Did you like the Newbery Award winning book New Kid by Jerry Craft?
The following list includes easy to read chapter books that focus on a certain personality type similar to the one found in that book. All of these books are about boys who are creative and find an outlet through art. Many of these characters are cartoonists who transform a difficulty in connecting to the world around them through manifesting a world of their own through stories and pictures. These books have to do with the creative process. They demonstrate how art is not always easy but the process and commitment can make the efforts rewarding.
Bulla, Clyde Robert., and Thomas B. Allen. The Chalk Box Kid. Scholastic, Inc., 2004.
This book, originally published in the 1980s, has gone through multiple printings and is still readily available today. Bulla is a master of concise writing. This is one of his best. Nine-year-old Gregory experiences several upsets in his life. The new kids in school don’t readily accept him. He responds by creating fantastic chalk drawings on the walls of a burned-out factory behind his house. As his art flourishes, Gregory discovers his unique voice and place in the world. Bulla conveys the yearning and passion of a young artist and the healing power of friendship. The book is around fifty pages (a short story) and contains black and white illustrations throughout.
Byars, Betsy. The Cartoonist. Puffin, 1978. (available on Hoopla)
The Cartoonist is the oldest book on this list. Thankfully, it is easily found through our Hoopla app. Byars wrote many sensitive novels for children including classics that were adapted for television like The Pinballs or The 18th Emergency. The Cartoonist is at times a sad story, but still worth reading. Alfie is content drawing comics in the attic. It’s his retreat from his problematic family. His private space is interrupted when his older brother moves home. This book shows some of the more realistic sides of how a child uses art to function within a somewhat dysfunctional family. The drawings throughout by Richard Cuffari help illustrate the mood.
Feiffer, Jules. The Man in the Ceiling. Michael di Capua Books, 1995.
Feiffer, whose career spans almost the entire history of comic books has written plays, screenplays, novels, comic strips, children’s books and graphic novels. In The Man in the Ceiling he intersperses short chapters with comics drawn by the main character. Jimmy is not good in school or at sports. What he is great at is creating stories in the form of cartoons. He yearns to be recognized for this but often feels like a stranger in his own family. In this sense, this book is similar to Byar’s The Cartoonist. However, this book has a lot more humor and the action scenes of the comic make it a breezier read.
Gownley, Jimmy. The Dumbest Idea Ever! Graphix, 2014.
This autobiographical novel for kids may appeal to fans of Raina Telgemeier. The cartooning is similar, although Gownley is older and had created two comic book series prior to this one. In The Dumbest Idea Ever, Jimmy portrays his life on the cusp of adolescence. This includes his first girlfriend, his growing disillusionment with homework, and his desire to escape the confines of his town. He searches to find his own special talent through comics. When he makes his own, things begin to change for him.
Pinkwater, Daniel Manus. Four Different Stories. Dover Publications, Inc., 2018.
Four Different Stories reprints four hard to find novels from early in Daniel Pinkwater’s career. The standout here is the book Wingman which also features comic book inspired illustrations by Pinkwater. Donald Chen is the only Chinese boy in his class and often faces prejudice. He is lonely, dislikes school and often escapes from his classes by reading comic books. One day, while hiding out on the George Washington Bridge, he encounters a real Chinese superhero named Wingman who takes him on a journey to a faraway place.
Say, Allen. Drawing from Memory. Scholastic Press, 2011.
The award winning picture book creator Allen Say first explored his autobiography in the novel The Inn Keeper’s Apprentice published in 1979. Drawing From Memory is the first of two illustrated books that retells this story in a more factual manner accompanied by drawings, photographs and scrapbook items. Say grew up in Japan and this first volume documents his journey as a youth to apprentice for a master.
Selznick, Brian. The Boy of a Thousand Faces. Laura Geringer Book, 2001.
This one is slightly different then the others mentioned on this list. It’s a bit more nostalgia-based in its design and it does not deal directly with drawing or cartooning. But it does feature an artistic protagonist who is obsessed with monsters!
Selznick is the award-winning creator who created a unique book format of his own with the publication of The Invention of Hugo Cabret. The Boy of a a Thousand Faces is a shorter, early work. Alonzo King has always loved monsters due to the fact that he was born on Halloween. He is obsessed with horror movies and uses his artistic talents to transform into some of the famous Universal monsters like The Werewolf and The Phantom of the Opera. This story has a mystery that involves a horror television host. Photographs and Selznick’s drawings are integral to this short story and even the most reluctant reader will be intrigued.