As the author and illustrator of the Lunch Lady graphic novels, parents will often thank me for turning their kids onto reading. It's high praise, but praise that I cannot take full credit for. Sure, I wrote all of the words and drew all of the pictures, and young readers found my fictional world engaging, but that is only a part of the equation. It's the parents themselves who should be patting themselves on the back--they're the ones who put my graphic novels into their children's hands. They are the ones who fully supported their child's reading life by finding the book that would fit their child's needs.
As a parent myself, I knew that filling my daughters' bookshelves with highly visual books from Day 1 was as important as stocking their changing tables with diapers. As parents, we all made sure that we had copies of The Very Hungry Caterpillar and Good Night, Moon on hand. As my daughters grew, and as they wondered if they would ever become readers, I knew that highly visual books were going to continue to prove equally integral to their development. Books that are high in concept, but low in readability and have a strong picture-to-text connection are a fantastic tool to hook your emerging and/or struggling reader. The graphic novel is the embodiment of this mantra.
Unfortunately, we still live in a culture where some are resistant to using graphic novels because they either fear the content will be inappropriate or they fear that the reading level will be beneath their child's ability. This is where it is important to point out that the graphic novel is not a genre, but a format. There are some graphic novels that have very heavy text and complicated themes and, conversely, some graphic novels are incredibly lighthearted with sparse, age-appropriate text. You can't lump together all books that are told strictly with prose into the same group, nor can you do that with books that are told with panels, word balloons, and illustrations. If you're wondering where to turn to for expert advice on finding the right graphic novel for your reader, look no further than to the librarian at your public or school library!
I pitched the Lunch Lady graphic novels to Knopf Books for Young Readers in 2005. It wasn't long ago, but the landscape was very different back then for kids' graphic novels--there weren't many out there. This story that I had about a crime-fighting school cafeteria manager was one that I believed in and my publisher believed in it, too--even though they weren't publishing graphic novels for kids at the time. Lunch Lady made her spatula-wielding debut in 2009's Lunch Lady and the Cyborg Substitute and here we are in 2014 where she is setting out on her biggest adventure yet in Lunch Lady and the Schoolwide Scuffle. These years have proven to be the most fascinating journey. I write the Lunch Lady books in a style that is indicative to the comics that I wrote in fourth grade, which is why it is especially thrilling to receive Lunch Lady fan comics from my young readers. These young readers are very much the kid I was. My parents supported me as I thumbed through the racks at the local comic book shop even though those books held no interest for them. I wasn't lucky enough to have graphic novels like kids do today, but those pages of Batman and Spider-Man comics opened up a whole new world for me. They fostered a love of reading that stays with me to this day.