Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

Spotlight on Tuan Nguyen and the Maverick Graphic Novel Committee

In case you weren’t aware, the Texas Library Association and the Young Adult Round Table support the Texas Maverick List (no, not the basketball team that just embarrassed themselves in front of the Spurs), but a librarian created and recommended list of GRAPHIC NOVELS for youth in grades 6-12. I had the chance to crash their 5th anniversary party during TxLA Conference, and had the wonderful opportunity to meet up with Tuan Nguyen, one of the founders of the Maverick List. He was gracious enough to let me bug him with questions about himself and the Maverick List for Teen Librarian Toolbox, and share about himself and the list with everyone!

1. Tell us a little about yourself- your background, etc.
Well, I grew up as one of five children in a yellow house with a red roof… wait, let’s fast forward a bit.  I have a Master in Library Science from the University of North Texas and have been a library consultant for the past 11 years.  As a library consultant for Mackin Educational Resources, I have worked with many wonderful librarians and libraries across the state of Texas. One of my greatest passions, besides my wife and kids, are graphic novels.  I have paneled and presented on the topic of graphic novels on many different stages including at the American Library Association conference, Texas Library Association conference, and several times at the San Diego International Comic Convention.  I also provide workshops and professional development for teachers and librarians on graphic novels.  While in library school, my friends and I helped develop the Maverick Graphic Novel Committee for the Texas Library Association.  
2. How did you get into graphic novels and comics in the first place?
As an elementary student, I had a lackluster interest in reading, which led my teachers to believe that I had reading problems.  It wasn’t that I couldn’t read, but rather there wasn’t anything I wanted to read.  The combination of being a bilingual student and reluctant reader was the perfect storm for me being placed in an ESL program.  (Side note, my sister who was two years older than me was a phenomenal reader and would terrorize our school and public librarians with request for new books.)

Luckily for me, shortly after being placed in the ESL program, my aunt suggested to my mom to let me try my cousins’ comic books.  Not only was I getting two-sizes too big hand-me-downs from my cousins, but I was also getting their hand-me down comics.  But it was a life-changing experience.  I can’t remember exactly which issue, but my first comic was a Superman comic book and I instantly fell in love with the format.  From that moment, I did everything I could to get my hands on comic books.  When I couldn’t get to the local comic book store or the 7-11 convenience store (I grew up in a small Arkansas town and the closest comic book store was in the next town), my brother and I would make our very own. 
3. What are your favorite graphic novels/comics/manga? 
The ones that have resonated with me are “Pedro and Me” by Judd Winick, the “X-Men” and “X-Factor” crossover during the Mutant Massacre storyline, “Ranma 1/2” by Rumiko Takahashi and “American Born Chinese” by Gene Yang.  
4. How did you get the idea to start the Maverick graphic novel list?
The thought about having graphic novels in school libraries would’ve been beyond my wildest dreams as a young reader. But having worked with many different school librarians over the years, I discovered there was always a collection development demand for graphic novels.  It was a serendipitous moment that allowed an end to meet the need.      
5. How hard was it to get the list approved/sponsored through TLA?
The process from beginning to end took a little over three years.  It was first an elevator pitch to the TLA president in 2006 and the idea gained momentum.  The concept was well-received, but there was still the question of who was going to put the effort into researching the idea.  It was a labor of love for WyLaina Hildreth-Polk, Alicia Holston and me to be responsible for such a task.  Over the next two years, we met regularly to discuss and share research data and write our proposal to the Young Adult Round Table (YART).  Along the way, we picked up help from Jennifer Smith, Renee Dyer, and Laura Jewell.  We received both YART’s Executive Board approval and then TLA’s Executive Board approval.  The final proposal for approval went in front of the YART general membership in 2009.         
6. What are the criteria that the committee goes through when looking at graphic novels for the list?
There are a lot of different factors that we use to determine whether a graphic novel makes the list (i.e. storyline, artwork, lettering, etc).  Before a title is considered, it must be recommended by a committee member or the general public.  We accept suggestions through our website athttp://www.txla.org/groups/maverick.  Every fall we gather at TLA headquarters and deliberate on the titles.  Ultimately, it takes a majority vote from the committee for a title to make the list.  A bit of noteworthy news, this past year we instituted the Maverick Starred Review, which represents a title receiving a unanimous vote from the committee members.    

