Saturday, November 17, 2012
The Graphic Classroom and Reading With Pictures began talks last year of combining our efforts toward comics literacy and education. It's been an exciting time for us all. RWP has been re-publishing TGC reviews to their website while my staff and I have taken a small hiatus. We have, after all, been publishing weekly for many years and we get tired.
Now, we back at the keyboard and ready to write more reviews for you, our dedicated readers, most of whom are educators or related to the education field. Change your bookmarks. Head to Reading With Pictures and find us over there diligently working to easily give you the tools you need to lead students to a place where they love reading for enjoyment.
We do this for you and them and the world and we do it for free. We love your commitment as ask that follow up at Reading With Pictures where you will find a cornucopia of comics-in-education information.
Wednesday, June 6, 2012
From the Editor
The Graphic Classroom began in 2006 in preparation for my Masters degree in Elementary Education. Since then, we have amassed a group of staff writers who are staff in the devoted, unpaid, volunteer staff that only love can keep going.
I am a very luck editor –– and you a lucky reader –– in that we are surrounded by teachers and librarians whose passion for reading and learning exceeds their need for rest. They read and review comics because they know how comic literature changes the reading habits and lives of students. They understand the power contained and give their private, off the clock time to help students around the world. Following are the staff writers of TGC (in alphabetical order):
- Tegan Conner
- Catharina Evans
- Kevin Hodgson (our longest-writing reviewer)
- Ellen Ma
- Adrian Neibauer
As summer break peeks over the horizon, I want to take time to thank everyone that gives their time and energy to The Graphic Classroom. This includes staff writers (present and former), contributing writers, TGC operatives who give us heads up, publishers who send us books to read, and the families of those who spend time with TGC.
I thank you all.
While at a conference on comics in education, I ran into Tegan Conner, a youth librarian, who was an avid fan of comic literature who attended one of my sessions. Lucky for us, she joined TGC team of writers and lovers of reading.
Conner has been in public libraries since she can remember. She started out as a library patron until her first library job at age 16 as a circulation clerk. Since then, she picked up her Bachelors in Library Science (K-12) and then a Masters in Library and Information Science, where she studied youth services. She is currently the Youth Services Librarian at Wissahickon Valley Public Library outside of Philadelphia, PA.
Her interest in graphic novels started with a Disney book that she didn’t realize was a graphic novel. She enjoyed the art work and the format, but as time moved on, she turned to books. She was reintroduced to comics and graphic novels in her teens thanks to anime, which lead her to manga, then to comics (mainly DC) and graphic novels in general.
When it comes to graphic novels, her primary focus is graphic novels in the library. Other interests include social networking and the library, video games, crafts, and generally being a nerd or geek. With her blog, ReadsRantsRaves, she mainly reviews graphic novels for librarians.
Welcome aboard, Tegan. We are glad to have you. Remember, kids. Comics are not just for boys. That's an old stereotype that is grossly misguided.
By Tegan Conner
When Ace and Bub wind up in a tree thanks to their new penguin friends, they make an awful discovery: a volcano is on their island. They are pretty sure it wasn’t there the day before; so, they decide to investigate. What they find are literally fish out of water (wearing a water suit of sorts), harvesting trees, polluting the island, all in the name of a tiny product called “Fish Stixs.”
Fish Stixs are the greatest toys around, but the president of the company, Walter Mackerel the Fourth, can’t tell them exactly why, just that they are an environmentally responsible company. The Flying Beaver Brothers, who know the truth about the factory, have to determine how to save the island before they lose their home forever.
THE FLYING BEAVER BROTHERS AND THE FISHY BUSINESS is actually volume 2 of The Flying Beaver Brothers series and was simultaneously published with volume 1. In this entertaining read, the reader finds action, adventure, daring plans, and talking fish. The comedic timing is spot on and exactly what I expected, making the jokes more enjoyable. For example, the ending has a great fake cliffhanger ending with a nice chuckle. The Flying Beaver Brothers are fun to read and have appeal for adults and children alike.
