For the first time since riding the train back from BEA in 2007, where I read a fun YA graphic novel whose name eludes me, I read not one, but two graphic novels. I'd heard quite a bit about both of them, either through bloggers or via industry buzz, and since both Sarah Says Read and Nylon Admiral have been sharing their enthusiasm for comics and graphic novels in general, I thought I'd pick these up to read.
This One Summer by Jillian and Mariko Tamaki, which earlier this month was awarded both a Caldecott Honor and a Printz Honor (I think the first time in history that a graphic novel has won both) is the story of two friends who meet every summer at the lake cottages where their families vacation. Rose is a little older than Windy, and though both of them are on the cusp of adolescence, it's Windy who often is the wiser of the two, despite her silliness.
Rose and Windy become quasi-involved with the drama among some of the local teens as a means of distracting Rose from her own family troubles, and before the summer is over, both of them have begun that process known as coming of age.
I didn't love this book the way I thought I would, especially after all of its accolades and the raves of two of my coworkers, but I liked it and it was an easy way of incorporating a graphic novel into my usual reading. My artist/illustrator husband teased me for reading it, to which I didn't pay him a bit of mind, but as he was teasing me, he grabbed the book out of my hands to study a few pages. "Well, whoever drew this sure knew what they were doing," was the surprised compliment out of his mouth. The single panel pages held particular sophistication.
I picked up Strange Fruit: Uncelebrated Narratives from Black History by Joel Christian Gill to read specifically during Black History Month after seeing it on somebody's blog. I ordered in several copies for the store, where it sold pretty well, and I finally settled in to read it last week. Of the nine narratives, I was only familiar with one story, that of Henry "Box" Brown, so I was glad to get a mini-education in these pages.
Unfortunately, what I had mistaken for a graphic novel for adults (I mean, come on, it's called Strange Fruit, after all) is actually aimed at middle grade kids, and because of that the author/illustrator seemed much less interested in narration than didacticism. What's more, the humor used to minimize the dreadful situations of the characters for younger readers came across as back-pedaling when read through adult eyes.
While I'm glad I read this book, it ultimately wasn't a book that I liked very much, but that has more to do with my incorrect expectations of it. The instructive tone throughout is better suited to the classroom than to a graphic novel, and the illustrations didn't do much for me, either, I'm afraid. If, however, you're a teacher or librarian looking for ways to get kids to read more history, particularly history that has been minimized, this book could be just the thing.
NB: I purchased copies of each of these books for myself. This One Summer is published by First Second and Strange Fruit is published by Fulcrum.