I’ve recently enjoyed reading some graphic memoirs and decided to shine a light on ten biographical, autobiographical and semi-autobiographical* stories of diversity, equity and social justice written in the graphic format. They’re terrific!
*NOTE: Some titles are not authentically ‘memoirs’ but are based on personal experiences and presented as fiction.
BUT I LIVE (ed. Charlotte Schallie) (2022)
This is a collection of three Stories of Child Survivors of the Holocaust. Through interviews the four child survivors share their memories and provide testimonies of their World War II experiences. Each piece elucidates the powerful stories and provides stark images in Holocaust recounting. The graphic novella format provides a vehicle that documents acts of resistance against forgetting, or denying, transforming memory into accessible, emotional narratives. This book invites readers to experience and understand personal accounts with deep empathy.
“A Kind of Resistance” by Miriam Liubiki and David Schaffer
“Thirteen Secrets” by Gilad Seliktar, Nico Kemp, and Rolf Kamp
“But I Live by Barabara Yelin and Emmie Arbel
DREAMERS byAkim Aliu with Greg Anderson Elysee; illus. Karen De la Vega (2023)
This is a powerful story of racism in the sports world. It is especially engrossing (and infuriating) since it recounts the true story of professional athlete Akim Aliu, a Ukranian Nigerian Canadian who experienced systemic racism at every turn. Presented in graphic format, this memoir tells Akim’s courageous story of being the only Black child in his Ukranian community and the determination of his struggling immigrant parents to build a better life for their two sons in Canada. Akim Aliu’s story is one of resilience, bravery and inspiration as the hockey player never stopped dreaming. A riveting read. Note: in 2020 Akim Aliu, along with six other former NHL players announce the formation of the Hockey Diversity Alliance whos mission strives to ‘create sustainable change on all levels of hockey.’
A FIRST TIME FOR EVERYTHING by Dan Santat (2023)
Award-winning Author-illustrator, Dan Satant, has written a number of amusing picture books (e.g., Beckle, After the Fall, Lift). In this memoir, Santat recounts the awkward life of a middle years student as and his friends embark on a class trip to Europe that changed his life. A First Time for Everything is a great coming-of-age memoir about a ‘good kid’ travelling France, Germany, Switzerland and England.
FLAMER by Mike Curato (2020) (YA)
This story takes place in a summer camp for Scoutw. Aiden Navarro, a chubby Filipo boy, is a stand in for the author who dealt with the turmoils of a young adolescent who navigates friendships, bullies, homophobia and infatuation and life in the closet. Much of the book is presented in black and white panels, but bright red, orange and yellow flames often ignite the pages throughout. This book is one of the most banned pieces of children’s literature in the past few years. The homophobic taunts are blunt, Aiden’s sexual thoughts are authentic. No, it should not be ‘banned’ but instead should be given to adolescent boys who question their gay identity and should also be shared with Eagle Scouts to consider inclusiveness of sexual orientation and gender. Navarro’s / Curato’s story will give them strength especially when overwhelmed by a culture of hatred.
“I know I’m not gay. Gay boys like other boys. I HATE boys. They’re mean and scary, and they’re always destroying something or saying something dumb or both. We learned at achool how bad sexuality is. It’s a sin. Gay people do bad things and I’m not a bad person. I try to do good. All the time. So I couldn’t be gay.” (p,. 125)
THE LIBRARIAN OF AUSCHWITZ: the Graphic novel, based on the book by Antonio Iturbe (ages 12+) (2023)
The bestselling novel by Antonio Iturbe tells the story of fourteen-year old Dita who was, along with her mother and father imprisoned in Auschwitz. For Dita, the horrors of the concentration camp were counterbalanced when she was asked to become the librarian of Auschwitz and take charge keep safe, the 8 books that were smuggled past the guards. The books along with real stories told by prisoners educated the children in the camp, even though they discovery of the books in Block 31, the children’s camp would prove to be dangerous, perhaps resulting in execution. Iturbe’s story is based on the true story of Dita Kraus, a Holocaust survivor. This graphic novel adaption synthesized the 400 pages of the original novel by presenting historical facts and powerful narratives. The strong images illustrated by Loreto Aroca along with the narrative captions and dialogue match the power of the original novel in presenting another haunting historical account of the Holocaust. Novel: Spanish author, Antonio Iturbe; adapted by Salva Rubio; translated by Lligt Zekulin Thwaites; illustrated by Loreto Aroca.
MEXIKID by Pedro Martin (2023)
A Mexikid is a kid born in the U.S. to parents from Mexico. There are 11 people in Pedro/Peter Marin’s family and when his Apa/ father announces that the whole family will be driving 2000 miles to Mexico with the purpose of bringing grandfather/ Abuelito to live with them in California. Pedro doesn’t know what adventures await on the long journey in the Winebago, nor is he aware of the history and mystery that will be uncovered about his Abuelito’s escapades during the Mexican-Revolution era. Martin recounts some unforgettable (and often hilarious) stories that include tough border patrol, recorded music (“Shipoopi”), Star Wars action figures, (including the Little Peepee Man), diarrhea, grave-digging, swindling, a bad haircut, Fonzi, fireworks, lots of food, and lots and lots of cousins. Mexikid is jam=packed filled narratives of travelling, culture, heritage and family. This is a great graphic memoir.
