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Originally published Saturday, October 7, 2006 at 12:00 AM

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Books for young readers

According to the Encyclopædia Britannica Online, comic-book artist Will Eisner coined the phrase "sequential art" to more clearly describe...

Special to The Seattle Times

According to the Encyclopædia Britannica Online, comic-book artist Will Eisner coined the phrase "sequential art" to more clearly describe the increasingly popular format usually tagged "graphic novel."

Eisner wanted a more accurate definition for these books that look like comic books — but are not published as serials — because they aren't always true-blue fiction. Yet the term "graphic novel" appears to be holding fast, even for biographies, memoirs and other nonfiction works utilizing sequential artwork to articulate a story or other information.

Though few and far between, graphic novels for kids have always been popular. It's a no-brainer, really. Classics like the Tintin books by Hergé and the Asterix books by René Goscinny continue to hook new fans. And these days the juvenile publishing industry is bringing out a whole new crop of comic-style "books," many of which are breaking new ground. The great thing about these volumes is they often appeal to all ages.

"Flotsam," by the two-time Caldecott Medal winner David Wiesner (Clarion, 40 pp., $17, ages 4-8), is more a wordless picture book than a graphic novel. But no matter what you call it, it's pretty cool.

After a young boy finds an intriguing underwater camera on the beach, he has the film developed, only to discover photographs of some fantastic undersea scenes. Then he notices a shot of a girl holding a photo of a boy holding a photo of a girl holding a photo of someone. He actually has to get a microscope out to look at the tiniest photos of photos, the very oldest of which looks as if it could have come from the 1900s.

The "Little Lit" books — edited by Art Spiegelman (creator of "Maus") and Françoise Mouly — are being dubbed "comics-as-literature." Go figure. "Big Fat Little Lit" (Penguin, 144 pp., $14.99, ages 5-up) includes fairy tales, modern tales and even a few games by writers and artists such as Ian Falconer, Jules Feiffer, Neil Gaiman, Martin Handford, David Macaulay, David Sedaris, Maurice Sendak and many more.

Since I am not familiar with the manga style (manga is a Japanese form of comics), I'm not qualified to critique Erik Craddock's artwork for "Manga Claus" (Razorbill, 80 pp., $12.99, all ages) in terms of this tradition. I do know the quirky, action-packed story (by Nathaniel Marunas) centering on Santa Claus as a superhero should especially appeal to preteen males. And Craddock's "sequential art" is certainly fun.

Jon Scieszka is on a bandwagon to get young boys to read. Perhaps this is why he has brought out a series of graphic novels based on the television series modeled on his well-known Time Warp Trio series.

The first volume, "Time Warp Trio: Nightmare on Joe's Street" (HarperCollins, 96 pp., $6.99, ages 5-10), takes Joe and Sam to 19th-century England in search of Mary Shelley after Frankenstein's monster shows up in the 21st century demanding to talk to his creator.

"To Dance: A Ballerina's Graphic Novel," a memoir by Siena Cherson Siegel, illustrated by Mark Siegel (Atheneum, 64 pp., $17.95, all ages), is already being hailed "a rare graphic novel aimed squarely at girls."

Siegel, born in Puerto Rico, found herself with the dance bug at age 6. Eventually, she attended the School of American Ballet — and a few years later, she performed with the New York City Ballet. Along with shining a light on the ballet world through the lens of her personal story, Siegel pays tribute to Balanchine, Baryshnikov and others.

Looking for some scary comics? Try "Goosebumps Graphix I: Creepy Creatures" by R. L. Stine (Graphix, 144 pp., $16.99, ages 9-12). This volume contains lively remakes of three stories available in the best-selling Goosebumps series: "The Werewolf of Fever Swamp," adapted by Gabriel Hernandez; "The Scarecrow Walks at Midnight," adapted by Greg Ruth;, and "The Abominable Snowman of Pasadena, " adapted by Scott Morse.

Finally, Clizia Gussoni (author) and Luke McDonnell (illustrator) have employed their own comic book-style text and illustrations to celebrate dinosaurs. "The Awesome Book of Dinosaurs!" (Running Press, 288 pp., $9.95, ages 5-10) offers a mish-mash of bite-sized facts on dinosaurs, paleontology, geology and more. Kids will even discover a few — bad — dinosaur jokes in these pages.

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