#FridayFive: 5 Graphic Memoirs by Women All Kids Should Know
by Diana Black
Graphic novels for kids are rightly lauded as some of the most engaging books on the market, and finally seem to be receiving the same critical and educational acclaim as their more traditional counterparts. Consequently, many public and school libraries now have sections dedicated to graphic novels, both fictional and nonfictional, for kids to explore. I’m not surprised – in fact, some of my all-time favorite books for adults belong to the genre of graphic novel, specifically graphic memoir: Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home, Emil Feris’ My Favorite Thing Is Monsters, and Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis series among them. But this subgenre is also a powerful, deeply important narrative form for kids.
Why is graphic memoir an important kids’ genre? As you may know, one of Mia Learning’s top goals is to empower girls and gender non-binary kids. Not coincidentally, we also make it our mission to connect kids with books they might not already know exist – books off the proverbial beaten path that they might find extremely interesting. Previously, we shared a list of biographies chronicling the lives of women artists. As then, we want to emphasize that these recommendations are not just “for girls” – part of toppling patriarchy and promoting equity is teaching our boys to see girls and women as people. Enjoying literature with fully human, complex girls and women at the center of stories is one key way of accomplishing that. To that end, we want to list a sampling of the best graphic memoirs about and by real women, who can inspire the young people who are reading about them.
Na Liu, Ill. Andrés Vera Martínez
Na Liu’s candid account of her upbringing in Mao-era China (1976-1980, specifically) remembers joyous holidays spent with family and other happy times, but also offers unflinching, nuanced recollections them that will prompt readers to reflect on their own points of privilege, and to contemplate hunger and poverty with deepened compassion. Martínez’s artwork is beautiful, with largely earth toned hues, and has a surprising amount of humor, providing welcome relief from the overall somber tone. The glossary and translations of signs in Chinese at the end of the book, as well as Liu’s brief afterword, only enhance what is already a memorable and big-hearted memoir. This is a segment of history that most American schools spend little to no time on, which makes memoirs like this one all the more valuable.
Admittedly, this title is hardly off the beaten path – a Newberry Honor recipient and general critical and popular darling, it’s become a frequently assigned book in schools that teachers praise for its informative and compassionate content. Cece Bell’s account describes her rabbit avatar going to a new school with a conspicuous hearing aid strapped to her chest is funny, creatively told, and full of insights about what it really means to hear and to listen.
Siena Cherson Siegel, Ill. Mark Siegel
This is a lovely, lyrical ode to the discipline, demands, and artistry of ballet: a pursuit that the author makes clear is not for the faint of heart. Would-be dancers and any kids interested in pursuing a career in the arts will be enchanted with Siegel’s account of her dance education. One of the things graphic memoirs can do so well is pay tribute to our quietest moments – Siegel as a young dancer, watching every minute she’s not onstage from the wings, is anyone who’s ever been so enthralled with their chosen art form that they live, eat, and breathe it.
Funny and achingly relatable, Tomboy concerns itself with gender expression and the aches and agonies of growing up feeling misunderstood, pigeonholed, and just plain uncomfortable. Unlike so many tomboy characters, Liz Prince comes to realize that holding everything feminine in contempt is just as intolerant as demanding that all girls dress or behave in a certain way. If Prince’s artwork is not as elegant as fellow graphic memoirists Lucy Knisley’s or Alison Bechdel’s, it doesn’t detract from the tale itself. Best for older readers, not because of inappropriate content, but because the vocabulary and concepts are sophisticated.
Lila Quintero Weaver
Racism can be a difficult and painful subject, whether we are old or young. This is the perfect graphic memoir to discuss with your child deliberately and at length. Lila Quintero Weaver’s gorgeous graphic memoir explores her 1961 childhood move from Argentina to rural Alabama, where Jim Crow law reigned and some of the most important civil rights moments occurred before her eyes. Her attempts to navigate this racist, deeply segregated (even when newly integrated) terrain give her a unique outsider’s perspective that produces some incredible insights. The artwork, too, is gorgeous and subtle. Weaver gave an excellent interview that you can read here as a follow-up to her book.