Weekend Pick for December 23, 2022
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by Sophie Burrows
Dr. Susan Densmore- James
The Book Dealer
“An Illustrated Misadventure in Love and Loneliness”
If you have read a few of my reviews, you know this about me: I value my “book” community more than any amount of money. #Truth. So, that is why when I see friends like Andy Schoenborn (Creating Confident Writers for High School, College, and Life, co-authored with Troy Hicks) mention a book that catches fire in his high school classroom, I do the only thing I know I must do: read it.
Andy wrote about using the stunning graphic novel Crushing by Sophie Burrows in his first few weeks of instruction this school year. I try my best to challenge my choices in reading, and graphic novels generally are at the bottom of my reading basket (or to be more accurate, my many reading crates). Sure, I love books like Hey, Kiddo by Jarrett Krosoczka and New Kid by Jerry Craft, and I have read many other great graphic treasures, but I read them because I am constantly looking for books to motivate the reluctant reader, and I have always found graphic novels to be a hot ticket for this audience. But, this book? I selfishly selected for me.
When it arrived, I could not wait to open its beautiful cover, and luckily, my teenaged daughter was with me, so we sat down together and had a “true experience” (her words, not mine). Crushing is the story of two people looking for a love connection. Although this story is told in silence (wordless graphic novel), the intricate details in Burrow’s beautiful art tells a multi-layered story. As my daughter and I leisurely flipped through the pages (so as not to miss the smallest of details in this beautiful work of art), we talked (actually, I did the listening). When I asked her questions about certain images, she began to tell me the story through her eyes. What a wonderful practice for inference-making and, more importantly, what a way to learn more about my own child’s thinking! Burrow’s book touches on some important talking points: the often-false marketing of “love” as the model for “true love”, the cons of communicating through phones (texting), the dangers of bullying, the process of learning to be alone, and finding joy in the small things.
I have realized something important about graphic novels. One of most favorite parts of this type of text is the Author’s Note. I had this epiphany while reading Hey, Kiddo. There is something amazing about reading the story behind the graphics, and many times, I end up with crocodile tears in my eyes once I finish this often-missed treasure of text. This is where the power lies—in hearing other peoples’ stories and witnessing their challenges and inspiring tales of perseverance. This book was no exception to my realization. The dilemma, I find, is not whether to read the Author’s Note, but WHEN to read it. Do I enjoy it first (setting the stage for reading?). Or do I leave it until the end of the novel, allowing me to check how deeply I have comprehended? Have I missed parts of the book and now the pieces are coming together? Yes, this is the madness that brews in the mind of an avid reader, and, with any hope, I can pass this along to my daughter and students with whom I work. This time, I saved it for last, and my daughter agreed we made the right decision. Waiting was an added bonus to “The Great Experience,” as I now call reading with my daughter. We learned about the author’s purpose of writing her book as we read Sophie’s story, and it was no surprise this author wrote her first novel during the time of COVID. Elena, my daughter, exclaimed, “Oh, we should have known!” and then started flipping back to show me the text evidence (again, her words, not mine) that was provided. This gave the book a whole new “look” at this point. Elena and I were able to talk about what Sophie shared about “drowning” during the pandemic, and the feeling she had of loneliness and despair. It was cathartic for both of us, and it gave us important mother/daughter time to talk about challenges in life.
As I the packed my briefcase for work the next day at the university, I excitedly placed Crushing in my bag. And the following day, I had a whole new “Great Experience” with a class of 25 pre-service teachers. This is the power of community and the power of sharing books. Thanks, Andy. I am so grateful for all we share with our “book” family.