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Graphic-novel memoirs

The creators of these graphic-novel memoirs use words and pictures to revisit experiences from their youth. Their work relates sometimes-difficult, sometimes-comical stories with poignancy, bittersweet humor, and expressive art.

eldeafoAt the age of four, in 1975, Cece Bell contracted meningitis, leaving her severely to profoundly deaf. In her characterful, often amusing graphic-novel memoir El Deafo, she describes how she adapted — to deafness, to others’ attitudes toward it, and to a cumbersome assistive device. At the heart of her story is an experience relevant to most children: the finding of the “True Friend,” a falling out, and a reunion. Bell combines great humor and charm (her characters are all anthropomorphized bunnies) with emotional complexity and seriousness. (Abrams/Amulet, 11–14 years)

telgemeier_sistersFans of Raina Telgemeier‘s graphic-novel memoir Smile will be smiling all the way through companion book Sisters, a bittersweet but amusingly told story about Raina’s intense and difficult relationship with her younger sister, Amara. The summer before Raina starts high school, she and Amara, their younger brother, and their mom take a road trip. Frequent flashbacks fill readers in on the evolution of the battle of the sisters. The story ends with a believable truce between the warring siblings, who, one suspects, will continue to both annoy and support each other. Telgemeier’s art captures fourteen-year-old Raina’s range of emotions, easily drawing readers into the story. (Scholastic/Graphix, 11–14 years)

Prince_TomboyIn her often funny, sometimes painful, and sharply observed Tomboy: A Graphic Memoir, comics artist and self-described tomboy Liz Prince looks back at her formative years through society’s rigid rules for gender conformity. Chronicling the evolution of her thoughts about her own identity — “Maybe I am a boy…” — Prince examines deeply ingrained cultural assumptions about the sexes. The narrative takes a satisfying shape, and Prince’s honest voice and self-deprecating humor help make young Liz a sympathetic and relatable character. In keeping with the narrative tone, the simply rendered black-and-white panel drawings have an unpretentious look. (Zest Books, 12 years and up)

abirached_IrememberIn A Game for Swallows, Zeina Abirached portrayed the Lebanese civil war through a single excruciating evening, as young Zeina awaited her parents’ return home amidst heavy bombing. With I Remember Beirut, Abirached revisits that era in a loosely connected series of sobering vignettes and impressions, each beginning with the phrase “I remember”: her family’s bullet hole–riddled car, her brother’s shrapnel collection, schools used as bomb shelters. Black-and-white geometric illustrations capture both the enormous scale of the war and its personal repercussions. A few lighter memories — such as dancing to pop songs, watching cartoons, and receiving disastrous haircuts — help modulate the somber tone. (Lerner/Graphic Universe, 12 years and up)

From the January 2015 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.

Katie Bircher About Katie Bircher

Katie Bircher, associate editor at The Horn Book, Inc., is a former bookseller and holds an MA in children's literature from Simmons College. She served as chair of the 2018 Boston Globe-Horn Book Award committee. Follow Katie on Twitter @lyraelle.



  1. One that’s not here that I’ve been loving is The Dumbest Idea Ever! by Jimmy Gownley.

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