A simple cartoony style successfully tells the story of Ace and Bub. Maxwell Eaton III only uses three colors in this volume: black, grey, and green. The green is used to highlight the background and enhance details the reader should notice such as something dangerous or a minor, yet important detail. Overall, I felt like I was reading a cartoon show and the art reminded me of my childhood.
Publisher’s Rating: ages 6-9
IN THE CLASSROOM
While this is the second volume in the series, I feel it has the most potential in a classroom setting. THE FLYING BEAVER BROTHERS AND THE FISHY BUSINESS has an environmental story to it that could easily prompt discussion from the marketing to asking how much waste the factory generated. For example, Walter Mackerel the Fourth really lays it on thick regarding how the product and factory are environmentally friendly while the images of the story show a completely different version (which Ace and Bub notice). There is also the possibility for discussing teamwork when Ace and Bub work with Bruce (the mean beaver) and safety as the factory is missing an off switch. Lastly, it could be used for the art style as Eaton only uses three colors in the story.
Author & Illustrator: Maxwell Eaton III
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers
Format: Paperback and library bound
ISBN-13 (library bound): 978-0-375-96448-0
ISBN-13 (paperback): 978-0-375-86448-3
I would highly recommend this book, along with the series, for an elementary classroom, elementary library and public library children’s collection. For kids who love comedy, fun, adventures, spies, and stories about brothers, this is a sure winner.
By Kevin Hodgson
In an isolated part of Alaska, a team of sled dogs lives with two humans. The humans squabble over the state of their isolation as the dogs squabble over who is going to be the lead dog, and who might get a chance to mate with whom. Add in some talk about existentialism (by the dogs) and survival (by the humans), and you get an odd story.
MUSH, by Glenn Eischler (writer for The Colbert Report) and Joe Infunari, brings us inside the personalities of the pack. One dog questions the world; another wants to become the lead animal and sets plans in motion to do so; another only wants to be mate in order to continue his genetic line; and so on. My problem with the story is that I had trouble keeping track of the dogs and their personalities. Maybe it was me, the reader, but I found myself stopping, thinking “which one is this?” before moving on with the narrative. This disrupted the flow of the narrative. The use of satire and humor come through in the story, and the man and his girlfriend (he loves the isolation; she, not so much) parallels the tale of the bickering dog pack. I just wish the story had been stronger and more tightly connected, and the characters, more distinct (maybe visually?).
MUSH has a lovely art element to it, capturing the wide expanses of the cold wilderness and the fenced-in home of the dogs when they are not running. When they run with the man on the sled, the dogs come alive, and the artwork nicely captures the wide-eyed joy these sled dogs have when they are in full-run mode with the sled.
- Reading level: Ages 16 and up
- Format: Paperback
- Pages: 128
- Publisher: First Second
- ISBN-10: 1596434570
- ISBN-13: 978-1596434578
FOR THE CLASSROOM
There are plenty of classrooms that do focus in on the Iditarod and the adventure of sled dog racing. This book might fit as a resource for that kind of study (but see my note below about age level), and the inside look at the personalities of the dogs themselves as they interact and create a pecking order of the pack will have anyone with their own dog wondering what goes on inside their heads.
I would recommend this book for a high school classroom, or university, but I don’t see it as a focused resource for teaching, necessarily. It might just be a book that a student interested in graphic novels might enjoy just to enjoy. There are references in MUSH to sex (among the dogs) and genitals, and plenty of poop jokes, that might not be acceptable for the younger students. The vocabulary can be pretty advanced, too, particularly when the dogs start spouting out philosophy of life.
By Adrian Neibauer
The SIGN OF FOUR is a graphic adaptation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s classic mystery featuring Sherlock Holmes and his partner, Dr. John H. Watson. Part of their Crime Classics line of comic literature, British graphic novel and manga publishing company, SelfMadeHero, set out to adapt not only THE SIGN OF FOUR, but THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES, and STUDY IN SCARLETT, and THE VALLEY OF FEAR. Each novel is a must have for any fan of Holmes’ mysteries.
