YA – Sunshine

Krosoczka, Jarrett J. Sunshine. Scholastic, 2023. 978-1-338-35631-1. 240 p. $14.99. Grades 9-12

Sunshine, a graphic novel by Jarrett J. Krosoczka, follows Jarrett during his senior year in high school as he volunteers at a camp for kids who are seriously ill with their families. He was worried that the camp would be sad and depressing; however, Jarrett finds Camp Sunshine to be the opposite. He finds joy and happiness in the camp, and he meets some amazing families, which he keeps in touch with throughout his life. There is an author note at the end of the book with more information about the camp as well as the families that Jarrett met while he was there. The illustrations are gray at times, but with these spots of yellow that brighten the illustrations as well as the reader’s mood as they go through the story.

THOUGHTS: The reader will be hard pressed not to have tears in their eyes by the end of this touching graphic memoir. A must read for every high school student, as well as for anyone who loved Hey, Kiddo

Graphic Memoir
Graphic Novel

MG – A First Time For Everything

Santat, Dan. A First Time For Everything. First Second Books, 2023. 978-1-626-72415-0. 308 p. $22.99. Grades 5-8.

Dan is a quiet, obedient boy both in school and at home. His mother is often sick from her struggle with lupus, so Dan helps out when he can. At school, he follows the rules and tries to stay invisible, yet he still finds himself the target of bullying. Dan has never been outside of his small California town, and he sets his expectations low when he attends a class trip to Europe. But despite the fact that the trip gets off to a shaky start, Dan finds his travels to France, Germany, Switzerland, and England are opening his mind to new possibilities. He discovers he loves Fanta, likes French rap, and dislikes getting lost. Dan also discovers he really, really likes Amy, a girl on the trip with him. As he treks through Europe, Dan continues to push himself outside of his comfort zone as he realizes that the world is a big place – and he has a place in it.

THOUGHTS: As a Caldecott-winning illustrator (and author), Dan Santat is a familiar name to librarians. This graphic memoir about his time in Europe is funny, endearing, and relatable. The illustrations are beautifully done, especially his drawings of various European landmarks. Santat even includes back matter: a note from the author and an explanation of how he recreated his old memories in the pages of this book.

Graphic Novel Memoir

Caldecott-award winning author and illustrator (The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend), Dan Santat puts all the cringe-worthy and awkward moments of his middle grade years into the memoir, A First Time for Everything. Docile, obedient, and hard-working, middle-school Dan has a difficult time shrugging off the memory of reciting an A.A. Milne poem in front of the entire student body and being booed. A European tour with other kids his age the summer before high school finally yanks him into living a more typical adolescent life. As the group of mostly white students jaunts from city to city, shy Dan is coaxed to shed his uptight nature, take some risks, make new friends, and welcome the romantic interest of fellow tourist, Amy. When Dan’s camera doesn’t work well, he resorts to keeping a record of his trip in his detailed, realistic sketches. The graphic novel captures the humor of the group, sampling highlights from each country in food or special event. Colored frames represent present day while Dan’s recollections are black and white. Precious memories is the main theme of this lengthy graphic novel (the reader follows the group for 21 days). It sounds cliche, but Dan’s realization that making the most of each moment is genuine. Back matter contains original photographs.

THOUGHTS: The embarrassing moments, the sometimes annoying friends, and the misbehavior of peers will be relatable to most middle school students. There is not much diversity in the book, save for Dan who is Thai-American. His group is from California; the group they travel with is from the Midwest; and they are traveling only through European cities. Dan breaks out of his super rule-consciousness one night and steals a bike, bulking up his courage to sneak into a Wimbledon tennis match where he is center court with John McEnroe. The memoir teaches that each new experience can change us and help us grow, a healthy lesson for those on the brink of high school.

Memoir, Graphic Novel

This coming-of-age story from Caldecott winner Dan Santat shares the true story of his school trip to Europe when he was 14. Having been bullied and feeling invisible in middle school, Dan was not on board with his parent’s idea to travel to Europe with the same classmates who made fun of him. A series of first experiences gradually open Dan up to the world that lies before him. Will these firsts include his first kiss and first girlfriend?

