The Problem With Parents

Children’s books have long featured pint-size heroes overcoming fierce antagonists: ogres, witches and big bad wolves. So it comes as no surprise that a similar drama occurs in these three stories. Only here, children are up against something far more complex: their parents.

These moms and pops — by turns cruel, overprotective, distracted or obtuse — are less than ideal role models. But children (we expect) will prevail. And parents (we hope) will grow up.

In the opening scene of the cartoonist Gary Clement’s K IS IN TROUBLE (Little, Brown Ink, 224 pp., $13.99, ages 8 to 12), young K, feeling “particularly unwell,” asks his mother if he might stay home from school. Her response — a full-frame, all-caps “NO” — is a blunt foreshadowing of events. Nothing in these pages will come easily for poor K.

After a grim breakfast, K is out the door, walking through a wintry turn-of-the-century city filled with unsmiling grown-ups.

Finally, we see K’s school: a castle-like structure atop a mountain. Since K is late, he is sent to a vast, windowless room, where he awaits some imminent judgment. Much time passes. K even forgets why he’s there. One thing, though, is clear: He’s at the center of a lively graphic novel, inspired by Franz Kafka.

K’s troubles unfold in five chapters. In one, he is harassed by a flock of crows. In another, he is tormented by pompous bureaucrats. And in an especially thrilling scene, he is chased through the streets of the city by an angry mob. You can’t help pulling for K, even if his misfortune is hugely entertaining.

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