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Art Baltazar/DC Comics
Art Baltazar/DC Comics

10 Great Kids Comics for Early Readers

Art Baltazar/DC Comics
Art Baltazar/DC Comics

When a child is just learning to read, comics can be a great supplement to help foster love and enjoyment for books. As detailed in this wonderful handout, “Raising a Reader,”  from the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, comics have a lot to offer young readers. For that crucial first stage of early reading (ages 5-8, grades K-2), though, it can be hard to find appropriate comic book reading material. Many parents will either disregard comic books as a reading option or assume that any old superhero comic will do. The appropriate range of choices for this specific age group and reading level is actually pretty narrow, but it contains some fabulous picks.

I’ve put together a list of 10 great choices to consider giving your early reader. I’ve tried to keep in mind both reading level and content appropriateness. Also, it should be noted that 98% of today’s superhero comics are written for a minimum age of at least 13. Both Marvel and DC publish a couple of choices for younger readers based off their animated TV shows, but even those tend to skew older than the reading level we’re talking about here.

1. Toon Books

Without a doubt, the best go-to option for parents looking for quality comics for early readers is the many graphic novels from Toon Books. Started in 2008 by comics power couple Françoise Mouly (art and comics editor for the New Yorker) and Art Spiegelman (creator of the literary comics masterpiece Maus), Toon Books is the only comics publisher that organizes their publications by reading level. For early readers they have a number of great offerings spread across two levels: Brand-new readers (ages 3+, grades K-1) and Emerging Readers (ages 4+, grades 1-2). They also publish books for later stages like grades 2-3 and beyond.

The best part about Toon Books is the quality of the creative talent that Mouly and Spiegelman have tapped. There are books in these early levels by outstanding cartoonists such as Lilli Carré, Renee French, and Rutu Modan, and children’s book award-winning contributions from Jeff Smith and Eleanor Davis. Most books come in hardcover and softcover format and are pretty readily available in bookstores, but you can browse them all on Toon-Books.com.

Difficulty: The best part about Toon Books is they clearly label each book according to grade level beginning at K-1 up to Grade 3+.
Content: Think of these as a bridge between reading picture books and reading comics. The varied offerings include lots of books about cute, anthropomorphic animals learning moral and educational lessons.
Where to start: You can’t go wrong with Eleanor Davis’ award-winning Stinky, about a monster who is afraid of people but learns that, once you meet them, they’re really not that scary.

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2. Owly

For early readers who are still trying to gain their confidence with the written word, there are comics like Andy Runton’s Owly that let the pictures do the talking. These cute, award-winning books are mostly wordless, sometimes using word balloons that contain pictures instead of words. This is a great way of getting new readers into the flow of reading—especially comics reading—without stumbling over word recognition. The stories usually center around friendship, loyalty, and nature and are charmingly innocent. While there may not be any words, Runton’s illustrations will give you and your little reader a lot to look at and talk about.

Difficulty: Since there are no words, even pre-readers can pick these up.
Content: These are very innocent stories, completely devoid of violence or adult themes.
Where to start: Runton is in the process of shifting to self-publishing the Owly books and you can learn about them on his website (he even has a lot of free PDFs you can download to sample). There is a pretty big library of Owly books that are readily available in most comic shops, bookstores, or Amazon.com. Why not start at Volume 1?

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3. Tiny Titans

Art Baltazar and Franco Aureliani have made a name for themselves by creating all-ages superhero comics in their very recognizable kid-friendly style. They’ve applied this style to everything from their own creations like Patrick the Wolf Boy to “Itty Bitty” versions of horror comic characters like Hellboy and Vampirella. The book that put them on the map, though, is Tiny Titans which ran for 50 issues from 2008 until 2012, twice winning the comics industry's top award for Best Kids Series, and has been collected across 8 volumes of trade paperbacks.

Difficulty: The books consist of short stories—mostly 2-4 pages in length—and the storytelling relies a lot on visual gags so the word count is pretty low and non-intimidating.
Content: The stories are focused on elementary-school versions of many DC Comics characters (primarily those associated with the Teen Titans like Robin, Cyborg, Beast Boy, and Aqualad) and it’s more about being in school than fighting criminals. Some of the jokes may require some familiarity with the DC Universe and other pop culture for kids to fully “get” them, though.
Where to start: You may be able to find some random back issues at certain comic shops, but since the series has ended, your best bet will be the trade paperback collections like Tiny Titans Vol. 1: Welcome to the Treehouse.

