Yesterday, I finally got around to covering and processing the two copies of Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson that I purchased for my library this summer, and I put them out on the New Books shelf. I was very excited to share this great new book with my students, and I was sure that I would be having some good conversations with boys and girls about the merits of reading a roller derby book. I thought that I would actually have to talk up this book, and I was prepared to get all interested on board with reading this book about a girl going to roller derby camp. Silly me! I don't think that it was on the shelf for more than five minutes! And I already have kids putting it on hold.
What is the magical equation for this book to fly off the shelf? I imagine it has to do with the graphic novel format - we all know how popular these are right now - but what else? I put out Little Robot by Ben Hatke at the same time, and I had to convince someone to check it out. I loved both books for different reasons. They are graphic novels with engaging stories about friendship, but with different levels of comprehension.
I think that the key is that kids in fourth and fifth grade are just dying for more books in graphic novel format with deeper meaning and comprehension level, but they don't all want to read about superheroes and robots in the future. Books like Sisters, El Deafo, and now Roller Girl have the universal appeal of the Wimpy Kid Series with the awesome artwork of some truly gifted individuals. Some recent realistic graphic novels have been well-received, like This One Summer, but are not really appropriate for middle grades. As hard as it is to convince teachers that these books are "real" books, with "real" stories (whatever "real" means), I will continue to promote the good ones to my students and teachers.
With that said, I suppose with Roller Girl, Victoria Jamieson and her publisher figured out the solution to the problem of curb appeal, and with a story about what kids really like, dislike, feel and see, I think that I won't even have to do a book talk for this one - the students will do it for me.
Some other great graphic novels: