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Audio Comics? ‘Invisible Emmie’ in Audio vs. Print

I was checking out the Texas Library Association Maverick Graphic Novel list and saw this title which I hadn’t heard of. I found the title on Brooklyn Public Library’s website and saw that there was both a print and audio version and I put a hold on both. Every so often I see an audio version of a comic, and I’ve always been curious about how sequential art could translate into an auditory experience. How can the audio capture the images?

Invisible Emmie
By Terri Libenson.
Balzer & Bray. 2017. ISBN 9780062484949 (Audio book version)
PBK, $12.99. 186pp.
Grades 4 and up

Invisible Emmie isn’t purely a comic. It’s one of those hybrid books that combine the prose and comics formats. In the diary portion of the book, there are doodles and drawings, much like Diary of a Wimpy Kid, but there’s a dual narrator and Katie’s experience are told in sequential art form, with panels, thought bubbles, and so on. So….listening and reading a comic was a very interesting experience.

invisible emmieOne day, Emmie and her best friend write love letters to their crushes as a joke. The letters are never meant to be seen, but Emmie accidentally drops her note and the note is shown to her crush and used as a way to ridicule and bully Emmie, who is ordinarily very quiet.

While the plot of this story isn’t earth-shatteringly original, the likable and strong characters of Emmie and Katie, bring the book above the rest. In addition, some twists in the plot will surprise readers and leave them with a satisfying taste in their mouth. One twist (I won’t spoil!) does take the story’s theme to a different level.

The story all takes place in one day, with flashbacks to help build characterization. Middle-grade readers will find aspects of both Emmie and Katie to be very relatable.

I received the audio version first, so I went with it—and that’s when I realized that this was a hybrid prose/comic story. I could actually hear where I was missing a cartoon or doodle, and I felt like I was missing something as I listened to the story. I was very surprised when I picked up the hardback copy to find that the Katie snippets, which seemed so brief, were actually comic strips. And while I didn’t realize it at first, when I backtracked there was so much missing from the reading without all the visual clues.

I’m not sure what the purpose of creating an audio version of a comic book is. If it’s for the visually impaired… well… they are still missing out on the images (the narration doesn’t stop to describe the image) and I’m not sure that the format translates. If it’s for struggling readers, I see a purpose, but then it really should be packaged as a read-along title.

So while I don’t recommend necessarily checking out the audio version—your reading will be incomplete—do check out the print version. It’s a wonderful read, especially for fans of Raina Telgemeier and Svetlana Charmovkova.

After finishing about half the book in the car on Friday, I decided to finish it in print over the weekend. And though I’m someone who thoroughly enjoys an audio book, this was so much better in print!

Do add Invisible Emmie to your “to read” pile.

You can find sample pages here:

Esther Keller About Esther Keller

Esther Keller is the librarian at JHS 278, Marine Park in Brooklyn, NY. There she started the library's first graphic novel collection and strongly advocated for using comics in the classroom. Her collection is also the model for all middle school libraries in NYC. She started her career at the Brooklyn Public Library, and later jumped ship to the school system so she could have summer vacation and a job that would align with a growing family's schedule. On the side, she is a mother of 4 and regularly reviews for SLJ and School Library Connection (formerly LMC). In her past life, she served on the Great Graphic Novels for Teens Committee where she solidified her love and dedication to comics.

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