7. If someone wanted to get involved with the Maverick committee, how would they apply?
We are always looking for volunteers to join the Maverick Committee.  We have 1-, 2-, and 3-year commitments. One of the many perks of being a Maverick is all the awesome graphic novels and manga we get 🙂  To apply, you’ll need to be a member of TLA and the Young Adult Round Table.  Applications are available online at http://www.txla.org/groups/yartvolunteers
8. What advice do you have for teen specialists/librarians who don’t know anything about comics/graphic novels? 
If you aren’t a traditional graphic novel reader, start with a story that you have an interest in.  There are plenty of graphic novels and manga that cover a wide spectrum of storylines, but don’t be afraid to abandon a graphic novel if it doesn’t sustain your interest.  Two graphic novels that I highly recommend for first-time GN readers would be “Understanding Comics” by Scott McCloud and “Maus” by Art Spiegelman.  Additionally, attend your local school or public library anime/manga group.  They are kindred spirits and will help show you the way.
9. What are some of the comics/graphic novels/manga that your teens/patrons adore more than anything? 
Manga is wildly popular, and oftentimes, I see students prefer manga over traditional western comics.  The storylines cover a wide range of topics, including futurist postal service, fracture fairy tales, cooking shows, etc.  If you search for an interest, I’m sure there is something to fulfill your need.         
10. What events are coming up next year at TLA that teen specialists can look forward to from the Maverick committee? 
There are several Maverick programs that I am working on that involves mangaka(s), but I can’t share too much until we get their publisher’s commitment. If everything works out according to plan, it will be a first for TLA’s and Maverick’s history.
11. Are there any plans for expanding the list downwards to younger ages?
Yes, coincidentally there are plans within TLA to look into a younger graphic novel review committee.  See question #5     
12. Anything else you want to share? 
Yes, I always like sharing this story.  A few TLA conferences ago, a school librarian from a small rural town came up to me after one of our Maverick programs and thanked us for our reading list.  Because our list was a TLA-recommended reading list, she was able to purchase her first graphic novel for her collection.  That young boy in me was so pleased, and I feel what we’re doing is truly making a difference.

Christie’s TLA in a Nutshell

So I had an awesome time at the Texas Library Association last week. I got to meet Justin the Librarian and we talked and mutually fancrushed, and I got some wonderful ideas from his makerspace presentation that I’m implementing. He also reinforced what I’ve been thinking and saying (mumbling) all along:
 Karen and I got in tons and tons of author lines,
and I got hugs, HUGS I TELL YOU from Alex London!!!
We had dinner with Little, Brown Publishing and got to chat with Holly Brown, Kami Garcia, Paolo Bacigalupi and Libba Bray….
Did I mention Libba Bray?
Karen had a moment…  I had mine later with Rae Carson, Alex London,
and Laini Taylor, to name a few….

 I then crashed the Maverick’s 5th anniversary party on the advice of WONDER WOMAN ( @librariansti) who was at my panel in the morning, and while no one told me it was a fancy dress party, I actually found my people!
If you don’t know, the Maverick Graphic Novel List is an annual list done by librarians across Texas to recommend graphic novels to librarians of ll areas of interest. Tuan (the Joker above) was one of the founders, and I am going to haunt him for an interview for our Comic Week coming up.
And I got to meet some of the wonderful teens on Thursday who got to take advantange of the Teen Day- it’s an awesome program and if you can get your administration to do it, go for it. They get discounts, and a room just for them, and special speakers- and wonderful energy. (Otterbox rules!)
The exhibits wonderful, and I really enjoy how Texas does it’s author signings- with the majority of them in numbered booths to the side in a specific area. I really wish those at ALA would take note- it makes things a lot easier in the aisles.
I took That Guy along with me as roadie and geek, and unfortunately he had a huge work deadline so he didn’t get to meet as many authors as he would have liked, but we scrimped and saved and splurged on one big thing: the Dinner with an Author dinner, which was Zombie night. It was a wonderful event, and we got to hear passages read by Paolo Bacigalupi, John Campbell, Jonathan Maberry, Diana Rowland, and David Wellington. We got to hear about Maberry’s adult works, and got introduced to Bacigalupi’s zombie book that he wrote for his wife’s class (makes me adore him even more), and I got to geek out on other authors.
 And That Guy got his picture taken with Jonathan Maberry afterwards.
I’m still trying to figure out how to turn my google doc of my presentation notes into something that will play nice with blogger- if I can’t figure it out by Friday, then I’ll just cut and paste. My presentation with Peter Coyl and David Levithan went well- the best takeaway was to be the best to your library, and don’t cater to the censors.

And I took home two suitcases full of books and ARCs which I’ve yet to unpack, and I got to meet people I only talk to on twitter, and I met some wonderful new friends, so it was all good.