HarperCollins is extending its long-running I Can Read! line of leveled beginning readers with a new format, I Can Read! Comics, which will debut next year. The graphic novels are designed for children ages 4 to 8 and will be broken into three reading levels. In addition to the story, each book will include a “Cartooning Basics” page to show readers who are new to the medium how to read comics.

The graphic novel series will launch next June with four titles: Clark the Shark and the School Sing by writer Bruce Hale and artist Guy Francis (Level 1); Fish and Sun by Sergio Ruzzier (Level 1); Friendbots #1: Make a Wish, by Vicky Fang (Level 2); and Tiny Tales Book 1: Shell Quest by Steph Waldo (Level 3). All four will be released simultaneously in jacketed hardcover and paperback formats under the HarperAlley imprint.

Level 1 books are designed for beginning readers to read with an adult; Level 2 books are simple enough for an early reader to read alone; and Level 3 books are more complicated stories for independent readers.

“The books in our I Can Read! program introduce readers to the power of reading through traditional prose and picture book storytelling,” said HarperAlley editorial director Andrew Arnold. “I Can Read! Comics will utilize graphic novel devices, such as panels and word balloons, to ask readers to not only read the text within the page, but to decode the visual cues within each illustration as well.”

Arnold added, “I Can Read! and I Can Read! Comics focus on delivering engaging stories, with attainable vocabulary and visuals that reinforce one another. We developed the I Can Read! Comics guidelines in consultation with a number of industry experts, to determine what the benchmarks across each level should be in terms of panels, word balloons, amount of text, and more.”

Arnold said readers can expect to see characters from the classic I Can Read! books in the graphic novel series, and in fact, one of the launch titles features an established I Can Read! character, Clark the Shark.

The I Can Read! books were launched in 1957 with Else Holmelund Minarik’s Little Bear, illustrated by Maurice Sendak, in response to a demand for books that early readers could read independently. Over the years the line has grown to include hundreds of titles, including Arnold Lobel’s Frog and Toad and Peggy Parish’s Amelia Bedelia.

The popularity of middle-grade graphic novels has soared in the past decade, which opens up new opportunities for other age levels. “There’s a need to introduce comics to even younger readers, to give them the tools necessary to familiarize themselves with the format,” Arnold said. “Additionally, our goal is to better prepare and equip readers for the more visually based world we’re living in today, and comics are the perfect learning tool for that purpose.”