Archive for Graphic Novels

Booktalk: American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang

American Born Chinese cover

Here is a short booktalk about a very unique graphic novel that earned a lot of accolades for Gene Luen YangAmerican Born Chinese weaves together realistic and fantastic storylines, and it will make readers aware of Chinese ethnicity and heritage in very unusual ways.


What does it mean to be Chinese?  Does it mean having slanted eyes?  Does it mean having a name your teacher can’t pronounce, or having dumplings in your lunchbox instead of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich?  Does it mean you’re smarter than everyone else in class?  Does it mean you’re naturally skilled in martial arts?  Does it mean you have a personal connection to the Chinese fable of the Monkey King?

All of these things are possible.  American Born Chinese is a graphic novel that tells three different stories about what it means to be Chinese, what it means to be American, and learning to accept your true identity.

Booktalk: The Making of a Graphic Novel by Prentis Rollins

Many times when I pick nonfiction books to share with classes, I’m picking topics that interest me, like science, history, and food.  But when I’m talking about instructional books, it’s easier for me to talk about topics that are more interesting to my teens than they are to me.  And even if I am interested, I know that I don’t have enough skill to make jewelry, knit and crochet cool accessories and adorable creatures, or write and draw a graphic novel.  The Making of a Graphic Novel is a great book to share with classes because it will appeal to aspiring writers and artists, as well as everyone who wants to learn more about the universe in which human beings can no longer sleep.  Most people know Prentis Rollins because of his artwork, but The Resonator story proves that he has great writing skills, as well.


After the wars and after the famines, humans stopped sleeping.  No one knew how or why it happened.  Maybe people were genetically altered by the Probe Corporation.  Maybe it was just the next step in man’s evolution.  But whatever the reason, humans can no longer sleep on their own.  They either need drugs … or they need a resonator.  But resonators are illegal.  In fact, possessing, transporting, or using a resonator is punishable by death.  When Bronsen, a uranium miner, goes to a sleep merchant, he is going to sleep for the first time since he was three years old.  Bronsen knows that asking for a resonator is is both illegal and dangerous.  What he doesn’t know is that the resonator is a living, breathing thing.  He also doesn’t know that the resonator will allow him to dream for the very first time … and that this dream will change his life.

This half of the book contains the graphic novel The Resonator.  After you finish it, flip the book over to read the other half, called The Making of a Graphic Novel.  This half of the book will take you through the entire process of putting a graphic novel together.  From writing the story to pencilling, inking, and lettering, Prentis Rollins will guide you through every step of the way.  If you like graphic novels and want to make your own someday, this one-of-a-kind book is for you.

Booktalk: The Tale of One Bad Rat by Bryan Talbot

When I first saw The Tale of One Bad Rat by Bryan Talbot on my library’s bookshelf, it appealed to me on several levels.  I’d always wanted to booktalk a graphic novel, but the graphic novels I knew the best were the ones that I’d read back in college, like Watchmen and The Sandman.  This book appealed to me because it was a modern story in which a teenager was the protagonist.  It also appealed to me because I, too, had been a fan of Beatrix Potter books when I was growing up.  So the title set off a little Pavlovian bell in the back of my brain that made me want to read the book.  When I finished reading it, I was moved both by the powerful story, and by the ending that felt like a punch in the gut.  Yes, I knew all along that SOMETHING must be wrong, but I didn’t realize …

The trick about booktalking is giving away enough of the story to get your audience hooked but not giving away the ending (since you want them to read it for themselves!)  This booktalk was tricky to write because the story as a whole is kind of quiet.  The goal is to fill your audience’s heads with questions:  Why did Helen run away from home?  Why would she rather be homeless than go back?  Why does she think about killing herself?  Why does she feel guilty?  Why can’t she trust people anymore?  Hopefully, if you put enough of these questions in their heads, they will have no choice but to read this book to find out the answers.


Helen is living on the streets of London.  She’s made a cardboard sign saying “Homeless and Hungry.  Please Help” that she puts in front of her, waiting for the few coins that will keep her alive.  Helen doesn’t know how much longer she can keep living on the streets.  She often thinks about killing herself.

Helen’s only possessions are the Beatrix Potter books she took with her when she ran away from home, and her only friend is her pet rat.  It’s the rat that keeps her alive more than anything else, because it depends on her for food and companionship, and Helen needs to feel needed and loved.  Helen also needs to leave London and start her life over again; she’s run away once already, but it seems that she can’t run far enough to leave her past behind her.  The guilt about what happened when she was living at home is still following her, haunting her.  It changes how she feels about people, when she makes the decision about whether or not to trust each person she meets.  She’s already learned the hard way what can happen when the person you trust most in the world betrays you.

Helen punishes herself every time she imagines throwing herself in front of a train, or jumping off a bridge.  But even that kind of escape might not be enough to free her from her past.  Helen is going to learn that running away from her problems will always mean never running far enough.  And that the only way she will ever be able to deal with what happened to her is if she stops running, turns around … and faces the truth.

