Middle school is especially hard for quiet Maureen, who has always relied on twin sister Francine to speak up for her. But now the girls are in different classes. They eat lunch at different times. Francine wants to make new friends and embrace new interests. She begins to pull away from Maureen, who is hurt and confused by her sister’s behavior.
Growing up a twin
“That happened with me and my twin brother,” Johnson told KidsPost by phone from his home in Round Rock, Texas. He learned to stand on his own, but he says middle school was “tough at first,” just as it is for Maureen.
During that time, he felt bolstered by his love of writing and reading — especially books by Walter Dean Myers and Beverly Cleary — and outdoor adventures in the Boy Scouts.
Johnson had long wanted to write about the relationship between twins, and his daughters — Savannah, 9, and Sydney, 6 — motivated him to do so as a graphic novel.
“They love graphic novels, but there are so few with kids of color as the main characters,” he said. “I wanted my daughters — and other Black and Brown girls — to see themselves in the pages” of the type of book they really like to read.
Although Johnson has authored many popular novels (“The Great Greene Heist,” “The Parker Inheritance”), “Twins” is his first graphic novel. He had to teach himself to write a story in dialogue, like a play.
He then worked closely with illustrator Shannon Wright, who drew what was happening in the story for the panels.
School election drama
Along with her art, Wright brought a different experience to the story. Like Francine, Wright had been eager for middle school in Fredericksburg, Virginia, where she grew up. She took part in orchestra, played soccer and dived into drawing cartoons and anime. For her, the big changes involved her group of friends rather than siblings.
In the book, the tension between the sisters heats up when Maureen decides to run against her twin for sixth-grade president — and when a huge secret is revealed.
There’s a lot of drama between the girls, which Wright welcomed as an artist.
“I love conveying emotion and drawing facial expressions,” she said by phone from her home in Richmond, Virginia. (Check Page 62, to see how Wright uses the color red to help depict Maureen’s anger.)
The sisters organize campaign committees, develop their platforms (action plans) and give speeches — all of which Wright and Johnson remember doing when they ran for student government at their middle and high schools.
“I felt nostalgic drawing all that, but I don’t miss making posters and working so hard [to get elected],” said Wright, with a laugh. She served several terms as class president.
Johnson chuckled as he recalled his campaign motto for class treasurer: “Good at math.” He got the job.
Author and illustrator are working on their own projects. Johnson is writing a novel about a boy who plays cards, and Wright is catching up on creating picture books.
As to a second graphic novel project, they said they learned so much about how to create one from this collaboration that they’re hoping another good idea emerges.
What: Varian Johnson and Shannon Wright talk about “Twins” with Jeff Kinney, author of the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series.
Hosted by: An Unlikely Story in Plainville, Massachusetts.
When: Wednesday at 7 p.m.
Price: Free; must register in advance at anunlikelystory.com/event/johnson-wright.
Best for: Ages 8 and older.
For more information: Visit anunlikelystory.com/event/2020-12.