This past Saturday the Library of Congress held its annual National Book Festival. Because of some difficulties in negotiations with the National Park Service, the festival was moved from the National Mall to the Walter E. Washington Convention Center. I heard mixed reviews throughout the day but more positive about the move than negative. Because of the indoor venue, the festival's hours were expanded to 10pm, but all events were condensed into one day.
One of the evening events was a graphic novels super session. As I had been at the festival since 8:30am and it was my birthday, I only stayed to hear one author. And I am glad I did.
Raina Telgemeier is the author of Smile, Drama, and most recently Sisters. She spoke generally about her books and her start as the illustrator of the Babysister's Club graphic novels. She also brought a few kids up to help her read a chapter from Sisters. This was a really sweet portion of the presentation, as was the question and answer session during which mostly children asked a wide variety of questions about her ideas and topics and even her teeth, a story she tells in Smile.
The answer I found most interesting was about how she picks which stories from her own life to tell. For both Smile and Sisters she chose just one small part of her greater experiences. The difficulties she had with her teeth spanned about 4 years of her life, but she was really focused in the book about her orthodontic adventures. In Drama, the time span was through one musical production during her middle school years. She spoke about wanting to capture the experiences of the behind the scenes kids. (I can tell you from experience that as an adult director, having reliable, creative, and wonderful kids painting the sets and moving them during the production has a tremendous, positive impact on the entire production.)
Sisters, is specifically about a road trip Raina took with her mom, sister, and brother the summer she was 14. More generally it is about Raina's relationship with her sister, told through flashbacks. It is really a well-done story, bringing in Raina's feelings about her now-teenage cousins and younger brother as well.
I highly recommend all three of Telgemeier's books for middle school in particular, but they are not too young for freshmen and sophomores perhaps, and would probably work well in 5th grade too.