Sunday, July 3, 2016

Sisters (Raina Telgemeier)


Author/Illustrator:  Raina Telgemeier

Target Ages:  8 and up

Genre:  Graphic Novel Autobiography

Awards: Eisner Award (for graphic novels)

Publisher Summary:
“Raina can't wait to be a big sister. But once Amara is born, things aren't quite how she expected them to be. Amara is cute, but she's also a cranky, grouchy baby, and mostly prefers to play by herself. Their relationship doesn't improve much over the years. But when a baby brother enters the picture, and later, when something doesn't seem right between their parents, they realize they must figure out how to get along. They are sisters, after all.”

Recently, I saw Sisters on a list of top 10 books for middle grade readers, so I put it on hold at the library. I did not realize it was a graphic novel nor do I have much experience with the genre.  After reading this book though, I am more likely to give a graphic novel a second look.

The story is genuine and realistic. The family is far from perfect. For instance, Raina and Amara have a typical sibling relationship. They irritate each other.  They torment each other.  They argue with each other.  Most importantly, they love each other despite everything—though it is often difficult to see.  Their family experiences job loss, new sibling arrivals, and separation (hinting at possible divorce). 

Characterization is multi-faceted. Raina’s hopes, fears, and insecurities are depicted, making her relatable to the target audience. She wants her own space and independence while also longing for acceptance from her peers and family. For instance, at the family reunion she tries to figure out where she belongs. The younger kids are rambunctious. The adults are all arguing.  However, her slightly older peers make her feel small and insignificant. Raina puts on make-up (which is not in her normal characterization) and tries to connect with them, but they pretty much ignore her. 

The complex plot is non-linear. The main structure revolves around a road trip to a family reunion taking place 4 states away. However, there are numerous flashbacks beginning with when Raina is in preschool longing for a baby sister.  Other flashbacks help round out her characterization and relationship with her family, particularly with Amara. 

Young readers will gain experience deciphering visual literacy clues.  While the text is significant, the pictures are vital to understanding the plot and characterization. Readers have the added practice of determining when the flashback sequences are starting and ending.  For instance, they tend to be in more muted, dream-like tones and the characters are younger (most of the time). In addition, there is always a full-page signal that the story is moving back to the present. 

Other key elements of plot are appealing. Foreshadowing piques readers’ interest. Early in the story, readers learn about an unspecified (but apparently dreadful) “incident.” The author craftily sets it up by depicting past related experiences as well as returns to it later to reveal and to wrap up that plot point. Suspense is also incorporated. When the family van breaks down in the middle of the desert, Amara and Raina are left alone for 4 hours in the vehicle while their mother and younger brother go get help. (I was pretty stressed out!  Glad it is a children’s book.)  Finally, a healthy dose of humor is sprinkled throughout.  From waking up in front of everyone at the family reunion cuddling with a teddy bear to listening to her mother sing “Kum-ba-yah” around the campfire to the “blackberry” incident, middle grade readers will laugh—though probably with a bit of embarrassment hoping no one catches them in one of those moments.

The story is autobiographical.  It includes some photos of the real Raina and Amara as children.  Currently, two additional books are in the series Smile and Drama, which I am anxiously awaiting my turn in the library queue to read.

Overall, the story is engaging, heart-warming, and funny.  It is ideal for middle grade and reluctant readers. 

For other Marvelous Middle Grade Monday recommendations, visit Shannon Messenger's weekly round up.  


  1. Sounds like a good story about sisters. I'll definitely look at this one. Thanks!
    - Vi

  2. I am not particularly a fan of graphic novels, but they serve such a purpose for reluctant readers and kids who love comic books. This does sound like a great sibling rivalry book.

  3. Although I've seen this around, I didn't know it was a graphic novel. I don't read many graphic novels, but this one sounds really good. I like the sister aspect, especially since I have one.


The Wave (by Tyler Charlton)

Title :  The Wave Author :  Tyler Charlton Illustrator :  Tyler Charlton Target Ages : 5 and up Genre : Fiction Picture Book Summary :  A yo...