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Season 2, Episode 5

The Magic and Fire Within

May 6, 2021

Charity and Jen discuss graphic novels with an LGBTQ focus for middle grade and young adult readers. Book Recommendations for Tween and Teen Readers.

Titles Mentioned in This Episode

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Charity 0:02 Welcome to the Planet Book podcast. I'm your host, Charity, a youth services associate with the Springfield-Greene County Library District. On each episode, you'll hear guests talking about their favorite tween and teen books. Thanks for joining me today. On this episode, I'm joined by Jen, a youth services library assistant with the Springfield-Greene County Library District. And today we are talking about tween books with an LGBTQ+ focus. Jen, welcome to the podcast.

Jen 0:34 Hey, Charity, thanks for having me.

Charity 0:36 So glad to be chatting books with you today. I'm really excited to hear about the books that you brought to share and especially because we're talking about LGBTQ, which is an important stories that need to be told. I've got my opinion on why those are important stories to, for readers. What are your thoughts on that? Why are these important stories for….

Jen 1:00 Well, and the two I picked are, I tried to get a variety in there. And I wanted to pick LGBTQ+ stories that were 100% normalized, like there's no horror, well, the second one's autobiography so there will be some challenges from the real world. But the first book that focuses on the middle school age range is just fun and everything that's brought up that would be racial or LGBTQ, like the queerness is just there and it's accepted as, it's normalized, like it is now.

Charity 1:40 That's so important that those stories are told in just a normal way and kids living their lives. It's important for that representation. So Jen, what's the first book that you brought to share with us today?

Jen 1:51 I'll start with the graphic novel Snapdragon. It's aimed at ages 10 through 14, it came out February of last year, so 2020 pre-pandemic. It's not super new, but it's, you know, new enough. And we have several copies in the system. The author is Kat Leyh, who is also known for her very popular graphic novel series, Lumberjanes. She's one of the artistic contributors to that. Planet Book actually covered Lumberjanes in season one, Episode five. But so Snapdragon, is actually the main character's name, which is after the flower. She's a middle schooler, appears to be biracial. While her races again never explicitly addressed, I gathered that because she has a blonde Afro and a black mom. And she lives in a trailer park, but it's a very nice trailer park, I might add, and I get the sense that they're in a rural Midwestern town. The writer, Kat Leyh, is from Chicago and as I was reading, I noticed how Midwestern a lot of the accents were, like the first half of the words is totally cut off, it's like, um, yeah, 'ellos, you know, what we hear around here in Missouri. Snap, as she goes by, is on her own quite a bit. And there's quite a few scenes where, you know, mom's communicating with her through notes because mom's working late or in school. Again, it is a single parent household, but that's not dwelled upon like it's bad. It's just a character's day to day life. So now that I've described to you the main character in the setting, I have a question for you, Charity. I want to ask you, okay, if I held up a book titled Roadkill Witch or Snapdragon, which one do you think you'd choose to read?

Charity 3:47 I'd probably choose Snapdragon because Roadkill Witch sounds a little heavy, and maybe a little dark, and right now I'm looking for things that are a little more lighthearted and an escape.

Jen 3:59 Oh my god. So that is exactly exactly what the publisher encountered as well, because like, it was initially written as Roadkill Witch but because it read as too scary and like, and the book is not scary, it's a comedy. But you know, there are a lot of witch and horror references because this main character loves horror movies and bonds with some other children over that they went with Snapdragon. But I'm such a weirdo and into horror that I was like, why did they not go with Roadkill Witch, you know, like, that's an awesome title so.

Charity 4:32 What an interesting factoid about that book, though, that there was another title, oh, how interesting.

Jen 4:39 And the author like explains that, like shows the alternative covers on the, you know, end notes of the book, you get to see that.

Charity 4:46 Oh wow.

