Picture books are great, of course, and we’ve shared some ideas about what you can read to your kids in this space. Eventually, though, one’s imagination can fill in the gaps more effectively than the best illustrator, and “chapter books” (the Chronicles of Narnia, say) are feasible and fun for your young readers.
There’s a bit of a gap between these two genres, however, and we’ve found that graphic novels can provide a bridge. In the best of these, the stories are bigger and more complex, the characters are more developed and more interesting, and the book’s text and illustrations play together differently and encourage the imagination to grow.
It’s here that author/illustrator/graphic novelist Ben Hatke’s Zita the Spacegirl series shines. This graphic novel trilogy follows the adventures of a young girl named Zita as she accidentally leaves Earth and enjoys some galactic adventures. Hatke’s frame-by-frame illustrations present fun and varied alien life, and that along with the characters’ dialogue presents an honorable, likeable heroine who continually gets into tight scrapes but displays courage while consistently acting rightly toward her friends and compatriots. The series appeals to both girls and boys and a wide range of ages: my nine-year-old, seven-year-old, and four-year-old all enjoy these tales…and I do too.
I’ve found that I can effectively assist my child’s understanding of the stories by asking questions (How do you think Zita’s feeling now? or What happened when Zita helped that little alien?) and providing a little extra explanatory narrative (Now Zita’s rocket is blasting off…). This sort of thing, more or less, is needed depending on your co-reader’s reading comprehension level. You’ll find your groove quickly, and I expect you’ll find that the imaginations of you and your young readers/listeners will grow accordingly.