Bookmakers: Graphix Early Readers Presents Jess Keating’s BUNBUN & BONBON

As a tool for literacy,” says David Saylor, publisher of Graphix, “nothing beats the graphic novel.”

It’s a message he will doubtless have to repeat many times. Though graphic novels have been gaining enormous traction, especially in the children’s market, many parents and educators remain wary of them, despite their proven benefits. Through Graphix, the imprint at Scholastic dedicated to graphic novel publishing, Saylor is out to change some of those perceptions. With its latest line, his team is targeting an age group that the format seems tailor-made for: early readers.

Saylor is well aware of the concerns that many people still have about graphic novels. “I know that some parents think that they’re a quick read and that therefore they don’t have value or that their kids aren’t learning,” he says. “But the reality is that graphic novels expand vocabulary and improve reading comprehension, and they’re books that kids do return to over and over again.”

Scholastic began publishing graphic novels for younger readers (ages 7 to 10) several years ago, first with Aron Nels Steinke’s Mr. Wolf’s Class series and, later, Owly, by Andy Runton, and the graphic novel adaptation of the Baby-sitters Little Sister series. But this fall marks the publisher’s first effort at expanding this line with a few brand new series. Jess Keating’s Bunbun & Bonbon: Fancy Friends is set to publish this September, alongside Kevin Sherry’s Squidding Around: Fish Feud. Bunbun & Bonbon tells the tale of a delightfully adorable rabbit who is sadly lacking in friends until a chance encounter with an anthropomorphic candy. It’s a high-energy, wildly entertaining romp that contains all the hallmarks of a Scholastic title. “I’m always looking for things that kids feel like were written for them: high-interest subject matter, beautiful artwork, great storytelling,” Saylor says. “The kind of books, I guess, that I would have loved when I was a kid.”

Bunbun & Bonbon

Bunbun and Bonbon’s first outing is a story that’s ideal for early readers in many ways. The two friends’ adventures are told in a series of uncomplicated vignettes, Frog and Toad–style: they meet and become friends, they learn fancy words and throw a fancy party, they declare they will have donuts for lunch. The art is bright and bold, the clear text is paired with visual cues, and page turns are utilized for humor to great effect. “I think that the graphic novel format is just so perfect for so many kids,” author-illustrator Jess Keating says. “It allows kids to be there every step of the way. And graphic novels are just an incredible tool for visual vocabulary and language.” 

But even more than that, Keating has her finger on the pulse of what makes an early reader, well, a reader. “No matter how old you are, you understand the concept of friendship, or gratitude, or love,” she says, “and especially of what it means to be curious. Curiosity is probably one of the common threads through the books because there’s such a place in this world for joyful curiosity.” 

Saylor agrees and notes that, while a lot of younger kids are curious about graphic novels, they haven’t always had books available to them. “It can feel a little intimidating if you’re reading books that aren’t quite meant for you. You might feel a little lost. We wanted to give younger kids something that will make them feel like successful and powerful readers.”

That meant creating titles that, while they have the literacy features that will work for early and emerging readers, will also appeal to them: high-interest, funny books. For her part, Keating finds joy in the humor. “One of my favorite parts of graphic novels is that the end result is greater than the sum of their parts,” she says. “There’s a connection between humor, text, and visuals that tells a story in such a unique way that no other format can accomplish. Kids gain confidence as readers because of that interplay of parts, in a world that feels very much for them.“

For both publisher and creator, figuring out the best way to meet early readers where they are is a balancing act. Keating says her approach is to keep an open mind: “I’m always trying to ask and answer questions about the world around us, through ourselves and friendships and relationships. I try to keep that open curiosity about the world.” Since new readers are often approaching the world with that same mindset, it seems like that’s the right place to start.

This interview, which appears in a supplement to our July issue, is sponsored by Scholastic.

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About the Author:

Maggie Reagan works for Booklist as an associate editor in the Books for Youth department. In addition to the required love of reading, she is also an adventure junkie, animal hugger, and stringed-instrument enthusiast. Follow her on Twitter @MagdalenaRayGun.

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