By Ronell Whitaker
Written & Art by Raina Telgemeier
Appropriate for grades: 2nd grade and up
When I first read Raina Telgemeier’s 2010 graphic novel Smile, I had trouble relating. As a high school teacher, I couldn’t shake the fact that I was not the intended audience. “This is kids’ stuff,” I remember thinking to myself. And even though I read and liked the book, I still couldn’t shake the fact that maybe Telgemeier’s books just weren’t for me.
Until, that is, she wrote Sisters.
The second of Telgemeier’s graphic novel memoirs, Sisters – a New York Times bestseller and Eisner Award Winner – is a poignant and expertly told story about Telgemeier’s wish to be, and eventual regret at becoming, a big sister. Set during a weeklong drive from San Francisco to a family reunion Colorado Springs, Sisters invites readers into the humorous and often cringe-worthy intricacies of her family life and the bonds that form, break and then reform between them as a result.
As we travel with Telgemeier’s family, what really makes the book sing are the little familial moments to which any reader can relate: the annoyance of road tripping with a sibling; that one cool older family member you look up to; arguing over what fast food restaurant to eat at; even worrying about your parents’ marriage.
But perhaps what most helps this book go above and beyond the typical graphic memoir tropes is how fun, honest and full of heart it is. The writing is both accessible and engaging, which is important given the target demographic for this book of elementary and early middle schoolers.
In addition, Telgemeier’s art is clean and completely in service to the story. Think of it as a director who really wants the viewer to experience the story more than relying on visual flash to carry the film; that’s what she’s doing with this book. Both of these combined allow the reader to join this family on a journey that is simultaneously touching and hilarious.
Clearly, Sisters is a great comic for kids who don’t think they like comics, or don’t think comics are for them. Yet, what Sisters does well is tell a relatable story, and gives first time comics readers an easy entrance into the comics world.
In the Classroom
Creative Writing: Sisters would fit well with a memoir unit or as a mentor text for teaching students how to write their own memoirs. Using Telgemeier’s text as a guideline, students could tell their own stories about their family or experiences they’ve had on family trips.
Literary Analysis: There are also opportunities to discuss literary devices like flashback, foreshadowing, and the frame story. Students could analyze how the creator uses these devices to tell her story, and what effect it has on the narrative.
Thematic Connections: Although this is a book for younger kids, this might be a great place to start if you want to teach older students concepts like theme. Telgemeier’s books wear their themes on their sleeves, and this leads to a quick and easy way for kids to identify and analyze those themes in what they might consider a lower stakes text.
Never has the term “all ages” been more appropriate than with Sisters. Despite my early apprehension, the book is positively brimming with genuine laughs along with a good dose serious, poignant moments. My advice: Give this book a chance, you won’t regret it.
Still not sure? You can read the first seven pages of Sisters here and see for yourself!