Latest in Graphic Novels: Books Between, Episode 36

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Episode Transcript:

Before we jump into the book talks for the show – a little bit of news. I am so excited to be a round one judge for the CYBILS this year in the graphic novels category, so I am taking a deep dive into as many middle grade graphic novels published in the last year as I can get my hands on. Phew!

So if you are not familiar, the CYBILS are the Children’s and Young Adult Bloggers’ Literary Awards.  This award started in 2006 and aims to recognize the children’s and young adult authors and illustrators whose books combine the highest literary merit and popular appeal. There are about a dozen categories and subcategories within Picture Books to Middle Grade to Young Adult.  Nominations take place from October 1st – October 15th so you still have time to go to and nominate your favorite books. Finalists in each category are announced on January 1st and winners are revealed on February 14th. So be on the lookout for those.

Last year’s middle grade winners included Ghost by Jason Reynolds, The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary by Laura Shovan, Shadow Magic by Joshua Khan, and Lowriders to the Center of the Earth, Book 2 by Cathy Camper and Raul the Third. So, some pretty fabulous choices.

I’ve been following the CYBILS for a long time and using their lists as a resource, but this is my first time participating as a judge, and I’m honored to be working alongside a great team, including our very own Mel Shuit from All the Wonders! So, in other words, expect to be hearing a lot more about the great graphic novels of the past year. Starting…. now!

Three Fresh New Graphic Novels

In this section of the show, I share with you three books centered around a theme and discuss three things to love about each book. This week – as promised – it’s all about graphic novels! And since my aim is to keep you up to date on what’s new and fresh and really good in the world of middle grade, here are three new graphic novels to introduce to your readers.  They are Swing It, Sunny by Jennifer & Matthew Holm, Invisible Emmie by Terri Libenson, and All’s Faire in Middle School by Victoria Jamieson.

Swing It, Sunny
by Jennifer L. Holm, Matthew Holm (Illustrator)

First up is Swing It, Sunny – the much-awaited sequel to Jennifer & Matthew Holm’s Sunny, Side Up. This book picks up with Sunny’s life in September 1976 – right after the summer she spent with her grandfather down in Florida in the first book. This story is all about Sunny’s life back at home, her complicated feelings about her brother Dale, who is now in boarding school, and the challenges of middle school. Here are three things to love about Swing It, Sunny:

  1. Seasonal Slice of Life stories. Unlike the first book which was set just in the summer, here we have Sunny starting school, getting fall allergies, reluctantly dressing up as nurse for Halloween, making loom potholders for Christmas gifts…. And small but poignant moments of that year in her life. My 10 year old was wishing for bigger events with a stronger resolution at the end. And for that reason she said she prefered the first book. But, personally, I liked the rhythm and pacing of this book with small moments told over the course of a year.
  2. How it explores a complicated relationship between siblings, and the impact that has on the rest of the family. After her older brother, Dale, ends up in a military boarding school for doing drugs and getting into big trouble – at one point Sunny says to her mom, “I miss him. But I don’t miss what it’s like when he’s here.” And I think a lot of kids – in some way or other – can connect to that.
  3. I LOVED all the 1970s details!!  I will out my age here and say that I was born in November 1976, a bicentennial baby, so this book felt like stepping back into the avocado green and rust brown and orangey yellow shades of my childhood. When having a TV dinner (cooked in the oven by the way!) was cause for excitement. I’m sure that qualifies this book for “Historical Fiction” status, and kids are obviously not going to have that nostalgic feeling that I had, but I loved all the TV shows referenced – Six Million Dollar Man and Gilligan’s Island and The Brady Bunch and General Hospital… there are so many tiny little details from the antennas on the tvs to the Jiffy Pop pan, to the vintage Golden Grahams cereal box…  Ahhhh….. There’s so much more. But I’ll let you discover all of it.

Swing It Sunny is absolutely a must-have graphic novel for kids 8-12.  And they don’t have to have read Sunny, Side Up to enjoy this one, but if you have the first book on hand, I’d recommend starting there so you have the background about what happened the summer before.

Invisible Emmie
by Terri Libenson
Balzer & Bray

Another great new book is Invisible Emmie by debut author Terri Libenson. This book tells the story of the quiet, un-noticed, hero-in-waiting Emmie Douglass who is trying to deal with the challenges of seventh grade. Things like finding time to go to the bathroom between classes, the awkwardness of changing for PE class, not having a cell phone and feeling left out of things, and…. being completely embarrassed in front of your crush.  Here are three reasons to love Invisible Emmie:

  1. How relatable Emmie is – especially for girls! From the frustration with your hair to that anger at yourself for not speaking up in your own defense. I think most girls (and boys!) feel that pressure of fitting in and comparing yourself to your peers, your friends, and to that perfect version of yourself that you wish you were.
  2. How this book alternates between the main narrative of Emmie and the story of Katie. And I loved how Emmie’s parts are text with lots of illustrations in softer blues, and tans, and mauves. And the sections from Katie’s point of view are a more traditional graphic novel format with panels and done in brighter yellows and pinks and greens. The blend of those two styles is really well done.
  3. How Emmie’s and Katie’s stories come together in the end! As I was reading, I kept theorizing how they were going to connect, and then I started to notice some of the same characters show up in both sections.  That ending and the message of that ending was powerful. Loved it!

