Sunday, February 7, 2016

What's not to love? Celebrating Graphic Novel Memoirs

I have long been a proponent of graphic novels in general. I love that the graphic novel format has often engaged reluctant and struggling readers by helping to visually support their vocabulary and general comprehension and serve as a stepping-stone to other formats and genres. Reading graphic novels requires a sophisticated set of skills all their own, one that can be as complex and challenging as any other form of reading.

Needless to say, I'm feelin' the love.

I have been especially intrigued by my recent discovery of a new genre+format hybrid: the graphic novel memoir. I'm not sure if this is recent trend that has been slowly emerging or if my awareness of such books has just been recently heightened. Either way, I think the idea is absolutely phenomenal and am excited to see who will be next to share their story.

I'm sharing five of my favorites with you in hopes that you know just the perfect reader to share them with! Here they are:


Bell, C. (2014). El Deafo. New York, NY: ABRAMS.

This one has won much acclaim, and rightly so. El Deafo is Cece Bell's memoir about growing up deaf, but truly it's a story about growing up. Cece's choice to depict her characters as rabbits engages younger readers and adds a playful feel to serious issues.

Recommended for upper elementary through high school.




Gownley, J. (2014). The dumbest idea ever! New York, NY: Scholastic.

Students may recognize Jimmy Gownley's work with graphic novels through the popular Amelia Rules! series. The Dumbest Idea Ever! is Jimmy Gownley's own story of his journey to becoming a graphic novelist. Readers will appreciate how accessibility and humor of Gownley's story.

Recommended for upper elementary through high school.




Humphreys, J.D., & Chickwanine, M. (2015). Child soldiers: When boys and girls are used in war. Tonawanda, NY: Kids Can Press Ltd.

Told with the held of Jessica Dee Humphreys (and illustrated by Claudia Davila), this is the story of Michel Chikwanine, who was kidnapped and forced to fight as a child soldier for a rebel militia in his native home of the Democratic Republic of Congo.


Despite the violence and brutality of the events of Michel's life, the telling of the story remains hopeful and positive and is appropriate for younger readers. I especially liked the resources at the back of the book, giving ways for readers to help.

Recommended for elementary through high school readers.


Siegel, S.C. (2006). To dance: A ballerina's graphic novel. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster.

This was my first introduction to graphic novel memoirs, and is still one of my favorites. To dance is the story of professional ballerina, Siena Cherson Siegel. The story follows Siena from her native Puerto Rico to the United States, where she follows her passion to dance. Siena's story reinforces values such as hard work and the importance of education.

Recommended for elementary through high school readers. Younger readers may need support due to the complexity of the images (I read it to my daughter when she was 6).


Thrash, M. (2015). Honor girl. Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press.

In Honor Girl, Maggie Thrash shares the events of the fateful summer when she was 15. While attending Camp Bellflower for Girls, Maggie has an seemingly innocent encounter with an older female counselor that leads to a budding romance. At a time when definition of self is difficult enough, Maggie is left struggling to deal with her new feelings in isolation. Her only reprieve is the rifle range, where she finds solace in her new found talents. Maggie's retelling of the events of the summer is brutally honest and very real.

Recommended for high school readers.


I'm sure there are other fantastic graphic novel memoirs out there. If you've read others, I'd love you to share!