Monday, May 22, 2017

Real Friends, by Shannon Hale and LeUyen Pham: navigating the stormy seas of friendship (ages 8-12)

As parents and teachers, it can be hard to watch our children navigate the difficult waters of friendship. I have a clear memory of watching my oldest daughter wander the playground by herself in kindergarten, just watching other children play. It can be hard to give our children advice, and even harder still for children to figure out what's really going on.
Real Friends
by Shannon Hale
illustrated by LeUyen Pham
First Second / Macmillan 2017
Amazon / your local library
ages 8-12
*best new book*
Real Friends, Shannon Hale's graphic novel memoir, focuses on the trouble she had figuring out friendship issues throughout elementary school. The format is perfect for this audience -- blending images, short text and visual storytelling to help young readers see just how hard these friendship issues really are and understand some ways through them.

Shannon struggles with anxiety from the beginning, not wanting to leave her mother's side. Making a best friend makes her early school years happy, but when this friend moves away Shannon is left feeling all alone. As social groups at school become clearer and the popular group asserts itself, Shannon copes with feelings of inadequacy. She compares herself to other girls and feels resentment as they leave her on the edges of their group.

If you'd like, check out this book trailer to get a sense of the energy and flow between Hale's story and Pham's artwork.

I am so very glad that Hale chose to write this memoir as a graphic novel. So many more students will read and relate to her story precisely because they'll try it. Pham's artwork is full of energy and she excels and communicating the emotional upheaval that Shannon goes through. I especially love the way she brings Hale's metaphors to life, whether it's her older sister turning into a savage bear or the queen bee at school holding forth with her royal court.

This is a book that will be enjoyed by a wide range of young readers--girls and boys. Many students struggle with friendship issues, and graphic novels have broad appeal. I especially appreciate what LeUyen Pham told the School Library Journal:
"I know as many if not more boys who have read books from Raina Telgemeier or Jenni Holm, without questioning whether it’s written for them. A good story is a good story, and especially books that are reveal the navigations of elementary school relationships are necessary for either boys or girls."
Young readers will appreciate how nuanced and flawed Shannon is--she doesn't show herself as a perfect friend--but I wonder if they'll yearn for more fully developed secondary characters. I do know that my students will appreciate how Hale does not preach or lecture about how to be a friend, but rather she shows how you can work at being a good friend. As she writes in her author’s note:
“If you haven’t found your ‘group’ yet, hang in there. Your world will keep growing larger and wider. You deserve to have real friends, the kind who treat you well and get how amazing you are.”
I have purchased this review copy for our home collection, as gifts and for our school library. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2017 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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