Posted in Fiction, Fiction, Graphic Novels, Historical Fiction, Middle Grade, Realistic Fiction, Tween Reads

Graphic novels: real-life stories

More graphic novels to talk about, this time, real-life stories. Some are realistic fiction, some are inspired by moments in the author’s life. All are great reading!

My Own World, by Mike Holmes, (June 2021, First Second), $12.99, ISBN: 9781250208286
Ages 8-13
Inspired by events in his childhood, Wings of Fire and Secret Coders illustrator Mike Holmes delivers a graphic memoir with a splash of fantasy. Nathan is alone, but for his older brother, Ben. His other siblings and the neighborhood bullies torment him, but he always looks to Ben to spend time with; Ben is the one person who gets him. Unfortunately, there are things coming up that take Ben farther and farther away from Nathan, leaving him to create a fantasy world to escape to when the real world intrudes too much. A study in grief, loss, and healing, My Own World is a better reading choice for middle schoolers than younger readers; there’s trauma contained within these pages. It’s an excellent starting point for discussions on the lingering damage done by bullying, loneliness, and coping with loss. The real world is depicted in flat colors, but Nathan’s fantasy world is alive with color, vibrancy, and engaging characters that Nathan creates to spend time with.
My Own World has a starred review from Booklist.
Jukebox, by Nidhi Chanani, (June 2021, First Second), $14.99, ISBN: 9781250156372
Ages 10 to 14
Nidhi Chanani is amazing in her ability to create magical travels using everyday objects. She infused a shawl with the power to fantastical India in her 2017 award-winner, Pashmina; now, she weaves a story about a jukebox that can transport listeners to a moment in time, inspired by the albums they play, in Jukebox. Shaheen is a girl who feels like she and her mom come in second to her father’s love of – obsession with? – music, particularly with albums. He never seems to be present to hear her when she’s talking; he just wants to talk about the newest album he’s on the hunt for, and he spends hours searching record bins for new additions to his collection. When he doesn’t return home one night, Shaheen and her cousin, Tannaz, start a search, only to discover a glowing jukebox at the local record store where Dad spent so much of his time. A Bessie Smith record spins on the turntable, and the girls find themselves transported to Harlem’s Savoy Ballroom in 1929! The song ends, returning them to their present time and place, and the chase through musical history is on. The girls spin different records, visiting key moments in time. from political marches to landmark concerts, while searching for Shaheen’s father. Will they be able to find him before morning? Jukebox is an incredible journey through our history using music as the vehicle. Sections are organized by album cover, with Shaheen’s father’s notes on the albums and social climate, giving readers more context as they prepare to jump into a new decade: Bessie Smith’s section includes notes on the album’s 1929 release, the oncoming Depression, and a 1929 Oscar awards program; Nina Simone’s Black Gold includes a Golden State Comic Con program and a newspaper with an Earth Day headline, all of which happened in 1970. Notes from Shaheen’s father mention her career and marriage eroding in the 1960s, and the music industry’s punishment for her political music.
Brilliant storytelling and an essential look at the ties between music and social change. Visit Nidhi Chanani’s website for printables and more about her books, and get multiple copies of this book ready – your readers deserve them! If you’re doing a travel themed Summer Reading program this year, you couldn’t ask for a better concept: pick songs, get some facts, and create slideshows; invite readers to offer their own insight. What song was popular the year they graduated from kindergarten? What song makes them think of family? A favorite friend? Invite readers to talk about music from their culture that others may not know. There’s so much you can do here!
