Middle School. The Worst Years of My Life.
A couple of weeks ago, during parent teacher conferences at my school I had a surprise visitor. Kiera (not her actual name) came by with her younger brother, who is now a 6th grader. When Kiera was a student at my school, she monitored in the library for two of her three years. It was a lot of fun to see Kiera, now a high school senior. We chatted about her plans. (College – premed!) And we reminisced a bit. We talked about how awful the middle school years are. We turned to her younger brother and said, “Don’t worry, it goes by fast.”
Middle school is a tumultuous Time, and there are many books and graphic novels that help young readers grapple with these years and know that they are not alone. Recently, there are a number of graphic novels that I never got around to reviewing in detail, but that I realized would make good reading to help all my new 6th graders and their older peers who are all navigating some of the worst years of their lives.
Sunny Rolls the Dice by Jennifer L. Holm & Matthew Holm
Graphix. October 2019, $12.99
This is the third title in the Sunny series. Her brother, a recovering drug addict, doesn’t play a huge role in this title. Instead, this is Sunny’s story of how she discovers the joys of gaming (Dungeons & Dragons) and tries to be true to her own identity while trying to figure out the rules of fitting in, and navigating friendships with different people who have different interests.
Best Friends by Shannon Hale and LeUyen Pham
First Second, August 2019, $12.99
In this sequel to Real Friends, Hale continues to navigate friendships. She’s older but no more savvy with regard to the dog-eat-dog world of the middle school social scene. The rules are always changing, and though Hale has a supportive family, it’s hard to figure it all out. Hale also experiences some anxiety (a theme that appears again in Telgemeier’s Guts), as she tries to find her place, especially in her one comfort and talent, writing. This is a great memoir, and the art of LeUyen Pham is endearing and ties this title together into a perfect package.
The Midwinter Witch by Molly Knox Ostertag
Graphix, November 2019, $12.99
Aster has been finding his place, as he has embraced his inner desire to be a witch, though boys in his magical family are generally shape-shifters, not witches. Ariel, who is a foster child, is learning the meaning of belonging and family. During the Midwinter Festival, an annual event in Aster’s family, Ariel steals his thunder and wins the competition. In the meanwhile, dark forces call Ariel again, as she tries to discover herself through family history. Though magic is important to the story, it also embraces themes of belonging and identity that young readers will easily recognize. Rich colors and lively artwork lighten the ominous mood of the books.
Guts by Raina Telgemeier
Graphix, September 2019, $12.99
In Guts, Telgemeier explores the anxiety that emerged during her fifth-grade year. After suffering a stomach bug, Tegemeier grew anxious that she would throw up again. The problem persisted, but with help, she learned how to deal with the problems. The book explores the highs and lows of friends, schools, and family problems and shows how almost everyone has something they are dealing with behind the scenes. Telgemeier’s trademark style is instantly recognizable. This book had a waiting list from the moment the title was in my catalog!
Stargazing by Jen Wang
First Second, September 2019, $12.99
Wang, known for The Prince and Dressmaker, departs from her previous work and writes a fictionalized version of her own childhood. Christine, a Chinese American girl growing up in a home with strict parents, befriends Moon, who is everything Christine is not. Yet the two form a bond. Naturally, things go awry in their friendship, but while the girls are still on the outs, Moon collapses and a tumor is discovered. Christine must pull together, move beyond her own feelings, and be a friend for Moon. The art has a very familiar and comfortable feel. The colors are lush and the artwork is inviting. And unfortunately, even middle schoolers fight deadly diseases.
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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