Saturday, November 12, 2016

Award Winning Graphic Novels - the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Graphic novels are all the rage and I've been slow to jump on the bandwagon. At first I mostly thought of them as those awful big-eyed manga books.
Not a fan.

But I've always liked comic books.
Growing up I was a HUGE fan of Archie and Richie Rich!
Image result for archie
Image result for richie rich

And who doesn't love a good Peanuts strip or Calvin and Hobbes?
Image result for 1950's peanuts lucy
Image result for calvin and hobbes
But really these are different than "graphic novels".

In my process of trying to read all of the Newbery Award books I finally had to jump in and read a few. The Newbery Award has been awarded to two graphic novels, each an Honor Award Medal, for the past two years (2016 & 2015).

El Deafo
El Deafo
by Cece Bell
Ok, I'll admit this was not the best place for me to start because even though this is a positive, uplifting story (a memoir really) of a young hearing-impared girl, I was utterly bored. The pictures were alright but that didn't sell me on it.
I realize that if I was young I might like this better. Maybe it's my age, but it could have sufficed as a much shorter story. 
Maybe you'll like it...

So I jumped into the next Honor Award. This one for 2016.
Roller Girl 
Roller Girl
by Victoria Jamieson
This one I liked better than El Deafo. It wasn't the greatest thing I've ever read, but it was a cute story and I enjoyed it and know I could recommend this to young girls. It has a real 'girl power' element that I liked. Astrid's mom takes her to a Roller Derby and soon Astrid is attending summer Roller Derby camp. The story is all about starting middle school, going on separate paths from your childhood best friend, trying to figure out who you are and what you're all about when you're twelve-years-old. It has a very positive message and is a fitting choice for a Newbery.
Pretty soon I started picking up other graphic novels, and have found some that I am a big fan of. Considering that historical fiction is my favorite, it isn't surprising that some of these stories told through graphic novel format have been some of my favorite.
March: Book One (March, #1) 
March: Book One
by John Lewis
This one is exceptional.
I've only read Book One, there is also a March: Book Two, and recently March: Book Three was published.
This trilogy is  the story of Civil Rights Activist and future senator, John Lewis.  It begins when John is a young boy living with his sharecropping family in Alabama. It is the Jim Crow years and segregation is the law. This follows John as he goes off to study and begins to take part in the nonviolent lunch counter sit-ins as a member of the Nashville Student Movement.

I  highly recommend this one.
Maus I: A Survivor's Tale: My Father Bleeds History (Maus, #1)  Maus II : And Here My Troubles Began (Maus, #2) 
Maus I & II
by Art Spiegelman
These are phenomenal. I read them both in one sitting, I couldn't put them down. These are gritty and raw and deal with the Holocaust, both the events during the War and the fallout and effects on the survivors for years to come.

This is a very good example of how you cannot assume comics are for young children - don't let comics and pictures make you think that it is simple and for the young. This one is rough and heavy. But exceptional for a teen reader.

Art Spiegelman tells his father's story of living through the Holocaust as well as how it weighs upon him and his relationship with his son afterwards. The survivor guilt is immense. These books are profound.
Image result for american born chinese
 American Born Chinese
by Gene Luen Yang
This is one of the few Printz winners that I have really enjoyed. I thought it was going to be light and funny. It is at times but still has a big "ah-ha" punch to it.
I really like Gene Luen Yang's style. His drawing are fantastic.

This books tells three stories simultaneously, one of a young boy moving into a neighborhood as the only Chinese; the story of the Monkey King from Chinese mythology; and the story of visiting cousin Chin-Kee who embodies every horrible Chinese stereotype. This book is another one that is great for a teen reader. The deeper significance and message may be missed on the young.

Reading this book became the turning point for me in defining a book as "good for a graphic novel" and simply categorizing it as a great novel.

Back onto history, I also read Gene Luen Yang's book, Boxers
Boxers (Boxers & Saints, #1)

This tells the story of the Boxer Rebellion in China in the early 1900's.
Which I didn't really know much about. It did prompt me to do a bit of research on the event (hello wikipedia) and this book captures the awfulness of the Boxer Rebellion. Chinese sought out, killed and revolted against Westerners and the Christians. This mixes history with magical realism and combines into a really crazy story. Probably not that interesting to teens (in truth) but I appreciated the retelling of the rebellion, and again Gene Luen Yang's illustrations are amazing.

This a a two-parter, which I haven't read the 2nd part of yet.
Saints (Boxers & Saints, #2)
Saints tells the story of a Chinese Christian who becomes involved in the Boxer Rebellion.

The Complete Persepolis
The Complete Persepolis
by Marjane Satrapi
This is a four-part memoir of Iranian, Marjane Satrapi. She is born right as the Islamic Revolution takes control of Iran and this chronicles her life growing up in that repressive Muslim regime. This is another that had me spellbound. The contrasts between private life and public life under the Iranian government are fascinating. Marjane eventually realizes that she cannot handle the repressive life of Iran and exiles herself to Austria, and then later to France.
Again this one is for an older teen, but one definitely worth the time to read. Adults should read it as well. It is still banned in Iran, so for that fact alone read it.

The last one I read was a Caldecott Honor Award from 2015.
This One Summer Book Cover.jpg
This One Summer
by  Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki (illustrator) 
The Caldecott Award is given to "the artist of the most distinguished American picture book for children."
This one has had a lot of press because others join me in being horrified that this book is a Caldecott winner. I'll admit if we are basing this solely off of the artwork, I like it. I like Jillian Tamaki's style and the illustrations, done only in shades of blue, are very well done and beautiful. But the story!!
I would ask you when I say "child" what age do you think of? The Caldecott justifies this selection as a book for older (6th grade and up) children. The story is  a "coming-of-age" story of a girl at her summer lake home where she spends time with her childhood best friend and family while swimming and lazying and enjoying summer. She likes to rent horror movies from the corner store where she also goes to see the boys that work and hang out there. They're often outside drinking, smoking marijuana and swearing, talking about sex and whether one of them got his girlfriend pregnant or not. There are multiple swear words, drinking, smoking, relaying of graphic sexual acts, and touching on topics of teen pregnancy and abortion. The parents of of our young main character are having major marriage issues coupled with a miscarriage and a suicide attempt.
I am not a proponent of censorship. However I am a FIRM believer in knowing what your child is reading, and deciding together what is appropriate for you and your child. I would strongly disagree that this book is for the 6th grade student, and would caution parents to be aware of what is in this book.

The core of my problem with this book isn't the foul language or activities that I find inappropriate for the age group, but rather that books for children have become books about "issues". No longer are characters developed and motivated outside of dealing with specific "issues".
The "issues" faced often become more defining of the character than the actual character's traits.
I still believe that there is joy in the everyday and simple and simply believe that there is far superior choices available for children to read.
This book has received a lot of flak around the country, One of the Caldecott selection members justifies her choice here:

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