In September, for Banned Books Week, I did a brief video featuring a number of my favorite YA graphic novels that have made it onto the ALA's most frequently banned list. Most of them were old favorites, or books I had studied in college courses. However, both The Color of Earth, by Kim Dong Hwa and Drama, by Reina Telegemeier were completely new to me. They also ended up being my favorite, as far as great graphic novels (or as any type of reading material), to recommend to tween and teen readers.
The most spectacular thing about The Color of Earth is most certainly the artist's depictions of pastoral Korea. There are several full page layouts that are just breathtaking. Ths story uses a lot of allegory featuring plants and flowers, and the art rose to the occasion, despite the confines of being told in black and white. The art, however, is simply living up to the beauty and intricacy of the story. The first few storylines made me profoundly uncomfortable, by design, as you are forced to relive your childhood discovery of your gender and sexuality, and the way children are often unkind to one another during those years. As the main character, Ehwa, grows, however, I related to her more and more, and her story of living with her single mother and being one another's shoulder to cry on and closest confidante. I am very excited to read the next two installments in the series.
Reina Telgemeier is a fan favorite for tween readers, but I was not previously on the bandwagon. I generally find her art too cartooney and just have not been able to relate to her stories or characters. I was astonished to find one of her books being challenged, as her stuff is typically pretty kid-friendly fare. I was very pleasantly surprised by Drama. Yes, the art is still cutsey and cartooney, but the characters, story, and vibrant colors more than make up for whatever the style may (subjectively) lack. Callie is a theater nerd, who works on set design, and takes it VERY seriously. Her and her troop of awkward, typically tween buddies must learn and adapt to their roles on and off stage, and figure out exactly where they fit in in the difficult social order of their middle school. The book was challenged because some of the characters are gay, but it is handled really delicately and beautifully.
So! If you are looking for something fun to recommend for your difficult tweens, who may be losing interest in reading, or are getting stuck between chapter books and adult novels, I could not recommend these two enough.