By Amy Nicole Tangel
With summer reading on the forefront of the minds of so many parents seeking ways to continue guiding their children’s learning and entertainment during the school hiatus, graphic novels have recently emerged as a popular genre among many young readers. With comic-book-inspired pages and stories that teach kids to cope with some of early life’s most challenging situations, graphic novels add a tool to any parent’s toolkit, while keeping kids interested.
Just like many other kids getting ready to begin 5th grade in the fall, 9-year-old Danica Duca, is preparing for her transition into middle school at the end of next year by reading up on stories of junior high experiences through her love of graphic novels. For those of us who have already crossed that milestone, we know it is generally a time filled with anxieties and questions about how life is going to change. From making new friends, to changing classes and using a locker for the first time, starting to a new middle school is a pivotal moment in a child’s life.
Growing up in Medford, N.Y., Danica is set apart from many other kids her age as she has been surrounded by children on a daily basis not only in school, but at home where her mother has run a daycare for the past 17 years. In addition to constant interaction with kids from school and the daycare, she is also a sibling to three of her own and is a foster sister to five others currently living with her family.
The daily dynamic has been a blessing and a challenge to overcome for Danica, as it would be for any child her age, as she has had to learn to accept and share with others in ways many children have never been accustomed to, but she has taken every step with stride and has found solace in the messages from the graphic novels she has been reading such as “Baby-Sitter’s Little Sister” by Katy Farina; based on The Babysitter’s Club series by Ann M. Martin, the recently-released book, “Nat Enough” by Maria Scrivan, and a series of books inspired by New York Times #1 Bestselling Author, Raina Telgmeir’s own childhood memories. Danica said the books are so popular in her school she sometimes has to wait more than a month just to be able to check one of these books out, but while school doors remain closed, her mom has been helping her build her own personal collection of the books she loves.
“There are never any left in school, because everybody always reads them, so I have to put them on hold to actually be able to read them,” she said.
Danica said she thinks books like Telgmeir’s, “Guts” and “Smile” are so popular, because there is a good message in them, they’re fun to read and when you read them, you just want to keep reading. In the book “Smile,” Danica said there is so much more going on than just the dental drama of having to get braces. The book talks about family, friends, and boys and taps into emotions many girls her age are experiencing for the first time. The book “Guts” tackles the challenges kids face as they prepare to go into middle school, and Danica said this one in particular has given her a good idea of what to expect.
“It (Guts) makes me feel like I have a feeling of how middle school is going to be. You are not going to be able to get along with everybody there and there are going to be times where you are going to have to go through some hard stuff,” she said.
Children’s Program Coordinator of the Longwood Public Library in Middle Island, N.Y., Tiffany Russo-Malone said she thinks graphic novels are so popular among children, because the books give them a more visual way to read in that they need to figure the order in which to read the pictures and word bubbles, but children also need to read the characters’ expressions and movements in the pictures. Tiffany said she feels graphic novels are a blend of a book and a movie in a way as they have the plot, setting, body and character development of a novel, but they take a little bit of the mystery of what characters and a scene may look like out of the imagination.
“I think they appeal to a lot of reluctant readers and struggling readers, because some of the important literary elements they can infer from the pictures, too, instead of just the words,” she said.
As we kick into high gear for summer, Tiffany said her top three picks for tweens or teens who love to read would start with “Roller Girl” by, Victoria Jamieson. She said although it is not a new release, it earned a Newbery Honor in 2016 and is a story about friendship, roller derby and girl power all based on the author’s own personal experiences and love of roller derby. Another top pick for the Children’s Program Coordinator is, “The Okay Witch,” by Emma Steinkellner. Tiffany said one of the reasons for its popularity comes from reminding a lot of people of Sabrina the Teenage Witch, and it is about a young girl who discovers she is half witch and how she survives middle school knowing the truth about her family, her town and its history with witchcraft.
Lastly, she said El Deafo, by Cece Bell is also a great read with a compassionate message and is a personal autobiography. The book received the Newbery Honor Book of 2015 and tells the story of Bell’s own hearing loss experience as a child and her hearing aid, the Phonic Ear; offering a reflection of how that affected her school experience and her ability to make new friends. Tiffany said all three books are funny and sincere and have great illustrations that add to the humor and sometimes awkwardness of being a tween.
“I really love all three of these books for their authenticity. Two of the three have truth in them, but even the one that is all fictional, rings true to how you feel as a teenager in school, trying to make new friends and trying to figure out who you are and who you want to be,” she said.
Danica said she is going to keep reading the books she loves over and over again this summer to keep busy and is always looking for new books to read. The best part of reading graphic novels for Danica, she said, is being able to look at pictures and read at the same time; allowing her to feel like she is right there in the book. She said the books most of all give her perspective and help her put her feet in other people’s shoes.
“Everybody is in school in these books, and they are about learning lessons about life in general, like losing friends and making new ones, having crushes and getting over fears,” she said.
For more information on virtual programs for summer reading for your children, check out your local library and see what they have to offer to learn and explore.