Terri Libenson’s  Invisible Emmie is funny, heartfelt, and great for kids who love books like Raina Telgemeier’s Drama or Bubbles by Abby Cooper. And I can’t wait to see what this author does next!

All’s Fair in Middle School
by Victoria Jamieson
Dial Books

Our final graphic novel is one that my students and I have been anticipating for a long time – and oh was it worth that wait!. It’s All’s Faire in Middle School – by Victoria Jamieson. You might know Ms. Jamieson from her incredible Newbery Honor book – Roller Girl.  This novel is about Imogene – an eleven-year-old girl who has grown up and been schooled at the Florida Renaissance Festival where her father works as a knight and she helps her mother run their family’s arts and crafts store. But – this year two things are changing. One – she starts her training as a squire, which mean more responsibility at the faire. And two – she’s going to public school for the first time and starting middle school. I loved this book so much I am completely breaking my rule of three things. So, here are six things to love about All’s Faire in Middle School:

  1. The behind-the-scenes look at the renaissance festival. The jousting, the human chess game, the mud pit, the juggling, and the sword play.   And how Imogene is taught by the other actors to do what’s called “street” –  how to walk and talk and pull visitors into the fun as though they were all REALLY living in a Renaissance village filled with colorful characters.
  2. The Elizabethan flavored talk at the fair is so much fun to read. Here, let me give you a sample for you.. This is from page 27. This is when Cussy, an actor who plays a hermit, is teaching Imogene how to interact with the shopkeepers as she walks around the faire. “Good Morrow, and well met, baker! Prithee, hast thou any fresh loaves this morning?”
  3. The gorgeous chapter introductions that are in the style of an illuminated manuscript. They are so beautiful!  
  4. How this is a story about a family that is poor. Imogene is always a bit torn between her pride in her Ren Faire lifestyle and embarrassment that her family is picking her up in a beat-up old car. Or that she gets dropped of at the shabby apartment complex. Or that they can’t really afford those cool shoes and jeans that would help her blend in more at school. Yeah – relatable. For many many kids.
  5. The nuanced struggles and mistakes that Imogene deals with in middle school and at home. She makes BIG mistakes. At one point she harnesses her talent of drawing to be cruel in order to make others laugh. And has to deal with how much she hurt people.  At point she lies to her parents about school work, and gets in huge trouble.  And then – she does something so mean to her little brother that overcoming that one rash act is going to take a lot. But, you know – I see sibling conflict and peer conflict up close every day. And Jamieson gets it right.
  6. The small thread about the romance novel. There’s a scene where Imogene and her new friends sneak read part of a romance novel and later she writes the word sex in her journal and then quickly crosses it out. The words from the novel aren’t explicit at all but the context of that thread is so relatable for a lot of preteen and teenaged kids. That impulse to want to know more and yet not feeling really ready for that is handled so well here with a light touch that I’d say would probably be appropriate for most kids in grades 5 and above.

Honestly, I could go on and on about all the reasons I loved All’s Faire in Middle School but instead I think that time would be better spent having YOU just go get it and read it and put it into the hands of kids who are going to love it. And if you ever have the chance to go to a Renaissance Festival – please do it!!  My family always attends the Sterling Renaissance Festival in northern New York, and it is such a blast. We get our hair braided, enjoy a giant turkey leg, and just have fun transporting yourself to another era.  And make sure you check out Matthew Winner’s interview with Victoria Jamieson on episode 386 of the All the Wonders podcast where they talk about All’s Faire and her inspirations for this story. It’s so good!

Thank You

Okay – that wraps up our show this week. We have some great interviews and book talks coming up this fall.  I’ll also be chatting about flexible seating, Shelley Johannes’ Beatrice Zinker, Upside Down Thinker, Shannon Hale’s Real Friends – and of course – even more great new graphic novels!

Thank you so much for joining me this week. You can get find a transcript of this show and all of our previous episodes at  And, if you like the show, please help others find us too by telling a friend, sharing on social media, or leaving a rating on iTunes or Stitcher.

Thank you so much for joining me this week. If you like the show, please subscribe on iTunes or tell a friend!

About the Author

Corrina Allen

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Corrina Allen is a 5th grade teacher in Central New York. She hosts Books Between, a bi-weekly podcast to help teachers, librarians, and parents connect children between 8 and 12 to books they’ll love. You can connect with Corrina on Twitter at @corrinaaallen or Instagram at @Corrina_Allen.

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