Posts Tagged graphic novels

Pushing the Kindness Agenda

Since the now-infamous awards show last week that, unfortunately, probably far too many young people saw, I’ve been thinking a lot about kindness. I saw very little of that broadcast, admittedly—the abundance of “gibes” and “roasts” and physical gags (long before the most talked-about moment) had me turning away early on. It made me wonder if that show/“joke”-fest might be one representation of a lack of general goodwill between people these days stemming from societal stress. Society seems a bit besieged right now with supercharged tensions (the years-long weight of the pandemic, increased political polarity, harmful social media, images of war, economic concerns…) that sometimes eclipse kindness in words and deeds.

Despite parents’ and teachers’ best efforts, kids may struggle to find kindness in the midst of those confusing stressors, especially if they don’t understand them. Counterbalancing our increased societal tension with some extra promotion of kindness seems more and more crucial.

Luckily, there’s at least one way to push a kindness agenda that’s easy for us as writers, teachers, parents, and librarians: Offer good books that show what kindness can do. Many, many middle grade books offer a dose of kindness, as we all know that books for this age range have great potential for character education; parents and teachers see the merits of sharing and teaching books to middle graders in which virtues like kindness are rewarded. And some middle grade reads promote kindness as the very root of the plot, theme, or main character’s arc.

These middle grade choices count under the kindness column, including some newer titles on the scene as well as older favorites worthy of a fresh read with compassion in mind. Eager to hear your personal picks for kindness in the comments.

Like Auggie said, choose kind.

Prairie Lotus by Linda Sue Park – Fourteen-year-old Hanna is not surprised by the mostly unwelcoming attitudes of townspeople in the new railroad town of LaForge, Dakota Territory in 1880, where she and father settle to open a dress goods shop; she is half-Chinese, and others have made their prejudiced views clear all her life. In the midst of unfriendliness and harassment, Hanna must find the courage to draw on the kindness of one genuine friend to save her father’s shop and their future in LaForge.

Efrén Divided by Ernesto Cisneros – Seventh grader Efrén embodies kindness towards his family and friends, even when his mother’s deportation requires him to take on the care and supervision duties for his kindergarten-aged twin siblings, making his own homework difficult to complete and his free time disappear. A rocky friendship that heals through empathy and Efrén’s goals to extend his kindness beyond his family’s needs solidify the goodwill theme.

Wolf Hollow by Lauren Wolk – Annabelle, going on 12, learns perseverance and resiliency in her attempts to show kindness to a misunderstood local WWI veteran who becomes the victim of a malicious harasser. Look for the sequel to Wolf Hollow, My Own Lightning, due out next month.

Snapdragon by Kat Leyh – In this graphic novel, main character Snap befriends a local older woman whom many in town consider a witch. Snap learns some unexpected things about her own family—as well as a little magic—through this kindness.

Kiki and Jacques by Susan Ross – Twelve-year-old Jacques makes an unexpected friend through kindness: Kiki, a Somalian refugee new to his small Maine town. On a larger scale, the book invites a look at how towns can change for the better through acceptance and generosity toward others in need.

Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library by Chris Grabenstein – A group of middle schoolers try to beat Mr. Lemoncello’s “escape room”-like game with kindness in mind; those who are unkind or play unfairly break the rules and face ejection from the competition.

One for the Murphys by Lynda Mullaly Hunt – Eighth grader Carley Conners feels bitter, betrayed, and fearful after an episode of abuse involving her mother and her mother’s boyfriend. Now in foster care, Carley is initially mistrustful of the kindness shown to her by foster parent Mrs. Murphy, a mom of three boys. Soon, Carley learns that the kindness you accept can be practiced toward others.

A Long Way from Home by Alice Walsh – Reflecting the true story of kindness extended by the town of Gander, Newfoundland to thousands of diverted plane passengers on 9/11, this novel’s main character is a young Muslim refugee on her way to America. A boy, Colin, initially sees only differences between Rabia and himself, but the charity of Gander’s citizens soon leads to a change in perceptions.

Wonder by RJ Palacio – To borrow the author’s phrase, this “meditation on kindness” has certainly impacted millions of readers. Readers new to Wonder will explore the struggle behind individuals’ difficulty in accepting a boy just because his appearance is different from theirs.

Middle Grade Examines the Constitution!

