Review: Snapdragon

In doing yesterday’s blog post about graphic novels (https://stillmorewords.com/2020/03/02/they-are-too-books-or-10-reasons-why-graphic-novels-are-good/), one of those I mentioned was this title – Snapdragon, by Kat Leyh. Which probably would never have caught my eye, except that I’m lucky enough to work with a gal at our store than LOVES her graphic novels, and she recommends great ones to order. And when she *reads* good ones, she is quick to write a shelf talker for them, and to let us know why they’re worth our time. This was one such book. The cover was intriguing, the synopsis had me curious…but, as is often the case, the shelf talker is what convinced me. I picked it up during one of my regularly scheduled shifts in the kids room, and ended up taking it home that night to finish. And I’m so glad I did. I mean, how do you go wrong with the opening of, “Our town has a witch. She fed her eye to the devil. She eats roadkill and casts spells with the bones…”? Answer? YOU DON’T.

Snapdragon is the main character of the story – yes, as in the flower. We’re first introduced to her as she’s heading to the witch’s house to find her missing dog, refusing to believe in all that witch nonsense, but nervous anyway. Her nerves make her “brash”, but she gets her dog…and when she finds a dead mama possum with live babies in her pouch, she heads back to the witch’s house for help – and strikes a bargain that will come to affect everyone around her…even the witch.

This book just…touched my heart in SO many different ways. Snap is impulsive, but caring – she’s got heart, and she’s not afraid to stand up for what she believes in. Her best friend in this small town has his own struggle – but Snap just knows they’re friends, and that’s what matters. Mix in some *old* and buried family history, a scary ex-boyfriend, some animal skeletons – and you’ve got a wonderful story about owning your own story, your own power…and about the power of family. It really is a delight, and I found that I wasn’t ready to leave Snap’s world as the story was ending. I’m hoping there will be another, but even if there isn’t, I’m better for having read this. I can’t wait to share it with customers – and with all of you.

THEY ARE TOO BOOKS! Or: 10 Reasons Why Graphic Novels Are Good

So, I’ve been meaning to discuss graphic novels, and the shaming that often accompanies them, and this thread by the amazing Jim Di Bartolo brought it to mind…

As a bookseller, graphic novels are particularly problematic for those of us helping customers buying for kids. I cannot begin to tell you HOW MANY TIMES I have heard a parent/grandparent say, *absolutely* dismissively, “That’s not a REAL book.”. When I hear that, you can imagine this 👇

Me. Every time.

Here’s the deal. Graphic novels are *absolutely* books. REAL books, even. With words and EVERYTHING OMG. Not only that, but sometimes, they are even the best option to purchase. Here are 10 reasons why:

