Happy Holidays!

This is such a wonderful time of year with so many wonderful books to share. In this newsletter, we'd like to share a few graphic novels we've read this year—as well as some wise words on the importance of diversity in illustration from guest author Saadia Faruqi, author of the acclaimed Meet Yasmin series and forthcoming A Place At The Table (with Laura Shovan).

Diverse books are a reality, but many are still unsure of its boundaries. Is it enough to read about marginalized children in MG and YA? Aren’t all younger children colorblind? I’m here to remind readers, educators or not, that diversity is not just a buzzword, and the #diversebooks movement doesn’t apply only to older children’s books, when they’ve had a chance to meet peers from other groups and unfortunately in some cases learn bigotry from the adults in their lives.
Diversity is equally important in picture books and early readers. In fact, I’d argue that it is far more important, because images are so much more impactful than words alone. After all, I created my beloved main character Yasmin simply because my daughter, then in Kindergarten, couldn’t find any girls in her books that looked like her. Someone she could identify with. So when I began writing the Yasmin series, I was cognizant of this reality from two very different perspectives. One, that my illustrator should also be #ownvoices and two, that the illustrations should be as representative of my religion and culture as the stories and words themselves. Could I do one without the other? Maybe, but the result wouldn’t have been the same.
In Hatem Aly I’ve found someone who understands the cultural and religious implications of my words. Here’s ( a conversation we had recently about these very topics. I don’t want to think how much harder the creative process would have been if my illustrator had been someone else, from a different racial/ethnic/religious group. Of course we’d have made it work, just as countless other authors and illustrators do, but I believe strongly that diversity cannot be a half-hearted thing that only shines the spotlight on the writer. Every aspect of the publishing world, from literary agents and editors, to authors and illustrators, must walk the walk. Otherwise our children suffer.
I’ve spoken to hundreds of school children in the few months since Yasmin was first released. The consensus is that Yasmin’s illustrations are not only eye-catching and attractive, but also on-point. Whether it’s Mama putting on her hijab, or Nani in her shalwar kameez, the art helps a reader relate to the content in a hundred different ways that words alone can’t bring about. For children outside the South Asian/Muslim group, those pictures are equally powerful. Here’s a mama who wears different clothes, but from the story I can tell she’s just like my mom. Here’s a Nana who may be on a wheelchair, but he’s every bit as fun as my grandpa. Here is a picture of Malala hanging in Yasmin’s bedroom. And of course, the most important art impact: Yasmin may be brown-skinned, or she may eat naan, but she’s just like me.
Hatem’s art together with my words send a subtle message that is only possible in that combination. Hopefully, Yasmin can bring us all together under the umbrella of true and unpretentious diversity.

Saadia Faruqi is a Pakistani American author, essayist and interfaith activist. She writes the children’s early reader series “Yasmin” published by Capstone and other books for children. She has also written “Brick Walls: Tales of Hope & Courage from Pakistan” a short story collection for adults and teens. As part of her activism, Saadia trains various audiences including faith groups and law enforcement on topics pertaining to Islam. She has been featured in Oprah Magazine in 2017 as a woman making a difference in her community. She is editor-in-chief of Blue Minaret, a magazine for Muslim art, poetry and prose. She resides in Houston, TX with her husband and children. 
Middle Grade @ Heart contributor Remy Lai, author-illustrator of the (absolutely AMAZING) upcoming graphic novel Pie in the Sky, wrote a guest post at Kidliterati recently on the same topic! Be sure to check it out here. Remy also lists some fantastic recommendations of graphic novels by authors of color!

And if you like graphic novels (or cake, funny sibling relationships, or the kinds of books that make your heart grow three sizes), be sure to keep an eye out for Pie in the Sky, coming from Henry Holt in May 2019!
Middle Grade @ Heart Recommends: Graphic Novels!

We've asked our contributors to share some of their favorite graphic novel reads from 2018. We'd love to hear about your favorites, too—tag us on Twitter and Instagram @mgatheart!

Cindy and Karen both recommend Ben Clanton's wonderful Narwhal and Jelly series (starting with Narwhal, Unicorn of the Sea), which is perfect for readers on the younger end of the middle grade spectrum. Zany, cute, and packed with science facts (did you know that the proper collective noun for a group of jellyfish is a "smack"?), it's currently Cindy's daughter's #1 favorite series of all time.

Cindy also recommends a few other graphic novels she read in 2018:

The Cardboard Kingdom by Chad Sell is a unique collaborative project by a diverse group of storytellers and illustrators, which results in a visually fascinating book with a blend of different illustration styles and themes. The story of a neighborhood full of children who spend the summer building an imaginary kingdom that lets them tackle their own real-life problems, there's definitely a reason this book has gotten so much press this year! (One illustration even made me cry.)

Be Prepared by Vera Brosgol is a hilarious graphic memoir about Brosgol's childhood experiences at Russian scouting summer camp—totally relatable for any kid (or adult) who has ever had a difficult experience with the great outdoors.

The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang is a sweet MG/YA crossover about a prince with a secret identity and the dressmaker who helps him create the gorgeous gowns he envisions, perfect for a kid who needs the reminder that who they are is wonderful, regardless of whether they conform with the expectations of people around them.

Julie recommends:

Lumberjanes by Noelle Stevenson—Five friends head off to summer camp, not realizing that instead of the usual camp fare, they'll be battling monsters with only the strength of their wits and their friendship. My daughter and I both loved the fast-aced and quirky adventures of an ensemble cast that's a bit reminiscent of Scooby Do, but with a big dose of Girl Power! Ages 10+

Fake Blood by Whitney Gardner—Sixth grade AJ falls hard for his vampire-loving crush in Fake Blood. To try to win her heart, he give himself a vampire makeover and of course, hilarity ensures in this fun coming of age story for ages 10+. 

Amanda recommends:

The Babysitter's Club graphic novels. My daughter Jane read the first 4 in two days! Everything you love about the originals, but updated and awesome, with fun pictures.
Copyright © 2018 Amanda Rawson Hill, All rights reserved.

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