THOUGHTS: A perfect read for the middle school set, this graphic novel will transport you back to all the awkward feelings of middle school and almost make you wish you could go back!

Graphic Novel

MG – Maybe an Artist

Montague, Liz. Maybe an Artist. Random House Studio, 2022. 978-1-668-85891-2. 159 p. $24.99. Grades 6-9.

When tragedy strikes the nation on September 11, 2001, Liz Montague decides she wants to pay more attention to what is going on in the world and venture out of the little bubble that is her mostly white neighborhood in New Jersey. In fifth grade, she decides she wants to be a journalist. There is only one problem – Liz writes her letters and sentences backwards. Not only that, she reads and speaks differently than other kids. She is, however, talented at drawing. Liz decides that she can still be a journalist – she would just be one that reports about important issues like climate change and racism through her art. As Liz moves on to middle and high school and starts feeling the pressures of growing up, she thinks that perhaps being an artist is not feasible. Liz wants to live up to her stellar sisters, make her parents proud, and save the world (one slice at a time, as she says). Could she really make any kind of a living with art? Would anyone take her artwork seriously? She has to find out. Liz takes a leap of faith and emails the New Yorker to let them know their cartoons should be more inclusive; the response changes the course of her life.

THOUGHTS: Maybe An Artist is the sweetest graphic memoir I have read in a long time. The story of author Liz Monague’s life is so personal and written with lots of emotion and humor. Her relatable stories will resonate with and inspire students. 

Graphic Novel          Danielle Corrao, Manheim Central SD

YA – My Name Is Jason. Mine Too: Our Story, Our Way

Reynolds, Jason, and Jason Griffin, illustrator. My Name Is Jason. Mine Too: Our Story, Our Way. Atheneum, 2022. 978-1-534-47823-7. Unpaged. $19.99. Grades 7-12.

College roommates turned best friends, Reynolds and Griffin moved to New York City with the hopes of pursuing their poetic and artistic dreams. Though glamorous, life in the city wasn’t easy and to make it work they had “No food. For the first six months we only ate cereal, peanut butter toast. Tuna. Fried Tuna. Tuna and rice. Rice and soup.” With little aside from their friendship to sustain them, they figure out ways “to make it” against the odds when everyone else seems to think they’re “probably stupid.” Griffin’s multimedia art including watercolors, collages, and sketches compliment Reynolds’ poems as their story unfolds. A tribute to their perseverance and friendship, this stunning work encourages readers to follow their dreams even when they seem unattainable and emphasizes the importance of having a good support system to help you get there.

THOUGHTS: The powerhouse duo behind Ain’t Burned All the Bright is back for another artistic collection of poetry. Fans of Reynolds’ work will enjoy learning the story behind how he got where he is today. Highly recommended for middle grade and young adult collections.

Poetry          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD
Graphic Memoir

YA – It’s My Whole Life: Charlotte Salomon, An Artist in Hiding During World War II

Wider, Susan. It’s My Whole Life: Charlotte Salomon, An Artist in Hiding During World War II. Norton Young Readers, 2022. 978-1-324-01531-4.$19.95. 160 p. Grades 7-12.

Illustrated with original drawings and photographs, this brief biography of an obscure Jewish artist living through World War II brings to light a sensitive soul living a troubled life in a troubled time. In a flashback from Charlotte Salomon’s student days at the United State Schools for Applied and Fine Arts in Berlin, the book traces her life from a lonely childhood to her dismissal from the art school–despite her superior talent–to the days in hiding in France at American heiress, Ottilie Moore’s Villefranche. In the midst, the reader learns of the introverted Charlotte’s obsession with art, her rocky relationship with her stepmother, and the cycle of depression and suicide on the maternal side of her family. Charlotte experiences unrequited love with intellectual Alfred Wolfsohn and finds mutual love with co-habitant, Alexander Nagler; they marry, get pregnant, but stay at Villefranche and are sent to their deaths at Auschwitz before she was thirty years old. Charlotte Salomon spent her last years making a visual autobiography entitled, Life? or Theater? She left this important package for her parents to find after the war. Since then, this life tribute has made its way into history gradually. The works of art show a special artist; those with an interest in World War II and the Holocaust will appreciate. 