  1. Early/struggling readers! Graphic novels can be AMAZING for this category of folks. As others read the books to them, they see the images that go with – images that are more striking than simple line drawings, and more likely to catch their attention. They begin to learn the story better, and therefore the words – helping their reading progress. And with fewer words, it’s often less overwhelming for those who are just learning, or who are struggling. Overwhelm a reader, and you’ve lost them – which is *exactly* what we’re trying NOT to do. In fact, according to this article, they’re even good for readers with dyslexia! http://dyslexia.yale.edu/resources/tools-technology/suggested-reading/graphic-novels/
  2. More Interesting! Serious talk, here – have you ever really LOOKED at some of those early readers, particularly books used to help struggling students? I mean, really paid attention to the storyline? OR WERE THEY SO BORING YOU DOZED OFF?? So many books designed for early/struggling readers have tepid plots and boring characters, primarily because of word comprehension. But why in the *world* would a struggling/early reader think that “Reading Is Fun” if that’s what they’re stuck with?? Not only that, but it can be embarrassing for some students who *know* they’re struggling, and their reading material just reinforces that fact. Graphic novels help level that playing field by making sure that EVERYONE can read the same books. With fewer words, and images to assist, early/struggling readers can feel like they are a part of the class, and that encourages them to continue.
  3. Making complex topics easier to understand and more fun to read about! Some of my favorite graphic novels are nonfiction. In fact, one of the top sellers from the children’s section at our store is a series of graphic novels I found and thought were so awesome, we HAD to carry them. They are called Science Comics, and they address topics such as Cats, Sharks, Wild Weather, Robots & Drones, Skyscrapers, and more. Most everyone on staff has a favorite, and I’ve had *adults* buy them for themselves – while kids get SUPER excited about them. For those who may still be unclear – getting kids excited about science topics is an EXCELLENT thing, and will often carry forward to more advanced topics when they find some they click with.
  4. Classics! Yep, classics are available in graphic novel form. One of my favorite books *ever* is Anne of Green Gables, and the graphic novel version of that book is just so lovely. And face it – it can be hard to get “kids these days” into the classics, because the writing then was just so very different than what they see now. Graphic novels can be an excellent introduction, and they make an amazing gift when coming from a grandparent – the sharing of a common interest is always the best gift, regardless of how that gift is packaged.
  5. Variety! In the last several years, graphic novels for middle grades – and even early readers! – have EXPLODED in popularity, so it’s usually pretty good odds you’ll find *something* to like. From contemporary, to history, to science, to fantasy…they’re not the comic books of yore, that’s for sure.
  6. Good for ALL ages! Contrary to the opinion you’ve probably gained thus far, I’m actually NOT a huge graphic novel reader [Insert shocked face here]. I’m just now starting to enjoy them, and I’m still sort of picky about the ones I read (See #4 above). However, I have found some that I really do like, and I’m in my mid-40’s. Most of my co-workers enjoy them to some degree as well, and the kids LOVE them – and there is one out there for everyone (Head back to #4 again).
  7. Great for the commitment-phobic! Seriously. Unlike a full-on, 300+ page novel, the commitment level is low with graphic novels. They’re reasonably quick reads, and you’re not out multiple hours if you decide it just wasn’t your thing. That’s one of the reasons I’ve started trying them more – because there’s really no loss if I’m not feeling it. It also means that I’m more willing to try ones I might not otherwise, because there’s not as big of an investment. For example, I read one recently that I ended up liking far more than I anticipated: Snapdragon, by Kat Leyh. It just…drew me in, and never quite let go. But for the titles that DON’T have that effect? Minimal time wasted.
  8. Re-readable! People, please do not tell kids that you don’t want to buy them a graphic novel because they’ll “read it too fast”. I cannot COUNT how many times I’ve heard *that* one. Every single child that I know that reads graphic novels reads them over and over and OVER again. Find them a graphic novel they really like, and they will wear it out reading it. And honestly – WHO CARES IF THEY READ IT TOO FAST, BECAUSE THEY’RE READING! But yeah, kids *love* to re-read their graphic novels.
  9. Fiction helps make better people! Yep. I talked about it in this blog post: https://stillmorewords.com/2020/02/26/book-shaming-is-only-shameful-for-the-shamer/ – and it holds true for graphic novels as well. In fact, it would stand to reason that it might even be MORE true, because in this case, you get the benefit of actually *seeing* faces and reactions – the hurt or the happiness, the anger or the joy, the love or the embarrassment…As humans, we are conditioned to read people’s faces to know what’s happening and where we stand. Kids are no different, and seeing those emotions played out in a story where someone gets picked on, or loses a family member, or even *is* the bully? They learn from that – lessons reinforced from the page.
  10. READING IS READING! Let me write that again, in case you missed it the first time: Reading. Is. Reading. It doesn’t matter what form that reading takes, if someone is working to process words and put them together in story form from what they see on a page? IT IS READING. The goal is to get people *excited* about reading, and to encourage them to read more. Graphic novels do that – for all the reasons listed above, and probably more I’ve not elaborated on. As a loving parent or grandparent, isn’t that ultimately your goal? To help foster a love of reading? The adults I know who are most hard-core about reading graphic novels ALSO love to read nonfiction and literature and whatever else pops up. Graphic novels don’t take *away* from the pleasure of reading – they ADD to it, and help FOSTER it.

So the next time someone mentions a graphic novel, or you’re in your local (indie) bookstore, and you ask for help for that favorite grandchild – don’t roll your eyes, or book shame, or walk away. Take a minute and really reflect on what your goal is with buying books for your loved one. Is it to just foist a gift on them and be done? Then by all means, head for whatever choice YOU prefer. But if your goal is to find something THEY would really like, and to maybe even share some good discussion with them about it, then take a listen to what the bookseller has to say. We don’t recommend things just for the hell of it (at least, the good ones don’t) – we listen to what you say about preferences, reading levels, etc. and then give recommendations we think will truly be great ones. And if there’s a graphic novel or two in that list, give one a shot. You’ll be the “cool” one, they’ll be thrilled to talk to you about it, and you will have succeeded not only in helping foster your bond, but that of the love of reading.

