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Comic books have long engaged young and old. But these days, there is a new batch of graphic novels that is especially aimed at children. NPR Books editor Petra Mayer went to San Diego Comic-Con to check them out.
PETRA MAYER, BYLINE: What's the best way to get kids reading? Hook them young with colorful, easy-to-follow stories - in other words, comic books. Before I left for the convention, I checked in with Lucy Strother, a fourth grade teacher in Philadelphia whose students just love comics.
LUCY STROTHER: We have, like, a graphic novels bin in the library, and it's, like, perpetually empty because the kids are so obsessed with comics and graphic novels.
MAYER: Strother says graphic novels are an important way to get kids used to reading longer chapter books with more mature ideas. And for her students, there's one author who reigns supreme.
STROTHER: The queen of my classroom is Raina Telgemeier.
RAINA TELGEMEIER: (Laughter) My name does mean queen.
MAYER: The queen herself is here at Comic-Con. Her latest graphic novel, "Ghost," is a gentle, lovely story for middle grade readers about a girl coming to terms with her little sister's serious illness.
TELGEMEIER: Comics are good for so many different types of readers. So kids who have never finished a book on their own before can pick up a graphic novel and be done with it in an hour and feel so empowered that they've never had that experience before. They finished something.
MAYER: Telgemeier says she draws comics for the kid she once was, the one who wanted more than newspaper strips or DC and Marvel superhero comics. And at first she had to self-publish. Now comics with kids are big business.
Mark Siegel is the editorial and creative director at First Second Books. That's the graphic novel imprint of Macmillan. The First Second booth is bustling and piled with books for young readers, some of them for the very youngest.
MARK SIEGEL: A couple of these are wordless. I have "Little Robots" by Ben Hatke, which is nearly wordless. And then one of our hits is "Robot Dreams" by Sara Varon. This is a wordless story about a dog and a robot.
MAYER: Seigel says business is booming.
SIEGEL: We've just jumped from 23 titles a year to 40 in young readers. We've not reached the limit of that market.
MAYER: And for kids who do like superhero comics, the big guys are listening. Jim Lee is the publisher at DC Entertainment where their "Super Hero Girls" graphic novel series has been a massive hit.
JIM LEE: And so that's given us the confidence and the foundation to essentially do a young reader line.
MAYER: Lee says that's going to require some major changes in the way DC does business. The company's trying to attract a more diverse group of writers to create books around DC characters. And instead of concentrating on selling single issues to comic shops, they're going to have to start thinking about how to get books to kids. It's a big undertaking.
LEE: In the many years - almost 20 years - here at DC, I've never seen the company as busy as it has been this past year.
MAYER: And I have never seen as many little kids - especially little girls - at San Diego Comic-Con as I have this year. Nine-year-old Kayla Miller is here with her family. She's dressed as a video game character, but she says she loves to read.
KAYLA MILLER: Chapter books, graphic novels, Japanese, like, comics.
MAYER: Her very favorite? Spider-Man. So let's have a truce on the page. Some comics are for kids - just not all of them. Petra Mayer, NPR News, San Diego.
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