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Bloom Blog

In this graphic novel, being different is cool

By Louise Kinross

Shiny Misfits is a children's book about standing out. 

It's written by American comedian Maysoon Zayid (above) and illustrated by Colombian Shadia Amin.

The protagonist is 10-year-old Bay Ann, a Muslim girl with a disability who is passionate about tap dancing. She craves the spotlight and dreams of going viral. Bay Ann has two besties and a crush on a classmate. He's a slick overachiever she's determined to beat—whether at a talent show, a bake-off or in a school debate.

Bay Ann's parents are divorced. "Pops," a consistent and steady force in her life, runs a food truck. The "momster," her "annoying" mother, is a burnt-out professor. Bay Ann is a vegetarian: "No food with a face," she explains. Her greatest fan is a talking cat called Lucy, who travels with her in a pink baby carriage.

Bay Ann has a big personality. She can be thoughtful and kind. She can be a diva queen and a mean girl. One minute she's supremely confident: "I have no competition," she says. The next she feels like a "loser." She wants people to admire her talent, not pity her for her disability. But sometimes she uses what she calls "the disability card." For example, she claims her "flappy" movements caused her to accidentally squirt ketchup in her friend's eyes.

Bay Ann has cerebral palsy, but it's never formally introduced in the book, which is a welcome approach. Over time, clues show up in the illustrations. She rides a stairlift to go up to her bedroom at her dad's house. Sometimes her feet turn in when she walks, and dressing is a bit of an ordeal. Her crush calls her "special" and "sick."

It was only during a second reading that I noticed lots of other diversity in the images. A teacher uses a prosthetic arm and a student is in a wheelchair. There are lots of brown and Black characters. 

In an author's note, Maysoon writes that she herself is a misfit: "Growing up, I was the only disabled person in my family and I was the only visibly disabled student at my school... I was also the only brown kid in my class, and I was the only one of my friends who got skipped by Santa Claus every Christmas."

She dedicates the book to misfits of all ages. "If you have never seen yourself reflected in a book, I hope you will in this one. If you don't, it just means that you are one of a kind—and that is what being a Shiny Misfit is all about."

Maysoon notes that she was never made fun of because of her disability as a child, but that in today's climate "the DisCo (disability community) is mercilessly mocked." Sometimes a pet like Lucy can be a best friend, she writes.

The illustrations in the book captivate. The humour appeals to readers of all ages. The importance of besties and family shine through. My eight-year-old granddaughter Rosie said: "It's my most favourite book ever." The book is geared to kids aged eight to 12 and published by Scholastic. Its release date is April 16.

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