Jen 4:47 So that was fun. And I don't want to get into too many details about the book because I don't want to spoil the surprises. But I do want to give you a taste of the opening scene because it's fabulous. It starts with Snap biking through the woods. She pulls up to a creepy house in the woods carrying her empty dog collar. And I'm gonna paraphrase here because I don't want to get us in legal trouble. But Snap's basically thinking to herself, like, a witch lives here and eats pets and I know that's totally not true, but like, I gotta be sure because you know, my dog's missing. And she goes up to the door, she sees her dog Good Boy. And this is where we get a totally hilarious meet between Snap and Jacks. And Jacks is the character that the rest of the town calls a witch because she like goes around with a wheelbarrow collecting dead remains of animals. And so Snap is looking through the door and sees a character in a long black coat with a black hat and black eyepatch, and Snap looks at Good boy, and he's like missing a leg. And so then this like fierce seventh grade girl's like, what'd you do to my dog and the black-caped adult's like, I ate his leg and I'm not through with him to which the smirking kid replies, I know you didn't and I know you're not a witch. And up to that point, the art and the vibe has been totally creepy and you're thinking it's going to be scary. But then that scene deflates everything and we get the actual tone of the book, the humor, the casual exchange. And Jacks responds with like, yeah, I didn't eat your dog. I found him on the side of the road, he was hurt, I fixed him up. And then the little girl takes her dog, leaves and a couple of scenes later, what happens? She finds an animal catastrophe. And she has like, where else are you going to go with this animal catastrophe but back to Jacks and there she goes to Jack's, brings the animals, she's back in the house and notices like bones are everywhere. And that's when in the story we find out that Jacks collects animal remains but she actually puts them back together in sculpture form, that's called articulation, and sells them on the internet and the little kid's eyes just get really big when you see how much money that this Jacks makes from doing that. And whereas most kids might be like that is the most disgusting thing I've ever seen, Snap's intrigued and at that point, she basically wants to hang out, learn from Jacks and become her apprentice. We also, in that first scene, get to see Jacks take her black coat off, they're in the house with all these animal bones. Jacks takes her black coat off, takes the hat off. And then sitting there it's like this butch old lady wearing green Crocs, Bermuda shorts, and a T shirt that says with a cat in a cowboy hat saying 'meowdy'. So yeah, that's the adorable odd couple pairing that's set up just in the first scene, and it gives you an idea of the tone and comedy throughout the entire graphic novel. The rest of the book is filled with like what would often be considered outsiders, and explores race and queerness but in an authentic and sweet way. And you get so much friendship and love and how important that is for when you are an outsider for whatever reason this story promotes in the pandemic, I just need funny, I need lighthearted, I need escape. And so this is it. And I also want to end with you can google queer middle school witch books and you will find a list from Cosmopolitan, Book Riot, whatever of middle grade appropriate and focus on queer witch characters this is one of them. This wasn't on as many lists, and I thought it was the best. So that's why I'm promoting it. If you do like it, you can find many, many more because Thank you, Sabrina. I think this is where we're at right now with graphic novels.

Charity 9:02 Wow, that sounds so fascinating. And all of those interesting details. And that first scene, just the way you described those characters, like that just makes me want to read it so much. And I'm sure there are readers out there listening who feel the same way, like I mean. And I love that juxtaposition of it starts out sounding like it's gonna be scary, and then it quickly just turns on its head and you, it just sounds really comical. That sounds like a great choice.

Jen 9:32 Yeah, and it's kind of like anything if you just make assumptions about people from like afar, and maybe the weird things they do or quote unquote weird then they may seem scary or different. But if you take the time to like get to know someone then look what you get, you get this. And actually, there might be real magic in the book. I don't want to give too much away but it is a book about a witch, so.

Charity 10:00 So, Jen, what kind of readers do you think would really enjoy this one?

Jen 10:06 I think actually just the kids that like the graphic novel format, the humor. So we're talking the Roller Girls, the All's Faire in Middle School, I Funny. That's probably, you know, the ones that want the graphic novel with a little bit of humor.

Charity 10:27 Okay. Well, that's a great recommendation. I'm so glad you brought that one. We're all adding that to our to read lists. What's the next one that you brought for us?