The novel opens with Holmes injecting himself with a cocaine solution in order to combat his lack of activity in solving crimes and mysteries. We are then introduced to the lovely Mary Morstan, who delivers what plans to be one of Holmes’ and Watson’s most exciting adventures. Ms. Morstan’s father disappeared some ten years ago, and since then, she has been receiving an anonymous gift each year on the anniversary of his disappearance. Morstan finally seeks Holmes’ advice after receiving a letter to meet claiming that she is a “wronged woman who shall have justice.” What follows is the thrilling pursuit of truth concerning the mysterious “sign of four.” Buried treasure. Feuding rivalries. Murder. What’s not to love about this story?
I have to admit to being quite a Sherlock Holmes snob. I fell in love with Conan Doyle’s stories of the genius detective in college and have since read and reread them many times. Although the Robert Downey Jr. films are exciting, I was disappointed at how they strayed from the short stories. So, when I picked up THE SIGN OF FOUR by Ian Edington and I.N.J. Culbard, I was skeptical. However, Edington’s adaptation of the original text is beautiful, so much so that I found no need to peruse the original text. Edington sounds like Doyle’s original, and I quickly became lost in the story.
Culbard’s style is perfect for introducing students to Sherlock Holmes. He draws in an almost cartoonish way, yet still maintaining a very 1880’s European feel.
My only criticism is of how he draws Holmes himself. Again, I feel a bit biased toward the Jeremy Brett BBC series of the 1980’s. Brett played Holmes for ten years, and to me, represents the perfect portrait of the cold, deductive detective. In this graphic adaptation, Culbard drew Holmes’ face with such a large chin, that I found myself distracted for the first thirty pages. I admit, however, that this is my own problem.
For students, Edington and Culbard pair text and picture so cleverly, that even during complicated plot points, the reader can still follow the narrative. You can tell that creating this classic adaptation was a very collaborative process between Edington, Culbard, and Doyle’s original text. I am very pleased with how faithful they are to both the story and the character development.
IN THE CLASSROOM
There are many ways to integrate Sherlock Holmes into any literacy lesson. THE SIGN OF FOUR graphic novel is a great introduction to Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson. Teachers wanting to complete a genre study on mysteries should definitely include this graphic novel. When teaching mysteries to students, I find it important to break down any mystery into the classic W’s:
· Why (motive)?
When having students either take notes on these items, or analyzing any mystery, Sherlock Holmes is wonderful at teaching students the power of observation, deduction, and logic. For example, Holmes is a master at scanning the presented information and choosing only the most important details. In "The Adventure of the Reigate Squire," Holmes says himself, “It is of the highest importance in the art of detection to be able to recognize out of a number of facts which are incidental and which vital. Otherwise your energy and attention must be dissipated instead of being concentrated." What a perfect role model for making conclusions solely based on facts, not opinions. Even at the university level, I could see a science or philosophy professor using Sherlock Holmes as an example for analytic reasoning.
No matter the age level of students, Holmes is a great example of the life-long learner whose sole desire is to seek out the truth. Holmes’ character development throughout many mysteries is also noteworthy as a possible character study.
Text Adapted: Ian Edington
Illustrator: I.N.J. Culbard
Due to Sherlock’s blatant drug use in the first pages (despite Watson’s medical pleadings to stop), I recommend THE SIGN OF FOUR for middle and high school classrooms. At the teacher’s discretion, I could see parts of this story used in lower grades, but there tends to be quite a bit of murder in Holmes’ mysteries.
The Denver Comic Con is June 15-17. The Graphic Classroom Staff Writer Adrien Neibauer is presenting. He is looking for educators in the Denver metro area who use comic literature to participate.
Saturday, April 28, 2012
By Adrian Neibauer
Neil Barton is your typical thirteen-year-old: he’s unsure of himself, awkward, shy, and spends most of his time alone with his nose in a book. AMERICUS, written by MK Reed and illustrated by Jonathan Hill, is a coming of age story set in a small town in Anytown, USA. Neil, our main character, uses the local library in his small home town of Americus as a safe-haven to the discomfort of junior high school. There, he and the young librarian introduce us to the fantasy world of Chronicles of Apathea Ravenchilde, the Huntress Witch, a Dungeons and Dragons inspired young-adult novel series. However, it isn’t too long before the conservative Christian citizens in town begin publically ousting the Apathea series as “unfit for the souls of our youth.” Neil must battle the town’s conservatives to prevent the Apathea series from becoming banned in the library; meanwhile, Apathea must battle her half-dragon brother in order to save her kingdom.
