GUEST WRITER LAURA NOBLE RECOMMENDS ALMOST AMERICAN GIRL BY ROBIN HA
When we use graphic novels to teach and connect with our students, we’re using several art forms – colour choice and representation, the written word, drawing, symbolism, and collaboration. Graphic novels facilitate conversations about character growth and development that some students may not understand through just the written word. Here, we can interact with our characters and literally see them transform on the page itself. Almost American Girl is the perfect graphic novel to show how all of these elements can be beautifully stitched together to show a story about immigration, love, and growing up.
Almost American Girl is Robin Ha’s illustrated memoir that depicts her immigration story from Korea to Alabama as a teenager in the 90’s. Robin is taken away from everything that was important to her – the culture, the food, her friends, and her comic books. With a headstrong mother who is doing what she believes is best for her daughter, we watch Robin struggle with learning English, making friends, and growing up.
Ha’s illustrations and use of language is creative, sentimental, and heartbreaking. We watch her character unfold as she gains English skills and new friends. We see how immigrating to a new country and not knowing the language can cause harm and how a school experience can be ruined by an undertow of racist comments and belittling classmates.
Ha finds ways to connect with others in her community, but soon after she is told that her new stepfather is mistreating her mother, so they move yet again. Part of the appeal of Almost American Girl is the relationship of Ha and her mother. Their relationship is strained like many parents and teens, so while this graphic novel may be a mirror for immigrant students, it may also touch a soft spot with students who are finding that their relationship with their parents can often be rocky.
This book would serve so many young audiences, but I recommend it to every teacher who has/will teach a student that has moved to their school from a different country. Learning about the experience of immigrants is an important aspect of learning about language and culture, and this book does this beautifully. You will root for the characters and wish them well, feeling like Robin Ha is your best friend by the end of the book.
Laura Noble teaches English and Writing at Leo Hayes High School in Fredericton. She is an avid reader of true crime, realistic fiction, and feminist literature.