THOUGHTS: Charlotte Salomon may well pass under the radar in this period of history. However, her distinctive artwork and commitment to her art make her memorable. The mental health issues underlying Charlotte’s background reveal pain others may suffer. One puzzling characteristic of Charlotte is her reluctance to save herself during these turbulent times, though it seems she had some opportunities to escape or keep herself hidden. There is also a connection between Charlotte’s parents and Anne Frank’s father, Otto Frank. 

Biography          Bernadette Cooke, School District of Philadelphia

MG – Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me ‘Round: My Story of Making Martin Luther King Day

Kirkwood, Kathlyn J. Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me ‘Round: My Story of Making Martin Luther King Day. Versify, 2022. 978-0-358-38726-8. 114 p. $16.99. Grades 3-7.

When Kathlyn Kirkwood is 17 years old, she realizes that racial discrimination is still very much present, especially in the South. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is fighting for change, and Kathlyn wants to be part of the movement. In 1968, The Negro Memphis sanitation workers go on strike for better working conditions like the white sanitation workers already receive. Dr. King comes to Memphis to support and lead the march – and Kathlyn decides to join in. The peaceful protest turns deadly when they are attacked, and it turns into a riot. The next month, Dr. King returns to march again, and Kathlyn cannot wait. The day before, she heads to the mall with her sister when she hears the breaking news: Dr. King has been killed right in her hometown of Memphis. All of his supporters knew that Dr. King deserved a day to commemorate the sacrifices he made to fight bigotry and hatred. One congressman, John Conyers, agreed, and introduced a bill for a Martin Luther King, Jr. federal holiday. It did not pass. Years go by and millions of people across the country sign a petition for the holiday, but it still does not pass. Undeterred, Kathlyn and fellow supporters (including singer Stevie Wonder) march, petition, and speak up for Dr. King until they finally accomplish their goal – 15 years later!

THOUGHTS: Kathlyn Kirkwood writes about this historical moment in lyrical verse paired with photographs, newspaper articles, flyers, and her own experiences. This is an important story for middle grade students to read and a must-buy for libraries.

Memoir           Danielle Corrao, Manheim Central SD
Novel in Verse

YA – Numb to This: Memoir of a Mass Shooting

Neely, Kindra. Numb to This: Memoir of a Mass Shooting. Little, Brown and Company, 2022. 978-0-316-46208-2. 304 p. $24.99. Grades 8-12.

The impact of a mass shooting continues long after the crime scene has been restored and the headlines pivot to a new story. Kindra Neely learned this firsthand after she survived a mass shooting at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon, which left ten people dead and as many injured. (Ironically, Kindra’s mother had relocated them to Oregon in part to escape the gun culture/violence in their small Texas town.) After graduating from UCC, Kindra attempted suicide when her feelings of pointlessness and numbness overwhelmed her. She kept this attempt secret for years. Later, after matriculating at Georgia’s Savannah College of Art and Design, she continued to suffer from racing thoughts and panic attacks as a result of the trauma she had experienced. Ongoing news alerts to other mass shootings re-traumatized her time and again. Eventually, she began to heal and found a way to use her artwork to share her story. The end result is this lovely, introspective graphic memoir in which Kindra bravely shares her survivor’s journey. The color palette is generally cued to Kindra’s emotions; in particular, depictions of her panic attacks are visceral and vivid. She includes moments of despair, anger, hope, and gratitude. She also includes resources for gun violence survivors and suicide prevention. 

THOUGHTS: This graphic memoir deserves a spot in every library for teens. As mass shootings continue, sadly the need for survivors to voice their stories will, too.

Graphic Novel          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD

YA – Victory. Stand! Raising My Fist for Justice

Smith, Tommie, Derrick Barnes, and Dawud Anyabwile. Victory. Stand! Raising My Fist for Justice. Norton Young Readers, 2022. 978-1-324-00390-8 . 208 p. $22.95. Grades 8-12.

