Great Graphic Novels (#GGN2023) Featured Review of When I Grow Up: The Lost Autobiographies of Six Yiddish Teenagers by Ken Krimstein

When I Grow Up: The Lost Autobiographies of Six Yiddish Teenagers by Ken Krimstein
Bloomsbury Publishing
Publication Date: November 16, 2021
ISBN-13: 9781635573701

When hundreds of autobiographical essays of Yiddish teenagers written just before the start of WWII were discovered hidden in a Lithuanian church in 2017, author and illustrator Ken Krimstein selected six to highlight in this nonfiction graphic novel. With a somewhat chaotic and unfinished illustration style that emphasizes the unknown future these anonymous teenagers face, Krimstein uses the original text of the essays to portray the struggles and triumphs of the universal teenage experience.

The unique subject matter is what makes the graphic novel stand out. Each of the stories of the young men and women is relatable even though they take place over 70 years ago. The teenagers talk about finding their place in the world after losing their first love, using music and singing to heal after their father left their family, and breaking the rules to live the life they want. The stories read almost as diary entries that are deeply personal, but also portray the history of the era they were living through. This collection would be a great choice for teens who enjoyed Art Spiegelman’s Maus series and Robin Ha’s Almost American Girl, and for classrooms looking for unique primary source materials.  

—Jayna Ramsey

Other Nominated Titles:

  • Kageki Shojo!!, vol. 3 by Kumiko Saiki (December 14, 2021)
  • The Well by Jake Wyatt and Choo (May 10, 2022)
  • Miles Morales, vol. 6: All Eyes on Me by Saladin Ahmed, Christopher Allen and Carmen Carnero (January 18, 2022)
  • Kaiju No. 8, vol. 1 by Naoya Matsumoto (December 7, 2021)
  • The Girl and the Glim by India Swift and Michael Doig (June 7, 2022)
  • Frieren: Beyond Journey’s End, vol. 3 by Kanehito Yamada and Tsukasa Abe (March 8, 2022)

The Selected Lists teams read throughout the year in search of the best titles published in their respective categories. Once a book is suggested (either internally or through the title suggestion form), it must pass through a review process to be designated an official nomination. 

Each week, the teams feature a review of one of the officially nominated titles. Additional titles to receive this designation are listed as well. At year’s end, the team will curate a final list from all nominated titles and select a Top Ten.

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Great Graphic Novels for Teens

Great Graphic Novels for Teens Blogging Team @ YALSA's The Hub.