Saturday, October 8, I’ll be among the talented author lineup at the Tweens Read Book Festival in Houston, Texas! I’ll be on multiple panels and will do an afternoon signing. I hope you can make it! For registration and details, click here.

by Terri Libenson

Growing up, the “graphic novels” I read were comic strip anthologies – collections of Peanuts and B.C. cartoons, as well as one well-loved, worn-out copy of Momma by Mell Lazarus. My “graphic novels” were the newspaper funny pages, which I devoured every Sunday morning (full color, woo!) over breakfast.  My “graphic novels” were the MAD magazines and Archie comic books I snuck from my older brother’s room and always forgot to return.

To sum up, my graphic novels weren’t technically graphic novels. They were old school comics and they were the only things I loved reading at the time. (Had I today’s wide selection of kids’ graphic novels, I would’ve never left my room!)

Without those comics, I may never have become a newspaper cartoonist myself, or have gone on to pen my own graphic novels (okay, technically, hybrids). Comics of any sort can be so important to non-traditional readers. They can inspire, teach, and show that there is more than one way to tell a story. In fact, I was a huge storyteller as a kid, and all my made-up adventures were told through comics.  When I married writing and drawing, I was in my element.

When “adult” graphic novels began to emerge, I got hooked. Most importantly, they became my gateway into books of all kinds. As a kid, I hated history. But reading Maus sparked a curiosity of the past and a visceral connection to the material. Now I can’t get enough of historical books of any sort.  

I never really thought of the importance of comics, though, until college, when I discovered underground cartoonists like Lynda Barry. She inspired me to experiment with narrative-style cartoons. Eventually when I got syndicated, and then later when I tried my hand at writing books, her work resurfaced in my mind. I approached my writing similarly — from an authentic, autobiographical place.

Many people think that graphic novels are inferior to prose books. I disagree wholeheartedly. As someone who writes both prose and GN stories, I would argue that graphic novels aren’t inferior, they are just different.

They are uniquely nuanced. The author must often condense the story, whittling it down to its most important elements; meanwhile, the artist (either the same person or someone else) must convey emotions and actions accurately. All this takes serious skill. Plus, many graphic novel illustrations are stunning works of art that you can spend hours dissecting. The plots and character development can be creative and complex, and through visual means, have the ability to break the confines of traditional prose. Funny enough, stories in boxes can truly be “out of the box.”

For the reluctant reader, the play between images and writing is a serious break for the eyes, especially if it’s hard to focus on text alone. Or if a reader is just more visually inclined (someone who likes comics, animation, etc.), these stories are truly engaging. And there are so many choices in genres now, from historical fiction, to biographies, to fantasy, to re-told classics, to reality-based novels. Moreover, it’s wonderful to see (literally) the range of diverse characters.

Whether graphic novels are all a child reads or just part of their reading stockpile, a parent needn’t worry. As screenwriter and novelist John Ridley once said: “There are still some people out there who believe comic books are nothing more than, well, comic books. But the true cognoscenti know graphic novels are – at their best – an amazing blend of art literature and the theater of the mind.”

Recently, I was asked to create a page for the new(ish) and wonderful book-discovery website, On this site, many authors have penned uniquely categorized “best of” book lists. This is one of those. To view it, click here. Enjoy!

(note: I have many other favorite middle grade books, but these fit well into this specific category)

As a cartoonist, I’m always asked about my greatest influences. I have quite a few, but my earliest — like many, many cartoonists — was Charles Schulz (Peanuts).

Therefore, you can imagine how honored I am to be speaking at the Charles M Schulz Museum in Santa Rosa, CA on Saturday, June 25! It’s a beautiful museum and venue. I visited in 2009 and can’t wait to get back.

I hope you west coasters and your families will join me. I’ll talk about my career as a cartoonist, author, and greeting card writer (amusing images included). I’ll even go back further in time to those days of doodling Snoopy and Woodstock on everything and everyone. Bonus: there will be drawing with volunteers (will it be you?).

This is a ticketed event; registration and info HERE.

It’s happening — I’m leaving the house! I hope you will, too, if only to join me at some of these fun events. See below for my tour schedule (some virtual ones may be added soon) and for the links to register.