NEW KID by Jerry Craft (2019)
In this award-winning graphic story author-illustrator, Jerry Craft recounts his experiences through the character of Jordan Banks who loves nothing more than drawing cartoons about hsi life. More than anything, Jordan wants to go to an art school but his parents sent him to a prestigious private school where the seventh grader is one of the few kids of color in the entire grade. Jordan is forced to navigate his new school culture at the same time as keeping his Washington Heights neighbourhood friends. Craft already won a batch of awards for New Kid (Newbery Medal, Coretta Scott King Award, Kirkus Prize) but Jerry Craft gets an A+ Dr. Larry for this fantastic, engaging semi-autobiographical graphic story about a present-day African American experience.. (sequels: Class Act; School Trip)
PARACHUTE KIDS by Betty C. Tang (2023)
The term “Parachute Kids’ refers to children from Asia who have been ‘dropped off’ with friends or relatives in foreign countries while their parents are left behind. In this graphic novel, Feng-Li and her two older siblings are left on their own in California while their parents return to Taiwan. The three kids not only have to fend for themselves (and get along with each other) but must deal with being in a new school, bullying, learning a new language, earning money and Anti-Asian racism. Parachute Kids is not an actual memoir, but a mixture of fiction, Tang’s family’s first experiences in America and anecdotes of immigrant friends the author met along the way.
SUNSHINE b y Jarrett J. Krosoczka (2023)
Jarrett J. Krosoczka is the author of many popular graphic novel series. His memoir Hey, Kiddo was a National Book Finalist. In this title, the author recounts his teenage experiences as a counsellor at Camp Sunshine to be part of a volunteer program to work with seriously ill kids and theirr families. Even though it was a one week experience, the opportunity was life-changing for Krosocska who learned about the captivity of illness but also the hope and determination that gets people through tough times. The author was assigned to work one on one with wheelchair-bound Diego who, although reluctant to participate in activities . developed a warm relationship with his buddy counsellor. The book recounts camp experiences (boating, crafts, a talent show, boating, fishing, and team-building activities. Each of the individuals that Jarrett J. Krosoczka and his 5 volunteer companions, offer sunshine even though most lived in the shadow of death. The subtitle of this memoir is ‘How Camp Taught me About LIfe, Death and Hope.’ It is an heartfelt story that will help teach readers about Life, Death and Hope. Inspiring with a capital “I”.
TWO TRIBES by Emily Bowen Cohen (2023)
Emily Bowen Cohen is Muscogee (Creek) and Jewish. In this graphic novel, Cohen invents the fictitious character of Mia who, though living a Jewish life, is anxious to find more about her father and secretly sets off to Oklahoma to find out more about her her Muscogee side and to discover what she feels is a missing part of herself. In her short visit with her father and her family, Mia does learn about some Indigenous life including life, food, dancing, crafts as well as the history of American “Indians” (a term used within the community. Mia’s primary and secondary research provide insights into Anti-Indigenous racism (Her rabbi says “Without the Torah and Talmud we would just be running around like a bunch of wild Indians. Mia and Emily Bowen Cohen both come to terms with the love that can come from being part of two tribes. The graphic format offers readers an engaging, informative story about culture and identity.
WELCOME TO ST. HELL: My Trans Teen Adventure by Lewis Hancox (graphic memoir) YA (2023)
In this frank graphic autobiographic, Lewis Hancock tells the story of heartbreaking and often funny, journey as a trans male. We are given a first-hand account of what it means to hate your body and be be confused about what to wear, who to snog and how to convince family and friends about what it means to fight for the truth of your gender identity. This is an honest story, a hopeful one that will bring comfort to many who question who they are and who they need to become. In this book, Lewis has a conversation with his younger self (as Lois) surviving hellish years in high school and college trying to figure out what it means to be ‘normal’. Comic art work is presented in black and white graphic panels. Thank you for sharing your story Lewis.
WHEN STARS ARE SCATTERED by Victoria Jamison & Omar Mohamed (2020)
Omar Modhamed and his brother Hassan grew up in a refugee camp in Kenya. Victoria Jamisona has done a brilliant job to tell Omar’s story and his chance to go to school, even though it means leaving Hassan who needs medical care. A powerful story of family, and home , and hope in the most difficult of settings. Essential reading!
SHOUT OUT TO…
Attention must be paid to two noteworthy graphic authors whose books offer readers insights into friendships, identity and the trials and tribulation of growing up!
SHANNON HALE: REAL FRIENDS, BEST FRIENDS: FRIENDS FOREVER
RAINA TELGEMEER: SMILE; SISTERS; DRAMA; GUTS,;GHOSTS
YA (ages 12+) HIGHLY RECOMMENDED
AMERICAN BORN CHINESE by Gene Luen Yang
ANNE FRANK’S DIARY: THE GRAPHIC ADAPTATION by Ari Folman
DRAGON HOOPS by Gene Luen Yang
GENDER QUEER by Maia Kobabe
SKIM by Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki