A few years back, I was chatting with Varian Johnson after a long day of conference presentations. He was debating leaving his day job to write full time. He had the pros and cons spelled out, as an engineer would. Luckily for children’s literature, the pros won out. I am so pleased to host Varian today in celebration of Twins, created with Shannon Wright (Graphix/Scholastic), the first of what we can all hope is a nice long series of graphic novels.
Thanks, Kirby and crew, for having me this Friday. I’ve had the pleasure of knowing Kirby for many years now, and even though I can’t visit her in person, at least I can visit her via her blog.
My newest book is a graphic novel called Twins (Graphix/Scholastic), and it’s about…well…twins. Growing up, twin sisters Maureen and Francine were always a pair—they shared all the same classes and activities, and they even dressed alike. And Maureen—the younger of the two—loved it. Then comes middle school, and everything changes. Francine starts dressing differently; she joins new clubs, goes by a shortened name, Fran—and worst of all, Maureen and her sister are placed in separate classes.
People say that sisterhood is supposed to be forever…but Maureen isn’t so sure that this is the case.
There were a number of inspirations for the book, with the first coming from real life. I’m an identical twin, born five minutes after my brother. Like the girls in the book, my brother and I were placed in separate classes in middle school—and I struggled with that separation. It took
quite a while for me to learn how to be my own, unique self.
The book was also inspired by my daughters. They love graphic novels, but we struggled to find books that featured Black girls—we struggled to find books where they could see themselves on the page. So, Twins quickly morphed from being a book just about twins into
being a book about siblings and self-confidence; Black love and Black joy.
To that end, my publisher and I felt that it was important to not only create a book with Black characters, but to have a co-creator who was Black as well. If we are really committed to diversity and inclusion, we need to make sure that all aspects of our work are diverse—not just
the characters on the page, but also the people behind the books.
I’m so, so lucky to be working with cartoonist Shannon Wright on Twins. Her artwork blew life into each and every character. Thanks to her, we were able to create a cast full of beautiful, brown-skinned kids—in all their various shapes and shades and sizes.
Twins is no longer a book solely based on my childhood—it’s no longer a book for me. Now, it’s a book for all readers. Black kids deserve to see themselves as the stars of the story. And it’s just as important for other readers to see Black kids as main characters as well.
Paraphrasing Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop—books can be mirrors, windows, and sliding glass doors—and hopefully Twins will be able to serve readers in all three of these ways.
Varian Johnson is the author of numerous novels for young readers, including The Parker Inheritance, which was named a Coretta Scott King Honor Book, an Odyssey Honor Audiobook and a Boston Globe-Horn Book Award Honor Book; The Great Greene Heist, which was named a Kirkus Reviews Best Book of 2014, and Twins, his first graphic novel. Varian received an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts, where he now serves as a member of the faculty. Varian lives outside of Austin, TX with his family, and can be found online at varianjohnson.com.