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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.