Archives for posts with tag: teen graphic novels

March Book OneMarch Book TwoMarch Book Three

Of all the treasures in the Smithsonian, the exhibit that sticks with me the most is a pair of petite, scuffed, rundown, women’s loafers worn during the 1965 civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama.  I found the shoes in a distant corner on the upper floor of the National Museum of American History, tucked safely in a display case with photographs and posters from the trek.  The case had been relocated due to renovations elsewhere in the museum, and I was lucky to run across it.  Those shoes mesmerized me.  They had been worn for all 54 miles of the march and showed it.  I can only imagine what it had been like to wear them.

I am equally mesmerized by March: Books 1-3, the graphic novel trio by John Lewis with Andrew Aydin and art by Nate Powell.  John Lewis, currently a U.S. Representative from Georgia, has spent his life in the civil rights movement.  As a young man, he chaired the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), a key group in the movement.  He organized sit-ins to desegregate lunch counters, participated in the Freedom Rides, helped organize the 1963 March on Washington, and helped lead the 1965 march from Selma to Montgomery.

March is Lewis’ memoir of his civil rights work in the 1950s-60s.  It’s an insider’s look at the movement from a less well-known perspective.  Lewis lays out the motivation for his actions and decisions as well as those of the movement’s student wing.  He provides insight into the internal politics of the various organizations behind the movement.  His descriptions and Nate Powell’s drawings reflect the brutality of the struggle for equality–humiliation, beatings, incarceration, bombings, torture, death.  March accurately reflects the times it depicts; as a result, it’s not always easy to look at or to read.

Lewis bookends the movement’s history with scenes from the first presidential inauguration of Barack Obama.  Book One opens with Lewis preparing for the event; as he stops by his Capitol Hill office, he meets a woman wanting her young sons to understand the significance of the day.  Lewis pauses to relate the history of the civil rights movement to her sons, and the story begins.  Although somewhat awkward as a narrative device–additional scenes with Lewis speaking to the woman appear to serve as transitions at different points in the books–the intensity and immediacy of the art and text make up for it.  Lewis anchors his experiences around the 1965 march from Selma to Montgomery, hence the title.  All 3 volumes echo the call of “We’ll march!”, building up to the Alabama trek’s successful conclusion at the end of Book Three.

Nate Powell’s drawings may only be in grayscale, but they make as much impact as full color.  He uses a mix of bold strokes and detailed shadings to convey a wide range of emotions.  He incorporates large swaths of black background (sometimes a majority of a two-page spread) to highlight text or fine drawings or grave subject matter.  Powell cleverly incorporates the sizable amount of text in his drawings without sacrificing space or emotional power.  He has a tremendous capacity to capture facial expression and body language, portraying with equal skill reflective thoughtfulness and intense hate demonstrated by both black and white figures.  The books have won multiple Eisner Awards (the graphic novel world’s equivalent of the Oscars) for a reason.

March: Books 1-3 is an intense, fascinating exploration of our nation’s recent history.  It’s a natural choice for graphic novel or memoir fans and history buffs.  It has plenty to offer a wider audience, however.  Give the first volume or all 3 to high school students and adults; the books are equally interesting as part of a broader discussion or enjoyed alone.  Be prepared to provide context for or an introduction to the civil rights movement for middle students who read March as it accurately portrays the events and language of the time.  Like that unassuming pair of shoes in the Smithsonian, Lewis’ memoir holds a powerful message.


Will and Whit coverIt’s true—you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. This week’s featured book is a great illustration of that adage. Readers either looking for or trying to avoid a stereotypical teen romance will be equally disappointed by relying on the cover of Laura Lee Gulledge’s graphic novel Will & Whit. Below its title, the cover prominently features the silhouette of a young couple sitting on a log sharing a sunset—his arm around her shoulder, her head leaning against his. The title itself sounds like a couple’s name. (Romeo and Juliet anyone?) It’s just the title and the couple and the sunset, so what could it be but a teen romance?

Ah, readers, open the cover and you will find a treasure of whimsy and delight and fear and concern and caring and crushes and envy and heartbreak and discovery and all the bittersweet messiness of life with a smidge of young love on the side. This is a story about the pain and the beauty of life with a capital “L” told with equal effectiveness in words and pictures.

