Wednesday, August 8, 2012

The Right Children's Book Might be a Graphic Novel

Librarian Booktalk with Eva Volin
An interview I conducted with Eva Volin, Supervising Children's Librarian for the Alameda Free Library in Alameda, California. Eva currently serves on ALSC's Notable Children's Books committee. She has served as the chair for YALSA's Great Graphic Novels for Teens committee in 2009-2010 and as a member of the 2011 Michael L. Printz Award committee. She also served as a judge for the Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards in 2008. Additionally, Eva blogs for School Library Journal’s Good Comics for Kids and reviews graphic novels for No Flying No Tights and Booklist.

How do you hope to make an impact as a librarian, a book reviewer and with your involvement with different children’s book committees?
Eva: I want to do for other kids what teachers and librarians did for me when I was a kid, which was understand that not every book is for every child, and to keep handing them things until we discover what it is they are interested in. Just because a child might not be a reader now, it doesn’t mean he or she won’t ever be a reader. They just need to find that book that clicks. I want to be the one that hands them that magical book that flips on the switch for them. 

What do you say to the teacher, librarian or parent who is trying to find that right book for a particular a child?
Eva: The strategy that works best for me is to gently remind the parent or the teacher that this isn’t about the parent or the teacher. This is about the child and the child’s interests. You can’t necessarily hand every single third grader Captain Underpants and figure that’s the one that’s going to be the hit. Some kids don’t like Captain Underpants.

You have to ask questions and get to know the kid. You don’t necessarily need to take them to coffee or anything, but you need to be ready and willing to spend the time to find out what the child is interested in, and then start recommending books. Sometimes you can go to the best-seller list or the greatest hits lists, but often you need to take the time to find out what the kid likes and doesn’t like.

What are your thoughts about the social interaction between a child and a parent as an aspect in developing a love for reading in a child?
Eva: I think parent involvement is key. Sometimes that parent involvement means getting out of the way. :) Reading aloud to a child is step number one in the early years when kids are pre-readers, Step number two is having the child see that you also read. Even if a parent isn’t a big reader, they need to fake it. Read magazines. Read milk cartons. Read the newspaper. You don’t necessarily need to sit there reading James Patterson’s latest novel. You need to show your kids that reading is not only important, but that it’s important to you. And that will get the child to start thinking that maybe reading is okay.

The next step is to never turn your nose up at what your child wants to read. If you aren’t necessarily a big horror reader, but your child is on fire for horror stories, don’t hold the book by the corner and wrinkle your nose and say, “I don’t understand how you read this nonsense. Put it back.” Say, “That’s fantastic! Tell me what you think. When you’re done with that, let’s see what else is out there.” Don’t try to pigeon-hole your child’s reading into what you enjoy. (Can you tell this issue has come up over and over again this summer? Gah!)

You focus quite often on graphic novels and comics. Why is that?
Eva: Sometimes a graphic novel is the perfect book to turn somebody into a voracious reader. That doesn’t mean that graphic novels are just for reluctant readers. Sometimes they turn regular readers into voracious readers too. And because the pictures help kids decode the words, graphic novels can help advanced readers become even more advanced readers. So having graphic novels in my collection has become a gateway to grabbing the interest of even more kids and turning them into readers.

In some people’s minds there sometimes seems to be a stigma about comics and graphic novels. What are your thoughts about that?
Eva: Many people my age and older still tend to think that comics are just for little kids, that they dumb down reading. As librarians, teachers, and parents, we need to realize that all reading is good. It doesn’t matter what you’re reading. Reading is good. If graphic novels are what a kid wants to read for his free reading, let him do it. I’ve never met a kid who, after reading 20 comics, absolutely refused to read anything else. She may continue to have a preference for graphic novels, but that doesn’t mean the graphic novel will dumb her down or turn her off of prose. All reading is good.

Do you see the stigma associated with graphic novels and comics changing?
Eva: Absolutely. Teen librarians are already on board. No question. They got the message 5 to 10 years ago that graphic novels are in fact a type of literature and should be treated with the same respect that you treat any other form of literature. Children’s librarians are definitely on the road to accepting graphic novels as good and worthy of our attention and promotion.

