Book Recommendation, Listicles, Uncategorized

#FridayFive: 5 Fabulous Graphic Memoirs by Women All Kids Should Know

October 17, 2018

#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.

Little White Duck CoverLittle White Duck: A Childhood in China

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.

El Deafo CoverEl Deafo

Cece Bell

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.

todanceTo Dance: A Ballerina’s Graphic Novel

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.

Tomboy cover
Tomboy: A Graphic Memoir

Liz Prince

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.

Darkroom cover
Darkroom: A Memoir in Black and White

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.

Let us know what you thought of these graphic memoirs, and next week, read up on five recommended graphic biographies on women!
Book Recommendation, Uncategorized

#FridayFive: September 28th, 2018

September 28, 2018

#FridayFive: September 28th, 2018

Greetings, friends! It’s finally Friday (thank goodness!) and in Washington, DC, where I’m based, it’s been raining practically nonstop for weeks – we need some great books to let a little sunshine in! Luckily, I’ve got 5 of them to share with you: here are a handful of the best recent non-fiction releases I’ve come across recently.

Kid Authors: True Tales of Childhood from Famous Writers 91odbqxIhDL

David Stabler, Ill. Doogie Horner

I love learning about the real people behind my favorite books. This fun and informative book gives biographical details of not only the usual suspects (Roald Dahl, J.K. Rowling, and L.M. Montgomery), but also some of the less frequently discussed ones, such as Stan Lee, creator of the Spiderman comics, and writers of color like Langston Hughes, Sherman Alexie, and Zora Neale Hurston. With fabulously appealing, cartoonish illustrations and a fun organization of information highlighting their down-to-earth beginnings, this well-written collection is full of fascinating facts and will help kids relate more easily to these lauded luminaries of literature. Stabler also acknowledges that there are more authors he didn’t have time to cover and shares fun tidbits about them at the book’s end (did you know that Virginia Woolf had a pet squirrel and a pygmy marmoset? Neither did I…). If you dig this one, Stabler and Horner have a whole series of Kid books: Kid Presidents (2014), Kid Athletes (2015), and Kid Artists (2016) are the heirs apparent to Kathleen Krull and Kathryn Hewitt’s superlative Lives of the… non-fiction biographical series.

Calling All Minds: How to Think and Create Like an Inventor 91UQd8AkXLL

Temple Grandin

I can think of very few people more inspiring than activist, writer, and scientist Dr. Temple Grandin, who – perhaps more than anyone – has shown that autistic people’s atypical ways of looking at the world can make them valuable contributors with unique perspectives to offer the world. With 25 appealing, varied projects emphasizing the science behind them, Grandin shows mechanically-inclined, curious kids the rich history behind many of the most critical ideas to shape inventions and highlights many inventors and thinkers not usually given their proper due (such as Maria A. Beasley, who patented the Life-Raft, and Patricia Bath, the first African-American doctor to receive a medical patent). There are five chapters with different categories of projects included: things made of paper, things made of wood, things that fly, optical illusions, levers and pulleys, and a detailed bibliography closes the book so that kids can follow up on what interests them most. Many diagrams are included, some new and some reprinted from patents and other old sources, that will make kids feel like they can become the next DaVinci, Tesla, or Edison. If this book is a hit with your child, there are a number of excellent biographies of Grandin for them to read as well, such as Julia Finley Mosca’s The Girl Who Thought in Pictures (2017), or you could hand them Catherine Thimmesh’s outstanding, newly updated edition of Girls Think of Everything: Stories of Ingenious Inventions by Women (2018).

Dazzle Ships: World War I and the Art of ConfusionA1BHz0siSOL

Chris Barton, Ill. Victo Ngai

It’s not every day that you get to read a fascinating, well-researched, gorgeously illustrated, and even playful – yes, playful! – piece of nonfiction that combines history, subterfuge, and art, but that’s what Chris Barton and Victo Ngai have accomplished exactly that with the dazzling Dazzle Ships. They tell the story of a Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve lieutenant commander named Norman Wilkinson, who suggested painting the British ships in wild, optically confusing patterns to combat German torpedo attacks. Complex military history and strategy are made comprehensible without resorting to oversimplification, with terms like U-boats and Allied Power explained in clear, concise language. This would be an excellent book to pair with other books on the topic of camouflage, perhaps some of those focused on its use in nature such as Invisible to the Eye: Animals in Disguise (Kendra Muntz, 2014) or even a photo riddle book of disguised creatures like What in the Wild? Mysteries of Nature Concealed – and Revealed: Ear-Tickling Poems (David M. Schwartz, 2010). Or you could use it as a gateway into one of the many fictional and nonfictional accounts of WWI for kids – I particularly recommend the scrapbook-style graphic novel Archie’s War (Marcia Williams, 2007).

When Paul Met Artie: The Story of Simon and Garfunkel PaulArtie

G. Neri, Ill. David Litchfield

Admittedly, I’m not as familiar with human music as I am with books, but ever since I was introduced to the songs of Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel, I’ve been crazy about them. That’s probably because Simon’s lyrics are as close to poetry as it gets and I’m wild for poems. At any rate, this poem-based biography of the dynamic duo is a treasure for parents, grandparents, and kids who are seasoned or brand-new fans. It’s not only an excellent way to deepen one’s enjoyment of S&G’s musical output, but also gives kids a better sense of what life was like in the U.S. during their heyday and of music history in 20th century America more generally. The crisscrossing chronology and structure (song titles and lyrics are borrowed as section headers) and lyrical language perfectly mimic the Simon and Garfunkel vibe while commenting intelligently on why it worked so well (Neri describes the blend of their voices as “autumn and spring/rolled into one”). A music lover and biographer of musicians such as Johnny Cash, Neri also gives attention to Simon and Garfunkel’s diverse musical influences, including a section at the book’s end entitled “Musical Connections,” and features a discography and bibliography as well so that the story of these lives can be paired with the music it inspired.

Young, Black, and Gifted: Meet 52 Black Heroes From Past and Present 61fqKLLCLZL

Jamia Wilson, Ill. Andrea Pippins

One month – that’s all the time allotted for black history in most American schools. And in my opinion, it’s far from enough. Most American kids know who Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks were, but few have heard of Malorie Blackman. That’s one of many reasons why I’m so glad this excellent anthology of achievers from Beyonce to Samuel Coleridge-Taylor exists: it “will help the next generation to chase their own dream…whatever it may be.” Thrillingly modern in its design, with lively colors and geometric backgrounds, it includes not only basic biographical information about each included individual, but also samplings of their most moving quotations and brief explanations of their historical and/or cultural significance. One of the things that sets this volume apart is that it isn’t just about Americans: Mo Farah, England’s long distance gold medalist born in Somalia, Crimean war nurse Mary Seacole, and writer/activist Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche of Nigeria are also included, to name a few. There are also Americans profiled who kids might not have encountered in school, like Matthew Henson, the first African-American explorer of the Arctic regions, Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm, or painter Jean-Michel Basquiat. Everyone should read this book and can follow up with individual biographies of those profiled in it!

Thanks for reading up on my #fridayfive – I hope you’ll let me know what you think if and when you read them yourself! Until next time, read on!

–  Mia