By Robyn Gioia, M.Ed

Constitution Day, September 17, 1787: The day the U.S. Constitution was signed by founding fathers such as George Washington, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and John Jay at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia.

What began as newspaper comic strips in the late 1800s evolved into stories spanning several pages. From there, stories grew into the superhero genre with the likes of Superman and Batman, to name a few. Later the word “graphic novel” was coined for depicting larger works that can be more serious in nature. Since then, graphic novels have grown to represent every form of genre, from entertainment to nonfiction to academically examining controversial topics such as the Constitution.

The Constitution, a document that was written in the 1700s and for a different time in history remains the heart of American law. Many argue the Constitution needs to be rewritten. The graphic novel fault line in the constitution takes middle school kids through the history and nuts and bolts of the Constitution in easy to understand scenarios and graphics. It is definitely a topic that makes you question the way things work and how you think about them. The book has garnered “starred” reviews from top book reviewers such as Kirkus, School Library Journal, Booklist, and Publishers Weekly.

Meet Cynthia Levinson, teacher, writer, mentor, and author of the middle-grade graphic novel, fault line in the constitution.

(Yes, fellow teachers, the book title does NOT use capitals!)

Robyn: Welcome to From The Mixed Up Files. Please tell us a little bit about yourself. It’s always fun to connect a person’s life with their books.

Cynthia: I have two daughters, two SILs, and four grandchildren. And every book my husband and I write includes a thank you to “our thoroughly splendid children,” regardless of whether or not they helped with the book! For most of my professional life, I worked in education—teaching from K-12 and higher ed and also in state-level education policy. As a writer, I still consider myself an educator. I like to cook, but only in spurts; otherwise, a kitchen-sink salad is my favorite dinner. Nothing with okra—blech.

Robyn: A good salad. Someone after my own heart. I’d pass on the okra, too! So tell me, why write a middle-grade graphic novel on the U.S. Constitution?

Cynthia: The idea to write Fault Lines in the Constitution came from one of my editors—Kathy Landwehr at Peachtree, who had given her father a copy of one of my husband’s books (a law professor) on the Constitution. He liked it so much that Kathy asked if we would write a version for kids. Our editor at First Second/Macmillan, Marc Siegel, requested a graphic novel  version! So, happily, the ideas came to us from publishers.

Robyn: How did you choose what topics to include?

Cynthia: Great question! How on earth did we?! Well, my husband, Sanford (Sandy), has written extensively on problems with the US Constitution so I began by reading his books more closely and winnowing his massive knowledge base to kid-size bites. We introduce each of the 20 issues in the book with a true story. For instance, we begin the chapter on habeas corpus—the right that the Constitution gives Americans to be released from prison if the government cannot show a cause—with a story about a pandemic. See Resources for Teachers.

Robyn: How does a topic on the Constitution relate to middle grade kids?

Cynthia: Although it might seem that the Constitution has nothing to do with middle-graders, that’s not such a tough question. Our government—especially, the way it fails to operate these days, thanks to our Constitution—affects kids’ lives from what they eat for lunch (that’s Chapter Two, called “Big States, Little Say: The Senate”) to whether they have to be vaccinated (Chapter 19) to whether they can vote (Chapter 8). Fault Lines makes abundantly clear the relationship between the Constitution and everyone’s everyday lives.

Robyn: Well, your book has certainly given us a lot to think about. Thank you very much for introducing us to your middle grade, graphic novel fault line in the constitution. Readers will be happy to know there is a plethora of resources available, everything from a teacher’s guide, to lesson plans, to a blog.

Resources are plenty and interesting! The Blog delves into topics such as:

Your Turn! How Would You Write a New Constitution?

What IS “General Welfare?”

What’s a Vice President To Do?

