I walked in the door after work and Little Bean was waiting for me, holding a pile of graphic novels.
“Daddy, look at this!” Not hello, how was your day? Not I missed you. Just a big double-page image of a fantastical world with a spaceship. “This picture. Can you get this picture for me?”
“What do you mean by get it?”
“Like, I’d hang this on my wall.”
Right, I understood what she was asking. I understood because I too, at her age, hung this stuff on my wall. She’s been devouring Amulet, a graphic novel series by Kazu Kibuishi that follows the adventures of Emily, a young girl who discovers a sentient amulet in her grandmother’s house.
This was a big step for her. She went from picture books to easy chapter books, then stalled out until I brought home some Baby-Sitters Club graphic novels for her to try. She was fascinated. “These books have a lot of words AND pictures” she told me at the time.
She tore through every graphic novel I could find, graduating to Diary of a Wimpy Kid and Junie B and Magic Tree House.
I don’t recall how she became aware of the Amulet series, a complicated, big themes series that explores much darker and deeper subject matter, but she needed to take those first Baby-Sitters Club steps to find it.
The connection between graphic novels and comic books, for me, is sharp and direct. When I was about my daughter’s age, I came down with a terrible flu bug – really nasty stuff, legitimately scary to my parents; an illness that had me bedridden for what felt like weeks.
That sickness was the catalyst for my career as a writer because of a moment that is so vivid in my mind that I even remember that my mother was wearing a green sweater. She had just come home from a run to the drugstore to load up on meds for me, but had found something else.
“Here,” she said. “I thought maybe you’d like this.” She handed me an oversized collection of the Fantastic Four, the first six comics in the series, all bundled into one colorful, giant, amazing book. This was a revelatory moment for me, a perfect storm of images, story, color and words that exploded in my brain.
Comics suddenly became something more than kid cartoons. This was storytelling. This was a family who fought and complained, who felt pain and were reluctant superheroes, a situation completely opposite of the Batmans, Supermans and Captain Americas of the day. And this was before “Star Wars.” Comics at the time (and to some, still) were worse than empty entertainment. Comics were evil.
So there was an element of danger there as well.
Not to my mother, though. She desperately wanted me to get well, to feel better. She took a chance on this huge, strange comic collection that she knew nothing about. Little did she know what a deep and permanent fire she was lighting.
I still read them, less regularly than I used to. I still have a collection, smaller than it used to be, but enough to introduce my daughter to someday soon.
In my role as a librarian, I see kids’ eyes light up when they browse our graphic novels collection. I get it. I try to help parents get it. This can be transitional literature, a way to excite early readers into understanding character development and serious themes.
Not to mention art. Words and pictures. Storytelling.
And so, after a bit of searching to find a decent-sized image of the one she was looking for, I printed out the picture on photo paper and picked up one of those cheap, plastic 11×8 frames. We spent a little time trying to figure out the best place for it to go up in her bedroom. She finally settled on a space on the opposite wall so she could see the picture from her bed.
Will there come a day when her walls are also covered with images of, I don’t know, Little Women and War and Peace? Maybe. For years, I had a picture of Iago on my wall because villains are far more interesting than heroes, sometimes.
But really, I don’t care. She’s reading deeply. She’s reading books that excite her to the point where those worlds spill out from the pages onto her walls. She has access to books and stories in a way I could only have dreamed of when I was her age.
And I’m happy to feed her hunger.