“I’m in awe of the way the artists can tell so much of a story through pictures,” says Ann M. Martin, author of the Baby-Sitters Club series. “There can be a scene in the book that goes on for a page or two, and it can be told in one fabulous picture by the artist. It’s the expression on the character’s face. You don’t have to read three paragraphs to understand that the character feels betrayed, or helpless, or whatever. I find it not only amazing but really compelling.”

Facial expressions were particularly important to artist Anu Chouhan when she was adapting Sarah Mlynowski’s Whatever After: Fairest of Them All. “If someone’s angry, I make them very angry,” she says. “If they’re happy I make them really happy.”

The graphic medium also allows her to show the characters changing and growing. At the beginning of the story, Snow White is very timid. “She’s really stiff,” Chouhan says. “She’s hunching her shoulders, playing with her hair. And then that changes over time. With prose, you can write how a character changes, but the fun thing about a graphic novel is that you can show that through the art. Maybe their eyes light up a little or they start standing a little taller across the span of several panels, and then you start to see it.”

Chouhan, who also adapted Roshani Chokshi’s Aru Shah and the End of Time, works in the video game industry, and she credits her training in storyboarding with helping her figure out the pacing of graphic novels. “It helps to have that kind of experience, knowing what makes a good shot and how action is framed versus how a more emotional, heartfelt scene is framed,” she says. A fast-paced scene might have six panels on the page, each of them crammed with action, while a conversation might include both close-ups and panels with detailed backgrounds to create visual interest.

Shannon Messenger’s Keeper of the Lost Cities is told from the point of view of the main character, Sophie, and representing that perspective without a lot of text proved to be a challenge. “We ended up shifting the focus sometimes to include reactions from other characters that were in the scene that would help convey the same things,” says editor Kara Sargent. “We had to rely heavily on expressions to make sure things were landing the right way, because we didn’t have Sophie there narrating it for us. Instead, we had to really try to capture that nuance.”

Seeing the graphic adaptation of her work changed the way Messenger viewed her own books. “That definitely inspired me to put more thought into what everyone is thinking and feeling in every moment, and really consider who’s the most affected by what’s happening,” she says. “It’s even one of the reasons I realized I needed to add another book to the series and call it ‘Book 9.5,’ so I could switch points of view for a crucial piece of the story.”

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Middle Grade Goes Graphic

Much-loved stories get new lives as graphic novels.