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 two middle grade graphic novels capture female friendships, sisterhood, belongingness and growing apart so honestly. They are indeed perfect for our current reading theme.
Written and Illustrated by Hope Larson
Published by Farrar Straus & Giroux (2018)
ISBN: 0374304858 (ISBN13: 9780374304850). Borrowed from the Jurong West Public Library. Book photos taken by me.
Thirteen year old Bina’s bestfriend is Austin, who is going off to soccer camp for an entire month. What would summer be like without their usual Fun Metric and endless conversations? Initially, it was a lot of television, crisps, and a whole amount of doing nothing (read: boredom extraordinaire) – until Bina had a chance to hang out with Austin’s older sister, Charlie, which involved sneaking in through Austin’s window, lost keys, a lot of screaming, and good music.
It took awhile for me to get into the story, but when I did, I appreciated the character development of Bina – how alive she felt through the pages: her frustration, exuberance, and infectious enthusiasm. I also appreciated seeing how her friendship with Charlie developed: the inevitable pitfalls usually experienced by younger girls befriending an older girl.
I also enjoyed how central music is to the narrative, as part of Bina’s journey towards self-discovery and forming her identity. The close relationship that she has with her mother is gratifying, particularly in light of so many books which highlight the opposite. The depiction of females – an example of which can be seen in the image above – is also laudable, steering clear of stereotypes without pandering necessarily to tokenistic portrayals of young girls in literature.
While it is generally a feel-good story, it tackled important themes on growing apart, initiating new friendships, and befriending one’s self. Definitely a must-read and must-find. I anticipate this being quite popular with a lot of middle graders.
Written by Shannon Hale Illustrated by LeUyen Pham
Published by First Second (2017)
ISBN: 1626724164 (ISBN13: 9781626724167). Literary Awards: Harvey Awards Nominee for Best Children or Young Adult Book (2018), AML Award for Best Comics (2017), Goodreads Choice Award Nominee for Graphic Novels & Comics (2017). Borrowed from the Jurong West Public Library. Book photos taken by me.
Based on the author’s actual experience as a middle child in her family and being in middle school, this graphic novel blindsided me with its fearless vulnerability, its youthful pain that cries out through the pages, and the struggle to find real friends amidst cliques, subtle bullying, and feelings of exclusion and otherness.
Evidently, being in the in-between is not unfamiliar to Shannon even as a young girl. Reading about Shannon’s experience in middle school reminded me of how friendships are formed among girls in their tweener years. I went to an all-girls Catholic school from my elementary to high school years, hence, a great deal of what Shannon shared here somewhat resonated with me – although admittedly, my experience was not as harrowing and tummy-pain-inducing as hers.
I thought that the image above was masterful – the wordless panels showed such economy of language, transforming this into such an effective middle grade graphic novel. While predominantly plot-driven with many things going on – from Shannon’s sibling issues (also tummy-ache-inducing) to many friends moving away, moving back, and moving on – there were still quiet spaces in between allowing the reader to enter the story – and not to be too overwhelmed by the goings-on, and just breathe in the shared pain.
It was heart-wrenching seeing Shannon feel undervalued, unappreciated, and rejected for the very things that make her special – while she constantly attempts to ingratiate herself with the cool girls who thrive on competition, exclusion, and being mean.
What made the story work even more for me was reading Shannon Hale’s Author Notes in the end as well as LeUyen Pham’s Artist Notes. In my conversations with teachers, I always mention how girl cliques can be more brutal, cruel, and merciless – as compared to the fairly uncomplicated relationships of boys. This beautifully-drawn-out graphic novel just drives home that point even more.
I will definitely use this graphic novel and book-talk it in my teaching, as I feel it captures the authenticity and complex nature of female friendships, and how one can choose and decide to be kind, while also establishing firm boundaries for one’s sanity and peace of mind. One of my favourite middle grade reads this year.
#WomenReadWomen2019: United States of America