I’ve been a frustrated derby girl for most of my life. I’ve had a fascination with roller derby since I saw it for the first time on an episode of Laverne & Shirley, way back when. I was an avid roller skater, but this was something totally new and totally awesome. That said, there was no way my mother was letting her 8 year-old take part in a derby, and when roller derby made a roaring comeback a few years ago, I was working full-time, had two young kids, and a healthy fear of breaking my no-longer young and immortal backside. But man, do I envy anyone ballsy enough to get out there and do it.
I love that derby has made a comeback, especially reaching out to younger girls. Derby is about feeling strong, competent, and working as part of a team. It’s about being a badass in your own skin, making crazy and fun names up for yourself, and going out there, giving it all you have. You can be yourself and someone else all at the same time. Derby girls are largely confident in their bodies, and they are, more often than not, part of a maker movement – there was even a book of knitting projects for derby girls a few years ago.
Victoria Jamieson is a great children’s author to begin with, and her first graphic novel, Roller Girl, introduces us to Astrid, a 12 year-old girl whose mother introduces her and her best friend, Nicole, to roller derby during an “evening of cultural enlightenment”. The girls initially cringe – these outings aren’t always a hit – but this time, Mom brings them to a derby bout, and Astrid is transformed. She gets her mom to sign her up for lessons, and starts training with a passion.
Roller Girl is all about growing up, watching relationships change, and learning more about who you are. The tweens are an age of discovery, when kids start new schools, discover new interests, and meet new people, all of which can change the course of childhood friendships. Astrid becomes angry at Nicole for her different interests and befriending someone Astrid doesn’t like, but Astrid is changing, too – something she will realize as she gains confidence in herself through derby. She discovers a dedication she didn’t know she had, and she finds a mentor in a more seasoned derby girl.
I love Roller Girl and am pressing it into the hands of any kid that will listen to me. And any Summer Reading folks out there should take advantage of this title, too – discovering the hero inside yourself is pretty amazing, and absolutely a theme here. Both the main character and the peripheral characters in her life enjoy wonderfully in-depth character exploration, and there is no shortage of the conversations you can have when you read this book along with the kids in your life. If you and the kids in your life are fans of Raina Telgemeier, you’ll love Roller Girl for both the personal, first-person storytelling and the artwork. Heck, go find a derby to attend together!
Make sure to check out the free Making of Roller Girl e-book available on the author’s website, and if you’re based in Portland, Oregon, go check out a Rose City Rollers Roller Derby League bout – make sure to cheer for Winnie the Pow, because she wrote the book.
Check out some of the earlier black and white art (the book is in full color) I found on the Victoria Jamieson’s website, then GO GET THIS BOOK.
Author & Artist: Victoria Jamieson
Publisher: Dial Books for Young Readers (Penguin)
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