Turtle in Paradise, by Jennifer L. Holm/Illustrated by Savanna Ganucheau, (June 2021, Random House Graphic), $12.99, ISBN: 9780593126301
Ages 8-12
This graphic novel adaptation of Jennifer Holm’s 2010 Newbery Honor-winning novel is simply gorgeous. Set in 1935, eleven-year-old Turtle is a girl who’s had some tough times. She’s more level-headed than her mother, loves the movies, and really doesn’t like Shirley Temple. While figuring out where life will take her next, her mother sends Turtle to Key West, Florida, to live with her aunt when she takes a job housekeeping for a woman who doesn’t like children, and Turtle has never met her aunt or the many cousins she’s now living with. She starts getting into the swing of things, following the “Diaper Gang”: neighborhood boys with a babysitting club and a secret diaper rash formula that puts them in high demand. As she gets into a day-to-day groove, she learns some family secrets that leave her wanting more: more of her mother’s past, more of her family history, just… more. A family study, a piece of historical fiction that examines life in Depression-Era Florida, and a strong, smart female protagonist make this a great enough story, and then you Savanna Ganucheau’s artwork: filled with lush and humid outdoor spreads, we get a picture of 1930s life in Key West. Turtle’s cousins run barefoot through their day, while Turtle insists on her shoes. Babysitting moments are laugh-out loud funny, and Turtle interactions with a cantankerous senior citizen will make readers chuckle and admire the girl’s tenacity. Inspired by Jennifer Holm’s great-grandmother’s life in Key West, this is an adaptation that your readers will love and will absolutely gain the story some new fans.
Chunky, by Yehudi Mercado, (June 2021, Katherine Tegen Books), $12.99, ISBN: 9780062972781
Ages 8-12
A memoir of Yehudi Mercado’s Mexican-Jewish upbringing, Chunky is more incredible storytelling. Set in the 1980s, Hudi has one lung after a childhood battle with lung disease, he’s overweight, and he loves video games, science fiction and fantasy, and being the funny kid. His parents want him to lose weight and be healthier, and try to push him toward different sports to get him more active. Hudi, not particularly in love with the idea, goes along with his parents to make them happy, but creates an imaginary friend: a pink-furred   cheerleader/mascot called Chunky, to cheer him on as he tries – and flops – at baseball, swimming, and tennis. Chunky is there to tell Yehudi he’s better at comedy and drawing; he’s Hudi’s inner compass, telling him to stay true to himself. When Hudi’s father loses his job and has to move to another state to find work, he finds himself faced with a crossroads and joins the football team in a last bid to fit the image his parents want to have of him. Chunky is more than a memoir; it’s a story of trying to please others before yourself; it’s a story of using humor as deflection; it’s a story of listening to your true self. Hudi is funny – he can’t help but crack up people he comes into contact with, especially medical professionals – and he’s pretty game to try anything his parents want, even if his heart may not be 100% committed. He’s good-natured and kind, which makes his break with Chunky painful when he attempts one more sport to satisfy his parents. We want funny Hudi back! We want to go get ice cream with him and feel like everything will work out! The artwork is bright, colorful, upbeat, and loaded with great details, like Hudi’s t-shirts (console video games! Chewbacca!) and his room, which his father constantly redecorates to affirm his dedication to the latest sport Hudi’s involved with – and that Chunky and Hudi take great pleasure in defacing time and time again. I can gush about Chunky all day, so let me just say that this is another must-add to your shelves.
Learn more about Yehudi Mercado and get a look at Chunky at his website. Chunky has a starred review from School Library Journal.
Posted in Non-Fiction, Puberty, Teen, Tween Reads, Young Adult/New Adult