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4. Nursery Rhyme Comics/ Fairy Tale Comics

How can you go wrong with nursery rhymes and fairy tales? Especially when they’re drawn by some of the best cartoonists in the business? First Second Books and editor Chris Duffy had the brilliant idea of putting together two separate large collections (there are 50 nursery rhymes in one book and 17 fairy tales in the other) by a dream lineup of primarily indie-comic stars like Roz Chast, Gene Luen Yang, Mike Mignola, Jamie and Gilbert Hernandez, Emily Carroll, Raina Telgemeier, David Mazzuchelli, Eleanor Davis, Stan Sakai, and others.

Difficulty: As you might be able to surmise, the Nursery Rhyme collection skews a little younger, but both are perfect choices for this reading level.
Content: Kids will recognize most of the stories here, but they do mix things up with a couple of obscure selections in each. The fairy tales are certainly no more disturbing than any Grimm fairy tale you read when you were young.
Where to Start: Both books should be pretty easy to find wherever books are sold.

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5. Scooby Doo Team-Up

Unexpectedly, one of the most enjoyable kids comics to come out in recent years is Scooby-Doo Team-Up which, each month, has the Scooby Doo gang meet various DC Comics heroes as well as characters from classic Hanna-Barbera cartoons like the Flintstones and the Jetsons. Parents reading along will appreciate writer Sholly Fisch’s inside jokes in relation to these old shows.

Difficulty: The vocabulary should be within most early readers' ability. These are written a little more like a standard comic book than the previous entries on this list, with lots of word balloons and pages with many individual panels. This will pretty much be the case with the rest of the items on this list, but I point it out because navigating the architecture of some comic pages can be intimidating for some readers.
Content: These are fun stories and actually a better, kid-friendly introduction to superheroes like Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman than you’ll find in 95% of all other superhero comics today.
Where to start: As of this writing, the 9th issue of the series was just released, so most comic book shops should at least have the recent issues in stock. You can start with any issue as they are mostly self-contained stories.

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6. Uncle Scrooge

Why not start them with the classics? Carl Barks’ Uncle Scrooge comics from the 1940s, '50s, and '60s are widely considered to be some of the greatest comics ever made. Unlike a lot of comics from that era, though, they hold up really well and will still get laughs out of kids today.

Difficulty: There is some complicated wordplay at times and the occasional old-fashioned jokes and plot line that may go over some kids' heads.
Content: At a certain point Barks—and later Don Rosa—began to tell stories with Scrooge McDuck and his nephews Donald, Huey, Dewey, and Louie, that took on a globe-trotting bent with archeological digs and explorations of far-off cultures. These would inspire the popular Duck Tales animated series of the 1980s. Huey, Dewey, and Louie’s adventures may inspire a yearning for knowledge in your own little Junior Woodchucks.
Where to start: Fantagraphics has put out many collected volumes of the classic Uncle Scrooge comics. They generally run about $30 each but are beautifully put together. Most public libraries are bound to have an Uncle Scrooge book or two on their shelves if you want to sample them that way.

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7. Hilda

Luke Pearon’s Hilda series of graphic novels follows a young elementary-school-age girl who lives in a village called Trolberg, populated by talking birds, giants, black hounds, and, of course, trolls. Otherwise, her world is not much different from our own and Hilda is not much different from any other girl her age. She’s smart and sassy, lives alone with her mom, and loves animals. That realism amidst the fantasy world she exists in is what makes this series so enjoyable for kids (boys and girls alike). Pearson has a wonderful, European sensibility to his cartooning, which matches the vaguely Northern European setting of the stories and makes these books a delight to read.

Difficulty: The reading level shouldn’t be a problem for grades 1 and up and the page lengths (the first two books are 44 pages and the third is 64) are long but achievable.
Content: Very kid-friendly stories with nice life lessons, but they’re also thoughtful and sophisticated in a way that makes them rise above kiddie fare.
Where to start: The very first book, Hildafolk, is a 24-page comic, but Pearson has moved into a longer, more European-style graphic “album” format. He has released three book-length adventures so far and the most recent, Hilda and the Black Hound, is absolutely fantastic, with Pearson taking everything he’s built so far and making a nearly perfect all-ages comic.

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8. Ordinary People Can Change the World

Brad Meltzer and Chris Eliopoulos’ Ordinary People Can Change The World series of picture book/graphic novels about famous people who made a difference in history is an easy-to-read and fun way for a child to learn about important figures like Abraham Lincoln, Rosa Parks, Albert Einstein, and even (in an upcoming volume) Lucille Ball. Both writer and artist are familiar names in the comics world. Meltzer is more famous as a novelist, but comic fans will know him as the writer of DC’s Identity Crisis, while Eliopoulos has illustrated a number of comics for kids like Franklin Richards: Son of a Genius.

