Anxious Kids Can Relate to Rosena Fung’s Graphic Novel “Living with Viola”
Toronto-based illustrator, cartoonist and now novelist Rosena Fung released her mid-level graphic novel, “Living with Viola” (2021, Annick Press, ages 9-12, $22.95) in November. In it, Livy begins her first day of sixth grade at a new middle school, a school that her hard-working immigrant parents believe will provide her with more opportunities than her old school.
Quiet and clumsy, Livy feels very lonely, but she’s not alone. Her alter ego is with her – Viola – the dark side voice in her head that always overwhelms her with negative talk.
Fung uses the medium of graphic literature extremely well. Livy’s first day at her new school is exhausting. Her cruel inner shadow, Viola, is relentless, making Livy embarrassed by the Cantonese lunch her mother made for her and fearing that she would still be alone.
Even at home, it’s hard to shake Viola, but helping her ah ma (mom) cook after school shows the reader the real Livy through Fung’s artful explosion of fantasy and fun in a magical playground of ecstatic dumplings, dancing garlic and rivers. oil and soy sauce.
Rosena Fung’s graphic novel, “Living with Viola,” is a story about Livy who lives with crippling self-doubt. She calls the voice Viola. (Rosena Fung/Annick Press)
There is so much creative joy inside this anxious young girl. And so much sweet charm inside this graphic novel.
We learn that Livy likes to draw, which is both a blessing and a curse. While this leads to friendships at school, it also causes him great internal stress. His parents, aunts and uncles make no secret that a job in art is not sensible, stable or respected.
These pressures begin to harass her, and Viola’s whispers in her ears about her cousin Michael being “fired” after dropping out of college haunt her. His father even said, “Don’t talk about him,” when Livy approached him. But, Livy’s caring teacher notices her talents and urges her to submit an artwork for an upcoming art contest.
As the school year progresses, Livy’s new group of friends splits, she fails to turn in an art debut, and she has a breakdown in class requiring a parent/teacher conference. She feels she has failed her parents and is a bad person. All his creative joy is gone. Will Viola win?
It is a book worthy of all young people, especially those who might be struggling with feelings of anxiety. At the end of the book, Livy is clinically diagnosed with anxiety and panic disorder and she receives professional help.
A few pages are dedicated to using mindfulness tools such as breathing techniques, grounding, and distraction methods. Admit it, growing up is hard in any era, but, during this pandemic, young people have experienced a new kind of isolation and disruption of life. This extremely well-made and sensitive book by Fung is a fun and empathetic way to eventually break through to a child who has been through a difficult time.
To see Rosena Fung’s art and illustration, go to rosenafung.com. She has illustrated sprawling urban murals across Toronto that are sure to bring smiles and laughter to all who see them, as well as humorous comic strips and magazine illustrations. With helpful messages of self-acceptance and self-forgiveness, his art and comics are a warm hug and soothing balm with heart and humor. Just what the world needs.
Wendy Henrichs is a children’s author living in Iowa City.