In graphic format Tommie Smith shares the story of how he came to stand on the podium during the medal ceremony at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics as the gold medal winner in the 200-meter sprint. Together with bronze medalist John Carlos, Smith stood wearing black socks, and the two raised their black-gloved fists to protest racial injustices. But long before that pivotal moment, Smith came from a hardworking family of sharecroppers in rural Texas. Seeing their children’s education as an opportunity for a better life, Smith’s parents moved the family and Smith’s speed eventually was noticed, giving him more opportunities than they could have imagined possible. Smith attended schools that were being desegregated and a predominantly white college, facing many life-changing obstacles that shaped him into the activist he became.

THOUGHTS: Showing how great platforms come with great responsibilities, this graphic memoir deserves a place in secondary libraries looking to update their sports and/or nonfiction graphic novel collections.

Graphic Memoir          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD
796.42 Track & Field


MG/YA – Abuela, Don’t Forget Me

Ogle, Rex. Abuela, Don’t Forget Me. Norton Young Readers, 2022. $18.95 978-1-324-01995-4. Grades 7-12. 

Ogle continues his autobiographical journey begun with Free Lunch and Punching Bag, this time using a novel in verse format to focus on the enormous importance of his grandmother (Abuela) who provided selflessly throughout his life and enabled him to succeed. Ogle shares memories of her involvement in his life, from preschool to college. Readers will remember, or easily recognize, the antagonistic relationship between his abuela and his mother, and how any gift was seen as an insult: “I can pay for my own groceries!” Ogle learned early to love Abuela’s visits for the food, the gifts (of many things, including Ogle’s first bed), but most of all, he loved her visits for the obvious, stated, unconditional support of Ogle. In a world of poverty and abuse, Ogle was accustomed to sneers or physical violence and hopelessness, but Abuela repeatedly gave him the messages that she believed in him, education was the key out of poverty, and don’t give up. Ogle successfully shows Abuela’s life-saving presence in his life, while acknowledging shortcomings, like her desire to overspend her hard-earned money to give to others.  Readers will be amazed by the abuse and poverty Ogle endured by necessity and amazed by Abuela’s constancy and positivity. Ogle pushes for change and endures hard-earned miracles (free college tuition) as well as enraging setbacks (his mother ‘steals’ his own car for herself).

THOUGHTS: This is a book for all middle and high school readers, who will learn strength from Ogle’s journey. Ogle may just inspire readers to thank the “Abuelas” in their lives.

Biography          Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD
Memoir, Autobiography

Elem. – Chunky

Mercado, Yehudi. Chunky. Katherine Tegan Books, 2021. 978-1-713-75878-5. 199 p. $21.99. Grades 3-6. 

When Hudi was younger he had some health issues which caused him to have his one lung removed. As he gets older, his parents are worried about his health and want him to lose weight and stay healthy, so they set him up with a variety of different sports. These end in Hudi getting injured most of the time. Hudi has a great imagination along with an awesome sense of humor, which help him through most of his sports injuries and endear him to his doctors. Hudi has an imaginary friend that he names Chunky who is his cheerleader throughout the book as Hudi goes through all of these activities.

THOUGHTS: The illustrations are bright and colorful, and the addition of the Spanish is a wonderful addition. There is an author’s note that delves more into the book and explains how some of this book is based on the author’s experiences growing up as a Mexican Jewish child. This is a lovely addition to any middle school collection.

Graphic Novel            Mary McEndree, Lehigh Valley Regional Charter Academy

Hudi Mercado doesn’t quite know where he fits in. He is the only Mexican Jewish kid in his neighborhood and, since Hudi suffered a serious medical condition as a child, his parents are always concerned about his health. Or more specifically, his weight. Hudi’s parents push him to try a variety of sports like tennis, soccer, and swimming. Somehow, most of these endeavors end with a trip to the hospital. To help cope, Hudi invents Chunky, an imaginary mascot who is Hudi’s biggest fan. Together, the two of them love drawing and making jokes. With Chunky, Hudi is able to deal with all the demands coming his way from his parents. However, when his dad loses his job and things at home become even more tense, Hudi starts to forget himself and his imaginary cheerleader.

THOUGHTS: Inspired by the author’s childhood, this graphic novel is perfect for middle grade readers who are fans of Jerry Craft. Readers will relate to Hudi’s struggles and laugh alongside him as he finds his place in his world. Expect book 2 two early this summer.

Graphic Novel          Danielle Corrao, Manheim Central SD