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[Monday Reading] Recently Published Middle Grade Novels Featuring Young Artists

Svetlana Chmakova's "Brave" and Vera Brosgol's "Be Prepared."


It's Monday! What Are You Reading

Myra here.

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.

Be Prepared

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.

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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).

16 comments on “[Monday Reading] Recently Published Middle Grade Novels Featuring Young Artists

  1. Sarah Sammis

    I have both of your recommended books. My daughter loves graphic novels of this ilk so the house is full of them. I’ve read and reviewed Be Prepared but still have Svetlana Chmakova’s series to get to. My weekly updates

    Liked by 1 person

  2. My students are IN LOVE with these books! Another great one about an artists would be Piecing Me Together. Jade does collage work.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. These books look amazing and they are going on our TBR stack – Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. At least these graphic novels are better than some of them! My students love them, but at the rate they bring them back, I’m not sure they actually read the words.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I especially enjoyed Be Prepared–loved the color palette and the specificity of the story as well as how universal it was. (Pretty sure that anyone who went to camp can relate!)

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Both novels sound good and are new to me. I have my own memories of Girl Scout camp, good and bad, so know I will be interested in Be Prepared. Thanks, Myra!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I LOVED Be Prepared so much, I had a terrible experience at a summer camp at about the same age as Vera (terrible at the time, hilarious in retrospect), and I just had to laugh at all the memories this one brought back!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I’m really looking forward to reading Be Prepared. I don’t read a lot of graphic novels, but I’ve heard so many good things about this one that it’s on my list. Thanks for the shares, Myra, and have a wonderful reading week!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. What fun, graphic novels. I’ll have to ask my kids if they’ve read those as they love those kinds of books. Those covers certainly look familiar.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I enjoyed Be Prepared much more than I expected also. I’m waiting to read Brave. I liked Awkward and Crush (the third in the series) but still haven’t read Brave. I liked both of these a lot so I’m now waiting for Brave to become available.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. bluestockingthinking

    I love, love, LOVE Be Prepared, and so wanted to add it to my 3rd grade classroom library, but I couldn’t bring myself to. The panel where the boy is teased about his bee sting, with a very particular name calling scene, felt like I didn’t want to bring that term into our space. Older readers, sure.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. I enjoyed Be Prepared, and although I have Awkward and Brave in my library but I haven’t got to them yet. They are good reads for the older kids in my school.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. I liked both of these books! Only one problem with your review of Brave: you forgot to mention that Akilah (clearly the best character in the series) had a much bigger part in that book than the first one. The people need to know these things!

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Pingback: [Saturday Reads] Round Up of My Literary Journey and My Best in Books Across Quarterly Reading Themes – Gathering Books

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