Difficulty: There are some lengthy picture book-style text pieces in addition to the comic book-style word balloons, but it’s all written for a Kindergarten-and-up audience.
Content: I think some educators and sticklers for facts have questioned the validity of presenting biographies in this way, but it’s certainly a great way to get young kids interested in history.
Where to start: There are currently 5 stand-alone volumes (I am Abraham Lincoln, I am Amelia Earhart, I am Rosa Parks, I am Albert Einstein, and I am Jackie Robinson) that are readily available in the children’s section of most book stores.

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9. Abigail and the Snowman

Abigail and the Snowman is published by Boom! Studios and written and drawn by Roger Langridge (most recently known for his spectacular run on the Muppet Show comics). It’s a funny story about friendship in which a 9-year-old girl named Abigail moves to a new town with her single dad and struggles to make friends until she meets Claude, a Yeti who has escaped from a secret government lab and who only Abigail and the other kids at school can see. Kids of all ages – boys and girls alike – will get a kick out of Abigail and Claude’s friendship.

Difficulty: Langridge is masterful at character design and physical comedy and that really goes a long way in making this fun to read.
Content: There are some government agents chasing Claude but the danger here is not too scary.
Where to start: This is a four-issue limited series that is still in the midst of its run as this is being written. The fourth issue is yet to be released, but most bigger comic shops may still have the first three issues. If not, a trade paperback collection will surely be out in a couple of months.

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10. Anna & Froga

For kids who enjoy an odd sense of humor, Anouk Ricard’s delightfully weird graphic novel series Anna & Froga is an easy read that will earn some giggles. Each book contains a collection of short stories centered around a young girl named Anna and her animal friends—Froga the frog, Christopher the worm, Bubu the dog, and Ron the cat. Like any group of friends, they tend to bicker and tease each other while also accepting their idiosyncrasies. Ricard’s drawing style is fun and childlike, but her understated, sometimes testy dialogue among the friends is what makes this so fun.

Difficulty: This can be easily read by most new readers, but the sense of humor—the books are translated from French—may be too subtle and low-key for some kids.
Content: The friends do fun, innocent stuff like go to an amusement park, make their own movie, and take a trip to the lake, but there’s a healthy dose of sarcasm involved.
Where to Start: Drawn & Quarterly has published four volumes of Anna & Froga stories: Fore!, Thrills, Chills and Gooseberries, Want a Gumball?, and I Dunno, What Do You Want To Do? They all feature various self-contained stories so you can jump in anywhere.

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Pop Culture
Cheerleaders and Chicken Suits: Funko is Releasing Several Special Edition Deadpool POPs!

Marvel’s “Merc With a Mouth” is not only getting a sequel—he’s also getting some new swag. Deadpool, the sardonic superhero/villain in red spandex, will soon be immortalized in a new line of special edition Funko POP! vinyl toys.

In keeping with the franchise's eccentric sense of humor, there will be several outlandish outfits to choose from, each one sold exclusively by a different retailer. Among the outfit options Funko lovers will find are a mermaid get-up (complete with starfish bra) at Target; a cheerleader uniform for BoxLunch; a king’s robe and crown at FYE; and a chicken suit for Amazon shoppers. There’s even one of Deadpool holding a chimichanga while wearing ninja gear for 7-Eleven.

These parody dolls seem to be keeping in character with the Deadpool films, which themselves are parodies of the superhero genre. The title character, played by Ryan Reynolds, often breaks the fourth wall in order to poke fun at both DC and Marvel. (The filmmakers also famously signed off on spending $10,000 for a quick shot of the unlikely superhero wearing a tank top with Golden Girl Bea Arthur's face on it.)

The figures will be out this summer following the release of Deadpool 2 on May 18, 2018. Funko also recently released its royal family line of POP! dolls, depicting Britain’s longest-reigning monarch, Elizabeth II, and her kin.

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20 Marvel Cinematic Universe Movie Locations You Can Visit in Real Life
Marvel Studios
Marvel Studios

While most of Marvel Cinematic Universe is magically brought to life on sound stages, the box office-busting superhero movie franchise also makes use of real-world locations around the world to bring its stories to life. Here are 20 Marvel Cinematic Universe movie locations you can visit in real life.

