Posted in Graphic Novels, Non-Fiction, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Graphic Novels, Life Stories

I’ve been really loving the graphic novels coming out this year. Lots of life stories have found their voices in the pages of graphic novels; it’s a trend I’m enjoying, because the artwork really helps bring a person’s story to full, visual life, with little nuances and nods to things not always easily described with just words. Shades of grey; pops of color; a flash of a poster in a teen’s room: these are all things that a graphic novel can illustrated and communicate much more easily and quickly, reaching visual readers who may otherwise not experience the full breadth of a story. Here are some great lives I’ve read about recently.

Frankie, by Rachel Dukes, (Oct. 2020, Oni Press), $17.99, ISBN: 9781549306884

Ages 12+

This is the sweetest book! Cartoonist Rachel Dukes is the Lucy Knisley of pet parenthood, as she chronicles life with her cat, Frankie. Rachel and their spouse, Mike, find the cutest black and white kitten outside their door, and Rachel is in love. Inspired by Rachel’s webcomic, Frankie is a series of vignettes in pet parenting, with comics taken from their webcomic and with some new material. Cat-lovers and pet-lovers will all recognize moments like Frankie choosing Rachel’s backpack over a snuggly new bed; the conversations we have with our furry friends; the nicknames we give them, and many, many, bedtime moments (what is it about sneezing in our faces as they settle in on our chests?). Frankie is adorable and full of personality that comes shining through the page. Rachel’s artwork is fun and expressive, silly and upbeat: it’s just what so many of us need to read these days! Each vignette has a name that pet parents will relate to, including moments like “Language Barriers”, “The Box”, “Night Song”, and “Cuddles”. Rachel includes a section on Quick Tips for Aspiring Cat Parents. Talk up to your readers who love Chi’s Sweet Home and Pusheen, and visit Rachel’s Frankie website for adorable downloadables! See more of their artwork on Rachel’s Instagram, and read more of their comics and buy some swag by clicking here, at MixTape Comics.

Little Josephine: A Memory in Pieces, by Valérie Villieu/Illustrated by Raphaël Sarfati, (Apr. 2020, Humanoids Inc.), $17.99, ISBN: 9781643375342

Ages 12+

Visiting nurse Valérie Villieu tells the story of Josephine, a patient that touched her heart, in this aching and quietly lovely story that examines the bonds between patient and nurse while it gives readers a look at the unsettling treatment of the elderly by overwhelmed social workers and home health aides. Josephine, an Alzheimer’s patient, lives alone in a Paris apartment when Valérie is assigned to her. While Josephine is at first resistant to Valérie’s help, the two eventually find common ground in humor. As Valérie strives to learn more about her charge, she discovers that Josephine is a playful, charming woman who enjoys conversation. Valérie expresses her frustration at an overloaded health care system, which leaves an elderly woman in the care of a conservator who just isn’t able to keep up with their caseload – a relatable, upsetting issue. Josephine’s lapses are creatively envisioned in fractured panels, where she’s swept away on her bed, or thrust into the middle of a chaotic panel. The colors are muted shades, giving the story a quiet dignity, even as we ache, seeing Josephine increasingly lost in her own world. A beautiful story of connection and a painful memoir of Alzheimer’s from a caregiver’s point of view, Little Josephine is gorgeous storytelling. Back matter includes an author’s note on Alzheimer’s Disease.

Gender Queer, by Maia Kobabe, (May 2019, Oni Press), $17.99, ISBN: 9781549304002

Ages 14+

Gender Queer is illustrator Maia Kobabe (pronouns: e/em/eir)’s autobiography. Assigned female at birth but never quite feeling that designation fit, Kobabe journals em’s journey through fandom, identity, and sexuality; finally coming to the discovery that nonbinary and asexual are the best descriptors. From a rustic childhood, through puberty, high school, college, and grad school, we walk with Maia through years of introspection and self-discovery. Written as a journal, readers will hopefully see themselves, or gain an understanding of others as Kobabe describes the trauma of body dysmorphia and gynecological exams; appreciate em’s supportive family, and come away with sensitivity and compassion. Have this available for readers who identify as nonbinary or asexual. There are some strong resources to keep available for asexual and nonbinary readers, including Queer Books for Teens, and booklists from YALSA, Book Riot, GoodReads, and Tor. Author Jeanne G’Fellers has an excellent author webpage, including The Enby Booklist, containing fiction, nonfiction, and poetry with a non-binary focus. There is a lesson plan available for Gender Queer through Diamond Bookshelf.

Gender Queer has a starred review from School Library Journal, is a 2020 ALA Alex Award Winner and a 2020 Stonewall — Israel Fishman Non-fiction Award Honor Book.

Invisible Differences: A Story of Asperger’s, Adulting, and Living a Life in Full Color, by Julie Dachez, (Oct. 2020, Oni Press), $19.99, ISBN: 9781620107669

Ages 12+

From her opening dedication: “This comic is dedicated to you. You, the deviants. People who are ‘too much like this’ or ‘not enough like that’, Julie Dachez creates a safe, welcoming space for readers delving into her graphic novel, revealing what life is like for a person living with Asperger’s Syndrome. Twenty-seven-year-old Marguerite loves staying home with her books, her little dog, her purring cats, and her soft pajamas. Within her silent apartment, they form her “cocoon”. She’s stressed by commuting to her job, but relies on routines to usher her through her day. Coworkers don’t seem to understand her. Her boyfriend is frustrated because she doesn’t want to go to parties and socialize as he does. As she searches for answers to her anxiety, she discovers that she is not alone: there is a community of people with Asperger’s Syndrome, a form of autism, and their experiences are there, online for Marguerite to read. No longer in the dark and alone, she begins a search for the right therapist, and the resources she needs to advocate for herself.

