Now, some of you might have begun to take heed of your students’ growing interest in graphic novels. I wrote a piece on August 3rd, 2016, here, detailing why graphic novels should be used in classroom teaching.
Today, I would like to talk about one of my favourite graphic novels for your junior grades: Sunny Side Up by Jennifer L. Holm & Matthew Holm. This very well-done novel tells the heartfelt tale of 10-year old Sunny Lewin, who goes to spend some of the summer of 1976 with her grandfather in Florida. Young Sunny has been sent away by her parents not as punishment, but as protection and distraction. Sunny’s grandpa lives in a retirement community and his idea of fun is not quite the same as young Sunny’s. Still, Sunny shows great maturity in doing her best to make the most of it. This graphic novel is told with great sensitivity from a child’s perspective. A child who is dealing with a lot in her life. With flashbacks to earlier points in time, little by little the readers become aware that Sunny has been sent to live with her grandfather while her parents help her older brother deal with his substance abuse. With thoughtfully constructed artwork, the Holm brother-and-sister duo showcase the sibling bond shared between Sunny and her older brother and how his substance abuse affects her life. Teachers, this is a great way to get your students talking about an issue that they might either have no awareness of, or be dealing with on a daily basis. Sunny’s resilience throughout the book is a poignant point that deserves discussion. How does a 10-year old learn to navigate these dark corners of life, and often by herself? The story builds on Sunny’s relationship with her grandfather, someone whom she loves very much, and her role at 10-years old as his keeper. Sunny tries to keep her grandfather in check about his smoking problem, and she plays along while he lies to her, until at one dramatic moment in the book, she loses her nerve. Here we see how this young child, with all of her 10 years, has roughed out life to arrive at a juncture where she will no longer tolerate being treated like a child, because as she proves, she has grown up enough to understand how reality works.
Teachers, your students can do various things with this graphic novel because it is so very versatile. You can dip quite easily into the arts and explore language through that lens, while at the same time fulfilling grade-specific expectations across different curriculum.
With a setting ground in the 1970s, your students can chart important moments in history from the 1970s and work their way forward, they can talk about ways in which the artist uses frames and panels and gutters and speech bubbles, and other graphic novel techniques to convey meaning, you can delve into psychology and the background of substance abuse and how it affects the person who is dealing with it, and his/her family. This book is teeming with things to teach your students, and the best part is, it comes in a form that doesn’t pose a hard sell! Your students will be so excited to jump right into the pages, you will only have to say when!
Teachers, if you are looking for resources to start a unit on this book, please visit my Teachers Pay Teachers account: Cross-Curricular Ideas when teaching Sunny Side Up
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