1. WARRIOR FALLS // BLACK PANTHER (2018)

Angela Bassett, Forest Whitaker, Connie Chiume, Michael B. Jordan, Chadwick Boseman, Danai Gurira, Lupita Nyong'o, and Daniel Kaluuya in 'Black Panther' (2018)
Disney/Marvel Studios

If you want to be the next king of Wakanda, you have to challenge the current king to ritual combat at Warrior Falls. While close-ups and action footage of Black Panther’s Warrior Falls were filmed on a soundstage in Atlanta, Georgia, establishing and wide shots were filmed at Iguazu Falls, a water system on the border of Argentina and Brazil in South America.

2. STARK INDUSTRIES // IRON MAN (2008)

After three months of being held captive by a terrorist group in Iron Man, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) returns to the United States and gives a press conference about his ordeal at Stark Industries HQ in Los Angeles. However, the press conference scene was filmed on location at the headquarters for Masimo, a medical technologies company based in the city of Irvine. The company’s offices have also been featured in Transformers (2007) and Dodgeball (2004).

3. CULVER UNIVERSITY // THE INCREDIBLE HULK (2008)

In The Incredible Hulk, Bruce Banner (Edward Norton) is a nuclear physicist and biochemist at Culver University in Willowdale, Virginia. For the film, the campus of the University of Toronto was used for the fictional school, while Morningside Park in Scarborough, Ontario was used for the university’s quadrangle. The park was the main filming location for General “Thunderbolt” Ross’s (William Hurt) attack on the Big Green Guy.

4. RANDY’S DONUTS // IRON MAN 2 (2010)

In Iron Man 2, Tony Stark—in full Iron Man armor—lounges inside the large, iconic donut on top of Randy’s Donuts when Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) meets him to talk about the Avengers Initiative. The exterior of the real Randy’s Donuts location in Inglewood, California was used for filming, while the interior of the scene was filmed at Yum Yum Donuts in Playa del Rey, about 20 miles away.

Randy’s Donuts has also been featured in Get Shorty, Crocodile Dundee in Los Angeles, Earth Girls Are Easy, Dope, and episodes of Arrested Development.

5. COUNTY HOSPITAL // THOR (2011) 

As soon as the Mighty Thor arrives on Earth, Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) immediately hits the God of Thunder with her van. She rushes him to a small county hospital in Santa Fe. The production team used an office building called the Toney Anaya Building in Santa Fe, New Mexico for the hospital’s exterior.

6. PIER 13 // CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER (2011)

After small and skinny Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) is transformed into the tall and hunky Captain America, a HYDRA infiltrator steals the super soldier serum and speeds away through the mean streets of Brooklyn, New York. Instead of filming in the borough, the film crew simply used the exterior of the Titanic Hotel at Stanley Dock in Liverpool, England for the climax of the chase scene at Pier 13.

7. LOKI’S PLATFORM // THE AVENGERS (2012)

In The Avengers, Loki (Tom Hiddleston) is in Germany when he delivers a rousing speech about humanity. In real life, the scene was filmed just outside of Tower City Center on Cleveland, Ohio’s Public Square. (You can actually see the city’s iconic Terminal Tower in the background.)

8. NEPTUNE’S NET // IRON MAN 3 (2013)

In Iron Man 3, Tony Stark has a panic attack when he’s signing autographs for fans at a seafood restaurant called Neptune’s Net. While there is a real Neptune’s Net in Malibu, California, the scene was actually filmed at Dania Beach Bar & Grill in Dania Beach, Florida. The production moved from California to Florida because the real Neptune’s Net is located on the Pacific Coast Highway and it would’ve been virtually impossible—not to mention expensive—to shut down the busy highway for filming.

9. OLD ROYAL NAVAL COLLEGE // THOR: THE DARK WORLD (2013)

In Thor: The Dark World, the climactic battle between Thor and the Dark Elf Malekith (Christopher Eccleston) takes place at Old Royal Naval College, located on the south bank of the river Thames in Greenwich, London. Thor even asks a confused subway rider how to get to Greenwich after he’s transported away from the fight.

Due to its popularity and cinematic look, Old Royal Naval College has also been featured in Cinderella (2015), Skyfall (2012), The King’s Speech (2010), Les Misérables (2012) and Netflix’s The Crown.

10. THE MALL // CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER (2014)

When Captain America and Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) are on the run from undercover HYDRA soldiers in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, the superheroes hide in plain sight at a mall in Washington D.C. However, the scene was not filmed in the nation’s capital; it was shot on location at Tower City Center in downtown Cleveland, Ohio.