The King is Dead

Resources:

Discussion guides and Activities  (Peachtree teacher guide)

Standards based lessons

Blog

Games

Interviews

Presentations

Websites

Bibliographies

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Diversity in MG Lit#30 Graphic Novels + Anthologies

Graphic novels are having quite a moment. They have grown by an astonishing 10-15% each year for the past 2 or 3 years and then in 2020, they grew by 29%. They now count for more than a billion in sales. The two factors driving this change are the willingness of independent bookstores and libraries to carry and promote graphic novels and the dramatic growth in graphic novels for children. This month I’m going to introduce a few of the many diverse graphic novels new this year. I’m also going to highlight two new anthologies.
Piece by Piece: the story of Nisrin’s Hijab by Priya Huq, Amulet 9/21book cover of Piece by Piece by Priya
If there’s one book I’d recommend to teachers and families trying to understand the lives of immigrants and refugees, it would be Piece by Piece. It’s a spare and powerful story of a Bengali girl who is the victim of a hate crime and goes on to use the very cultural markers that made her a victim to aid in her healing process. Along the way she comes to understand more fully her family’s generational trauma rooted in the Bengali genocide of 1971. I love this story for its nuanced take on a difficult topic and for it’s gorgeous art. I hope that debut author-illustrator Priya Huq has many more stories in the future.
Swan Lake: Quest for the Kingdoms by Rey Terciero & Megan Kearney, Harper Alley 3/22
Imagine a high speed collision between Swan Lake and The Princess Bride and you’ll be onto the vibe of this rollicking tale of friendship and adventure. The racial identity of the main characters are hard to parse in the blue toned illustrations but one of the chief swashbucklers is a single leg amputee.
¡¡Manu!! by Kelly Fernández, Graphix Scholastic 10/21
Here’s another friendship story about girls at a magical school (run by some seriously spunky nuns) who learn the limits of magical power and boundless power of friendship and loyalty.
Borders by Thomas King illustrated by Natasha Donovan, Little Brown 9/21book cover Borders by Thomas King
This simple and thoughtful story packs a lot of power in under 200 pages. It’s about First Nations identity, justice and belonging and is set at a US/Canada border crossing where a Blackfoot family refuses to claim any citizenship other than their own tribe. It’s not flashy but it’s a real conversation starter.
Ms.Marvel: Stretched Thin by Nadia Shammas illustrated by Nambi H. Ali, Marvel, Scholastic 9/21
Love this story about Ms. Marvel, the 1st Muslim American Avenger in a theme that I think will resonate with a lot of students. Ms. Marvel AKA Kamala, is trying hard to do all the things she loves successfully and sacrificing her own well being to do it. But in the end she embraces the super power of leaning on your friends when you need help. Timely! Also from the Marvel universe, Miles Morales: Shock Waves by Justin A. Reynolds illustrated by Pablo Leon, Marvel, Scholastic 6/21
Squire by Sara Alfageeh and Nadia Shammas, Harper Alley Quill Tree Books 2/22cover Squire by Sara Alfageeh
This one reminded me a lot of the Tamara Pierce stories. A Girl, a quest, a training regimen, allies gained and enemies vanquished, all with a middle eastern cast and setting. It’s great fun and sure to appeal to boys and girls equally.
City of Dragons: the awakening storm by Jaimal Yogis & Vivian Truong, Graphix 9/21
Fans of the Wings of Fire series will love this one. Set in Hong Kong, a group of friends find a dragon egg that hatches and becomes a creature of immense power who becomes the object of evil powers intent on destroying the entire city.
As a bookseller I LOVE a good anthology. It’s a great way to introduce kids to a variety of new authors. It’s great to help kids transition from chapter books to middle grade or from middle grade to young adult.  For teachers I love a themed anthology for augmenting curriculum. Here are two new anthologies that I think will serve you well.
cover of Living Ghosts & Mischievous MonstersLiving Ghosts & Mischievous Monsters: Chilling American Indian Stories by Dan Sasuweh Jones of the Ponca Nation, Illustrated by  Weshoyot Alvitre of the Tongva Nation. Scholastic Press, 9/21
Years ago I was a teacher on a reservation in Washington and one of the things I remember most was how eager my students were to tell me a scary story. This collection is not for the faint of heart though the tales vary in intensity quite a bit. They are collected from a tribes across the country. Chapters are devoted to ghosts, spirits, witches, monsters and the supernatural. Back matter includes books for further reading and reliable websites.
Beast & Beauty: Dangerous Tales by Soman Chainani  Illustrated by Julia Iredale Harper 9/21
The author of the School for Good and Evil series has a collection of 12 tales, all twists on familiar tales–thoughtful twists–conversation worthy twists.
This is just a small sampling of the many new graphic novels this summer and fall. Please mention your favorites that I might have missed in the comments.