphic novels do. This graphic novel is a great alternative to reading the book, especially for 10-13 year olds.
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