Drama by Raina Telgemeier (Scholastic, 2012) (target audience, Young Adults)
When my daughter, Shauna, was six years old, we took her to see her first Broadway production; a revival of The Wiz starring Stephanie Mills. I knew that it was the last time Mills could get away with playing Dorothy, and I impressed upon Shauna that seeing this show was a special moment in her life. As a huge fan of The Wizard of Oz from infancy (Shauna's first sentence was, “Give me those ruby slippers or I will take them from you!”) The Wiz was a great choice for an impressionable child, and even to this day, my daughter recognizes how lucky she was to have seen Mills in this iconic production.
From the night that we took Shauna to the Beacon theater to see The Wiz, my husband and I knew that we had a budding actress living with us. There were dancing and singing lessons, recitals, and ultimately starring roles with St. Joseph of Metuchen High Schools incredible theater company under the direction of the masterful director, Anne Curto. Ultimately, Shauna majored in Theater at Montclair State University.
Introducing a child to theater is asking for a certain life style choice that puts tremendous pressure on a family. The results are often magical as you see your child don a costume, belt a solo, take a bow, or design a set, dim the lights, and wear the austere black of a stagehand. But no matter what area of theater one's child engages in, whether it's in front of or behind the footlights, on this a parent can depend: There will always be DRAMA involved in a school production, and I'm not just talking about the script that's being memorized, the songs that are being learned, or the dances that are being choreographed. Of course I am referring to the lives of the youngsters who are involved in the production itself.
Raina Telgemeir, an American cartoonist, began her career by self publishing a series of mini-comics, but went on to adapt four Baby-Sitters Club Books into graphic novels for Scholastic Press. Telgemeir then made her mark by publishing Smile, the autobiographical graphic memoir in which Raina, as a sixth grader, tripped one night, and knocked out her front teeth, leading to an ugly nightmare of orthodontics, including weird head apparatus, braces, and a retainer with false teeth. For a middle school girl, what could be more humiliating? The book catapulted to being a #1 New York Times Best-Selling Eisner Award winning volume, enjoying huge popularity with the adolescent crowd.
Drama is the perfect read for students who adore theater, and can be enjoyed from about the fourth grade forward. It's even suitable for adult consumption. The main character, a girl named Callie, loves being a part of the theater company. Although she fantasizes about being onstage, her auditions reveal that her singing resembles shrieking and is painful to the ears of those forced to listen to her. Fortunately, Callie is even more passionate about the art of staging a production, and avidly studies volumes of old productions to get ideas on how to create scenery that suits the quality of production that Mr. Madara, their director, expects from his students.
From the time that Callie learns that her school will be performing The Moon Over The Mississippi, she is determined to build a cannon that will excite the audiences by actually booming and spitting out fire. Of course, this has to be done in a safe and non-pyrotechnic way, a real challenge for her. She tackles the challenge with absolute determination that she will succeed no matter how many failures it takes to get the result she needs; a working cannon that will wow the audience.
As the crew begins preparing for the production, we meet Callie's friends, an interesting and very natural mix of multi-ethnic students who enjoy and accept each other without noting their diversity. In Drama the students are the way kids really are; they don't judge each other by ethnicities, sexual orientations, or religion. They do have issues with those who are stuck up and not team players, but there are no real villains in Drama. We see kids being kids.
Callie makes friends along the way with twin boys, Justin and Jesse Mendocino, two very cute boys who teach her a lot, not just about theater, but about life. These two talented boys lead us to a great surprise once the production makes it to the stage, a surprise that is fun and unexpected.
As always, life isn't easy for a seventh grader, and Callie has her ups and downs. However, on the whole this is a happy novel that speaks to kids who are passionate about theater. The graphics are delightful; the characters well drawn, and the volume is colorful and just plain fun. This is an absolutely wonderful book to share with your children if they are in love with the stage.
Of course, I do want to applaud my own star, who now performs daily on the stage of Schor Middle School in Piscataway, teaching 8th graders about literature, for giving me Drama to read and review for my very special audience. Bravo, Shauna! Well done!