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Graphic-novel friendships and family

These realistic graphic novels (and one graphic memoir) offer a reminder to upper-elementary and middle-school readers that they are not alone when it comes to dealing with school and/or family drama.

In her graphic memoir Real Friends, author Shannon Hale recounts her elementary-school years, focusing on the theme of childhood friendships. Young Shannon feels a bit lost as the middle child in her family; at school it’s a similar situation. Readers will empathize with Shannon’s experiences of being left out, teased, and bullied, and they’ll feel relieved once she eventually learns how to find real friends and avoid toxic ones. Illustrator LeUyen Pham’s often humorous yet always sensitive depictions of the young characters’ wide-ranging emotions make this book even more affecting. Hand to fans of Raina Telgemeier and Cece Bell. (Roaring Brook/First Second, 7–10 years)

Roller Girl meets the Ren Faire in Victoria Jamieson’s new read-alike graphic novel All’s Faire in Middle School. After years of homeschooling, Imogene Vega — a squire-in-training at the Florida Renaissance Faire where her family works seasonally — starts middle school. Embarrassingly hilarious and tragic moments ensue, and Imogene’s classmates, teachers, parents, and vibrant extended “faire-mily” don’t seem to get how hard it is to be a sixth-grader facing so much change (until they do). Loose, energetic, and expressive illustrations let plot and characterization shine. (Dial, 9–12 years)

In Swing It, Sunny (sequel to Sunny Side Up) by Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm, Sunny begins middle school with some trepidation. What’s more, she faces it without the (complicated) presence of her troubled older brother Dale, who has been sent away to military school. The subject is manifestly serious, and the Holm siblings respect just how dark the story can get while maintaining its mainstream appeal as a middle-grade graphic-novel comedy. Matthew Holm’s illustrations (colored by Lark Pien) evoke the exact kid-culture landmarks of the story’s 1976–7 setting: “Love Will Keep Us Together,” Brady Bunch reruns, etc. (Scholastic/Graphix, 9–12 years)

With Louis Undercover, the collaborators behind Jane, the Fox & Me have crafted another poignant picture book–sized graphic novel. Louis’s family used to live together in the country. Now he and his little brother reside with their always-worried mom in a Montreal high-rise overlooking the highway and occasionally visiting their untreated-alcoholic dad. Over seven sections, Louis poetically describes emotions he can’t verbally articulate; his insightful observations about realistic familial struggles are heartrending. Isabelle Arsenault’s dramatic pencil and ink illustrations, with splashes of yellow and greenish-blue for emphasis, superbly depict Louis’s somber world…with glimmers of hope at the end. (Groundwood, 11–14 years)

From the November 2017 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.

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Cynthia K. Ritter About Cynthia K. Ritter

Cynthia K. Ritter is associate editor of The Horn Book Guide. She earned a master's degree in children's literature from Simmons College.

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