Garvey’s Choice joins a long line of books adapted as a graphic novel. The original Garvey’s Choice is a novel in verse by Nikki Grimes. Garvey struggles to connect with his dad, who expects him to be someone who he is not. It is told in a series of poems in the Japanese Tanka style. The book which came out in 2016 has been popular with middle grade readers, for good reason. It’s a heartwarming story about finding your voice, and the poetry of Nikki Grimes is poignant and deep while using few words.. I am a huge fan of her writing, and was excited to read this book.
Garvey is a young black boy in a larger body. He loves science fiction, space, and reading, however, his father wants him to play sports. The relationship between father and son is strained. They have a difficult time relating to each other, and in general Garvey struggles with feelings of isolation and loneliness. Over the course of the book, Garvey finds his voice through music, with his friends, and eventually with his family.
The Tanka style is discussed in an author note at the end of both the original book and the graphic novel. It is a format that originated in Japan. Each poem is five lines long, with specific syllable patterns, however, Grimes does not follow the syllable counts exactly. The poetry style which focuses on mood and emotion, fits Garvey’s character arc on his journey to find himself.
Theodore Taylor III illustrates the graphic novel in a bright cartoonish style, similar to that of Jerry Craft’s New Kid. The graphic novel illustrates the characters, plot, and poetic metaphors from the original book, but doesn’t necessarily add much depth to the mood or themes. The best parts of the graphic novel are from the poetry text. And while, I do not think the illustrated format adds much to the story, I do think it is a great purchase for elementary collections, because of the illustrations. Poetry can be an intimidating format for some readers. In condensing text to verse, some context must be implied rather than stated, which can be confusing for some. By illustrating the entire text through the graphic novel format, that context is no longer implied but clearly shown, which can provide a strong scaffold for some readers.
The graphic novel text is fairly similar to Grime’s original verse. There are times that the wording of the poems is adjusted, and they switch up the order of some poems, but for the most part, the text of the graphic novel is very consistent with the book. Lines from the poems are turned into speech bubbles or as narration on the page. Some of the poems are told over the course of a two-page spread, sometimes multiple poems share the spread, but most are confined to one page. The illustrated metaphors add weight to Garvey’s emotional journey.
Notably, a large part of the novel explores Garvey’s relationship with his weight, which is also a source of contention with his dad. But Garvey isn’t illustrated with a body size that is noticeably larger than other characters. He is round, but so is everyone else. I think this is a missed opportunity for body representation.
While not perfect, I think the graphic novel Garvey’s Choice is a strong purchase for elementary collections, especially if novels in verse or books by Grimes are used in the curriculum. In such cases, this graphic novel adaptation could be a good supplement. Either way, Garvey’s Choice is an excellent book and story, whether you read it in the original format or as a graphic novel.
Garvey’s Choice Vol.
By Nikki Grimes
Art by Theodore Taylor III
Wordsong, Astra Publishing House, 2023
Publisher Age Rating: 9-12
NFNT Age Recommendation: Middle Grade (7-11)
Creator Representation: Black,
Character Representation: Black,