I spent the weekend reading big piles of children's graphic novels, prepping for my Eisner judging duties. There were two that stood out to me for the same reason: They demanded more of the reader than just following along. While they are clearly intended for young readers, both are interesting enough to hold an adult's attention and would definitely make good gifts for a child who will immediately demand that you read them aloud.
Benjamin Bear in Fuzzy Thinking, by Philippe Coudray (Toon Books) is actually just the opposite of what the title says: The bear is there, all right, but the thinking is anything but fuzzy. Each page is a little logic problem of some sort, and the last panel is often a little "Aha!" moment for the reader. On the first page, for instance, Benjamin Bear and a friend are having a fishing contest. The friend catches a lot of little fish and Benjamin catches just one big one—which disgorges a ton of little fish when he turns it upside down. In another, Benjamin takes his bird and his goldfish to look at the sea, and once they are underwater they switch places—the goldfish swims in the birdcage, while the bird is safe in an air bubble in the goldfish bowl. Each page has a little twist to it like that, some sort of puzzle or analogy, and I can't help but think that reading it would make any kid smarter. The last page of the book even gets a bit meta: "I never read comics," Benjamin tells a friend, "because I am a bear in a comic... So... when I read comics, the reader gets bored." Coudray has a nice style, sort of a stepped-down ligne claire, with flat areas of color and less detail than, say, Tintin—which is appropriate, given that the book is aimed at first- and second-graders.