It’s a truism of reading that books are judged by their covers, no matter how much we feel in our hearts that we shouldn’t be swayed by looks. In my experience, teen readers feel especially passionate about this. Shabby book? No way. Juvenile or dated-looking cover? Pass! So I pay extra attention when older books are issued with fresh new covers. In the visual world of teen marketing, it can mean a new lease on life for many older books, and discovery by a whole new generation. Here are just a few examples:
“Who Can Turn the World On With Her Smile? Who Can Turn A Nothing Day and Make It All Seem Worthwhile?“ (*I know many of you know this old TV theme song and are singing along, right?)
Did you know that this week is National Smile Week? I think it is promoting being friendly and welcoming towards one another. It’s summer so it makes sense that many of us are happier and smiling – especially if you’re on vacation as you read this.
Since it’s such an optimistic sounding week, I thought I would try to come up with some books that go along with the topic of smiling.
Although this autobiographical graphic novel chronicles Raina’s often painful dental experiences after she accidentally knocked out her front tooth and damaged the one next to it in 6th grade, it does end on a cheerful note and a big smile. The years before that, though, sound very painful as Raina describes in graphic detail (no pun intended) how she underwent numerous dental surgeries, had braces put on several times, had to wear the oh-so stylish headgear at night, as well as a retainer with fake teeth! She is forced to endure all this from sixth grade until she gets her braces off for good in her sophomore year of high school.
Another character you might remember who has braces (and glasses and frizzy hair) is 14-year-old Meg Murray from A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle, in both the novel and in the graphic novel adaptation illustrated by Hope Larson. Both Raina and Meg learn to stop being so self-critical and to not let their outward appearance affect how they feel on the inside. I can totally relate to both Raina and Meg, because, I too, had to wear braces for years, from 3rd grade until 8th grade (and have had glasses from a young age too). The pain of wearing braces is worth it in the end to have a great smile.
Sooner after Raina’s accident, her dentist tried to put her two damaged front teeth back into place, but they went up even further into her gums instead. She’s horrified and says, “I look like a vampire!!” After more treatment, when her teeth still don’t seem to be responding, Raina fearfully asks, “So am I gonna look like a vampire forever??”
She doesn’t end up looking like a vampire, but teenaged Chris isn’t so lucky in M. T. Anderson’s often graphic novel Thirsty. Chris is having a lot of trouble adjusting to the fact that he appears to be turning into a vampire. He keeps telling himself that he has to, “Keep smiling for another few weeks, until the curse is lifted. Keep smiling, I think, while my teeth are still square.” He’s trying his hardest not to give in to his burgeoning bloodlust. But, it’s almost impossible – and having aching braces just makes it even harder. As his hunger gets the best of him, he gives in and says, “I lower my mouth. My open lips just nuzzle my forearm…..” and then before he knows it, “My braces are just one big loopy tangle.”
I think getting smiled at by Chris might not be such a welcome sight after all.
This month for my Women in Comics post, I’m focusing on science fiction graphic novels. Science fiction is generally one of my favorite genres and there are many great examples that are graphic novels. Whether you prefer near-future, dystopia, or science fiction blended with a hint of fantasy, this list will have a great book to add to your to-be-read list.
In Real Life by Cory Doctorow with art by Jen Wang (2015 Great Graphic Novels for Teens Top Ten) – Anda is a dedicated player of Coarsegold Online, a massively-multiplayer online role playing game by the time she meets a gold farmer from China named Raymond. As she learns about the work that he does – which includes long hours and no benefits – she becomes outraged and tries to take action to help him. The book is transparently aimed at teaching readers about the politics and economics of gaming as well as sparking an interest in activism. It will appeal to fans of online games and of Doctorow’s other works.
Alex + Ada by Sarah Vaughn with art by Jonathan Luna – When Alex receives an X5 android as a surprise birthday gift, he is pretty sure he wants nothing to do with it, but once he meets Ada he becomes deeply conflicted about the idea of returning her. This comic follows Alex and the android he names Ada as they meet and navigate a complicated world where fear of artificial intelligence runs rampant in the wake of an AI organized massacre. Alex must decide what his beliefs about the rights of androids are and how he should interact with a completely lifelike, but non-human being. This is a great series for those with an interest in robots and artificial intelligence. Continue reading Women in Comics: Science Fiction
As a big fan of graphic novels and comics, I read across many genres from superhero comics to nonfiction to humor and beyond. While I love the work of many different authors, today I want to highlight some of the best work from female artists who create comics and graphic novels. The list below includes some books I have read and some I can’t wait to read, but they are all written or drawn (or both!) by women who are among the best in the field.
It’s National Science Fiction Day! A day to pause and give thanks for the genre that offers us an infinity of futures to inhabit, if only for the space of a novel. It’s also the time of year when I like to ponder why I find science fiction so captivating. Like many fans, it’s partly because I love immersing myself in a sense of possibility: these are civilizations that could happen, interstellar events that may well unfold, alien life yet to be encountered, worlds upon worlds waiting to be discovered (or explored or exploited or misunderstood). However, I think my great love for this genre largely lies in its ability to reframe how I perceive the world. Reading the great sci-fi classics in high school introduced me to an astonishing array of philosophical concepts and conundrums that shook up my belief systems. Modern sci-fi continues to do the same for me some twenty years later. So, in honor of National Science Fiction Day, here are five titles that will change the way you see the world.
Let me begin with Isaac Asimov’s classic Foundation Trilogy, a particularly apt pick given that National Science Fiction Day falls on his chosen birthday. The series won the Hugo Award for best all-time series (deservedly so) and is inspired by Gibbon’s History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. What sets the trilogy apart from so many other series is the scope of its ambition. Asimov writes of the decline of the Galactic Empire and the forces at play to preserve its knowledge and help bring about the rise of another empire. Sound dry? It’s not! You’ll be swept up by the fascinating ebb and flow of power and politics and by the series end, be asking yourself profound questions about history, the human condition, and the cyclical nature of civilizations.