Bone by Jeff Smith
If you've spent much time around middle graders, you probably have some passing familiarity with this graphic novel series. Originally published as black and white comics in the 90s, they've been collected and published in graphic novels, first in black and white and more recently (by Scholastic) in full color. These adventures, populated by a curious blend of humans, rat monsters, dragons, talking animals, and whatever the Bone cousins are meant to be, have continuing appeal for young readers. And to older readers too. I picked up Out From Boneville somewhat reluctantly, thinking I'd just flip through it and see what the fuss was all about. I chuckled through my first rat creatures scene, grew curious about the cast of characters, and before I knew it I had joined the lengthy hold-list at my local library for the next volume.
Some have objected to the series given references to smoking, drinking, and gambling (many of which have been removed or softened in the Scholastic editions). Honestly, though, the average kid is not going to notice these things. They are so immersed in the complex adventure, in the complex characters and the overt humor, that subtle questionable references escape them. This is a series that kids come back to time and again. They pour over the minutiae of the illustrations, absorb all peripheral material (which now includes at least one collection of short cartoon stories and three prequel novels). Bone is a great gateway to more traditional fantasy novels too. I've seen kids graduate from Bone to The Lord of the Rings.