Inspired by the new year, we’ve set new goals for ourselves! Reading goals, that is. Over the next few months, our booksellers will share their own personal journeys to achieve their reading goals– whether it’s to read a different genre, read in a second or third language, get to the 100 book mark, or read more books by writers of color, we feel it’s important to set goals in order to read more generously and thoughtfully. Below, Kids bookseller, author, and editor Leila Sales tells us about reading out of her comfort zone.
As much as I love illustrated books, I’ve always struggled with graphic novels. I didn’t read comics as a kid, so somehow I feel like I never developed strong enough graphic novel literacy. Usually I find myself just reading the words for plot and barely noticing the artwork, which means I’m only getting out of the book roughly half of what it’s offering.
I want to get better at reading graphic novels because they are such a booming format. Obviously Raina Telgemeier and the Amulet series are omnipresent, and in working at BookPeople I’ve met a number of kids who don’t want to read anything except graphic novels—and in our graphic novel section, they’ve read EVERYTHING.
So one of the first books I read this year was Fish Girl, by David Wiesner and Donna Jo Napoli. Wiesner, obviously, is one of the finest children’s book illustrators working today; he’s won the Caldecott Medal three times, and as a cat lover I have a particular soft spot for his Mr. Wuffles! Napoli has written 80+ books, but the ones I know best are her fairy tale retellings Zel and Beast, because I read them as a young reader myself. So I was interested in Fish Girl as a partnership between these two great storytellers.
Fish Girl is set inside a cheap boardwalk aquarium whose top attraction is a young mermaid. The aquarium owner, a Poseidon-like figure, keeps the mermaid in captivity and feeds her falsehoods about her dependence on him and the dangers of the world outside. When she secretly becomes friends with a human girl, the mermaid comes to realize how big the world outside her tank is, and how important it is that she escape.
The story can be read as an allegory about abusive relationships or human trafficking, but because it is a fantasy—about mermaids and girls who become friends—it can just as easily be shared with readers as young as six without getting into the real-world issues. One of my favorite things about it was how empowering it is for kids: because the cast of characters is very small, it’s clear that no adult is coming to save Fish Girl; she must save herself.
I don’t think I’ve been immediately turned into an expert graphic novel reader; unfortunately, that’s going to take a lot more practice than reading one 150-page book. But it was a good start, and it made the whole process of reading graphic novels seem less daunting! Which one should I try next?
You can follow Leila online @LeilaSalesBooks or leilasales.com