Monday, January 12, 2015

Super Graphic Diversity

Looking forward to our 2015 Summer Reading Club themes which are all about superheros and then looking back at this past year's We Need Diverse Books campaign I was pleasantly surprised to see that our graphic novel sections may be teeming with a mix of the two. I have always been one for diverse reads and have realized the importance of different folks seeing themselves in the pages of books. This past year at NYLA I was able to hear both Jacqueline Woodson and Charles R. Smith Jr. speak about the importance of diversity in books for their readers. On top of all of this I am nerd. I grew up with weekly trips to the comic book store, waking up at 6AM to watch Sailor Moon before school and I now attend New York Comic Con where, as you all know, I may or may not be in costume. The comic/graphic world for young readers is now starting to diversify and here are three of last year's shining stars. 

The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang & Sonny Liew

Gene Luen Yang is best known for writing American Born Chinese which was the first (and only) graphic novel to win the prestigious Michael L. Printz Award. In 2014 he released old school superhero graphic novel with Sonny Liew, The Shadow Hero. What's interesting about this read is that it based on an already existing superhero The Green Turtle. In 1944 Chu Hing, one of the first Asian Americans to work in comic books, created the character. The rumor is that Hing wanted the character to be Chinese, but his publisher at the time said there was no market for an Asian superhero. A few issues were made, but he had no success. The back matter of The Shadow Hero goes deeper into Hing's story. Yang and Liew decided to take this forgotten character, give him a full origin story immersed in Chinese tradition, and release him out into the world. When speaking of his new diverse comic to SLJ Yang said, "As a superhero fan, I find myself reading more diverse superheroes, maybe because more of them exist now." He's definitely doing his part to diversify comics. (Read the full SLJ interview here)

El Deafo by Cece Bell

This autobiographical novel is one of my favorite books of 2014. It tells the story of young Cece who lost her hearing due to meningitis at four-years-old. I reviewed it earlier this year for the blog and am so happy to see it receive tons of praise. It has made numerous best graphic novel lists and inspired me to write this post. School Library Journal interviewed Bell about the success of El Deafo, why she wrote it, and why bunnies! She answered, "Bunnies have giant ears and excellent hearing. My portrayal as the one rabbit whose giant ears did not work—that’s kind of the way it felt. Exaggerated? Sure. But I wanted to convey the feeling of really standing out when I didn’t want to stand out at all. I’m finding out now that the whole bunny-instead-of-human thing helps the book resonate with kids of all ethnicities, too. I love that. And, like you say, bunnies are adorable. You can’t go wrong with bunnies." What's more diverse then a bunch of different colored bunnies and one who is hearing impaired? (Read the full SLJ interview here)

Ms. Marvel Vol. 1: No Normal by G. Willow Smith and Adrian Alphona

While attending Comic Con I was able to sit in on a panel featuring G. Willow Smith, the writer of this new progressive Ms. Marvel series. The new Marvel follows the adventures of 16-year-old Kamala Khan. Kamala is the first female hero of her kind: she is Muslim, Pakistani and awesome. She is a normal teenage girl who is caught in a strange fog one night while sneaking out to a party that her traditional parents forbade her to attend. The fog gives her the ability to change her body to fight evil. The diverse comic had an immediate following and is resonating with young Muslim girls. At the Comic Con panel a young Muslim woman stood up at the microphone and ended up in tears professing to Smith how important it was for her to see this story be told. To have herself reflected off the pages of a super hero comic and Kamala. It was quite moving and even more proof of how important diversity in books is. I've read Ms. Marvel and am definitely a fan. In an interview with Smith says, "I write about real life as it is lived by the young American Muslim women that I've had the pleasure of meeting throughout the course of my travels as a writer." (Read the full interview here) Kamala is real, current and a comic you should absolutely check out.

As we head to Summer Reading this year let's keep our eyes peeled for even more super graphic diversity for our patrons.

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