Attention Deficit Corona: Graphic Novels for Tweens and Teens
April 30, 2020 § 1 Comment
Of all the complaints I’ve heard during Quarantine, one of the most common is an inability to focus. If your former bookworms are having trouble losing themselves in literature (hey, Zoom zombification is real), look no further than these new graphic novels. Take it from me.
We moved last week. Moving is challenging in the best of times much less during a pandemic. So, you can bet I threw a bunch of graphic novels at my kids, and you can bet they were more than happy to stay out of everyone’s way. And the best news? You already know that graphic novels are the type of books your kids like to read again and again, so you can feel good about investing in them and supporting your local Indie bookstore at the same time.
Truly, 2020 is shaping up to be a STELLAR year for graphic novels. This list builds from young to older, with selections all the way up to high schoolers. (If you’re new to my site, you might check out my last graphic novel round-up here.)
I Survived the Sinking of the Titanic, 1912 (The Graphic Novel)
by Lauren Tarshis, with art by Haus Studio
Many parents credit the Magic Treehouse series with launching their independent reader. My son never had patience for Jack and Annie’s gentle forays into the past: he went straight for Lauren Tarshis’ historically inspired I Survived books, with their hair-raising suspense and ample gore. But if your kids weren’t drawn to these chapter books before, they’re sure to be now that the stories are being issued as full-color graphic novels, beginning with I Survived the Sinking of the Titanic, 1912.
Tarshis has always done a fantastic job of layering historical details onto her fictional scenes, and the graphic format only heightens the cinematic experience. When ten-year-old George Calder and his younger sister begin their voyage in a first-class cabin on what their aunt calls “the floating palace,” they relish exploring its passages and dining with the Titanic’s esteemed designer. George doesn’t even mind taking heat from his aunt when he slides down the impressive banister into a woman wearing “one hundred pounds of diamonds.” In fact, his curiosity about the mechanics and the layout of the ship prove to be his saving grace when a terrible BOOM sounds and his sister is nowhere to be found.
Fans of Raina Telgemeier will love this graphic memoir, inspired by Copeland’s time in Junior High as a cub reporter for a local Connecticut paper in the early 70s. Against a backdrop of tie-dye, Watergate, women’s rights, and David Cassidy, seventh-grader Cindy struggles to navigate the social dynamics of the lunchroom, best friend betrayals, romantic prospects, and changing hair styles, while learning to observe the wider world around her and finding her voice to speak up about wrongs that need righting.
Copeland has packed a lot into Cub, and different ages will take away different things. In addition to current events, there’s fantastic writing advice dished out by Cindy’s mentor and tutorials on photography. There are revealing glimpses of 70s family life, including a Christmas tour of relatives, riding bikes without helmets, and Cindy’s father’s inclination to talk to Cindy about safety and her brothers about ambition. Probably most entertaining and relatable to young readers will be Cindy’s astute, humorous profiles of her classmates and how they fit into the cutthroat “predator and prey” landscape of junior high. Even better is Cindy’s revelation by the end of the year: what if, instead of letting the cool kids define us, we started defining ourselves?
This book is a wonder. That Victoria Jamieson could take Somalian refugee Omar Mohamed’s real-life memories and transform them into an exquisite graphic novel with equal parts suspense, heart, and inspiration. That colorist Iman Geddy could contrast the sandy, barren refugee camp in Kenya against the rich purple skies of its sunsets and the vibrant spirit of its inhabitants. Most of all, that Omar Mohamed himself could endure such enormous childhood loss and hardships, could have his hopes of leaving the tented city dashed for fifteen years, yet still manage to graduate top of his class, care for his non-verbal brother, and battle a slew of never-ending daily chores. I can’t remember the last time I was so moved.
Both my kids devoured When Stars are Scattered before I had a chance to read it. Listening to them rave about it, I had almost impossibly high hopes. Now that I’ve read it, I can concur: this story is pure gold. A story of the power of brotherhood, community, and education to sustain us in our darkest moments.
***Big news: I will be doing a giveaway of this exceptional book on Instagram in the coming days; keep an eye on my feed for details!***
This might be the wackiest story I’ve ever read. And I absolutely love it for that. Kat Leyh’s graphic novel is funny, brilliant, and defies categorization. On the one hand, it’s about a girl who befriends the town’s witch and comes to discover her own magic in the process. On the other hand, it’s about roadkill and horror flicks and cross-dressing and flying motorcycles and unrequited love and anatomical science. Or maybe, most accurately, it’s about the kind of friendships which re-frame how we see ourselves, which have us believing we’re less weird and more deserving of love than we thought.
