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The Eric Carle Museum
of Picture Book Art
  • 125 West Bay Road
  • Amherst, MA 01002

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Picture Books We Love

Shop Talks: Snapdragon - A Story We Need Right Now

 

This week on the Books We Love blog, Carle Bookshop team members Hannah and Allie discuss Snapdragon (First Second, 2020), a new graphic novel from Lumberjanes contributor, Kat Leyh (@embroideredbone). Hannah says Snapdragon is an important title to add to your collection because it’s just the kind of story we all need right now. 
 

As we near the end of Pride Month, and the nation continues to protest and reel from massive pain and conflict, we as readers can dismantle and unlearn harmful narratives within ourselves by sharing stories that explore different lives and identities- and, have accurate representation of those identities to help us unlearn and relearn history and praxis. Let’s work together to share stories by queer creators and characters! Learn about the realities, the histories, and leave space for some joy, some magic. 
 

The story in Snapdragon is familiar, thrilling, heartwarming, and goes beyond everything you expect from a middle grade graphic novel. The pages introduce marvelously intricate and underrepresented characters whose stories and lives exist in the plot for much more than the protagonist's development. Snapdragon challenges the notion that books for young readers should be structurally simple - Leyh leaves just the right amount of questions un-answered, and the plot twists could surprise even M. Night Shyamalan! 
 

We both loved this book so much, a simple review wouldn’t do it justice. Scroll down to read a transcript of our Snapdragon Shop Talk. 

 

Bookshop team memebers Hannah and Allie got on a video call to read and discuss (or just geek out over) their favorite bits and themes from Snapdragon, a new graphic novel from Kat Leyh, a renowned comic book artist, writer, and Lumberjanes cowriter and cover artist since 2015.

 

Two selfies by Bookshop team members Allie and Hannah, each smiling and holding copies of Snapdragon.

 

 H: Oh Snapdragon, where to begin! First things first – this book was so queer and so well-done! I appreciated that there were different representations of LGBTQ+ folks, as opposed to the standard of the single queer character as the social outsider. In this story however, the fact that characters are gay or questioning their gender doesn't serve as the sole element of their persona, or of the plot!

A: I know! And there was no gay tragedy either. It seems like a small or basic thing to be excited about, but it was a relief as a queer reader to be given a story that wasn’t just about one character working their butt off to prove something to other people. And having to wait till the end to see if they succeed or if they lose everything.

H: And the narrative doesn't center around the queerness, instead it adds layers to the truly beloved characters, and readers come away recognizing the true humanity of these people. And the characters are so smart and funny.

A: I totally agree! Reading this felt a lot for me like the first time reading Tillie Walden's work, particularly On A Sunbeam, or Mariko Tamaki’s Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me where you realize- wow, almost every person in this story is canonically queer! And I feel my shoulders relax, because they’re just like me and my friends, and I know I can trust them.

 

The graphic novel Snapdragon posed in the woods with two bleached animal skulls and a mossy log beyond it.

A: Also, I’m so glad we’re jumping right into tropes because you and I have talked a lot about our favorite LGBTQIA+ titles, and in contrast to other queer stories we've read that rely on very flat tropes of the LGBTQIA+ community, or leave us with more questions than answers about characters’ gender identity or sexuality, this book is comfortable and conscious of the ambiguity surrounding sexuality and gender. While the characters themselves identify across the spectrum of gender identity, or may be questioning their identity, at no point is the narrative confusing or vague about it.

H: The representation of that spectrum is something I noticed as well, and gets me thinking about intersectionality – so many identities are represented in this story, and I'm still so delighted that the story isn't about those identities. It feels honest – like, queer people and Black children go on random adventures too, curious children will be curious, an identity struggle isn't someone's entire life.

A: There are so many intersections of identity—misogyny, gender norms, heteronormativity, and their effects on race, sexuality, age difference,class difference—the list goes on.

H: And I’ll add their effects on relationships and who has the right to get married as well.We want to note that almost all of the main characters in the story are coded as Black, they all have different skin tones and hair styles and textures, and Jacks is white with white hair.And the story makes it clear that these differences and the identities we just mentioned are important to acknowledge, and they connect people to each other – for example Snapdragon definitely recognizes some of herself, or what she hopes to become, in Jacks – and vise-versa.

A: Snap goes out of her way to seek out a queer mentor! Whether her mentor likes it or not.

H: It's perfect! Not only does she have a supportive mentor, but an extremely cool mom, kind and creative friends whose own families are supportive, and of course queer biker witches.

Speaking of witches, I'm noticing a lot of parallels between societal ostracization of queer women and witches. What do you feel is the role of magic in the story?

Snapdragon, graphic novel internal page #1, ?our town has a witch?

A: Oh yes. I feel like it stems from a strong relationship with nature, and I hope someone in the future writes about the themes of women and femmes returning to nature in this book. You and I both know women and femmes who identify with the label of “witch” or practice the craft, and I know I was in the woods at Snap’s age trying to cast spells and make wands out of sticks too. And Snap does find magic in the woods. She’s so lucky…

…Anyway, Not to give too much away, but one reason why Jacks lives in nature as she does is because of how heteronormativity dictated her life choices. Jacks chooses to leave that pain behind and return to nature, and she finds ways to change the world for the better in the freedom nature provides, away from what bell hooks calls the White Supremacist Capitalist Patriarchy.

H: And they find magic in the woods, and that magic is open to those who have the patience and respect to wield it, not just, like in Harry Potter, where only those who are born with magical abilities can access the magical world. If you have the will, you have a way.

A: True, magic is very solid in Leyh’s world, one simply has to reach out and grab it. Which is exactly how it worked in my imagination as a kid when I was trampling through the woods. 

H: Speaking of nature—something that stayed with me after reading Snapdragon months ago and reading it again now, is the role that bones play in the story. Snap gets really into the skeletal systems of animals, and starts taking out biology books from the library to learn as much as she can.

Snapdragon, graphic novel interior spread, page #8-#9

A: In our future book display idea file, let’s put Snapdragon down with books for children and young readers where the authors really focus on scientifically accurate flora and fauna. I was reminded of Beatrix Potter using her passion for biology and skill as a painter to use only real plants in her stories, to promote conservationism in the next generation.

H: Yes! And conservation is so important to the character Jacks and their work in nature.

A: Could the bones that Jacks works with be a metaphor for the skeletons in her closet? Or am I overthinking it?

H: Absolutely not overthinking, I love that. It goes back to women and femmes using nature to escape society and heal themselves.

A: I really like what you said earlier about access to magic, and think that applies also to our touching on intersectionality in the story. Access and each character’s personal emotional journey. Who has access to a fulfilling life?

H: Mm yes, who has access to money, access to love and support, or access to what they need to express their gender identity And the reader is learning about these intersections through Snap’s eyes as she’s maturing and bringing more people into her life, and asking herself who she wants to be.

Allie: And that’s the heart of it—the bones of it.

Hannah: Ha!

 

 

And that's it for now! We can’t say anymore since we don’t want to spoil it for you! Trust us when we say, you will enjoy every panel of this fantastic graphic novel!

 

by Sara Luttrell

This entry was posted on Wednesday, June 24th, 2020 at 8:00 am and is filed under Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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