By Jennifer Bergen, Youth Services Manager
Ever since I discovered Renee Telgemeier’s graphic novel Smile and Hope Larson’s Chiggers, I’ve been scanning our new graphic novels for more great stories of girls growing up. This year brought some wonderful surprises.
Picture book author and illustrator Cece Bell came out with a 200+ page graphic novel that blew my socks off. El Deafo has an intriguing cover with a bunny/girl soaring through clouds with her red cape and a harness contraption with cords to her bunny ears. With a title like El Deafo, I knew I had to read it. Cece is the main character, reinvented as a bunny person, showing us the author’s childhood through illustrations, dialogue and inner thoughts. When Cece gets meningitis and loses most of her hearing, she has to learn how to read lips because the hearing aid makes everyone sounds like they are speaking under water. When her family moves, Cece can no longer attend a special school with other hearing-impaired children, but she gets a “new, superpowerful, just-for-school hearing aid: The Phonic Ear.”
The illustrations of Cece with bunny ears emphasizes her hearing aid, which is a challenge for Cece but also becomes her superpower. When her teacher forgets to turn her microphone off, Cece can hear everything the teacher says…in the teacher’s lounge…in the bathroom, and her new friends think it is awesome. Plus, Cece can use “the On/Off Switch of Awesomeness” to tune out her bossy friend, Laura. Cece’s trials of childhood are intensified by being different from her peers, but at the same time, they help her find her own voice and define the person she becomes.
Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson is the story of twelve-year-old Astrid coming of age, ala roller derby. When Astrid’s mother takes her and her best friend Nicole to a local roller derby bout for “an evening of cultural entertainment,” Astrid finds she has a new dream. She joins the Rosebuds junior derby team, but simultaneously deals with the realization that her best friend is growing in a different direction. While Nicole befriends mean girl Rachel through dance class, Astrid gets rolled over on the skating rink. Making new friends is tricky, and learning a new sport is tiresome, but Astrid keeps going despite naming this part of her life as her “black period.” Astrid makes mistakes, tries to fix them, still stinks at roller skating, but does not give up. You will love the determined “Asteroid” by the end of the book, and while Astrid’s story is not autobiographical, Jamieson is known as Winnie the Pow on her Portland, OR team, the Rose City Rollers.
The brother/sister team of Jennifer and Matthew Holm has been a favorite of mine for a long time, with Babymouse and Squish coming to mind, but also Jennifer Holm’s historical fiction like Our Only May Amelia and Boston Jane. Veering in a new direction of realistic fiction, the talented pair recently published Sunny Side Up. The artwork in this graphic novel expresses humor and emotion, with help from Lark Pien who added the colors, and the story propels the reader through Sunshine Lewin’s strange summer vacation. Sunny was supposed to be able to take her best friend with her on the family vacation to the shore. But somehow she ends up on her own, spending the summer in her grandfather’s retirement community in Florida, so close to Disney World…yet so far. The story flashes between the present – getting settled at Grandpa’s, meeting his old lady friends, and making a new friend with the only other kid in the neighborhood – and the past – snippets of Sunny realizing something was wrong with her older brother Dale. Eventually, the reader finds out beloved brother Dale was developing a serious drug problem, and Sunny feels like she made things worse and was sent away for the summer because it was her fault.
This moving story will make readers laugh out loud, as well as tear up, at the ups and downs that come with being a kid stuck in the middle. A note from the Holms at the end relates a little about their personal experience in their family: “We had a close relative who had serious issues with substance abuse. As children, we were bystanders to this behavior and yet it affected our whole world…it was something that we felt we had to keep secret.” They wrote this book for kids like themselves, showing it is okay to talk to others and explain how they feel.