October Graphic Novel Celebration ends this week, but on Sunday November 1 there will be a Twitter chat on graphic novels (and using GNs in teaching) at 8:00pm EST. Use #GNCelebration to participate.
This week I'm going to do a quick share of three unique graphic novels. Please enjoy.
Jane, the fox & me by Fanny Britt and Isabelle Arsenault
For readers aged 10-100+
Left out and bullied, Helene turns to the book Jane Eyre in order to shut off sadness. She understands Jane. She also understands the hardships facing her mother, but she isn't sure what to do about it. Then a school camping trip forces Helene outside her routine comforts and the darkness lifts. First, she falls into a lovely friendship and then she learns to appreciate and express herself. The fox is a surprise. One that will touch any reader.
French Milk by Lucy Knisley
For readers aged 17-100+
A memoir, French Milk chronicles Lucy and her mother's trip to Paris, but there are a few twists. Like how the story puts a unique focus on food and eating and how that plays into their sight-seeing and feelings. Like the way Knisley uses both illustration and photography, grounding the graphics in her personal view of Paris. In the end, with each facing important birthdays, this mother-daughter team experiences poignant memories and inner conflicts, but all with hope for a bright future. A true and sweet read.
Building Stories by Chris Ware
For readers aged 21-100+
Get ready for a hands-on, puzzle-piecing reading adventure. This graphic novel is like no other because it's a novel-in-a-box and has different parts and pieces that can be read in different orders, enhancing the reader's view of each character or situation. Tying it together are the settings--houses, homes, apartments, buildings. The unusual spin Ware puts on the story is the sense of melancholy, which counters the hope that the settings provide. The cozy and welcoming themes of getting settled or feeling at-home are dashed by the unhappiness of the characters. The sadness of this collection is undeniable, but it does make one think.
Two interesting things have occurred to me in the last week. First, since I joined the #GNCelebration I've been able to read three new graphic novels* and revisit two favorites. This level of reading doesn't usually happen in seven days time and I'm loving what I'm being exposed to in these books. Unique coming-of-age stories from women of different cultures, the gaps between generations, issues of aging. These themes can be found in traditional novels, but the visuals provided in graphic novels elevate these topics. I connect more quickly, I feel more deeply, which leads me to my second discovery of the week... Because graphic novels do such a great job of show and tell, there's no escaping the truth. Here's an example:
The YA GN Skim by Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki is a favorite and captivated me even before I opened the book. Inside, the main character Kim is a not-so-ordinary girl and we read her struggle in the words and see it in her expressions and body language. But when one of her teachers reveals something personal to Kim, the illustrations let us feel Kim's truth. Here, Kim seems to want to hide, but a closer look lets us into her melancholy:
Later, Kim's short and simple answers can't hide the true feeling of anger that shows on her face.
And much later, we're allowed to view the relief and joy for finding a true friend even while she lounges on the couch and calls Katie a weirdo. Katie's "weird" is also on full display and we see the truth--there's something special growing between these two girls.
Every GN I read has this kind of inescapable truth-telling. Often it's because the author and/or illustrator have had some version of the experience they write and draw about. But it's not just the memoir-esque storytelling that elevates the truths these novels explore. It's the combination of seeing our characters in their natural environment, displaying--and sometimes trying to disguise--their true feelings. And this, I think, is the point of the graphic novel. To get to the whole of the characters and their stories.
In the end, this week's discovery surprised me a bit. I mean, I've always loved the combination of words and art in GNs, but what I really love is the truth, written and drawn, said and shown and felt. To discover a truth is why I read anything, actually, and since graphic novels do it so well, it explains why they make up the bulk of my list of book favorites.
Hot rollers, sponge rollers, perm rollers. Metal clips, barrettes, and hairpins, not bobby pins. These are the styling tools of the old world, and indeed, the vintage supplies pictured are mostly mid-century pieces belonging to my 97 year-old grandmother. Because she uses only a comb and a brush to keep her hair neat now, these supplies would have eventually been tossed if I hadn't rescued them. I wasn't completely sure what I would do with them, but shortly after they came into my possession, I was cleaning out an art file when I found some drawings I'd done in the late 90s. Here's one:
Seeing this reminded me of the beauty routine and supplies I once had, and beyond that, I recalled the days of watching my sisters primp. They were so glamorous with their lighted make-up mirrors and Conair Ready-Set-Go steam rollers. I thought about how we all knew what phrases like "get ready" and "go out" entailed. I thought about how the process of getting ready to go out oozed with hope and anticipation, but sometimes the prep wasn't worth the trouble. Some events and outings just never measured up to the efforts we put into our look.
In the end, I realize I took my grandmother's supplies because there are stories in those items, and now I see characters in most hair styling tools. Thinking about those characters prompted me to reimagine the girl above, and as I messed around with pattern paper and some canvas and fabric scraps, a whole group of girls stepping out into the world began calling to me, wanting their story told. Hopefully they don't mind waiting while I organize a few other art novel ideas I'm toying with. But you know a girl in rollers...she can be antsy and impatient.
It's been a few years since I became slightly obsessed with graphic novels and art novels, and when Franki Sibberson announced the plan for a graphic novel celebration on the The Nerdy Book Club blog, I went right to the bookshelf to decide which book to share. The format for this celebration is outlined here, and I'm joining the party a week late, so there were posts and tweets last week. I hope you'll all enjoy this month-long ode to the graphic novel, and maybe participate too. For me, it'll be a chance to learn about new books and fill the gongoozler book love files. I've picked Stitches for my first post. And so off we go...
Stitches: A Memoir
by David Small
readership: mature middle grade readers through adult
Stitches is the
first graphic novel I read cover to cover, entranced, enthralled. It’s an
incredibly paced memoir depicting author/illustrator David Small’s mid-century
childhood experience. Being time period specific doesn’t hold this novel back,
though, and it’s truly an every-kid-any-year story with deeply relatable coming
of age themes.
From the start, Small puts the reader in his city, his
house, his body, and immediately, the reader senses the disjointed
relationships in David’s family. Because the emotional bankruptcy is palpable,
we connect deeply with David and understand the dark gaps of miscommunication
that exist between him and his brother and his parents. For David, his language
becomes illness, and when his doctor-father responds, he speaks with medical
treatment. One treatment, x-ray, actually damages David's thyroid, and after two
surgeries, David also loses a vocal cord, rendering him somewhat speechless.
As the next few years unfold, David has a rough go of it. He
feels mistreated, invisible, but as he allows a therapist to hear his story and
see his art, he begins patching emotional wounds. In contrast, his parents—and
their secrets—are unraveling. Soon, his determination not to inherit their
habits of silence and miscommunication push David to leave home. He’s sixteen
and fends for himself, finding an apartment, finishing school, and exploring
art seriously. In the end, he becomes his own hero and works to understand his
family’s shadowy side. And though it’s not overtly written or illustrated
in the novel, David’s ultimate success is clear. He excels at beautiful
communication, evidenced in his work with children’s books and Stitches.
To learn more about the writing and art of David Small, visit his website. His second graphic novel is now in progress. Can't wait.