It’s Monday, What are You Reading is a meme hosted by Jen from Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee and Ricki from Unleashing Readers (new host of Monday reading: Kathryn T at Book Date). Since two of our friends, Linda from Teacher Dance and Tara from A Teaching Life have been joining this meme for quite awhile now, we thought of joining this warm and inviting community.
These graphic novels are created by two female artists whom I admire and whose previous works I enjoyed. I was glad to note that both their themes do touch on protagonists who find refuge in art.
Written and Illustrated by: Svetlana Chmakova
Published by: Yen Press (2017)
ISBN: 0316363189 (ISBN13: 9780316363181). Literary Award: Harvey Awards Nominee for Best Children or Young Adult Book (2018). Borrowed from the Jurong West Public Library. Book photos taken by me.
Middle grade readers who enjoyed Awkward (see my review here) would be happy to note that some of the characters whom they loved in the first book can still be found here. This second instalment in the series, however, focused on Jensen Graham, an overweight Berrybrook middleschooler with his head in the clouds. He is failing Math, is being picked on by the mean boys in school, and seems pretty obsessed with sunspots. His place of refuge in this often-dangerous world of middle school is the library and the art club.
I liked how he would often go to the library to seek more information about things that he does not know about.
However, his good intentions seem to overshadowed by a state of ennui, and a rising sense of panic that seems matched by a state of incongruously-cheerful denial about the fact that he does not fit in, and that he is being bullied even by people whom he regards as friends.
I found his naivete somewhat charming in the beginning, then exhausting. I felt that Chmakova wanted to fit in so many issues in one graphic novel: female friendships, body-image issues, bullying, dress codes among females, student activism – that whatever message was being conveyed felt diluted and superficial. Regardless, I have a feeling that this will still resonate with many young readers and artists who would appreciate knowing more about Jensen, an unlikely hero – with the comforting knowledge that bullies will always get their comeuppance in the end.
Written and Illustrated by: Vera Brosgol
Published by: First Second (2018)
ISBN: 162672444X (ISBN13: 9781626724440). Borrowed from the Jurong West Public Library. Book photos taken by me.
Unlike Brosgol’s Anya’s Ghost (see my book club discussion of the book here), this latest comic has nothing to do with ghosts or the supernatural, but everything to do with the young Vera and her experiences in a Russian American camp when she was nine years old.
As can be seen in the image above, she is nothing but prepared. Truth be told, I didn’t expect to like it as much as I did, but Brosgol’s writing and her panels reminded me so much of Hope Larson and Raina Telgemeier – clean lines, visual sequencing that isn’t confusing, and subtle messages that blindside even the most cynical reader.
Being the youngest girl in her tweener camp, Vera used her skills as an artist to gain friends, as can be seen in the image above. However, her attempts backfired, as she found herself changing into someone she didn’t really like all that much. Once again, that theme of art as refuge and as a means of connecting to like-minded individuals is keenly evident – especially in the latter part of the story when Vera made friends with Kira, a younger girl in the kids’ camp who was even more miserable than she is:
I liked the camouflage-coloured-theme throughout the narrative, the evident growth in Vera that was credible. There is pain here, but one that is not meant to deliberately educate or provide explicit instructions. It’s just a truthful story of a young girl trying to survive in the woods with a bunch of other Russian American adolescents.
I especially liked how the author included actual letters that she has written to her mother from Camp when she was a young girl. Her Author’s Note also included how she interviewed family members to note the accuracy of her recollections.
This is a pretty awesome middle grade novel. Find it, and read it before going camping.
#LitWorld2018GB Update: Russia/USA