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Snapdragon, and Why I Share Comics With My 6-Year-Old Daughter

I’m pretty sure I bought the book for myself. Sure, it was an all-ages graphic novel, aimed at younger readers. But some of my favorite comics are all-ages comics, and this one allegedly had a witch in it. Count me in!

I read the book and enjoyed it well enough. Then I did what I do with all of the all-ages comics that pass through my life: I handed it over to my 6-year-old daughter.

My first time through Kat Leyh’s Snapdragon, I was thoroughly charmed by it. Sure. But after having been forced to read the book to my daughter approximately 5,236 times since then, I have an even greater appreciation for the quiet complexity of the book Leyh created.

Snapdragon: The Basics

At its most basic, Snapdragon is about a young girl — the eponymous Snapdragon — who befriends her town’s witch, managing to find herself along the way. Snapdragon herself is a young Black tween who lives with her single mom and an adorable dog named GB (which stands for “good boy”). When GB goes missing one day, Snapdragon tracks him through the woods, all the way to the home of an older woman reputed to be a witch who eats roadkill and casts spells with their bones.

Snapdragon is skeptical, so she’s unsurprised when what she finds instead is an old woman who favors floral capris and bright green Crocs, and who just happens to use the bones of roadkill to rebuild the animals (it’s called “articulation”) and sell them online. Nothing spooky or supernatural there.

Or is there?

Supernatural or not, the two strike up an unlikely friendship, and Snapdragon — who has always felt like she doesn’t quite belong — begins to come into her own.

How This Book Stealth-Teaches Empathy for Multiple Identities

I have read (and loved) so many gorgeous narratives from marginalized writers writing about their own marginalization. Roxane Gay’s Hunger. Claudia Rankine’s Citizen. Myriam Gurba’s Mean.

Each of these books (and many others) has left me overcome by the author’s generosity and willingness to provide me with a different perspective. To teach me to see and to feel and to connect with experiences that are not my own.

But there is an uneasiness I carry, too, around the way that editors and publishers and even readers ask marginalized writers to bleed themselves onto the page for the reader’s edification. There is so much emotional labor we ask of certain writers, to the extent that they may feel they’re not allowed to write about anything else.

Snapdragon on its own is so rich and delightful. But the reason I love this book so much is the way in which it manages to subtly weave in so many diverse viewpoints without making them the focal point of the story. There’s the single mom who’s worried about placing too much pressure on her young daughter. There’s the best friend who’s exploring her gender identity. There’s the androgynous older lesbian who gave up on love long ago.

But the vehicle for this extensive exploration of identity is a sweet and fun story about friendship and magic and finding not only your people but your self.

So while my daughter is obsessed, obviously, with the notion of learning magic and becoming a witch, she also asks lots of questions about the characters themselves: Why is that boy wearing a skirt? Where’s Snapdragon’s dad? Wait. Is that a boy… or a girl?

And in this way, different identities are normalized for her.

And yes, she still sees the ways in which they struggle because of these identities. She sees how the small-mindedness of others can hurt. And this is so essential. But at the same time, she comes to understand and internalize that there is not only one way to be.

I Love Seeing My Daughter See Parts of Herself in These Young Girls

Beyond gaining empathy for various other identities, I also love how my daughter is inspired to embody these different characters. To use them as a means of exploring her own identity. To feel that she, too, is a superhero.

On any given day, I might find her dressed up as Batgirl or Ladybug or She-Ra or some other personal hero from her favorite comics and TV shows.

When it comes to Snapdragon, for example, my daughter begged me to get her a witchcraft kit. But she’s not the only protagonist who’s inspired some casual closet cosplay on my daughter’s part.

Thanks to the Princess in Black series, Em has put together elaborate, all-black-and-floofy outfits.

Thanks to Mighty Jack and the Goblin King, Em has brandished a sword and coerced my husband into giving her pigtails, just like Lily.

Thanks to Shadow of the Batgirl, Em gets a lot of use out of the big pack of black masks and that black cape I bought her.

And thanks to The Cardboard Kingdom, I… can never recycle anything.

God I love my tiny, adorable nerd.

Which comics do your kids love?

Steph Auteri is a journalist who has written for the Atlantic, the Guardian, Pacific Standard, VICE, and elsewhere. Her reported memoir, A DIRTY WORD, came out in 2018. Favorite Genres: horror, comics, horror comics, and narrative journalism.

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