Review of “Real Friends,” by Shannon Hale and LeUyen Pham

“Real Friends,” by Shannon Hale (Author) and LeUyen Pham (Illustrator). 224 Pages, First Second, May 2017. Paperback, $12.99. Ages 8-12.

Thanks to Better World Books, 215 S. Main St. in Goshen, for providing me with books to review. You can find or order all of the books I review at the store.


Anti-bullying campaigns are so prevalent these days that, if you don’t have school-age kids yourself, you might think bullying in schools must have been successfully overcome. But we’re human animals after all, and as evidenced by some of our current political figures, there are some really mean people in the world. Thank goodness for books like “Real Friends,” which don’t shy away from the realities of mean people, but help young readers—not to mention adults—put them into perspective.

Shannon Hale has written and co-written more than twenty books and graphic novels—mostly for kids, although the adult series “Austenland” has been successful as well. “Real Friends” is Hale’s first graphic memoir, as having a protagonist named Shannon might suggest. “I changed all the names except my own, Hale told Entertainment Weekly, “because 30-year-old memories and my own flawed perception of events could never do justice to anybody else’s reality.”

We first meet this younger version of Shannon in the late 1970s, when she is on the verge of starting kindergarten, and terrified that she won’t make any friends. That first day of school turns out much better than expected: she almost instantly finds Adrienne, her new best friend. When Adrienne abruptly leaves town, however, Shannon begins her very bumpy road to finding and keeping the “one good friend” that she overhears her mother saying she needs.

Most reviews of this book gush about the way it unflinchingly represents the trials of elementary school’s unique version of mean. To the book’s credit, the character Shannon is shown committing her own fair share of mistakes and small meannesses, too. For the most part, however, we see Shannon suffering the all-too-relatable (for most of us) likes of this,

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“The Glorkian Warrior Eats Adventure Pie,” by James Kochalka, Master of Silly

Here’s another review from the archives, for those who might need a laugh amidst all this snow and ice. This review was originally published in the “Elkhart Truth” in the summer of 2015, and the final installment, “Glorkian Warrior and the Mustache of Destiny,” was released in 2016. If you and your kids—or just you—like this book, check out some of Kochalka’s Johnny Boo series, too, with “Johnny Boo and the Ice Cream Computer” coming out this summer, and “Johnny Boo Is King” next year, both on Top Shelf Books. His new series “Mechaboys” is coming out this summer as well, so let me know how that is if you get to it before my boys and I do.

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“Kid Code” and “Malice in Ovenland”: Rosarium Publishing Mixes and Remixes It Up

Here’s another post from the “Elkhart Truth” archives, originally published February 2015. The fourth and concluding issue of “Malice in Ovenland” has since been released, in August 2016. “Kid Code” is still on issue one, but Damian Duffy and John Jennings have been busy with other projects, most notably a graphic novel version of Octavia Butler’s classic science-fiction novel “Kindred.”

Even more exciting, especially for my Goshen readers, keep an eye out for a visit from Rosarium Comics’s Bill Campbell on March 13, 2018. Campbell will be visiting Goshen College as part of the English Department’s S.A. Yoder lecture series.

Disclosure statement: Rosarium provided me with free access to their comics titles.

“Being raised in an all-white community in the United States during the 1970s and ‘80s, I often felt like I was imprisoned in the “Land of Can’t,” says Bill Campbell, founder of Rosarium Publishing, in his testimonial for the Comics Empower Project. He cites his mother as one influence who helped him dismiss negative messages about being black. The other was comic books, which gave him “the chance to explore a world, ever so briefly, where fantastical things such as flying were possible, a world where the Land of Can’t could never be found on the map.” Continue reading ““Kid Code” and “Malice in Ovenland”: Rosarium Publishing Mixes and Remixes It Up”