Saturday, May 06, 2023

Cartoon Saturday- A Work in Progress

Lerner, Jarrett. A Work in Progress
May 2, 2023 by Aladdin
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Will is a happy kid with a strong friend group until one day in fourth grade when an unpleasant classmate calls him "fat". He starts to wear baggy clothes, to not go to the cafeteria during lunch, and slowly grows away from his friends because he is so entrenched in thinking that he is fat that he imagines they won't want anything to do with him. Not wanting to talk to others isolates him, and sends him further into a spiral where he is obsessed with his weight. He thinks about dieting, but doesn't have good information, and alternately denies himself things like pizza that his mother brings home as a treat, but then binges and feels bad about himself. He likes a girl in his class, Jules, who loves to draw as much as he does, but after overhearing her friends say unkind things about him, is very reluctant to ever try to talk to her. When he is hanging out behind the school during lunch, he meets Markus, who skateboards. He doesn't want to talk to Markus even after the other boy spills all of his problems about trying to fit in as he moves from school to school, although Will appreciates that markus talks to him and doesn't seem to be repulsed by his weight. After Will restricts his food intake so much that he passes out at school, his parents finally realize that he has some problems that he needs to work through, and send him to a therapist. Markus teaches Will to skateboard in exchange for Will teaching him how to draw. Even though skateboarding is hard, Will starts to realize that many things are a struggle at first, and take practice. He finally gets up the nerve to talk to Jules, and his therapist helps him feel better about himself and his weight. 
Strengths: There are books about weight issues and disordered eating going back to Levenkron's 1978 The Best Little Girl in the World. Since scientific treatment of this sort of condition changes all the time, I should probably go back and take a look at everything from Anderson's 2009 Wintergirls to Pollen's 2019 The Year I Didn't Eat and reassess their relevance. This illustrated novel in verse captures the feel of 2023, and Will's anxiety, centered around his body image, seems similar to Gerber's 2021 Taking Up Space. Will spends a lot of time in his own head, and can't manage to get out, even with Markus' help. The novel in verse format, with its short lines, helps give a good feeling of panic, and I do want to take a look at a finished copy, because the E ARC illustrations don't seem quite finished, and Lerner's art work is always well done. Markus is an intriguing character, and Jules is not mean to Will in the little we see of their interactions. The parents do eventually step in and get Will help. This is the most evocative book about a mental state I've seen since Klass' You Don't Know Me or Going's St. Iggy.  
Weaknesses: Considering that almost a quarter of middle school students are obese, the social implications of being overweight in middle school might be somewhat different than they were when Lerner was young. Of course, many more students are anxious, so Will's reaction to his perception of how people see him will resonate with some readers. My students have indicated that people are not really made fun of for things like braces, glasses, and being overweight as much as they seem to have been in the past, although, again, it's hard to tell what children might internalize. 
What I really think: This is a good choice for readers who want to read about mental health challenges with weight related components, like Fipps' Starfish or Baron's All of Me
Tarshis, Lauren, Ball, Georgia, and Mitchell, Cassie (illus.)
I Survived the Great Chicago Fire (Graphic Novel)
May 2, 2023 by Graphix
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Oscar's father was a law enforcement officer in the country, but moved to a farm when Oscar was young. He was killed in a storm, and Oscar and his mother tried to make a go of it on their own. When Mr. Meadows, a painter, spends time capturing their farm on canvas, he strikes up a friendship with the mother. The two write letters, and soon the mother has agreed to marry the artist and move to Chicago. Oscar isn't pleased. The trip is long, and when the new family arrives in the city, their luggage is stolen under Oscar's watch by a group of street thieves who use a young girl to distract him. Seeing the girl later, Oscar follows her, but she goes home to an abandoned house to take care of a young brother, so he doesn't confront her. When a fire starts to rage through the town, Oscar helps Jennie and Bruno, but is soon separated from them. Amazingly, Mr. Meadows finds him, and the two manage to get across the river to Meadows' house and be reunited with Oscar's mother. Also amazingly, they later find Jennie and Bruno, who come to live with them. Notes on the fire are at the end. 
Strengths: All of Tarshis' I Survived novels are very popular, and I love that they give students a brief glimpse of history. The pictures in the graphic novels provide an even better look at some aspects of life, like the clothing and buildings. This had an interesting look at the criminal underbelly of Chicago, and didn't shy away from the horrible aspects of the city, such as the stock yard smell and general filth. The pictures of the fire were somehow mesmerizing to look at; they made the event seem even more terrifying. 
Weaknesses: There are a lot of coincidences that seem unlikely, but it makes for a good story. 
What I really think: I may not purchase, since I already own the text version, which is very similar, and the graphic novels are expensive.

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