Gene Luen Yang: The Great Graphic Novel Ambassador

Yang Photographc
Gene Luen Yang

This week, Gene Luen Yang was announced as the new National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature by the Library of Congress, Children’s Book Council and Every Child a Reader. Check out the official press release here. The position’s goal is to “raise national awareness of the importance of young people’s literature as it relates to lifelong literacy, education and the development and betterment of the lives of young people.” (learn more about the position at Yang’s platform for his ambassadorship is “Reading without Walls” promoting diversity and how reading can break down walls which seek to divide us.

National_Ambassador_for_Young_People's_Literature_-_logoYang joins a prestigious group of author/ambassadors including Jon Scieszka, Katherine Paterson, Walter Dean Myers, and Kate DiCamillo. His next two years will be very busy including Skype sessions, travel to libraries, schools, and bookstores along with releasing resources related to his platform.

What makes this decisions such a landmark one is the fact that Yang is a graphic novelist. Since the announcement has been made, many have commented on the decision:

So, why is it shocking to see a graphic novelist as the new ambassador? You’d think in a world filled with comic book movies, action figures, and video games, comics have secured themselves in the cultural zeitgeist. However, comics and graphic novels still get flack; they’re sensational, hold no literary merit and are fluff reading, definitely not educational. With Yang’s new appointment, I hope to see this medium promoted as an educational, artistic, expressive and fun literary option for children in the minds of parents, teachers and librarians.

So, with this announcement and official swearing in all to happen this week, I though I’d share some great kid’s graphic novel publishers and resources for reader’s advisory.


Toon Books
Personally, as an aunt, I buy Toon books for my nieces and nephews. As librarians, we are all familiar with the reader, books which are designed with literacy in mind. They pace out children’s reading abilities in levels to help reinforce sounds, sentence structure, and vocabulary. If you’re looking for a great mix between fun stories, like  We Dig Worms! by Kevin McCloskey, or Tippy and the Night Parade by Lilli Carre while ensuring children are reading the books at an appropriate level, Toon Books are a great choice. Their vast spread of international authors and illustrators adds to the diversity and abstractness of some of their books. Their website also offers Common Core Guidelines and Tips for Mom & Dad to make reading comics even more enjoyable.

Tippy and the night parade cover

Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales
For non-fiction fans, Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales are sure to please the historically curious readers. Focusing on American History, the topics range from  The Underground Abductor about Harriet Tubman, and other more obscure topics like Donner Dinner Party. Great for grades 3-8, these hazardous tales teach history with a lightheartedness while sticking true to the historical facts.

Nathan Hale's Hazardous Tales eagle seal

AMP! Comics for Kids

Phoebe and her Unicorn: A Heavenly Nostrils Chronicle Cover

If you’ve never heard of Big Nate, you probably don’t have a child in your life. AMP! Comics for Kids is a subset of Andrews McMeel Publishing group and publishes great comics for kids. Besides Big Nate, their other titles include Stinky Cecil, about a toad and his friends eco-friendly adventures, Phoebe and Her Unicorn, recounting the friendship between a nine-year-old daydreamer and her unicorn, and Oh, Brother! about a pair of siblings reminiscent of Leave it to Beaver. Their website also includes fun activities and teachers guides and the stories are just good old fashioned fun.



Reader’s Advisory Resources

Good Comics For Kids
Run by the professional publication School Library Journal, Good Comics For Kids is your one stop shop for previews, reviews, manga, and information on comics for all ages. I also appreciated the diversity of the topics they cover from floppies to graphic novels to manga. The connections to popular culture helps librarians, teachers, and parents predict themes and titles the children in their lives may want.

Children’s Cooperative Book Center (CCBC)
The CCBC, has a mission statement similar to Yang’s ambassadorship, connect youth to excellent books. Their bibliography Graphic Novels: Selected Titles for Children and Teens is divided into three age levels and cover both fiction and non-fiction titles. In addition to reading lists, they also offer a Graphic Novel LibGuide with review journals, awards lists, understanding, using and defending Graphic Novels, and additional Graphic Novel websites.

Graphic Novel Reporter Core Lists
The Graphic Novel Reporter is primarily a new book review site, their main page featuring freshly released graphic novels. But, what I really love is their core lists which are intended to make a well rounded collection, not best ofs. They are also updated yearly because some comic books go out of print, and it can be a huge letdown to not find a book you really want to read (RE: being a librarian!). Their lists are also broken down by age and feature comics and manga.


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