Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Reading Roundup: The Raina Telgemeier Collection

The kids at my school love graphic novels. I mean love. Our graphic novel collection was pretty sparse when I entered the school last year, and I spent a good chuck of money buying any graphic novel that seemed appropriate for middle school aged kids—anything and everything just to fill those shelves. What I found was that when the kids find one they like, they want 17 more just like it. It was the series the were incredibly popular, and those award-winning standalone books notable in the adult/librarian community, like Anya's Ghost and American Born Chinese, did not get nearly the same attention as action/fantasy series like Maximum Ride, Bone, Amulet, Artemis Fowl, Zita the Spacegirl, The Elsewhere Chronicles...I could go on.

The exception I found was with Raina Telgemeier's three titles: Smile, Sisters, and Drama. These three stories, though each a standalone in terms of story, are so similar in style that kids view them as a set--and chances are if they like one, they will like the others.

  • Telgemeier's first published graphic novel, Smile, is a memoir of her own awkward middle school years when an injury to her two front teeth leaves her dealing with an excessive amount of painful, annoying dentistry for most of her adolescent years—as if being 13 wasn't hard enough!  
  • Drama tells the story of theater tech nerd Callie, who has always preferred being on stage crew to being center stage. It's the story of a girl who blossoms in a typically-outsider group, a reminder that everyone can find their own place and community. 
  • In the recently-published Sisters, the author returns to her own life to chronicle the seemingly-never-ending conflict between herself and her sister, Amara. They're totally opposite and never get along, but knowing they are sisters, after all, they know they're going to have to make it work.

In a genre/style that seems to have few stories based in true middle school reality, Telgemeier fills this much needed gap in the graphic novel genre. These are stories to which girls can relate with everyday problems and dramas, same as they would enjoy other realistic series like Dork Diaries or Dear Dumb Diary. The plots are simple; the interactions are common; the humor is level-appropriate; and the art is colorful and appealing. One of my proudest moment last year was watching an 8th grade girl, the only student in her class to not read a single book during our month-long reading incentive program, sit and read Sisters in one sitting then tell me all about it.

I think these are great books to grab a reluctant female reader, especially the older ones, to prove that reading doesn't always have to be a long-winded chapter book; it can be light and enjoyable, and Telgemeier's books are a great entryway into a new format of story they may find they love.

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