In fact, much like The Avengers, most of Captain America: The Winter Soldier was filmed at various locations in “The Land” (Cleveland’s nickname), including the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland, Cleveland Public Library, Cleveland State University, the Cleveland Arcade, Cleveland Museum of Art, the Western Reserve Historical Society, and Pilgrim Congregational Church. Even the city’s highways were used to film the movie’s exciting chase scenes, namely the Cleveland Memorial Shoreway over the mighty Cuyahoga River.

11. XANDAR PLAZA // GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY (2014)

While Guardians of the Galaxy takes place on the cosmic side of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, a few real-life landmarks and buildings were used during filming. Most notably, the Liége-Guillemins Railway Station in Liège, Belgium was used for the centerpiece of Xandar Plaza, where the group of alien misfits are arrested at the beginning of Guardians of the Galaxy.

12. HYDRA RESEARCH BASE // AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON (2015)

At the beginning of Avengers: Age of Ultron, the titular superhero team fights their way through a forest in the fictional country of Sokovia. Their goal is to retrieve a Chitauri Scepter and the Mind Infinity Stone from inside a castle-like HYDRA research base, which was filmed at Fort Bard (or Forte di Bard) in Bard, Aosta Valley, Italy. The old fort was used as an outpost to protect the valley from Napoleon Bonaparte during the 19th century. Fort Bard is currently the location of the Museum of the Alps.

While Fort Bard was used to film the exterior, England’s Dover Castle was used to film the interior of the HYDRA research facility.

13. MILGROM HOTEL // ANT-MAN (2015)

After he is released from prison, Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) moves into his former cellmate Luis’s (Michael Peña) apartment at the Milgrom Hotel in Ant-Man. However, the real filming location was the historic Riviera Hotel on Jones Street in San Francisco’s Tenderloin District. It was originally built as a luxury hotel in 1907, but now serves as low-income housing.

14. THE AIRPORT BATTLE // CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR (2016)

In Captain America: Civil War, the epic showdown between Team Iron Man and Team Captain America takes place at Leipzig/Halle Airport in Schkeuditz, Germany. The airport was also the location for other movies, such as Flightplan (2005) and Unknown (2011).

15. EXETER COLLEGE // DOCTOR STRANGE (2016)

When the villain Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen) conjures a dark and mysterious spell from the Book of Cagliostro in Doctor Strange, he contacts Dormammu of the Dark Dimension. He recites it inside of the chapel at Exeter College in Oxford, England to seek revenge on the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton).

16. DAIRY QUEEN // GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2 (2017)

At the beginning of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Meredith Quill (Laura Haddock) and Ego (Kurt Russell) pull into a Dairy Queen in Missouri in 1980. That Dairy Queen is actually the location of BB’s Cafe, a restaurant in Stone Mountain, Georgia, about 20 miles outside of Atlanta.

17. FORESTS OF ASGARD // THOR: RAGNAROK (2017)

In Thor: Ragnarok, Heimdall (Idris Elba) leads a large group of refugees through the forests of Asgard to find sanctuary in the mountains. A majority of the superhero movie was filmed on sound stages in Australia, while Tamborine National Park and Cedar Creek Falls in South East Queensland were used for Asgardian forests and waterfalls.

18. MIDTOWN HIGH SCHOOL // SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING (2017)

Peter Parker (Tom Holland) attends Midtown High School in Forest Hills, Queens. The production team for Spider-Man: Homecoming used Franklin K. Lane High School in Brooklyn, New York as the exterior for the fictional high school, while Henry W. Grady High School in Atlanta, Georgia was used for its interior.

19. MUSEUM OF GREAT BRITAIN // BLACK PANTHER (2018)

In 2018’s Black Panther, we meet the film’s antagonist Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan) while he's viewing African art and artifacts at the Museum of Great Britain, a stand-in for the British Museum in London. Instead of traveling to England, the film’s cast and crew filmed the scene at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, Georgia.

20. SHAWARMA PALACE // THE AVENGERS (2012)

At the end of The Avengers, Iron Man remarks that he’s never tried shawarma after he spotted a shawarma joint while flying around Manhattan during the Chitauri Battle. During the last post-credits scene, we find the very exhausted superhero team chowing down on the yummy Middle Eastern treat.

Director Joss Whedon filmed the scene at the then-Elat Burger (now Shalom Grill), located at 9340 West Pico Boulevard in Los Angeles. To keep the scene a secret, Whedon filmed it a day after the film’s world premiere, when the entire cast was in Los Angeles.

Fun fact: Sales of shawarma rose in Los Angeles, St. Louis, and Boston following the release of The Avengers in May 2012.

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