Myra here.

We are delighted to join the Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge 2015 hosted by Alyson Beecher @ Kid Lit Frenzy. We would also be linking our nonfiction choices with our reading themes throughout the year, as well as reading challenges that we have pledged to join this year.

We have just launched our new reading theme for September – October: Crazy for Comics! Graphic Novel Galore!


What It Is

Written and Illustrated byLynda Barry
Published byDrawn & Quarterly, 2008
Borrowed from the Jurong West Public Library. Book photos taken by me.


Last Monday, I shared two of Lynda Barry’s graphic novels, and since I am still in a Lynda Barry phase – I thought I might as well share her What It Is for Nonfiction Wednesday. This graphic novel functions as an activity book for anyone who wishes to take up writing and drawing again, having abandoned these artistic inclinations as a child. It is also largely based on Lynda’s class called Writing the Unthinkable.


Unlike One Hundred Demons which consists of snapshots of autobifictionalography stories or Syllabus where there is full documentation of what Lynda does in her university classes – What It Is may be perceived as a gorgeously illustrated handbook (more than 6,000 color pictures) for anyone and everyone who is in need of that gentle nudging towards the artistic leaning that has always been within them.


As can be seen in the image above, there are ‘essay questions’ that the reader is encouraged to answer to provide some scaffolding in their incipient writing. There are also provocative and philosophical queries that prompt one to reflect on the nature of things, the etiology of imagination, or the spaces within us where bad memories are kept.

What I especially liked, however, are the occasional insertions when Lynda would share stories about her past and her childhood:


raw truths about her own monsters:


making me think that part of the reason why her graphic novels are immensely powerful is that they always come from somewhere real. There is also an infectious courage in her writing that does not alienate in the least, but rather invites the reader to dig deep into the hidden corners of her mind and pick up stray memories, pin these down in a composition paper, and colour it with shades of truth.

She also wrote about the two questions that successfully paralyze any creator: (1) Is This Good? (2) Does This Suck?


and what are some of the ways around these nagging queries that might serve to break such a paralysis. Then there is the comforting presence of Rumi and Emily Dickinson – also evident in Syllabus. I also love how she is such an advocate of handwritten works, letters, messages – claiming that such a movement has a merging of physiological and psychological effect drawn from somewhere within an individual that is unique and specific to one’s world of experiences. There was one particular line that stuck to me, however:


I haven’t written to you. I have thought of you often but each time I sat down to write to you something came up to hinder me.

Find this book and perhaps that “something” which hinders the inner artist to come out will eventually break free and a torrent of words will spill forth and make one whole.


What It Is: BEST REALITY-BASED WORK: Eisner Award for What It Is (2009); BEST PAINTER: Eisner Award for What It Is (2009, nom.); BEST PUBLICATION DESIGN: Eisner Award for What It Is (2009, nom.)

#AWBRead2015 Update: 90 (35)


#nfpb2015 Challenge Update: 58 (25)

Myra is a Teacher Educator and a registered clinical psychologist based in Al Ain, United Arab Emirates. Prior to moving to the Middle East, she lived for eleven years in Singapore serving as a teacher educator. She has edited five books on rediscovering children’s literature in Asia (with a focus on the Philippines, Malaysia, India, China, Japan) as part of the proceedings for the Asian Festival of Children’s Content where she served as the Chair of the Programme Committee for the Asian Children’s Writers and Illustrators Conference from 2011 until 2019. While she is an academic by day, she is a closet poet and a book hunter at heart. When she is not reading or writing about books or planning her next reads, she is hoping desperately to smash that shuttlecock to smithereens because Badminton Is Life (still looking for badminton courts here at UAE - suggestions are most welcome).

4 comments on “[Nonfiction Wednesday] Lynda Barry’s “What It Is”

  1. Still like the fonts 🙂
    I wish I could draw. Although I think coloring is something I could do 🙂


  2. What It Is looks excellent!


  3. You’ve convinced me to start reading and seeing what she has to say, Myra. This book has sat on my shelf for a long time. Somehow I discovered it, but still haven’t looked. Thanks for sharing more about Lynda Barry!


  4. I think my kids would love it!


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