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Free Comic Book Day

Free Comic Book Day

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Kids and teens may come to celebrate comic books. Not just for older kids, the popular reading mode reaches ages down to preschool.

When: Saturday, May 6

Where: St. Louis Public Library's Central Library, 1301 Olive St., and Star Clipper, 1319 Washington Ave., St. Louis

Features: Free comics available while supplies last; special event at library from 11 a.m. to noon.

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By Karen Young | Contributor

Comics for youngest readers

For the second year in a row, St. Louis Public Library is teaming up with Star Clipper to celebrate Free Comic Book Day at Central Library, 1301 Olive Street. Kids and teens can stop by the Children’s Library to pick up free comics all day on May 6 and participate in a comics-themed from 11 a.m. to Noon. Don’t forget to drop by Star Clipper on Washington Ave. afterwards for more free comics and fun!

It’s never too early to get a child hooked on reading comics. The recent boom of outstanding comics published for kids in upper elementary school has begun to trickle down to books for younger readers, particularly those in PreK-2nd grade.

“Hippopotamister” by John Patrick Green and “Little Robot” by Ben Hatke are two titles ideally suited for kids who are learning to read but are looking for a longer story than what a standard picture book has to offer. In “Hippopotamister,” an industrious hippo and red panda duo suffer an identity crisis and attempt a wide range of careers, with amusing results, after learning that their beloved zoo may be closing. In “Little Robot,” a young girl in search of something to do while her family is busy, befriends a lonely robot, who is possibly less alone than it seems.

“Little Robot” is largely wordless, but for those looking for a purely visual or ‘silent’ comic book, options abound. The “Owly” series by Andy Runton and “Korgi” series by Christian and Ann Slade both feature adorable protagonists (an owl in the former and a corgi in the latter) and heartfelt storytelling with nary a word to be found on the page. The wordless “Polo” series of picture books by Régis Faller features comic book-style panels, but the books are the size and length of a standard picture book rather than a longer graphic novel. Wordless stories can assist beginning readers with understanding conventions like direction of text--even though there are no words, the action in western comics reads from left to right, plot, character development, cause and effect, and sequencing. Most importantly, these stories can give beginning readers the sense of accomplishment that comes with finishing a book.

The publishing house, TOON Books, is an industry leader when it comes to comics for the very young. The size and formatting of their books is that of a beginning level reader, but the quality of creators they enlist to make books is top notch. Adult comics fans will likely recognize some of the names in their stable of creators -- Art Spiegelman, Neil Gaiman, Jeff Smith, Eleanor Davis and Rutu Modan have all made books for TOON. While many of these creators are well known for their more esoteric literary and visual creations, their books for children feature a high level of storytelling and artistic acumen. Some of my personal favorites from the TOON library of books include the “Benjamin Bear” series by Philppe Coudray, which features pitch-perfect kid-humor and visual gags, “Flop to the Top!” by Eleanor Davis and Drew Weing, which stars one of the cutest ugly dog protagonists I’ve ever seen, and “Tippy and the Night Parade” by Lilli Carré, which beautifully captures the surrealism of dreams.

For caregivers looking for classic stories to share with their youngsters, Chris Duffy has edited three outstanding comics anthologies: “Fable Comics,” “Fairy Tale Comics,” and “Nursery Rhyme Comics.” The writing in these anthologies is best suited for advanced-beginners, or for a shared reading experience between caregiver and child. Each book includes dozens of very short stories, typically only a few pages, which range from traditional tellings of fables and fairytales, to more modern fractured and twisted versions. The star creators in each collection like Raina Telgemeier, Craig Thompson, Roz Chast, Gilbert Hernández and Gene Luen Yang are given free rein to interpret these classic tales as they see fit.

Head on down to your library with your favorite young readers and introduce them to comics as early as possible.

Karen Young is children's library at St. Louis Central Library. 

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