"Swing it Sunny"

If you haven’t read a graphic novel, don’t assume this popular genre isn’t “really reading.” Some graphic novels have real meat on their bones, engrossing plots with admirable characters and the added appeal of a colorful, easy to follow comic-book style.

Such is the case with the husband and wife writing/illustrating team of Jennifer L. and Matthew Holm. The couple has a boatload of graphic novels under their belt, including the popular “Sunny Side Up.”

It’s the story of 10-year-old Sunny Lewin, sent to stay in Florida with her grandfather in the summer of 1976. He lives in a retirement home on a golf course, where an huge alligator lurks. Readers gradually find out why Sunny is with Gramps — a situation with her brother Dale has forced her parents to get her out of the picture — hints are dropped about bad choices that he is making.

In the Holms’ new graphic novel, “Swing It, Sunny,” out this month, the perky blonde is back, her life re-examined from the fall of 1976 to spring 1977. In flashbacks, readers are brought up to speed on Sunny’s brother, now residing in a boy’s academy, to hopefully get the discipline he needs to change his behavior.

The beauty of this story is the light-handed manner the Holms use to share Sunny’s struggles in coming to grips with her brother; his visits home over the holidays create havoc for her parents and cause Sunny to feel guilty. She loves Dale, but she hates the upset that occurs when he’s around — his vandalism and drug use affecting the entire family.

While the theme of the Sunny books has serious overtones, there are light-hearted moments too. In “Swing It, Sunny,” the bitty blonde has to adjust to middle school, has laughs with Gramps, spends time with her best friend and makes a new pal of an older girl who moves in next door. Adding to the fun are lots of references to life in the ’70s, from Jiffy-Pop popcorn, to TV dinners, to Pet Rocks, and soap operas.

Suggest “Swing It, Sunny,” to your 8-12-year-old reader, and you’re sure to get rave reviews for being open to graphic novels. This one’s a real honey.