Sunny Side Up by Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm

As a new Florida resident, I was particularly excited to pick up this new younger readers/ middle grades graphic novel. Sunny Side Up (2015, Scholastic) by Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm and illustrated by Lark Pien (think American Born Chinese and Boxers & Saints) offers a wonderfully realistic picture into the life of a young girl who can only keep her brother’s drug addiction and how she feels about it a secret for so long.

Here’s a quick summary…. Sunny spends one summer with her grandpa at a senior living community in Florida. Pained by not only the lack of activities but her recurrent thoughts about her older brother, who struggles with drug addiction, Sunny meets Buzz, the son of a Cuban chemist-turned-groundskeeper at the golf course. Buzz introduces Sunny to superhero comics. Before her summer of hanging out with Buzz rescuing lost cats and finding golf balls comes to an end, Sunny confronts her grandfather about his secret smoking and, with the help of her grandpa, learns that she does not have to keep everything about her brother’s drug addiction inside and it is not her fault that he is struggling with this. Sunny receives a pivotal message from her grandpa before heading back to Pennsylvania: Always keep your sunny side up.

So I am still really new to graphic novels. I know, I know. It’s horrible. I do find myself reading just the words before reminding myself to examine the graphics, which are really neat in Sunny Side Up. This book tells an important story, but I did want to find out more about Sunny’s older brother at the end of the book. The book wraps up rather quickly. That said, I’m not sure this story was really supposed to be about the older brother. This was Sunny’s story. It was about how Sunny learned to be honest with her feelings about her brother’s illness and that she had people who cared about her. And I think this is such an important message for kids to hear.

Here are ideas if you want to teach Sunny Side Up, which I recommend you doing.

(1) I have really become a fan of realistic fiction. As I stated earlier, I felt Sunny Side Up ends somewhat abruptly after Sunny reveals her secret and what’s been on her mind. Students might enjoy the opportunity to create comics for the next chapter so they can consider what Sunny and/or her older brother might experience next.

(2) Reading graphic novels really helps students engage in visual literacy. One way to help students think about differences between print and visual texts is to ask them to select a page in Sunny Side Up and write the page’s events in narrative form so they can compare and contrast how visual and print texts might tell the same story.

(3) Readers hear Sunny’s version of her brother’s drug addiction, but other characters, such as Sunny’s mom or Sunny’s older brother, do not have the opportunity to reveal their version of events. Students can consider multiple perspectives by writing or drawing a particular chapter from the perspective of Sunny’s mom or Sunny’s older brother. 

I would love to hear what you think of Sunny Side Up and how you keep your sunny side up in the comments below!

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