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 Middle Grade, Middle School, Tween Reads

Year of the Buttered Cat is amazing!

The Year of the Buttered Cat (A Mostly True Story), by Susan Haas and Lexi Haas, (April 2021, Penelope Editions), $17.99, ISBN: 9781734225938

Ages 9-13

What a book! This mostly-true memoir of Lexi Haas, a Star Wars and superhero-loving teen, shines a light on a rare – and preventable – neurological disease called kernicterus. Written by Lexi and her mother, Susan Haas, The Year of the Buttered Cat moves between Lexi at ages five and six, when she learns about her diagnosis and waits for the “five gifts, more or less” that an ersatz preacher wishes for her, and the age of 13, on the eve of a major surgery that she, and her family, hope will give her more control over her body and give her a voice. Not a story about kernicterus, Lexi’s story is a story about fandom, friendship, and discovering that the gifts you need are to be discovered within. We read Lexi’s frustrations and her ups and downs – feeling left out by friends; having strangers ask “what’s wrong with her?”; knowing her parents are keeping secrets – and see our own. We read her joyful moments – her laughter, teasing and being teased by siblings, watching Saturday Night Live with her parents, cuddling with her dog – and smile and laugh along with her. Do we find out why the cat was buttered? Yes. Do we want to find Lexi and the next Comic Con and hang out in cosplay with her? Definitely. Lexi’s voice is strong, clear, and focused, whether she’s making us laugh or suggesting we stop, take a moment, and think.

Give this to your readers who loved Wonder, Mustaches for Maddie, and Roll With It, A great add to your social-emotional learning shelves.

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

Spinning: a memoir of skating and self

Spinning, by Tillie Walden, (Sept. 2017, :01First Second), $17.99, ISBN: 9781626729407

Recommended for readers 12+

Cartoonist and illustrator Tillie Walden’s graphic memoir looks at her childhood and adolescence as a competitive figure skater and her journey out of the closet. Spinning is Walden’s chance to look back at skating (a key part of her identity for over a decade), bullying, first love, sexual abuse, depression, coming out, and the stress of outgrowing a passion.

Sensitive but visceral, Tillie quietly tells her story. The rigor of her skating routine, the loneliness of practice and traveling without her parents and the stress of competition. She talks about her first love, and the pain of enforced separation. It’s a coming of age story that teenagers will embrace. Tillie speaks plainly, but with powerful emotion underneath the surface. I felt her crushing depression and anxiety as I continued throughout the book; told in two-color artwork, Tillie’s often in the shadows or drawn solitary, alone, speaking volumes to the reader.

Spinning is brilliant and beautiful.  If you’ve ever competed in a sport, played an instrument, or felt alone, Tillie Walden understands you. A strong addition to graphic novel and memoir collections.

Tillie Walden is an Ignatz award winner. You can find her webcomic, On a Sunbeam, online and more of her comics at her website. Spinning has received a starred review from Booklist and mentioned in Entertainment Weekly’s LGBTQ YA Book List for 2017.

Posted in Middle Grade, Non-Fiction, Non-fiction, Tween Reads

Shannon Hale Talks Cool Kids, Crybabies, and Real Friends

Real Friends, by Shannon Hale/Illustrated by LeUyen Pham, (May 2017, :01 First Second), $12.99, ISBN: 978-1-62672-785-4

Recommended for readers 8-13

How do I even start my gushing over Shannon Hale’s memoir about family, friendship, and growing pains? I’m a Shannon Hale fan and a LeUyen Pham fan; their collaborations – like on one of my favorite chapter book series, Princess in Black – work so well, visually and literally, it’s a treat for the eyes, the imagination, the whole reader is satisfied.

Here, we see young Shannon’s life from Kindergarten through fifth grade in terms of her relationships; with her mother, a series of friends, her troubled and sometimes abusive sister, and with God. Primarily, this is a story of how Shannon struggled with The Group. We all know The Group. Mean Girls was a story about The Group; just about every high school or middle school movie or TV show has a Group. It’s the in-crowd, the girls who make lives miserable for everyone that isn’t part of their group – and sometimes, even for the people in the group. Shannon desperately wants friends, but with friends comes the stress of being part of The Group and putting up with the mind games and backstabbing that is aimed at her by another jealous group member. At home, she tries to navigate relationships with her large family, trying to give her temperamental sister, Wendy, a wide berth.

We see the effects of stress on Shannon, who develops OCD-type behavior and manifests physical ailments often associated with anxiety. We also see how Shannon copes by creating her imaginary worlds – she’s a Wonder Woman, a Charlie’s Angel, a secret agent, and she brings her friends along for the ride. This book is powerful for a girl who, like Shannon, grew up in the ’70s, disappeared into my own imagination, and struggled for years with Groups and backstabbing. I’m an only child, but Shannon could have been writing about me – and that’s how readers will feel reading this book, just like readers do when they read literally anything by Raina Telgemeier.