Andersons Bookshop, Naperville, IL – 7 pm CT, May 3

Greenfield Public Library, Milwaukee, WI – 6:30 pm CT, May 5

A Likely Story, Baltimore, MD – 6:30 pm ET, May 10

BookPeople, Austin, TX – 6 pm CT, May 12

Ohio dwellers and beyond! Here are TWO upcoming events I hope you’ll join me for.

Clevelanders: Join me on April 5 for the book launch of talented author Justin A Reynold’s book, IT’S THE END OF THE WORLD AND I’M IN MY BATHING SUIT! It’s ridiculously funny, smartly written, and that title is gold. Details here.

Also, I’ll be at the Delaware County Library on April 9 for a fun and lively book talk. I’ll even bring up volunteers to draw with me! To join me (in-person or virtually), register here.

Writing my latest book in the Emmie & Friends series, REMARKABLY RUBY, was…well, remarkably fun. This was a story that practically wrote itself. I love it when that happens because it rarely does. I really got a kick out of the two main characters and began to recognize many aspects of myself in them — some subtle, some glaring (like, really glaring).

When I write these books, I tend to add details from my own life. Sometimes they’re little tributes, like inserting the names of family and friends (hint: most of the first and last names of secondary characters are from real people). Sometimes they’re visual things, like Emmie’s hair, which I modeled after my daughter’s spiral curls from her childhood. Or the rabbi in BECOMING BRIANNA, who bears a strong resemblance to my own rabbi — and who inspired the selfie poses taken before Bri’s bat mitzvah. (Yes, our rabbi posed like The Hulk with both my daughters.) These details bring me closer to the characters and help make the process that much more fun and personal.

With RUBY, I went a little overboard. The book comes out in May, so here are a few personal details you can look for when you read it (don’t worry, no spoilers).

  • English teacher, Mrs. Winn (of “Winn Word of the Week” fame), organizes a club that meets in room 216. 216 is the area code of Cleveland, where I live (“In the 216” is even a local expression). It’s a little nod to my hometown.
  • Related fact: The middle school is named “Lakefront”, a tribute to Lake Erie and some nearby places, like a locally famous cemetery called Lakeview (fun fact: that’s where President Garfield is buried).
  • One of the main characters, Mia, loves dried mangos. That’s, in fact, MY serious addiction. I usually have a huge, Costco-sized bag of them in my fridge.
  • Mia has a boyfriend named Trevor. His last name, Enders, is almost my mom’s maiden name, Ender. Funny enough, “Ender” is a really common last name in Turkey (where my mom is from), but it means “very rare.”
  • In my first book, INVISIBLE EMMIE, there’s a lot of humor surrounding Emmie’s mom, who is a health nut. But I’m really poking fun at myself. I’m that mom, the one who tries to get her kids to eat quinoa and kale. In RUBY, there’s a short scene with a “healthy” vending machine. It contains snacks like tofu trail mix and okra nuggets. Most people would be disgusted by that, but I admit those are my dream snacks.
  • Mia references having a family game night of Rummikub, something my own family and I do. It’s one of our favorite pastimes.
  • The character Ruby suffers similar “medical” issues that I did when I was younger (I won’t ruin the surprise). So, of course, this endears me to her.
  • However, Ruby looks like the physical opposite of me when I was in middle school. Where Ruby tends to be taller and bigger than most of her peers, I was the tiny, skinny one picked last for gym.
  • Certain habits of Mia’s like thrifting, owning a record player, and being into anything “retro hippie” were (and are) habits of my own kids.
  • Ruby has much of my old shyness/awkwardness, but Mia is much like my adult self: Type A and mega-organized. It’s frightening.
  • In one of Mia’s chapters, there’s a locker decorated for a student’s birthday. The locker belongs to “Mol”: short for “Mollie,” my older daughter’s name. In POSITIVELY IZZY, there’s one decorated for “Nikki,” my younger daughter.
  • Finally, there is another school mentioned in the story: Rutter Elementary. This is named after my own elementary school growing up, Rutter Ave Elementary — which has since been torn down and turned into apartments (boo!).

That’s it for now! To pre-order REMARKABLY RUBY, just go here. And don’t forget to look back on this list when you do!