Welcome to Your Period! A welcome wagon for pre-teens and young teens

Welcome To Your Period!, by Yumi Stynes & Dr. Melissa Kang/Illustrated by Jenny Latham, (Jan. 2021, Walker Books US), $17.99, ISBN: 9781536214765

Ages 10-16

An inclusive, illustrated guide to getting your period from a award-winning podcaster and writer and a celebrated doctor whose medical column ran for more than two decades in a popular teen magazine? Yes, please! Welcome To Your Period!, by Yumi Stynes and Dr. Melissa Kang, is a straight-talk, friend-to-friend, guide to navigating your period and all the weird, messy, moody, and snacky feelings it brings. It’s loaded with case studies and first-person accounts, with a folx from a variety of ages chiming in on their experiences. Topics covered include packing a period pack (let’s hear it for emergency chocolate!), how to deal with cramps, different choices in supplies, how to tackle period challenges like school, sports, and sleepovers, and how to support your friends! I love that the authors talk about throwing first-period parties for friends and the importance of sharing. It’s a really stressful moment when you look in that go-bag and realize there’s nothing there, but a perfect stranger that’s willing to help you out can go a long way. The illustrations are fun, positive, and inclusive, as is the language used throughout the book. Medical illustrations provide a road map to our bodies, and the authors encourage us to take a look down there for ourselves and get to know what’s what. There are points on menstrual equity, what to do when you aren’t able to talk to your parents, and advocating for yourself. Have a teacher who doesn’t want to let you get up to go to the bathroom? You assert yourself and tell them you need to go and why! There’s nothing to be embarrassed about here, and that’s the main point the authors and illustrator communicate here. This is a natural, normal part of nature, and nothing to be hidden away and ashamed of. Non-binary and transgender teens will find support here, too; the authors address how frightening and stressful puberty can be, and the importance of finding both a doctor and an adult you can trust and talk to regarding period options. A glossary provides helpful terms to “expand your period vocabulary” and a list of resources gives teens social media accounts, podcasts, apps, advocacy, phone numbers to have handy for reference. Display this with graphic novel hit Go With the Flow and support your tweens and teens. If you have the budget and are in an area in need, have some period packs available so your teens can come to you: you can be that trusted adult.

Published in Australia in 2018, Welcome to Your Period arrives on US shelves this month.

Posted in Realistic Fiction, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Pretty Funny for a Girl stands up for young women!

Pretty Funny for a Girl, by Rebecca Elliott, (Oct. 2020, Peachtree Publishing), $17.99, ISBN: 978-1-68263-147-8

Ages 12+

Haylah Swinton is an English teen who’s not like the other girls. She’s a curvy girl and she knows it – she adopted the nickname “Pig” so the bullies would have nothing to hold against her – and she loves comedy. From Tina Fey to Caitlin Moran and beyond, she’s watched them all and would love nothing more than to have her name among theirs one day. For now, though, she’s helping her single mom raise her four-year-old brother, Noah, hanging out with her besties, Chloe and Kas, until Leo Jackson enters the picture. He’s good-looking, has a killer smile, and does a stand-up routine during a school assembly that leaves Haylah gobsmacked! Finally having someone to talk comedy with, she secretly sneaks jokes she’s written into Leo’s locker, and is thrilled when he incorporates them into his routine at his dad’s club. The two start spending time together when Leo asks for her help writing material for him to perform at an upcoming youth comedy contest in London, and Haylah’s crush goes stratospheric, but her friends wonder if he really likes her for who she is, or for what she can do for him: write the jokes that will put him in the spotlight?

Pretty Funny for a Girl is all about feminism, the funny, and the heartbreak of a first crush. Haylah is a brilliantly written character who owns who she is, even while struggling with body image, friendships, and family. She knows she’s curvy, and by calling herself “fat” and taking on cruel nicknames like “Pig” before anyone else can level them at her, she’s internalizing a lot of pain that she’ll need to deal with – but she’ll be darned if anyone else gets to her more than she gets to herself. A body-positive teen who wishes everyone else would get over it, she doesn’t want to change who she is at heart, and knows she has a lot to offer, whether it’s on the comedy stage or in a relationship (friend or romantic).

If you loved Dumplin‘, you’ll love Pretty Funny for a Girl. Put this in your YA collections and check out Book Riot’s list of body positive YA novels for more ideas. Publisher Peachtree has a free, downloadable discussion guide and excerpt available.

Posted in Realistic Fiction, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Fat Girl on a Plane is fab!

