Review: Be Prepared
You can’t really peg Vera Brosgol to one type of book; she has such a variety of titles on her resume. While Anya’s Ghost has been a staple in my library’s graphic novel collection for a few years, her newest full-length graphic novel doesn’t fall into the same genre. Rather, librarians, booksellers, and teachers might actually suggest this title to readers of Raina Telgemeier’s popular titles who enjoy personal memoirs of people’s childhood.
By Vera Brosgol
Grades 5 and up
Unless you’ve lived it, it’s hard to really understand how difficult it is to adjust to a new culture. Vera Brosgol immigrated from Russia to the U.S. at the age of five, Be Prepared is her own story of trying—and failing—to fit in. While Brosgol’s difficulties came from the difference between her home life and that of her schoolmates, the feeling of being out of place is something many readers will be able to identify with.
Brosgol yearned for a place where she could fit in, but with her cultural background being so different than her American friends, it was a challenge. When the opportunity for an affordable summer camp for Russian-American children comes up, it seems like a perfect plan. But quickly, Vera learns that it’s just as hard to fit in at camp. She thought finding her place in the summer would be easy, but she’s small, different (not Russian enough!), and not as old as the other girls.
Her story plays out in a series of hilarious and wonderful episodes describing how the girls and boys have to compete to capture (and protect) each other’s flags and the challenges of roughing it in the woods. (No real bathrooms! Just an outhouse!) There will be plenty of laugh out loud moments for readers. There are also many poignant moments, as Vera learns to find herself and to find her place. You can see her personal growth as she navigates the ups and downs of childhood.
Despite the earthy color palette of green, black, and white, the artwork is actually quite fun and lovely. See Vera’s desperation when she sees her bathroom accommodations for the duration or her delight in the candy her mother brings her or her serenity in church services. Brosgol really brings her past self to life with her minimalist drawings.
This will be a surefire hit for middle grade readers.
About Esther Keller
Esther Keller is the librarian at JHS 278, Marine Park in Brooklyn, NY. There she started the library's first graphic novel collection and strongly advocated for using comics in the classroom. She also curates the Graphic Novel collection for the NYC DOE Citywide Digital Library. She started her career at the Brooklyn Public Library and later jumped ship to the school system so she could have summer vacation and a job that would align with a growing family's schedule. On the side, she is a mother of 4 and regularly reviews for SLJ and School Library Connection (formerly LMC). In her past life, she served on the Great Graphic Novels for Teens Committee where she solidified her love and dedication to comics.
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