Julie Dachez’s black and white artwork skillfully uses reds and yellows to communicate Marguerite’s stressors and anxiety: loud conversations and everyday noise; panels are bathed in red to denote stressful moments in Marguerite’s day, when her defenses are running low, gradually fading back to black and white as she separates herself from social situations to recharge. Her red sneakers are the sole point of red that provide a reassuring, routine constant. Back matter includes a history of autism, information on Asperger’s Syndrome, and a list of resources for further reading (incuding children’s books!). A good book to have in your collection; consider also purchasing Camouflage: The Hidden Lives of Autistic Women, a nonfiction graphic novel by Dr. Sarah Bargeila and illustrated by Sophie Standing.

Posted in Fiction, Intermediate, picture books

Dad’s Camera explains Alzheimer’s to children

Dad’s Camera, by Ross Watkins/Illustrated by Liz Anelli, (Oct. 2018, Candlewick Press), $16.99, ISBN: 9781536201383

Ages 5-10

A boy’s father comes home one day with “one of those old cameras, the kind that uses film”, and starts taking pictures of the world around him. The boy and his mother don’t think much of it at first – Dad is doing funny things, like putting tools in the fridge, and milk in the cupboard; it’s what the doctor says will continue happening. As Dad continues photographing everyday objects, the boy and his mother wonder why he’s not taking pictures of them: aren’t they worth remembering, too? Dad just looks puzzled, and makes collages of his developed photos, sticking them on a window. When Dad passes, a package arrives for the boy and his mother: it’s the camera, with one photo left to be developed. The boy and his mother discover a final photo from Dad: a family portrait.

Dad’s Camera is a heartbreaking conversation about a young family struggling with Alzheimer’s, inspired by the author’s father-in-law, who developed the disease when his daughter was a tween. An author’s note explains that Ross Watkins wrote Dad’s Camera to “create a way for children and adults to talk about the confusion often surrounding Alzheimer’s, but also to celebrate the tenderness and small surprises of such difficult times”. Mission accomplished: Dad’s Camera is a series of poignant, small moments that are tender and loving; a bright spot in a family’s dark time. It’s a moving, bittersweet story of loss, grief, and the joy of memory and is a smart addition to your collections. It begins a conversation that is normally reserved for grandparents and elder family members, and provides a comforting strength for families.

 

Liz Anelli’s incorporates collage, watercolor, mono print, acrylic, and digital color to create a sedate atmosphere for the story, always mindful of details that readers will discover through multiple reads. A bus runs a camera film ad on its side in one spread; in the next spread, the camera arrives in a box with the same photo on the side. The colors are warm, homey, and yet, infused with a sadness and a yearning.

Dad’s Camera was originally published in the UK as One Photo (2016).

Posted in Fiction, Middle Grade, Middle School, Realistic Fiction, Tween Reads

Middle graders, make way for Merci Suarez!

Merci Suárez Changes Gears, by Meg Medina (Sept. 2018, Candlewick), $16.99, ISBN: 9780763690496

Ages 8-12

Sixth grade Cuban-American Mercedes “Merci” Suárez lives in South Florida with her family in Las Casitas: three houses, side by side, where Merci lives with her brother, Roli, and their parents; her Abuela and Lolo; and her Tía Inéz and her crazy twin 5-year olds, Axel and Tomás. She and Roli also attend an exclusive private school, Seaward Pines. In order to help pay their tuition, Merci has to take part in Sunshine Buddies, a community service program that matches her with a new student from Minnesota, Michael Clark. Merci has a pretty full plate with Sunshine Buddies, practicing for the soccer tryouts at school, and tolerating the school’s resident mean girl, Edna Santos, but things get even more complicated when her grandfather, Lolo, starts acting differently. He forgets his glasses in the refrigerator; he falls off his bike, and he tries to pick up the wrong twins at school one day. Merci finds herself with mounting family responsibilities and pushes back against the frustration of school and home life, but she and her family will work together, like they always do, to get through life’s challenges.

Meg Medina creates the most memorable, likable characters, from Piddy Sanchez (Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass) to Mía and Abuela (Mango, Abuela and Me). She creates an atmosphere that immediately feels comfortable and tactile; reading her books feels like home for me. The peppered Spanglish throughout the narrative; the mouth-watering descriptions of food, the chaotic, crazy family life all fit like a comfortable sofa that I sink into to read my books. She creates strong Latinx girls and women who run businesses and raise families, who have straight talk with their families and friends, even when those conversations are painful, and they know the strength that family provides. Every character in Merci’s story feels real because these characters are real: they’re the kids next to you in school, or who live down the block. Meg Medina uses humor and authentic voices to create a story about a tween girl who has insecurities, worries, and frustrations; she’s also funny, smart, and creative, with a whip-smart wit. Merci Suárez Changes Gears is a story about growing up and about how much it hurts to see your grandparents aging. Put this in every kid’s hand, because it’s that good. This one’s on my Newbery 2018 short list.

Merci Suárez Changes Gears has starred reviews from Kirkus, Horn Book, and Booklist. Meg Medina has an author site where you can learn more about her books and read her blog, and make sure to check out the Girls of Summer website; a project co-designed by Meg Medina and author Gigi Amateau. Girls of Summer reviews 18 titles for strong girls (picture book, middle grade and YA) every year, in early June; there are also giveaways and weekly Q & As with selected authors. The blog is active from June until Labor Day every year, but you can still check out the content (from 2011-present) no matter what time of the year!