Fat Girl on a Plane, by Kelly DeVos, (June 2018, Harlequin Teen), $18.99, ISBN: 978-0373212538

Ages 14+

Cookie Vonn is an aspiring clothing designer who knows a heck of a lot about fashion and textiles. She also wants fashion that makes everyone feel good, including the plus-size curvy girls and women that seem to be left out of major clothing designers’ lines. You see, Cookie used to be one of those girls, until one slight too many – the title should give you the clue – sends her to NutriNation, a Weight Watchers-type program where she loses the weight, but gains even more baggage. Her parents – a renowned supermodel and a surgeon – leave a lot to be desired. Her supermodel mother left her to be raised by her grandmother, and if you think she’s throwing cash her way to give her daughter and mother a lavish lifestyle, you’d be wrong. Her heartbroken father ran away to Africa once her mother dumped him, and he’s nothing more than an occasional phone call to Cookie. Needless to say, Cookie knows she’s got one person to rely on: herself.

When things start happening for Cookie, including a relationship and internship with an older famous designer, she wonders whether she’s becoming just like her mother: Gareth Miller seems to want to run their relationship and her life. She struggles with staying true to herself while becoming part of the New York fashion set, and discovers that her bright future has attracted her mother’s – and sleazy stepfather’s – attentions.

This book just draws you right in. Written in Cookie’s voice, the story takes place in two alternating timelines: right before and through her NutriNation journey, and the “present”, some two years into her weight loss. Pre-NutriNation, we see how 300-lb-plus Cookie’s treated; obviously a radical difference from how size 6 Cookie moves through life. She strives to make accessible fashion for everyone, no matter what size, and discovers the fashion industry’s dirty little secrets on the way. In the end, she almost loses herself, but is grounded by her friends and family back home in Arizona. There were some high points: I loved that she could move on without caving in and embracing the people who treated her so awfully. (It’s a relief to not scream at a book when a protagonist kisses and makes up with her or his tormentors!) It’s a very smooth read that held my interest all the way through, with characters that are realistic: not all wonderful and light, not all mustache-twirling villain. Pair this with Julie Murphy’s Dumplin’ for two great books about curvy heroines this summer.

Posted in Middle Grade, Non-Fiction, Non-fiction, Tween Reads, Women's History

Life in Motion: Misty Copeland’s inspiring autobiography, edited for young readers

misty-copelandLife in Motion: An Unlikely Ballerina (Young Reader Edition), by Misty Copeland, (Dec. 2016, Aladdin), $17.99, ISBN: 978148147979

Recommended for ages 8-12

Misty Copeland is amazing. The first African-American principal dancer for American Ballet Theatre didn’t start ballet until her early teens and has faced poverty, racism, criticism, and injury to do what she loves. In this young readers edition of her autobiography, she tells readers about the trials and triumphs she’s lived, the hard work she’s put in, and the sacrifices she’s made to get where she is in the dance world. We read about the custody battle between her mother and ballet teacher when she was 15; the rampant racism she’s endured, and she holds up to the light the eating issues that run rampant in the ballet community. We also read about amazing achievements, like her dancing on tour with Prince and her joy at meeting the dancers that inspired her the way she inspires a new generation of children.

Misty does not shy away from diversity here: she embraces it, giving us the names of the African-American dancers that went before her. She also doesn’t hide the fact that she’s taken some heat for being “too mainstream”; that bringing ballet to the masses is looked down upon – thankfully, that’s something she disagrees with. Ballet and dance, the arts, are for all – if she can inspire another kid to put on a pair of toe shoes, or sign up for hip hop classes because it’s something they love, she’s done right. Copeland is all about embracing your passion. Her confidence and gratitude come through in equal measure, and she dispenses advice for living and building one’s self-esteem throughout the book. Embrace your strengths and never give up – these are the lessons that kids will come away with after spending some time with Misty Copeland.

There are photos in the finished book (I’ve got an egalley), and more on her home page. You can also find her on the American Ballet Theatre page, which also has a section on education and training for readers interested in learning more. Display and booktalk this with Copeland’s picture book (illustrated by Christopher Myers), Firebird.

This book is a must-add to biography collections. Booktalk and display this if, like me, you’ve got kids that need to see someone smashing stereotypes and making it to the top of her (or his) game. If you have dancers in your home or your life, give this book to them and let them watch this ABC Sunday Spotlight from 2014.