This post is about not so much a book as a person. Raina Telgemeier is the fabulous, fantastic author of Smile, Drama, and Sisters.
Smile takes the (true) story of dental insanity and turns it into a long-term coming-of-age tale (which helped inspire Cece Bell to write El Deafo as a graphic novel). Drama takes on the big world of middle school theater. And Sisters is, of course, about sibling rivalry (and baring your teeth at your sister, apparently).
Telgemeier’s books are just really, really good middle grade, period. Like, I’d be happy to read these stories in a text-only format, I’d be happy to watch them on TV (preferably Degrassi), I’d be happy to have my little cousin act them out for me using only her words and her twelve-year-old feelings.
But I’m happiest to read them as graphic novels because Telgemeier’s visual storytelling is so spot on. Who can take a ubiquitous image like a yellow smiley face and turn it into something so totally associated with her story that she can use it again as a self-reference on a second book cover? Raina Telgemeier can.
Also, apparently she wrote the graphic novel versions of The Babysitters Club. So I’m adding all of those to my library holds list immediately.
One day late, because I’m bad at days… here’s Sidekicks by Dan Santat.
Sidekicks is one of those brilliant books with a concept so simple, so original, but so based in something familiar that it practically sells itself. We’ve got ourselves a washed up superhero looking for a way to break back into the business.
This is concept art because Dan Santat and the internet are amazing.
And we’ve got ourselves his motley crew of household pets. They enjoy being lazy, as pets are wont to do.
When Captain Amazing decides to start searching for a new sidekick, the pets get understandably jealous. And self-righteous. Each of them wants the sidekick job. And silliness and adventure ensue.
This book is just pure fun. Go read it now. (And then go read The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend, Dan Santat’s 2015 Caldecott-Medal-winning picture book. He’s got the chops.)
Damn, but this book is badass. I mean, honestly, what’s not to love about a middle-grade graphic novel about a twelve-year-old girl who decides that what she wants out of her life is to become a roller derby champion? Nothing, that’s what.
At the beginning of Roller Girl, Astrid is in a position that a lot of us probably remember from our youths. She’s best friends with another girl her age, they do everything together, and that’s just a given, that’s just the way it works. But then one summer their paths diverge, and suddenly Astrid has to figure out how to be herself, all on her own. And, as is fairly typical, the figuring out process involves lots of bumps and bruises and falling down, but in Astrid’s case, all of that is literal as well as metaphorical, because she’s doing it at roller derby camp.
One of my favorite things about this book is that Astrid is by no means a natural born derby champ. In fact, she pretty much sucks. But she works so hard and sticks with it despite everything because she just really, really likes it. It takes some serious guts to keep doing something you’re terrible at just because you want to, and I love Astrid for it. Trust me, you will too.
Oh, and PS. In case you were in any doubt, this book is about roller derby, so obviously it’s super gay.
At the very beginning of Page by Paige, Paige Turner (her parents are writers) buys a sketchbook. She’s just moved from rural Virginia to Brooklyn and she’s feeling lonely and unmoored. But she’s always loved to draw, so she sets about following the rules her painter grandmother set herself a long time ago, starting with the first: “No more excuses! Buy a sketchbook and draw a few pages each week.” Maybe, Paige thinks, it will help.
And help it does. Over the course of her first semester at her new school, Paige, quiet and reserved on the outside, pours her loud, brilliant, and extraordinarily imaginative inner life onto the pages of her sketchbook, and eventually, it gives her the strength she needs to start sharing some of that inner life with the world.
At its core, this book is your standard realistic young adult novel. It’s about friendships and first loves and figuring out who you are and who you want to become. Paige deals with all the inescapable teenage joys of endless frustration and insecurity and awkwardness, and watching her navigate it all is delightfully entertaining. But Page by Paige sets itself apart with Laura Lee Gulledge’s gorgeous art and the brilliant way she waves the narrative of Paige’s story into the structure of Paige’s own drawings and inner monologue. It’s one of the best renditions I’ve seen of a young artist’s mind in progress.
Every once in a while, no matter how much you love books, you go through a reading slump. You know what I’m talking about—you pick up a book you’ve been looking forward to, one you’re absolutely certain you’ll like, and, for some reason, you just can’t make it stick. So then you try out another off your epic TBR pile, and another, and another. And even though you know, you know, you actually like the books, you just can’t seem to enjoy them.
First things first: forgive yourself. It happens to the best of us. Right now, it’s happening to me. And I’m here to tell you that there is hope. There is a solution, friends, and that solution is middle grade graphic novels. Other people will tell you to reread your favorites, to try short stories or comedy or edge-of-your-seat thrillers, and those are all solid suggestions. They’ve helped me through some tough spots. But in my experience, the best way to get yourself to want to read again is to pick up a book that doesn’t require a lot of reading at all.
So that’s what we’ll be posting about this month: our favorite graphic lit written for people at least ten years younger than we are. These are obviously great books if you happen to be twelve, but they’re also great if you happen to be 25, or 38, or 59 (or, you know, any other age) and just in need of a reading pick-me-up.
The first time I encountered Joe Sacco was in his brilliant book Palestine, a work of “comics journalism” (his term, and an accurate one) about his experience reporting from the West Bank and Gaza during the First Intifada. Sacco has also produced books about his reporting in the Balkans and around the world (that last gathers pieces he produced as real-time reporting, including his series on the Iraq War originally published in the Guardian).
So like, all of this is to say, if you don’t know who Joe Sacco is, get on that shit.
But to the topic at hand. The day Joe Sacco’s The Great War arrived in the bookstore, I squeed the biggest squee anyone has ever squeed about trench warfare.
Inspired by the Bayeux Tapestry, The Great War is 24-foot-long image of the first day of the Battle of the Somme. It comes in a slipcase (we’re going to get very familiar with slipcases this month) and folds out like an accordion. You can flip the pages like a book in order to focus on the details of the drawing
or you can unfold the whole thing for a sense of the scale of that day.
You’ll probably need a second (or third) pair of hands if you go that route.
I just think everything about this is perfect: the way the size and shape of the book capture the size and shape of the battle, the drawing’s roots in art history, the human details (which is always my favorite thing about Sacco’s work). The main act is definitely the drawing, but the book comes with annotations to the image by Sacco and an essay on the Battle of the Somme by Adam Hochschild, author of To End All Wars.
Also! The drawing was installed as mural in the Montparnasse station of the Paris Metro last July. So if you’re in France, you can go see it and its size can oppress you even further.
Skim is written by Mariko Tamaki and drawn by Jillian Tamaki, the same cousin team who more recently collaborated on This One Summer, which Dana recommended a couple of months ago for our “Summer Reads” theme. Of course there are similarities, and I love both books, but Skim is a story of a different order: more intense, more mature, and much, much darker.
It’s narrated by Kimberly Keiko Cameron (aka Skim), a Catholic school tenth grader whose diary over the course of the school year forms the backbone of the story. It’s a big year (as are all years when you’re that age, I suppose), and as Skim struggles to figure herself out, not to mention everyone else, she’s confronted with everything from sexuality to suicide.
To say that Skim is a book about school is obviously a major oversimplification. But of the many wonderful young adult novels I’ve read that explore what high school is like for teenagers, this one is probably the most beautiful. And I’m not just talking about the gorgeous illustrations.
The more time I spend with this book, the more I appreciate its delicate, woven construction and raw, searching depth. And though I do wish I’d known to read it when I was in 10th grade, it has a resonance that’s impossible to outgrow. We all need the occasional reminder that being sixteen is really, really hard.