MK Reed does an impressive job blending these two stories as each protagonist battles his/her own conflict. Themes of censorship and adolescent rebellion are prominent throughout AMERICUS, and can be great launching grounds for classroom discussion. Reed’s characters and setting are believable. Readers can assimilate into the anonymity of Americus and its town’s residents, while simultaneously feeling sympathy for Neil’s teenage angst.
Although Reed writes believable dialogue, Jonathan Hill’s illustration style creates actual human beings with actual problems and true emotions. He doesn’t draw a lot of details, yet his use of black and white makes the book realistic in its depiction of Middle America happenings.
As the AMERICUS flashes into the story of Apethea, Hill begins to use more generous strokes of ink wash. He illustrates more shadows and varying shades of gray, giving the fantasy world a very appropriate Lord of the Rings look.
What is most intriguing is how Hill blends the fantasy and reality using his pen. Readers have no difficulty in discerning which story one is reading, but the combination of these two different worlds is never drastic and shocking. It is as though both sets of characters co-exist simultaneously to give refuge for uncomfortable teens looking to escape to a different world.
IN THE CLASSROOM
It would be very easy to steer clear of AMERICUS, due to the controversial themes presented. Especially in elementary school, teachers don’t usually jump into discussions on censorship at the hands of conservative Christians. There is talk of the sin of homosexuality; in fact, Neil’s best friend, Danny, gets shipped off to military school because of his love of the Apathea series and the fact that he is gay. His parents don’t seem to place either on a spectrum, but instead claim that one is the cause of the other. Nonetheless, I think AMERICUS is a great tool for teaching the more sophisticated technique of writing a frame story.
Frame stories, or a story within a story, are an effective way of comparing and contrasting different characters, settings, and themes. Successful writers have often used this technique to show the reader how people are not only influenced by their interactions with other characters, but storytelling (think Hamlet’s play within a play, i.e.: The Mousetrap). Since AMERICUS does such a fantastic job visually representing a frame story, it makes sense to use this graphic novel to teach students how they can incorporate one in their own fiction.
Before reading AMERICUS, either as a read aloud or graphic novel study, I would introduce the idea of frame stories. It is important to emphasize the visual aspect of frame stories (how characters are “watching” another story) by using film examples. As you progress through AMERICUS, use questions to deepen students understanding:
- How do you know we are entering the world of Apathea?
- When do we enter this world? What purpose does it serve the main plot?
- How are these two sets of characters related? Compare and contrast.
- How are these two settings related? Compare and contrast.
It is oftentimes appropriate to dissect the two plot-lines so that students can see them running parallel to one another. You can use a Flow Chart to map out the key plot points of each narrative, while noting when and why they intersect.
AMERICAS plot > AMERICAS plot > AMERICAS plot
APATHEA plot > APATHEA plot > APATHEA plot
As Neil fights to save his beloved Apathea series from being banned, Apathea fights her own battles. Both characters grow from the process and emerge stronger. Students should start thinking about other narratives that either offer similar thematic elements, such as conflicts, or similar characters to their own narrative piece. Incorporating one story into another takes time and trial and error, but I feel that AMERICUS is a good model for doing this well.
Author: MK Reed
Illustrator: Jonathan Hill
Color: Black and White
Publisher: First Second
I highly recommend AMERICUS for Writing and Literature classrooms grades 6 and up, especially for high school. I recommend with reservations using AMERICUS in the elementary grades due to the references to religion and homosexuality. You could use the frame story technique in fifth grade, but only toward the end of the school year when students are more proficient writers. AMERICUS’ readability is targeted for ages 12+, and MK Reed writes with this demographic in mind. Middle school students can easily relate to Neil, his adolescent woes, and his need to escape into the realm of fantasy literature.