The more reading we do, both professionally and just as readers, the more librarians and teachers realize that there’s a lot more to sequential art than anybody gave it credit for in the past. So, I think the ball is really rolling. Nowadays, the people who say that comics aren’t legitimate literature tend to be people who haven’t done their homework.

Are there certain graphic novels that you tend to recommend over others?
Eva: I’ll always ask questions to find out what the child is interested in. There are so many different kinds of books covered by the graphic novel format. Since graphic novels are a format, not a genre, you can have all different kinds of genres within that format. Once I figure out what the child is interested in reading, then I start making recommendations.

Some of the graphic novels that have been very popular in my library lately include Raina Telgemeier’s Smile and Jeff Smith’s Bone, which is a perennial favorite. Ben Hatke’s Zita the Spacegirl series is always fun. Chris Schweizer’s Crogan Adventures are fantastic books that make history fun. The Olympian series by George O’Connor is never on my shelf. It is always checked out. Faith Erin Hicks’ graphic novel, Friends With Boys, is a new one I expect to be very popular with tweens. The Toon Books line is great for younger kids. They are graphic novels written for the easy reader reading level and they’re all lovely. Stinky by Eleanor Davis won a Geisel and is one of my favorites. The books in Geoffrey Hayes’ Benny and Penny series are always great.

What are some good resources for people who are new to graphic novels who want to learn more or find out what might be appropriate for their children or student?
Eva: Booklist and School Library Journal have started reviewing graphic novels more regularly, but for the broadest look at what is being released, you still need to go online. Good Comics for Kids is a School Library Journal blog where I and other reviewers review kid’s graphic novels from ages 4 to 16.

Another good place to start is It’s a website where teens and librarians, including myself, review books with collections in minds. We review books for kids, teens, tweens, and adults of all interest levels. If you’re looking more for superhero stuff and more traditional comic books, is a great place to look for reviews. If you’re limited to trade journals, the main ones you probably want to look at are School Library Journal, Booklist, and VOYA.

What do you enjoy most about being a librarian?
Eva: It’s probably the light bulb that goes off over somebody’s head when you’ve said exactly the right thing to get them to want to take the book home. There’s nothing like seeing an 8-year-old’s face light up because they found the perfect book.

Also I think it’s something that happens when I’m not at work, maybe at the supermarket or walking through the park, when a child runs up to me and says, “You’re the library lady. Do you remember me?” And then I get to say, “I do, I do remember you.” That’s a really special moment where I know that I’ve connected with somebody, that I did something right enough that they remember who I am.”

Are there any unique or interesting experiences you’d like to share?
Eva: My favorite story is when a girl with her mom came to me at the reference desk and asked about a certain Manga volume. I said to her, “Yes, we have that volume. Let me put that on hold for you. This is a really good series. I think you’re going to like it a lot.” The girl did a double-take. She looked at me, looked at her mom, looked at me, looked at her mom. Then she said, “See, mom, even old people read these.” The sense of self-satisfaction on this girl’s face was fantastic!

Any last words?
Eva: I have this theory that the librarians who love to read things and who love to recommend books are the ones who become children’s librarians. So, I guess it’s just keep reading. Keep reading new things so you can keep recommending the perfect book to the right kids.

To read more about graphic novels and reviews from Eva Volin, visit her blog at

The Alameda Free Library serves those who live, work, play, and learn in Alameda by providing materials, services, and programs to advance their recreational, educational, and professional goals. The Library offers a wide range of services to support community priorities, including answering reference questions, staging story times, providing summer reading programs, hosting class visits, and offering free public programs and displays for all ages and interests. For more information about the Alameda Free Library, visit


  1. I came away from this great interview with an understanding that an adult must be involved and committed to nurture a love of reading. I also appreciate that we are to follow the guidance of the child's own interest. To help respectfully.
    I am just introducing my grandson to the library and we are lovin' it!

  2. I'm not anonymous! the comment above is from me, Karin Mesa,

  3. Karin,

    Thanks for the very nice comment. And I'm glad you're not anonymous. :)