Monday, January 17, 2022

Saving Sorya: Chang and the sun bear by Trang Nguyen, illustrated by Jeet Zdung

As the output of graphic novels continues to grow, selectors are able to, well, select. I am looking for a balance between the familiar books that kids will automatically pick up and the more artistic and "unique" titles that have a tendency to sit on the shelves. I like to preview new titles to see if they're actually going to have popular appeal or just reviews and awards for being literary and artistic, and I'm always interested in informative or nonfiction titles.

This new graphic novel jumps outside a lot of familiar territory to be something very new, but it also includes a lot of elements that will be popular and draw an immediate kid audience with a minimum of promotion.

Chang, a young girl in Vietnam, dreams of protecting the animals of the rainforest, especially the sun bears. She's especially interested in Soraya, a bear she helped raise and is now rehabilitating to the wild. The book is laid out in a landscape format and the panels are washed with rich green watercolors, sparked with browns, yellows, and oranges.

This has the semi-autobiographical theme so familiar to Raina Telgemeier fans, and a sprinkling of nonfiction facts that will attract readers who are devouring the new spate of nonfiction graphic novels. It's unique in centering a South Asian character, and while it acknowledges the challenges of Western influences, they're not the main focus of the story. Chang works through her obstacles with determination and courage and finally fulfills her dream of becoming a conservationist and caring for the rainforest and animals, including Soraya the sun bear, around her home.

Verdict: A strong purchase for most libraries; recommend to a wide range of kids who enjoy graphic novels, animal stories, biographies, and nonfiction.

ISBN: 9780593353622; Published September 2021 by Dial; Review copy provided by the publisher; Purchased for the library

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