RESOURCES:

I mentioned several books above, so I wanted to give more information here for anyone interested in checking them out!

Science Comics: There are quite a few out, with roughly 3 planned for each year. I’m SUPER excited about the one on Crows coming this month, and the on Sharks is also a favorite. https://us.macmillan.com/series/sciencecomics/

These are just a *few* of the selections available

Anne of Green Gables: They really did a *fabulous* job with this. The colors, the art…it’s all wonderful.

Snapdragon: This showed up, and I was curious, so I picked it up during a shift. Aaaannndd…I ended up taking it home so I could finish it. There’s a lot to like with this one.

So there you have it – the graphic novels I mentioned above. Do you have any favorites?

Book Shaming is Only Shameful for the Shamer

I was at work yesterday, and a couple came into the store. Roughly mid-20’s, I would say? For the uninitiated, I work at an indie bookstore, which is where this all unfolded. Anyway, they’re looking around at the books – mostly *he’s* looking, while she’s talking and checking out more of the *stuff*. He picks up a book and mentions something along the lines of how interested it looks – and the response of the girl with him KILLED ME. She looked at the book, looked at the section where it came from, looked at him and said, “That’s a book for TEENS. You’re in the TEEN section.”.

This was me at that moment…

Guys. STOP BOOK SHAMING PEOPLE. Seriously, does it *matter* what section the book comes from? I have had adults buy board books, not because they have any kids, but because the pictures and the story are just so lovely that they couldn’t help themselves. I read middle-grade novels, young adult, and adult books – fairly interchangeably. In fact, I just finished a Kobe Bryant book last night (Review to come!), and it was quite lovely. I’m in my mid-40’s. And honestly? Sometimes the YA and middle-grade novels seem like they’re better, in that the authors have to work just a bit harder to keep the attention of kids and to make sure things make sense – because kids WILL call you out on that.

Now, in this particular case, the guy went ahead and bought the book anyway. But IMAGINE how many people wouldn’t, because they would start to feel silly after someone close to them says something like that? Imagine how many WORLDS they could have found and loved, but lost due to Book Shaming. Imagine how many lessons learned, how many different viewpoints heard from, and how many fabulous stories get put back on the shelves because someone made fun of someone else for their interests? Worse, imagine if that person who was shamed put back that one book that may have helped them in some way – the book that told them they too would be ok?

Listen folks – reading is reading is reading. It doesn’t matter how old you are, what you’re choosing to read (YES GRAPHIC NOVELS ARE INCLUDED. A post on THAT another time.), or what age group you’re reading from. Whether you’re a child like my daughter, reading WAY above her age level, or an adult like myself and *so* many others, enjoying the lessons and literary escapes provided by books for a “younger audience” – it LITERALLY doesn’t matter. What *matters* is that people are choosing to spend their time with characters that are important to them, that tell a story meaningful to them, and that maybe – just maybe, if they’re lucky – they’ll walk away having had a truly impactful interaction with the words on those pages. Like the individual in the following article, who read Illegal: Reflections of an Undocumented Immigrant *while he was in prison* and learned more than he ever would have imagined. (Book censorship in prison is a WHOLE OTHER TOPIC, but also bad in many, many cases.):

https://www.npr.org/2020/02/22/806966584/who-should-decide-what-books-are-allowed-in-prison

So, let’s stop with the Book Shaming? People are different, and just like with the clothes they wear, need to have choices that appeal to them in whatever way they’re feeling at that moment. What matters is that they’re reading, and since studies have shown that those who read fiction have better “social cognition” – and will often feel more empathy for others, we should be encouraging that REGARDLESS of whether they’re reading manga, young adult, graphic novels, middle-grade, or adult novels. OR YES, EVEN ROMANCE.

https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20190523-does-reading-fiction-make-us-better-people

Book shaming is only shameful for the shamer, that they feel it’s acceptable to try and control someone else’s reading. Honestly, I feel like #BookShamingIsBad should be a thing, so I’m going to start here. Have any of *you* ever been shamed for the book(s) you choose to read? What are some of your favorite titles that seem to bring out the worst in others’ shaming tendencies? Maybe someone will feel that connection and know that it really IS ok to read what you choose.