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Artist's first book revisits the LI of her youth

Amy Ignatow, a Huntington native, has just published

Amy Ignatow, a Huntington native, has just published an illustrated "tween" book called "The Popularity Papers." She sits at the kitchen table in her dad and stepmother's house in Syosset. (July 21, 2010) Photo Credit: Photo by Danielle Finkelstein

Think back to fifth or sixth grade - being excited and scared at the prospect of going to junior high and spending countless hours analyzing and agonizing over what might happen.

Particularly about whether you'd be popular.

Amy Ignatow, an artist who grew up in Huntington, has reimagined those times in her first book, a graphic novel for "tween" girls, "The Popularity Papers: Research for the Social Improvement and General Betterment of Lydia Goldblatt & Julie Graham-Chang" (Amulet Books, $15.95).

The subtitle explains her characters' project: Lydia and Julie will study the popular girls to try to appropriate the magic for themselves - so they can start junior high as two of the chosen few.

Ignatow has embarked on a national tour that will bring her to Long Island for two appearances this week: 6:30 p.m. Thursday at Best Bargain Books, 217 Centereach Mall, Centereach, and 2 p.m. Friday at Barnes & Noble, 91 Old Country Rd., Carle Place.

Ignatow, 32, a graduate of Moore College of Art & Design in Philadelphia, where she lives, says she was inspired by years of teaching kids' art classes. And she says the story is universal - "that feeling, when you're in fifth grade, that you start to realize that there are social hierarchies."

 

Passing notes

The book is designed as a notebook passed back and forth between the two characters, most of it drawn by the artistic, shy Julie Graham-Chang - who is "not so tall" and "lives with my dads and one bad cat." The theatrical-aspiring Lydia, who is "taller" and "lives with my mom and one weird sister," is not as artistically gifted - which becomes apparent when Lydia takes over the notebook after Julie sprains her ankle at camp.

Ignatow uses visual cues - their penmanship and the inks they choose - to help differentiate the girls and their personalities.

Lydia and Julie's adventures in popularity-seeking range from bleaching hair (using - ouch! - real bleach), to "running away" from home to show their parents why they need cell phones, to taking a stick-fighting course to meet boys. And, like many girlfriends, they have a falling out.

Ignatow is the daughter of Chaja Ignatow-Wertheim and Richard Ignatow, who later divorced - her mother is an outdoor educator at Caumsett State Historic Park and her dad, a landscape architect in Huntington. She recalls a childhood filled with nature and culture, one in which she and her brother, Gabriel, a sociology professor at the University of North Texas, spent much of their time drawing.

She attended Huntington's Flower Hill Elementary School and J. Taylor Finley Middle School, where she was cast as a goose in "Charlotte's Web: The Musical." In "Papers," Lydia tries out for a lead in the school musical but loses out to a more popular girl - and winds up wearing a nun costume in "The Sound of Music." And she's not even the lead nun.

 

Modern family

Julie is the daughter of a gay couple because, "in terms of the characters, it made sense to me," said Ignatow, interviewed at her dad and stepmother's Syosset home. "Julie is undeniably loved at home . . . it's not easy for a gay couple to have kids, especially a male gay couple . . . it's a very planned thing."

In contrast, Lydia, in a single-parent home with a working mom, "needs more attention, and that's why she wants to be in the school musical and she wants to be popular."

The book came about after Ignatow sent an agent a link to her online cartoon, "Ig City" - later, he asked if she'd be interested in doing a graphic novel for kids. "It opened up a whole new world for me," she said.

She's since written a sequel, following Lydia and Julie into junior high school. It's due out next spring.

At the heart of the book, Ignatow says, is the story of female friendship - "that friend that you trust completely and who knows you better, maybe, than you know yourself."

When she was growing up in Huntington, she said, "I loved exchanging notes with other people in school because I didn't like paying attention. I'm still friends with those girls, and I can call them and we can have as juvenile a conversation as we ever had."

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