Jen 10:37 Well, it's a smidge more serious. It's a teen book. And it is the Fire Never Goes Out: a Memoir in Pictures by Noelle Stevenson. And it's basically her autobiography in graphic novel format. And anyone familiar with Stevenson would not be surprised that she's doing another graphic novel because she's known for Nimona, helping with the remake of the animated Series She-Ra on Netflix and she's a contributor to Lumberjanes, the graphic novel that, again, was talked about last season. The Fire Never Goes Out it does use this fire metaphor on multiple levels, to you know, kind of, she's an artist and writer. So it's used to describe her inner fire, that artistic ability, and creativity burning inside that she just can't ignore. And it's also because she was a webcomic that became really, really popular really quickly. It's how hot she was like how on fire her career became. But no matter how hot her career got her personal day to day life was just chock full of self doubt and questioning. This book tackles her struggles with religion, body image, sexuality, gender identity, and success. It's basically set up like a sketchbook diary, where we get sketch scenes and diary-like entries from each year of her life. So it starts in 2009, when she's 17. And she's at a church camp event and at a point in her life when she considers herself a straight Christian girl who wants to date a boy. And then it ends in 2019, with a very happy ending, a wedding to her marriage to another woman. That's the journey, like, from point A to point B. But we also get her, like inner struggles and mental health issues that she grapples with, and lays bare is just touching and relatable. You know, she has these scenes with her in bed, and she can't get up, she can't make herself bathe, and she just draws herself with a huge hole. And it's just like this huge gaping hole in her body that the emptiness, she just has to tackle this emptiness. Each chapter, you get to see her self discovery. And her illustrations are just sweet, intimate, and she makes reference to the music she's listening to at the time to get her through everything, and I just thought it was a really unique autobiography. And I read it in one sitting and that's pretty much how I read all of her stuff because I just love her so much.

Charity 13:23 Wow, that sounds like a really good one. It sounds like the art in that one is pretty powerful along with the story.

Jen 13:31 It is and it's definitely like if you've read Nimona or Lumberjanes and everything's so colorful and fun and adventurous. This is like you know, just a little black and white sketch. A lot of it's just like a simple black and white sketch that you would have in an artist's, you know, sketchbook.

Charity 13:48 I've read quite a few graphic novel biographies, autobiographies, and there's something about reading someone's story that they're also illustrating, that just seems so almost kind of intimate and personal, and like you're really getting to know them and experience their life in a different way. And this sounds like it's that way as well. Who would you recommend this one for?

Jen 14:12 Yeah, I would recommend this for any artist or author creative type that maybe you're experiencing a lot of doubt, a lot of imposter syndrome. And just like seeing that, that's just part of the artistic process. If I think if you didn't doubt yourself, you probably wouldn't be an artist. I mean, maybe not. I mean, I don't know. But I agree. And the thing about these graphic novel autobiographies, I have yet to read one that I'm not like bawling by the end of it, because it's just so touching. Hey, Kiddos is a great example, it won some awards last year.

Charity 14:50 I recently read Dancing at the Pity Party by Tyler, I think, Feder. Did you read that one?

Jen 14:57 I've heard great things and it's about a parent dying, correct?

Charity 15:02 It is, but she injects a lot of humor and it's just about her process of ...

Jen 15:07 Yeah.

Charity 15:08 Getting over that. But it's, that one's good because it shows that there's more than just one way to get over loss and grief and she deals with it in a lot of ways so to me, even though what happens is sad, it's not a sad book. So you might try that one when you feel ready.

Jen 15:24 Yeah, yeah, it's definitely been on my to read list, but because it you know, it seems like we turn on the news, and there's so much death and dying right now that I'm like, oh do I tackle that one, I don't know if I'm mentally prepared for that. But if it's really funny I can get through it. So I need to, I need to just...

Charity 15:41 Well put it on your list for maybe for a little down the road. We all need a good escape. Jen, you've brought some wonderful choices to share today. And I just want to thank you so much for being with me on this episode.

Jen 15:53 Thank you for having me, anytime, Charity.

Charity 15:56 Thanks for joining us for another episode of the Planet Book podcast. Check out the library's website at for these and other great recommendations. And follow us on Facebook for the latest news and events. This has been a production of the Springfield-Greene County Library District. Thanks for listening.

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