Paired graphic novels explore learning disabilities and bullying—and touch on foster care—for middle-grade and YA readers.
In the eponymous and first of these two debut graphic novels, black middle schooler Nelson has a hard time concentrating. There are just so many people to talk to. New glasses help, but he still fights to stay focused. Finally he is diagnosed with ADHD and placed in special education classes. While he detests his new label, Nelson excels and anticipates a reunion with his friends in high school. Disheartened when he is placed in special ed there, Nelson and his parents lodge a protest. He struggles in the regular classroom but manages to graduate. After a few years in community college, he transfers to a university and becomes a social worker. He is encouraged by some supportive teachers, but other instructors motivate him to prove them wrong in their negative predictions for his future. The second graphic novel, Tameka’s New Dress, focuses on Nelson’s black friend Tameka, introduced in the first work. Tameka transfers to Nelson’s school after she and her siblings are removed from their mother’s care and placed with their grandmother. Despite her friendship with Nelson and others, Tameka is the target of bullying because of her light skin. When her grandmother sews her a beautiful dress, making Tameka look like an African queen, the bullying is exacerbated. Tameka confronts the troublemakers—with kindness—and resolves the problem. Both tales are interspersed with relevant facts and quotes from celebrities—ranging from Channing Tatum to Oprah Winfrey—who have experienced the same difficulties as Nelson and Tameka, which should stir readers. Therapist, speaker, and social worker Sidney addresses racial and socio-economic issues germane to the characters’ trajectories but primarily highlights the self-reliance of the protagonists and the crucial positive influences a few caring adults can exert. The author expertly creates characters young readers should relate to and conveys his message and lessons without being heavy-handed. Van Wagoner’s (Cody and Grandpa’s Christmas Tradition, 2016, etc.) simple, colorful illustrations meld seamlessly with the text.
Engaging and inspirational tales for students coping with common problems.