Building on the success of their reprinting of Jeff Smith's "Bone," childrens' book publisher Scholastic announced their new Graphix line of original graphic novels for young readers at Comic-Con International in San Diego. Though Scholastic is best known as the publisher of the "Harry Potter" and "Captain Underpants" books, they are also familiar to children and parents for their school book fairs. Their books reach 95% of the classrooms in the US and they have the largest school book fair program in the nation and possibly in the world.
Appearing at the "Graphix: Bringing Great Comics to Kids!" panel moderated by Scott Robins Saturday at CCI were Senior Vice-President Jean Feiwel, Vice-President/Creative Director David Saylor and artists Raina Telgemeier ("Take Out" mini-comic, Girlamatic.com's "Smile") and Chynna Clugston ("Blue Monday," "Scooter Girl").
The next book to follow "Bone" in the Graphix series is Clugston's "Queen Bee," a story about the middle-school rivalry between two girls who both happen to have telekinetic powers, and the competition that builds between them as they both attempt to climb to the top of the all-important social pyramid. Following in Spring 2006 is the first in a series of graphic novel adaptations of the classic "Babysitter's Club." Other books on the schedule include Greg Ruth's "The Woodland Chronicles"; "Breaking Up" by Christine Norrie ("Hopeless Savages"); an adaptation of Stanslaw Lem's "The Seventh Voyage" by Jon J Muth; a "Goosebumps" series with contributions from Scott Morse; and an adaptation of Peter S. Beagle's "The Last Unicorn."
Raina Telgemeier described the "Babysitter's Club," Ann Martin's 20-year-old series of over 200 paperback books for pre-teen girls, as "a very formative book series for me" and described how deeply ingrained they are into her childhood memories. Having been primarily an autobiographical cartoonist, the sense that the events of the stories are virtually indistinguishable from her own memories has made the process of adapting the books much easier and more exciting for her. The books are not an update of the series, since the publisher feels they do not need updating; "…they were emotionally true then, they are emotionally true now and they will continue to be emotionally true in the future," said Feiwel.
Autobiographical detail also informs Chynna Clugston's "Queen Bee," which she describes as being about all the ways that popular kids are cruel to each other. While working on the book, she began to realize that the popular kids didn't really have it a lot easier than the kids they picked on. The book explores the popularity contest among middle-school children, their interactions and "a lot of peer stuff."
Despite the popularity of the "Harry Potter" series, Scholastic states that "merchandising is a secondary concern" and that the primary goal is to produce engaging, age-appropriate books for readers age 8-12. "The world has changed," and schools and libraries are embracing the graphic novel format, according to Saylor, graphic novels provide a form of "visual literacy that will compel children; they aren't afraid of the format." New research on visual learning and reluctant reading provides the data to support the value of the comic format in encouraging children to read and Scholastic, with an extremely large and effective distribution system which includes the traditional "gatekeepers," is uniquely positioned to bring graphic novels to young readers.