One Writer’s Journey

November 16, 2018

Graphic Novels: Why Schools Like Them and Using Theme to Make a Retread Newly Relevant

Working my way through the LibraryCon Live! sessions, I’ve been finding out about a variety of new-to-me graphic novels. (You can register and log in to view sessions  here.)

Victor LaValle’s Destroyer is a Frankenstein’s monster story.  Some of the themes are true to the original (evil’s of science and environmental themes) while others are much more contemporary.  In LaValle’s version, police shootings of young African American’s also come into play.

Olivia Twist by Darin Strauss and Adam Dalva is, as you may have guessed, an Oliver Twist retelling.  It takes place in a dark future London complete with internment camps.

Various authors and editors that I’ve heard speak have discussed theme.  One of the reasons that theme is so important especially in these retellings is that it makes them relevent today.  Trying to interest a publisher in a Frankenstein retelling is probably going to earn you a yawn.  “Oh, another one.”  The trick is to bring in a theme that makes it current.

The beauty is that is not only current, it makes graphic novels useful for classroom discussion.  Where a discussion on police shootings may quickly get emotional when discussing it as a current event, discussing it as literature gives young readers a bit of distance. It is less personal. They are discussing a book vs discussing what is going on in their own neighborhoods and country.

This was an “aha moment” for me but it shouldn’t have been. When I was a newish writer, I remember hearing people talk about why so many picture books features animal characters.  We’re talking fiction stories where the animal characters stand-in for real children.  What we were told, and it still makes sense, is that by making the characters talking bears or whatever, you give young readers just a bit of distance.  A story that might be too scary becomes much less so when the characters are a bit less realistic.

Now I find myself thinking about classic stories.  How could you reboot Dorian Gray or the Hunchback?  What themes would help make these stories current and relatable for today’s young readers?

–SueBE

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