My Day, Monday: The Power of the Graphic Novel

Growing up I had an older brother (still do, actually) who did NOT like to read books. Picking up a book for fun was absolutely unimaginable for him. And then make it a book that was REQUIRED for school? Torture.

But it doesn’t mean he didn’t read. His lifeline was comic books. He collected comic books like I collected…well…books. He was particularly obsessed with superhero comics. His days were filled with Alpha Flight and X-Men and Spiderman. I will never forget his reaction the day he got The Dark Knight in his hands back in 1986. It was his most prized possession at age 15. I remember the big wooden toy box in his room became filled with carefully plastic sheathed comic books. (He still has that same toy box in his attic office space in his house. And it is still full of comics.)

Just a couple from my son’s shockingly large collection.

As for many kids, superhero stories were his gateway to mythology. And later, this book- shunning child became a voracious reader with an extensive vocabulary built from comics who earned his MFA in Creative Writing and now sits on panels for things like the Maine Readers’ Choice Awards. Now it isn’t clear which of us gets through more books in a year.

Oddly my oldest child has become a combination of the two of us. He has read with complete passion since birth but knows more about superheroes and mythology than any other 12 year old I know. It’s been funny to watch.

My mom had the good sense to recognize that while comic books weren’t her first choice, they got my brother reading. Over time she started to recognize the rich language used in these comic books and complex storylines. Plus, he was an artist at heart and the images were critical to his full engagement.

Fast forward thirty years and I am so grateful for the example my mom set. My middle child is a very adept reader. She has always read “above her age level” or so her teachers have told me. And yet, she doesn’t love it. We say that she has started more books than any other child her age. Finishing is a whole other story.

If a book doesn’t fully engage her, it sits, half-finished on the shelf. She will never pick it up again. There are some books that have become favorites, that she consumed in a matter of days and often read more than once: “Fish in a Tree” and “One for the Murphys” by Linda Mullaly Hunt, “Rules” by Cynthia Lord, and “Out of My Mind” by Sharon Draper. But these always feel like exciting victories.

There has been an exception to this trend, however. — Enter, The Graphic Novel.

Just a few of my daughter’s graphic novels.

It started with “The Baby-Sitters Club” books, which led her to every Raina Telgemeier book she could get her hands on: “Sisters,” “Drama,” “Smile,” “Ghosts.” My comic loving brother sent her “Lumberjanes.” A kind comic store employee put “Amulet” in her hands. A friend recommended “El Deafo.” And on and on.

These books speak to her. Sure, there are fewer words than a traditional chapter book, but that isn’t the draw for her. The images just make them feel more real; she feels more emotionally connected. And these books are smart. The stories are clever, the characters well crafted. Books like “El Deafo” open minds.  And then this weekend was the biggest winner of all.

I had read about Shannon Hale’s new book and knew that we needed a copy of “Real Friends” immediately. This graphic novel is a memoir, based on the life of author Shannon Hale. It brings her back to her earliest days of school and the struggle we all faced when we had to make friends for the very first time. Shannon was lucky enough to find a wonderful friend named Adrienne and they were a fantastic team. The story follows the pair as they grow up and new friendships and “groups” form and disintegrate. Real FriendsShannon documents those efforts to stay in the “in crowd” and the devastation of finding yourself “out.” She explores the things kids do to find their place, protect their position, and guard themselves from being “at the bottom.” I read it and could feel those moments again, that uncertainty of where one fit and how far one was willing to go to maintain a friendship. My middle child, in 4th grade, read it as a raw reflection of the year she has experienced. This is the year that the mean girls begin to emerge, cliques appear, and “popular” becomes a priority. (Yes, that’s 4th grade these days and it is horrifying to watch.)

