It’s a genre where books usually say “Suggested for Mature Readers” or some such on the back, but that doesn’t mean there are no graphic novels suitable for the consumption of children.
Apart from meant-for-children-of-all-ages books such as the ACK (that’s Amar Chitra Katha, silly) comics, there are, surprise, surprise, graphic novels that can be read by children—and not just read, but read to good effect.
My son (he is four) enjoyed Osama Tezuka’s eight-volume rendering of Buddha, although I suspect this has more to do with his obsession with elephants and the large number of pachyderms that feature in the books than anything else. Tezuka was a master of manga and the books are a few decades old, although their English version is of fairly recent vintage.
Much like other manga books, Tezuka’s Buddha volumes have their share of violence and nudity, but the overall result is still something that is child-safe. For those parents put off by a little nudity, I’d recommend The Travels of Thelonious, Volume 1, which is a new book.
Thelonious is a chipmunk and from what the book—part-prose novel and part-graphic novel—implies, he lives in a quiet jungle in a post-apocalyptic and post-human future. A flood destroys his house and deposits him in an abandoned human city ruled over by a dragon lady (a fat lizard whom we don’t get to see much of, thankfully). He escapes with the help of a bookish porcupine and a bear that knows how to fly planes (for the record, most of the animals in the book have opposable thumbs).
Rather than live in his quiet jungle, however, Thelonious opts to accompany the bear (and the porcupine) on their search for the fog mound, the bear’s original home and a sort of stationary Noah’s ark. The Travels… is a simply written (and simply drawn) book and the language has the kind of metre that, while not Dr Seuss quality, still manages to appeal to children.
I suspect that, given the general drift of the book, it will end up making some kind of moralistic statement about peace or something else, but it is still an enjoyable read. Thelonious is a wonderful character, as is Olive bear, the aviator.
Now, to answer the original question: Why should it bother us if children don’t read graphic novels? Actually, it shouldn’t, just like it shouldn’t bother us that children can’t read, write, do their math (even simple stuff), draw, paint, or simply oppose their thumbs. This summer, don’t let your child watch Spider-Man 3 or Pirates of the Caribbean: World’s End. Instead, get him (or her) a child-friendly graphic novel to read.
(Write to Sukumar at firstname.lastname@example.org)