One-half of the title duo is Will—short for Wilhelmina—a 17-year-old with an old soul, lingering shadows, and an abundance of creativity. The other half—Whit, short for Whitney—is a hurricane just powerful enough to knock out the electricity and slow down Will’s hometown in Virginia for a while. The title characters cross paths late in the summer before Will’s senior year in high school.

Will lives with her aunt Ella in a house next door to the antiques shop Ella inherited from her parents. Ella runs the shop with help from Will who spends the rest of her time making lamps and hanging out with her equally creative friends. For the past year, Will has been afraid of the dark. Almost a year ago, Will’s parents died in a car wreck. Since then, she has been creating light—literally and figuratively—to keep away the shadows. As she gets closer to the terrible anniversary, Will tries harder and harder to avoid thinking about the accident. Distraction appears in the form of an “arts carnival” which allows Will and her friends to flex their creative muscles and to meet some new people. Along the way Will’s friends embark on their own journeys—a little sister comes into her own as she becomes a teen; two longtime friends recognize their attraction to each other; a smart, self-assured young woman loses sight of herself when she falls for a crush; a gifted cook ponders the future seemingly laid out for him. The tiny crack Will has created in the doorway of her grief is blown open by Hurricane Whitney when the storm causes the lights to go out. Only then can Will face her fear of the dark and truly make it through her tragedy.

Laura Lee Gulledge’s illustrations are in black and white, but her characters and settings are vibrant enough that it felt as if I was looking at Technicolor. Gulledge uses light and shadow in both her text and her drawings to great effect. She conveys the subtle, pre-dawn hours when Will chases away a nightmare by working on a lamp with the same attention to detail used in showing the gathering hurricane, a sunny summer afternoon spent rafting, and a performance space lit only by candles and flashlights. Gulledge’s characters appear lifelike, full of movement and emotion in just the right measure. I heard the splash of a raft turning over, felt the sun on my face, and smelled cookies baking as I read. The author’s dialogue may be limited in amount by the graphic novel format, but her concise, realistic word choice combined with her drawings made me come away feeling as if I had read a text-only novel. Graphic novels offer both the artist and the reader so many opportunities to engage with and to explore the story. Gulledge takes full advantage of the format’s possibilities. In particular, her treatment of Will’s “shadows” was amazing. As Will’s emotions change, so do the drawings of her shadows; there is an entire story just in those illustrations. Gulledge even uses the page borders to convey the blackout. In the end, she shows the real story behind the cover art. Will & Whit offers more riches each time it is read; this is a book to be savored—just like Life.

With some lightly mature language and gentle romance sprinkled amongst the very real grief depicted, this book is an accessible entry to graphic novels for most teen readers and for adults. Will & Whit is available at the Joplin Public Library.

Friends With Boys by Faith Erin HicksIt’s Maggie’s first day of high school… of public school… of traditional school learning… (Before ninth grade, her mom homeschooled Maggie and her three brothers.)  Her older brothers have been in high school for a while, and now it’s Maggie’s turn. “Friends with Boys” is the story of Maggie adjusting to high school, navigating the complex social arena of public school and making her first non-boy/non-brother friend.

Oh, and Maggie might be haunted by a 19th – century widow. And she and her new friends might rob a museum to try to help the ghost. No big deal.

I knew I would like “Friends with Boys” because I have been religiously following Hick’s “Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong” online (and you should  too at, but I didn’t know I would love it this much!

Hicks’s story and writing are spot on. I remember what it was like being the new girl, and while I wasn’t homeschooled, I was going from an almost rural school to a big-city school with So Many People! My reactions were almost identical to Maggie’s.  Luckily for Maggie, she has the security of three older brothers attending the same school.

The relationships between Maggie and her family members are sweet and genuine. Daniel, the eldest, is really into theater. Lloyd and Zander are twins who constantly fight. Meanwhile, Dad has just been promoted to police chief and Mom… left.

Not only is the story wonderful, the art is great. It’s all black and white and is just amazing.  Hicks perfectly communicates expressions, moods and atmosphere while keeping everything bold and fresh. Together her art and writing are clever and funny and touching and and and…

I just want to hug Maggie and hang out with everyone in the courtyard, okay.

Now, go read it. Tell me how you like it even if you don’t.