I don’t dare say any more, for the joy of Snapdragon lies in discovery. I’m just waiting for the right moment to hand this graphic novel to my kids and watch it blow their minds in the best of ways.
While reading this tenderly illustrated WW2 survival story—about a Jewish teen who hides in various places throughout the French countryside—I kept thinking about Mr. Rogers’ reminder to “look for the helpers.” Based on the life of the author’s mother, herself a “hidden child” during the War, Catherine’s War gives us a compassionate look at these helpers, not only through the observations of the teen herself but through the lens of her Rolleiflex camera. Before she changes her name to Catherine Colin to disguise her identity, Rachel Cohen attends a progressive boarding school outside of Paris. As she packs a small bag to go into hiding, the school’s headmistress—a real-life woman named Seagull—insists Catherine must take along her camera: “Take pictures. Collect the images and bring them to us at the end of the war…Don’t miss anything. We’ll need these testimonies when the war is over.”
We get many stories about Jews hidden in attics or behind secret doors. What’s fascinating about Catherine’s story is that she hides in plain sight, as a cousin to a peasant family or a student at a convent or a teacher at an orphanage. In doing so, she must continually compromise her heritage, including eating meat and taking Catholic communion. She fears losing herself. And yet, her photography allows her to find beauty in the pastoral countryside, in the kind smiles of those who help her, and in the shadows framing the resilience of other hidden children she encounters.
Where was this book when I was a teenager?! Williams and Schneemann have given the teenage world an absolute gem with Go With the Flow, bringing the conversation around menstruation out of the bathroom.
Four sophomore besties are fed up. Fed up of feeling embarrassed about period accidents. Fed up with the dispensers in the school bathrooms never having tampons or pads when girls need them. Fed up with school districts who fund new football uniforms but can’t subsidize menstruation supplies. As the book’s jacket puts it: “Good friends help you go with the flow. Best friends help you start a revolution.”
Shades of red comprise the palette of this fast-paced novel of friendship, angst, activism, empowerment, and blood. As a bonus, in honoring a diversity of menstruation experiences, readers will learn something I didn’t realize until adulthood: periods often manifest themselves differently from one person to the next (and, yes, I’m using “person” deliberately, another point made in the book). We’ve come a long way from whispering in the halls about getting our friend because we didn’t dare say the word period, much less menstruation.
At a whopping 436 pages, this graphic novel is a basketball lover’s dream. It boasts a wealth of information on the history of the sport, its famous coaches and players, and the discrimination accompanying the rise of African-American players. But it’s also a dramatic account of one high school varsity team’s chance at taking the California State Championship title for the first time, as witnessed by author Gene Luen Yang himself. Which is where things become interesting. Because Yang hates basketball.
Actually, Yang hates all sports, preferring the Superheroes of comics to any so-called heroes on a court. In his adult life, as a high school teacher by day and graphic novelist by night, he never expected to step foot inside a gym—until his desperation to find a story for his next novel leads him to ask the Dragons’ coach for an interview.
What he discovers is what sports fans already know: no matter how prepared a team may be, what happens during a game is anyone’s guess. “But you step out anyway.” Basketball, Yang confesses to the team after the tense first half of their final game, is a guidebook for life: “[… M]aybe those of us in the audience hope that watching you take that step will inspire us to do the same thing.” Dragon Hoops is a basketball story, but it’s also a story of unlikely heroes; of sacrifice and tough love; and of making as much of your minutes on the court as your time on the bench.
Robin Ha wrote this poignant graphic memoir to come to terms with what happened in 1995 when she was fourteen. She boarded a plane from Korea to Alabama with her single mother, believing they were simply going on vacation, when in actuality her mother never intended for them to return to Korea. With no warning, no way of contacting her old friends, and virtually no support network, Robin (Korean name Chuna) has to navigate a foreign culture and language. At school, she is teased for her broken English. At home, she is shamed for her tomboy looks and love of comics, a stark contrast to the boy-crazy daughters of the man whom Robin’s mother intends to marry. Even greater than the isolation and depression Robin experiences is the anger and betrayal she feels towards her mother, the one adult she has always counted on. In writing this memoir, Robin attempts to uncover the reasons why her mother did what she did—and, in doing so, to move towards forgiveness.
Ha’s memoir is powerful: her sadness is palpable, her anxiety relatable. In addition to being a worthy addition to the canon of immigrant stories and a testament to the power of art to heal, Almost American Girl is a fraught and beautiful exploration of the mother-daughter relationship.
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Books published by Scholastic, Algonquin Young Readers, Dial Books, First Second, HarperAlley, First Second, First Second, Balzar & Bray (HarperCollins), respectively. All opinions are my own. Amazon.com affiliate links, although I prefer we all shop local when we can, especially now!