This graphic novel was as powerful for me as about any novel I’ve read this year. It was truthful and real and it helped my daughter think hard about why people make the choices they do. Sometimes they turn their backs because they are being cruel. But sometimes they do it because they are afraid of finding themselves on the outside. They need to put themselves one more person away from the bottom of the line. And sometimes kids realize that “in” is not worth it.

This book is a lifeline and I am immediately buying a copy to donate to my daughter’s classroom…and for a whole slew of kids I know as an end-of-year gift.

I think we’re only seeing the beginning of what the graphic novel will do to children’s literature. And for now, I have to go find my daughter’s graphic novels that her big brother has “borrowed.”

Guest Review: “Book Scavenger”

In less than a week the second book in the “Book Scavenger” series, “The Unbreakable Code,” will be released. In honor of the occasion I’m turning the blog over today to my 12-year-old son/guest blogger. He is a kid who was practically born with a book in his hand, who, as I’ve mentioned before, exchanges birthday gifts with the town librarian. And if you haven’t read this book, it is definitely worth a read.


I personally enjoyed “Book Scavenger.” (link) I would say it is a middle school range book reading level. It was written by Jennifer Chambliss Bertman and as I picked it up I felt the jolt of knowing this would be a good book. This book is good for people who love ciphers.

On the cover it says “Book Scavenger — where life is a game and books are the tokens.” It reminded me of “Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library.”

The book is about a girl by the name of Emily. She has a brother who is named Matthew and a dad and a mom. This family travels around the country writing a blog about living in the 50 states. Emily had been born in Arizona then went to Washington, Massachusetts, New York, South Dakota, Illinois, Connecticut, and Colorado. At this point in the story they are coming from New Mexico and going to California. Emily’s brother has no problem making friends so the moves are easy for him but Emily is another story. The only upside to moving is that her literary idol Garrison Griswold’s bookshop “City Lights” is there. This is where she spends her time until she meets a new friend James, a cipher lover.

Garrison Griswold is so stunning that people nicknamed him the Willy Wonka of publishing. He also created a web game called Book Scavenger in which people read books and then hide them in public places. After they hide the books, they post clues on the website for people to solve so they can locate them. Every year Griswold makes a game in which the Book Scavengers (people who play Book Scavenger) are told books were hidden by him and they should find them and follow their clues to a bigger prize. But this year as Griswold is bringing his book to be copied and hidden, he is mugged and shot and his bag, book and all is stolen. Griswold is brought to a nearby hospital in critical condition. Emily finds out and worries about the rumors that are flying about whether or not he will make it. Then Emily realizes she may be able to find the solution and save Griswold’s game.


There is a hidden cipher in this blog post. Solve it to find out something more about “Book Scavenger.”

Check out The Unbreakable Code (Book #2)

Want to be a Book Scavenger? Click here to read about the real game!

Friday Flicks: Series of Unfortunate Events

I wouldn’t normally do this, but I must advise that you close this browser window immediately and begin watching “Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events” on Netflix right now. Go ahead. I’ll wait. It will only take you eight hours or so to get through it.

unfortunate-eventsI will confess that I have only read two of the books. My husband has read some to my kids, but I just never got around to continuing the series. If these shows are any indication, it is clear that I need to rectify that immediately.

The cast. It really all came down to the cast for me. As soon as I saw Neil Patrick Harris I knew I had to watch. Patrick Warburton was a brilliant choice for Lemony Snicket. That deep growl and stony face is ideal for the narration. The actors playing Violet and Klaus are well cast and are played as smart, creative, likeable kids that you immediately root for. And the two episode stints of Aasif Mandvi as Montgomery Montgomery and Joan Cusack as Justice Strauss were wonderful. I was sorry to see those end, but I have Alfre Woodard to look forward to. And more Will Arnett?

I’ve been watching with my 12 year old and he would have absolutely watched the eight episodes all in one day. I’ve been able to slow him down enough that we’ve only watched the first four. Of course, that also bought me the time to start the show with my 10 year old so I get to see each of them twice. Pat on the back for mom.


