Saturday, August 15, 2020

Cartoon Saturday- Becoming Brianna

Libenson, Terri. Becoming Brianna
Expected publication: May 5th 2020 by Balzer + Bray
ARC provided by Young Adult Books Central

Like this author's Invisible Emmie, Positively Izzie, and Just Jaime, this newest highly illustrated notebook novel about Brianna's experiences with an upcoming Bat Mitzvah can be read alone, but is set at the same school and includes characters from previous books. Brianna, who is already dealing with the fact that her parents have divorced, has given in to her mother's desire for her to have a significant bat mitzvah celebration. The family is not terribly religious (Brianna's father is not Jewish), but Brianna understands that this is somehow very important to her mother and acquiesces even though she has a lot of anxiety about public performance. Not only that, but she is struggling to learn Hebrew, and is not confident about the speech that she has to write, especially since she leaves it to the last minute. She is also at odds with her best friend, Emmie, who is not only tired of hearing about the bat mitzvah, but also doubts that popular girl Zoe is really Brianna's friend. Zoe texts Brianna frequently, and makes an effort to talk to her and hang out, but the two don't really click, and Emmie feels that Zoe has heard rumors about the bat mitzvah party and just wants to be invited. Going back and forth in time from Brianna's preparations t Io the present day, we see a panoply of anxiety producing events through which Brianna must travel to prepare for her coming of age ceremony, and witness how she and the people who support her deal with them.

Graphic and notebook novels are hugely popular among middle school readers, especially ones who find the text-to-illustration ratio comforting. These books do have some sections with narrative text, but have far more pictures than the average notebook novel (like Kinney's Wimpy Kid or Peirce's Big Nate). Libenson's comical illustrations and hand lettered text are a huge draw.

We have seen Brianna before; her mother does drama camps and encourages her daughter to be more forthcoming. We do learn some interesting information about the mother's own performance at her bat mitzvah, which sheds a lot of light on her motivations for encouraging Brianna.

Friend drama is a constant in middle school relationships, and the desire to make new friends, especially ones seen as more popular, is a source of difficulties. Emmie is more realistic about Zoe's motivations, and has a lot of cogent observations about how real friends interact. Of course, Brianna dismisses them. It is good to see that Brianna eventually understands Zoe's motivations, and has managed to make some new friends in the meantime. When she invites these  new friends to her party, I thought it was very interesting how she negotiated with her mother how she would pay for their meals.

Freedman's My Basmati Bat Mitzvah, Weissman's A Length of String, and Rosenberg and Shang's This is Just a Test all cover Jewish culture and coming of age ceremonies, but since this is a key component to the middle school experience for many young readers, we can use many more books on the topic. Brianna does talk about some issues of faith, which is a bit unusual and very welcome. My own experience of confirmation class in seventh grade was very pivotal in my religious beliefs.

Readers who enjoyed Telgemeier's coverage of anxiety in Guts, Jamieson's trouble with fitting in in All's Faire in Middle School and Scrivan's Nat Enough will be eagerly awaiting this new installment of Libenson's work.

 This is very one trend with the depiction of anxiety and mental illness in middle grade literature.

These are just not my personal favorites, although my students love them. I also didn't care for the book below.

Ellis, Grace and Williams, Brittney L. Lois Lane and the Friendship Challenge 
August 11th 2020 by DC Comics
E ARC provided by Netgalley

Lois was one of the most self-centered, thoughtless characters I have see portrayed lately. For instance, she hides in the bushes with an air horn and blows it at someone passing on a bike, knocking her off! So she can video tape it. NOT okay. She is also very mean to her best friend. Even her facial expressions are rather evil. Since comic book characters aren't terribly popular with my students, I will pass on purchasing this. If the characters are popular, read this first to determine if your idea of Lois Lane's personality matches this one.

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