Amelia Rules: What Makes You Happy, by Jimmy Gownley

Amelia Rules! is one of the best graphic novel series for girls. These books star a fourth grader named Amelia, her friends, and their life in elementary school. The art is cartoonish and often incorporates other art styles. For example, when Amelia looks into the past the art turns into traditional three-panel comic strips that strongly resemble the Peanuts cartoons; when her best friend Reggie is asked to define something the background becomes graph paper with typed words and labeled figures. The books are usually comprised of short, self-contained chapters. In What Makes You Happy, Amelia’s former-rockstar aunt is on the cover of a magazine and suddenly Amelia is the most popular girl at school. But her aunt is strangely unhappy with all the attention – until Amelia finds an old demo tape in her attic… In the next story, Reggie’s superhero club gets out of hand when he declares war on a neighboring ninja club. In another vignette, Amelia’s great aunt dies and she has a series of unfortunate kisses. Amelia goes to visit her father and realizes how much she misses her former best friend now that she lives with her mother far away. In the final story, Amelia learns that a “frenemy” can also be a friend.

This graphic novel has many funny moments. When Reggie defines “artist” he says “A true artist should have no skills, and if possible the work should look as if it were done by a deranged toddler” (p. 25). The stories have a simple narrative structure. They begin with a hook, Amelia backs up to explain how something happened, and they end with a lesson. The morals are pretty typical for children’s books, but no less meaningful: “Wanting something is always better than having it” (p. 39). “I think a lot of the important things in life you only learn by screwing up” (p. 92). “When you think about how everything changes, it’s scary!” (96).

Why I recommend this graphic novel:
This is a collection of cute, simple, fun stories with traditional morals. They focus on quotidian events and relationships. Amelia has to deal with many issues children face, like moving, divorce, and crushes. She is a lovable, self-centered tomboy who does her best to make good decisions. She has a non-traditional family (her parents are divorced and she lives with her mother and aunt). This graphic novel would be great for a young girl who loves school stories, and would also be engaging for any reluctant reader.

Gownley, Jimmy. Amelia Rules: What Makes You Happy. Atheneum, 2009. Gr. 3-6

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