Booktalk: Anya’s Ghost by Vera Brosgol

Anya’s Ghost is the first of what I hope will be many books by Vera Brosgol, and it’s one of my favorite graphic novels.  It’s a stand-alone story that takes realistic fiction and gives it a paranormal twist, and it features a protagonist who is refreshingly fallible.

To give you a little behind-the-scenes insight, I’ll tell you that I recorded this booktalk several days ago, just a few minutes after I finished writing it.  In a future “how-to” episode I’ll be talking about how and why booktalks can evolve over time, but I can tell you that I’ve already made multiple changes to this booktalk and I haven’t even presented it to an audience yet.  So stay tuned for that future episode when I’ll tell you about some of the changes I’ve made and why I made them.


Anya is a Russian girl who doesn’t fit in at her American school.  Over the last few years she lost weight and she lost her accent, but she still can’t get the other kids to like her.  There is one Russian boy at her school, but Anya doesn’t want to hang out with him because he’s much too Fobby (that’s Fresh Off the Boat).  And then one day Anya has an accident that changes her life.  She falls down into an abandoned well, and at the bottom of that well she finds a skeleton.  And hovering just above that skeleton is the ghost of a girl.  When Anya sees that ghost, she has the reaction that you might expect.

That’s right — she freaks out and starts screaming.

But little by little, as the ghost talks to Anya and Anya talks to the ghost, Anya starts to calm down.  By the time she gets rescued, she’s starting to become friends with the girl who used to be Emily Reilly.  Anya starts learning the advantages of being friends with a ghost.  Emily can help Anya cheat on tests by telling her the answers the other kids chose.  Emily can sneak a look at Sean’s schedule so that Anya can just happen to bump into him after class.  Emily can tell her the best places to hide where the principal won’t be able to find her.

Anya wants to repay Emily for helping her out, and she offers to do some research and see if she can find out what really happened to Emily.  But the more Anya learns about Emily, the more she realizes that Emily has been concealing the truth about herself.  And Emily has been dead for almost 100 years; she’s had a LOT of time to think about what she really wants.  Anya is going to learn just how dangerous befriending a ghost can be.

Booktalk: Amulet Book 1: The Stonekeeper by Kazu Kibuishi


The Amulet graphic novel series, beginning with The Stonekeeper, is a series that I can recommend on several different levels.  It’s a touching family story.  It’s a fantasy that takes place in an amazing world that most people don’t realize exists.  It’s a great crossover book for children and teens.  It’s a good choice for librarians, teachers, and parents to put into the hands of reluctant readers.  Plus, the artwork is REALLY amazing.  You can learn more about the Amulet series, including news about the latest book in the series and the ongoing discussion about a possible movie adaptation, at Kazu Kibuishi’s Bolt City website.


Up until now, the single worst day in Emily’s life was the day that she watched her father die.  Their car had gone off the road in a snowstorm, and Emily and her mother had barely escaped with their lives.  Now it’s two years later, and Emily, her brother Navin, and their mother are moving into the home of her great-grandfather Silas.  After his wife died Silas stopped leaving the house, and he was never seen again.  Now the house is  empty, but the neighbors think that it’s haunted.  While Emily, Navin, and their mother are cleaning the house, Emily discovers her great-grandfather’s library.  It contains books, paintings, blueprints, puzzles … and a VERY unusual amulet.  Emily doesn’t realize just how unusual this amulet is until she puts it on and it starts talking to her.  The voice from the amulet tells her that her family is in danger.  Which is true, because her mother is about to be kidnapped by a strange creature, and taken into the amazing world that is hidden beneath the old house.  The amulet tells Emily how to find her great-grandfather.  It tells her that she now has magical powers that she must learn to control.   Soon, Emily is going to face tougher choices than she’s ever had before.  Will it be more important to save her mother, her brother, or herself?  Does she want the power that the amulet is giving her?  And should she even trust the amulet?

Booktalk: Tyranny by Lesley Fairfield

As soon as I finished reading Tyranny, I knew that every library that serves teenagers should own multiple copies of this book.  It’s an excellent graphic novel, it explores the topic of eating disorders in a very unique way, and it’s a fictional story that author/illustrator Lesley Fairfield created based on her own real-life battles with anorexia and bulimia.


Anna has a secret.  She has a personal demon called Tyranny that only she can see.  Tyranny tells her what to eat and how to think.  Tyranny tells her that she’s ugly, and that the girl she sees in the mirror is too fat.  Tyranny tells her that she should starve herself, and tells her that if she eats too much that she has to get that food out of her system as soon as possible.  And in any way possible.  Anna thinks that being thin is the answer, and that losing weight can’t hurt her.  But as time passes and Anna gets thinner and thinner, her health begins to fail, until she is finally hospitalized.  Anna needs to turn her life around before it’s too late.  The more weight she loses, the more likely she is to lose her hair, damage her teeth, and put so much strain on her heart that it could kill her.  But every time Anna starts eating again and begins to feel normal, Tyranny returns to tell her that she’s fat, bloated, and ugly.  Anna’s only chance of survival is to break Tyranny’s hold over her once and for all.