Early reader comics

Back-to-school can mean learning to read — and the following comic-format early readers for those just starting out can help build confidence and reading enjoyment. See also our “New for New Readers” column in the Horn Book Magazine, our Summer Reading Beginning Readers and Primary Grades list, and many more suggestions at the Guide/Reviews Database: Easy Readers.

I Did It! [I Like to Read: Comics]
by Michael Emberley; illus. by the author
Preschool, Primary    Holiday    40 pp.    g
9/22    978-0-8234-4651-3    $14.99

A red-nosed creature wearing a green-and-purple-striped onesie attempts a series of activities: building a tall block tower, climbing a rope and a tree, catching a ball. Each try begins with optimism (“I can do it!” “Can I do it?” “I want to do it!” “I think I can do it”) but ends with frustration and discouragement: “I can’t do it!” Early efforts at bike riding seem similarly destined for disappointment — but the positive difference in outcome is a product of perseverance. Although the results aren’t yet mastery level, the protagonist — with a little help from friends raccoon, robot, elephant, penguin, and alligator — gains confidence and enjoyment without the pressure of perfection. The all-dialogue text, with just a handful of words in total, is easy to read and will give new readers, too, the self-assurance finally enjoyed by our main character. Lively cartoony illustrations with plenty of white space provide humor and relatability. The creature’s emotions are on full display (e.g., when it kicks over the block tower; walking, slumped shouldered, away from an uncaught ball), making its ultimate triumph that much sweeter. ELISSA GERSHOWITZ

Meet the Super Duper Seven [I Like to Read: Comics]
by Tim Hamilton; illus. by the author
Primary    Holiday    40 pp.    g
7/22    978-0-8234-4910-1    $14.99
e-book ed.  978-0-8234-5304-7    $8.99

The Super Duper Seven includes Electro-Elephant (“I can charge your phones”), Hypno-Hippo (“I put bad guys to sleep”), and Hungry Kitty, who keeps eating the smaller team members. This creates an ongoing branding problem, as the Seven become Six and then Five, and the team has to keep buying new shirts. When the heroes run out of money and begin to have (understandable) difficulty recruiting new members, they must consider forming an alliance with a superhero they’d previously rejected. This mid-level beginning-reader comic is silly fun. The cycle of introducing and reintroducing the team allows for repetition that adds to the humor, especially useful with some of the more challenging phonetic feats (words like polka, quarter, and elephant). Hamilton draws with a thin, loose line, and his characters feature tiny eyes in giant heads, visually setting a playful tone. The panels are rich with detail, but the illustrations also clearly support the plot for less confident readers. With their somewhat-less-than-super powers — e.g., the hero of the story, Polka Don, can make things with string — this group has its origin in many a children’s grassroots club. Long may the Super Duper…Four reign! ADRIENNE L. PETTINELLI

It’s a Sign! [Elephant & Piggie Like Reading!]
by Jarrett Pumphrey and Jerome Pumphrey; illus. by the authors; with additional illustrations by Mo Willems
Primary    Hyperion    64 pp.    g
5/22    978-1-368-07584-8    $10.99

Fox-like animal friends One and Two, art supplies in hand, are working together to create “a sign for our new club!” Two more friends appear on the scene, contributing ideas, offering encouragement, and engaging in wordplay (including some decodable phonics). Membership is booming — and the sign’s real estate increasing — but what actually is the club? The Pumphrey brothers, whose picture books (The Old Truck, rev. 3/20; The Old Boat, rev. 3/21) are so beautifully evocative and contemplative, here show off their sillier side, as befitting an Elephant & Piggie spinoff series entry. Color-coded, all-speech-bubble banter is snappily enjoyable and easy to comprehend, culminating in a very humorous, word-centric, twist ending. The art, made from “hand-cut foam stamps and colored digitally,” features subdued hues (goldenrods and raspberries, with soft-blue backgrounds and lots of white space) and eye-pleasingly simple shapes. The friends are individuals, with unique colors and markings (including the number of splotches on their bushy tails), but united in enthusiasm for being together, creating art, and sharing their expertise. For example, One can’t yet read but can sure fold a mean paper hat! ELISSA GERSHOWITZ

Fish and Wave [I Can Read!: Comics]
by Sergio Ruzzier; illus. by the author
Preschool, Primary    HarperAlley/HarperCollins    48 pp.    g
5/22    978-0-06-307667-9    $16.99
Paper ed.  978-0-06-307666-2    $4.99

Fish (Fish and Sun, rev. 9/21) wakes up early to search for a new friend, and the first potential pal he finds is a wave. Wave starts as a nonthreatening little bump on the water, with a button nose and two dots for eyes. But then, as waves do, she swells, rising to several times her original size and crashing down on Fish, frightening him. Ruzzier’s illustrations feature minimal ink lines and watercolor washes in groovy pastels that bleed into each other and let the texture of the paper show through, adding warmth and visual interest to this comic for the newest readers. Each spread features one panel; the illustrations do most of the work, and the rest of the story comes in speech bubbles (one or two per panel) that lean heavily on sight words and repetition. When Wave rises again, she and Fish talk about their feelings and find a way to allow friendship to blossom and flourish through the cycle of a wave’s inevitable fluctuations. Unlikely duos sorting out how to have fun together are a staple of the beginning reader genre, and this story has added depth in its assertion that sometimes the best way to play is to go with the flow. ADRIENNE L. PETTINELLI

From the September 2022 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.

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