Readers will know this is their story, whether they’re an 8 year old kid or a 46 year old librarian and book blogger; maybe there’s a boy out there who, like Shannon or Kayla, another character, hides in the bushes so no one will see them crying and make fun of them. Real Friends is painful, real, and beautiful.

Real Friends received a starred review from School Library Journal, and Kirkus offers an interview with Shannon and Dean Hale. Wander over to Shannon Hale’s author page for information on her other books, games and quizzes, and more; LeUyen Pham’s webpage is loaded with neat things to see, including a free, downloadable Love: Pass It On poster, and links to her illustration, Facebook, and book pages.

This one is a no-brainer for collections. Display with Victoria Jamieson’s Roller Girl, Raina Telgemeier’s Smile, and Sisters, and novels like Jennifer L. Holm’s Fourteenth Goldfish,  and Dana Alison Levy’s Family Fletcher books. If it’s a display or book talk on self-esteem and standing up to the crowd, make sure to include Kathryn Otoshi’s Zero, One, and Two.

Posted in Middle School, Non-Fiction, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Trying to Float: A New York Childhood

trying to floatTrying to Float: Coming of Age in the Chelsea Hotel, by Nicolaia Rips, (July 2016, Scribner), $25, ISBN: 978-1501132988

Recommended for ages 14+

New York City’s Chelsea Hotel is part muse, part myth. Home to countless artists, luminaries, and eccentric personalities over since it opened its doors in the late 19th century, the Chelsea  seemingly received as much inspiration as it gave. Art decorated the walls of the hotel, often put there by artists moved to add their voice to the hotel’s presence. Among the more recent Chelsea residents were the Rips family: lawyer, Michael, model-turned-artist, Sheila, and their daughter, Nicolaia. It’s Nicolaia’s story we get in Trying to Float: Coming of Age in the Chelsea Hotel.

Nicolaia wrote the memoir of her formative years at the Chelsea before she graduated high school. The project was inspired by her parents, who told her to journal her stories from school and life in general – so kids, take those journaling assignments seriously! Nicolaia’s story, told in a series of anecdotes and memories, alternates between laugh-out loud funny and painfully spot on. She was the lonely kid in the crowd, her parents often wrapped up in their own eccentricities, and she seemed to figure out a lot on her own, or with the help of some of the Chelsea residents.

Her self-deprecation and her wise-beyond-her-years insights make this book an unputdownable read. Teens will love this because they’ll identify with so many moments: mortification at a birthday party, mean girls spreading rumors about you right in front of you, a parent making you want to move away and start life over under the teenager’s version of a witness/parent protection program. New Yorkers and people who love New York will love it because it’s a slice of life in New York City.

Trying to Float received a starred review from Kirkus. Do not miss this one. Get a copy for yourself, get a copy for a teen in your life, and booktalk it with some more New York stories. There are tons out there, including the photo essay book, Living in the Chelsea Hotel by Linda Troeller.

Posted in Graphic Novels, Middle School, Non-Fiction, Teen, Tween Reads

Smile, by Raina Telgemeier – A Graphic Memoir of Tweenhood

smileSmile, by Raina Telgemeier. Scholastic (2010), $21.99, ISBN: 978-0-54513205-3

Recommended for ages 10+

Raina Telgemeier’s memoir, Smile, is a coming-of-age memoir that’s framed by the night sixth-grader Raina sustained an injury to her mouth that led to a series of surgeries and orthodontia. Throughout middle school and high school, Raina endures braces, surgeries, retainers, and even headgear. She becomes a target for her friends’ teasing, which leads to her pulling away from them and embracing her love of the artistic. When she finally realizes that her friends aren’t the people she wants to surround herself with, she stands her ground and moves on.

Smile is one of those books that everyone should read, kid or adult. It’s all about fair-weather friends, enduring what feels like the end of the world, and ultimately, finding your own voice. It’s empowering, whether you’re 12 or 92, because it’s something we need to be reminded of, from time to time – “it”, whatever it is, won’t last forever, and the people you surround yourself with may not be the best for you. Dig deep down into yourself and love yourself enough to get through it.

The cartoon art makes the story even more accessible,with friendly-looking, expressive characters and warm colors throughout. The endpapers resemble a yearbook -in fact, Ms. Telgemeier used her yearbook signatures for the book – with signatures and well-wishes from friends, setting the tone for the book.

Smile has received numerous accolades – deservedly so! – including winning the Eisner Award for Best Publication for a Teen Audience (2011), the Dorothy Canfield Fisher Award (2012), and the Maine Student Book Award (2012). Smile was a finalist for the Children’s Choice Book Award (2011) and has received designation as an ALA Children’s Notable Book (2011), an honor book from the Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards (2010), a Kirkus Best Book of 2010, and a New York Times Editors’ Choice (2010).

There are lesson plans on the Web that allow educators to bring Smile into the classroom. Scholastic offers one on their site, along with a template for students to create their own graphic novels; The Graphic Classroom offers some great classroom discussion tips using the book.

A companion book to Smile, called Sisters, which will be published in August 2014 and will examine the relationship between Raina and her sister, Amara, who briefly appears in Smile.