Picture Book Weekends: Sit-In

It’s Black History Month and I am fortunate that our local library is full of engaged, enthusiastic librarians who curate amazing collections.

I wish I had taken a picture of their Black History Month display. I think my favorite part was the biography of Beyonce that was next to the biography of Maya Angelou. That mostly just made me smile. But, as usual, they knocked me out with their picture book selection.

This book is a few years old (2010) but it had escaped my attention until now. It’s called “Sit-In: How Four Friends Stood Up by Sitting Down” by Andrea Davis Pinkney and illustrated by Brian Pinkney. The book paid tribute to the 50th anniversary of the Woolworth’s lunch counter sit-in.

sit-inFour black college students, taking to heart Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s words to “meet hate with love,” sat down at a lunch counter at a Woolworth’s department store in Greensboro, North Carolina on February 1, 1960. They sat, quietly and peacefully, waiting to be served coffee and doughnuts, knowing the policy was “Whites Only.”

The police came but did not do anything as they were just sitting, not violating any law. The restaurant closed instead of serving them. The next day more students joined them: polite, well-dressed, and peaceful. Protests spread to lunch counters all over the south. People grew angry and attacked the young people, but they did not respond. They continued to be peaceful. White students joined the protests, sitting in solidarity with their friends. The sheer numbers led to arrests, out of fear of what could happen. Boycotts and protests finally led to integration of many businesses, just so the businesses could stay alive. The book ends with a recipe for change and an excellent timeline of the Civil Rights movement.

I loved how Pinkney was able to distill challenging concepts like segregation into very simple, easy-to-understand words for elementary age students. Showing the students at the lunch counters doing homework reminded us that these were real kids, kids with every day lives, who were tired of the way things were. The interspersing of Dr. King’s words were powerful. The illustrations had a sketch-like quality with simple colors and bold lines.

This would be a great classroom book for elementary school teachers.

Other Picture Book Weekends books have included: Star Stuff, 365 Penguins and The Gigantic Turnip.  Other posts about picture books have featured The Red Book, Dog Loves Drawing, and Iggy Peck, Architect.


I Believe Wednesday: Nature

It’s been a week since my last post, but at least it means that I can pick up where I left off!

It’s not really that I believe in nature. I mean, who doesn’t? It exists. What I actually believe in is the healing that nature can bring.

I am someone who finds peace in nature. When my heart feels its greatest pain or my worry feels larger than I can bear, nature is what helps me find a way to move forward.

I’m fortunate to have a backyard that backs up to a small stretch of woods. It lets me escape and refocus even if I have just a few minutes. My walk to my daughter’s school at drop off and pick up time also brings me through a wooded trail. I think, refocus, rebound. Just a short distance away we have conservation land and ponds. These are wonderful and I value them, but what I really crave is BIG nature.

The two places that bring me the greatest comfort are the ocean and the sky. Looking out over the gray-blue waves (or brilliant blue on a lucky day), draws me in. I find my breath deepening, my shoulders relaxing. The smell of the salt air, the shifting sand, the rhythm of the seas. My mind spins, but in different ways. Instead of the perpetual t0-do list racing through my mind, I marvel at the expanse, the sheer beauty.

nationalgeographicnaturepoetryAs for sky, it is, in particular, a night sky. No matter the weather, I love to stop for a bit outside, staring at the deepest, darkest night, pierced with shockingly bright beams. I observe the shape of the moon and seek out the few constellations I remember. And it too heals, because it reminds me of how much there is beyond, and how little my problems are in the grand scheme of the universe. It reminds me that we are all in this together — that we are all part of a single world and I have to always think about how my choices and actions and priorities impact others.

Where do you find your peace? When you have a moment when you seek nature, where do you go?

Past I Believe Wednesday posts include: I Believe Wednesday: Kindness, I Believe Wednesdays: Imagination and I Believe Wednesday: Take a Chance.