Wednesday, March 21, 2007


FORMAT: Reinforced Library Binding
PUBLISHER: Stone Arch Press
GENRE: Traditional Literature in Graphic Form

  • Medieval Knights
  • Magic
  • Peace
  • War
  • Honesty
  • Treachery
  • The Holy Grail

  • King Arthur
  • Sir Lancelot
  • Guinevere
  • Merlin
  • Sir Galahad
  • Mordred

Young Arthur pulls the sword from the stone and discovers that he is the rightful King of Britain. With the help of the sorcerer, Merlin, Arthur accepts the famous sword, Excalibur, from the Lady of Lake and he is able to vanquish all of his foes, so long as he remains true. The Knights of the Round Table set off to find the Holy Grail, the cup that Jesus drank from during the Last Supper. Eventually the evil Knight, Mordred, tries to destroy King Arthur with rumors and war.

This is a nice overview of the Arthurian mythology and students should be interested in this version. There is secrecy, treachery, love and wars all in 63 pages. That makes the story move along pretty quickly leaving out a lot of details, but it is a good introduction.

The illustrations by C.E. Richards have a nice feel and are perfect fit for the story. There is a lot of color, but the palette uses darker tones and a lot of contrast and inking. The lettering is easy to read and should not be a problem for most students. There are several panels per page, but the story is easy to follow.

My Rating: All Ages, 8 and older preferred
Publisher’s Reading Level: Grades 2-3 (ages 7-9)
Publisher’s Interest Level: Grades 5-9 (ages 10-15)

This book is intended for ages 10 and older, but I think some younger students would find it very interesting and I would have no qualms about allowing younger readers access to it, assuming they are mature enough to handle the subject matter.

There are several ways to access this book. Children could write their own mythologies, or they could talk about making peace with enemies. It also lends itself to the ramifications of starting rumors. A major theme in the story is how Arthur will always prevail so long as he remains honest and true, and does not use Excalibur for evil purposes. This can be used in Communication Arts as well as Social Science.

There is a lot of information available about the Arthurian legend. Any technology-based class could make use of that information. At the end of the book there is a glossary, information on Sir Thomas Malory (the original author of the oral tale), information about the writer and illustrator, background information on the Knights of the Round Table, as well as a map. There are also reading questions, writing prompts and a FactHound search (1598890484).

Stone Arch Books also offers information on how this book fits within an individual state’s curriculum guidelines. From the King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table site, simply choose your state and then choose State Standards. How this book fits into Missouri’s standards can be found here.

AR Quiz Number:
ATOS Level: 3.0
Lexile Reading Level: 30

Stone Arch has several other graphic novel adaptations of classic literature as well as other graphic novels:

Highly Recommended

This book is intended for children in a classroom setting and is appropriate for them. The story is a classic and it is interesting.

LORDS OF THE SEA: The Vikings Explore the North Atlantic

Sorry for the version of the picture.
I couldn't find a large enough picture
for the English version.

FORMAT: Reinforced Library Binding
PUBLISHER: Capstone Press
AUTHOR: Allison Lassieur
ILLUSTRATOR: Ron Frenz and Charles Barnett III
GENRE: Historical Non-Fiction

The explorations of the Vikings in the North Atlantic.

  • Naddod
  • Floki
  • Eric the Red (Eric Thorvaldsson)
  • Bjarni Harjolfsson
  • Leif Eriksson
  • Thorvald Eriksson
  • Inuits
  • Thorfinn Karlsefni

The Vikings lived in Scandinavia in 700 CE. Eventually, they felt the need to explore and find new lands. They used their strong, fast ships to sail the North Atlantic in search of new lands and to set up new colonies. They landed in England, Canada, Greenland and Iceland. Leif Eriksson and his crew were the first Europeans to land in North America. This is not an in-depth or detailed look at the Vikings, but rather a glossing over of their major explorations.

Penned by Allison Lassieur with consultations from Roland Thorstensson, Ph.D., who is a professor of Scandinavian Studies at Gustavus Adophus College in St. Paul, Minnesota, this book is a nice presentation of non-fiction information about the Vikings. It dispels myths such as Vikings wearing horns and talks about their explorations, problems with farming, and interactions with native populations. There are facts about Vikings at the end of the book, a glossary of terms, internet sites for more information as well as recommended reading lists.

The illustrations by Ron Frenz and Charles Barnett III are very bright with medium ink strokes. The cover are is representative of the art inside. There are no more than three panels per page, but the average is one or two, making this a good book for a wide range of readers.

My Rating: All Ages, 8 and older preferred
Publisher’s Reading Level: Grades 3-4 (ages 8-10)
Publisher’s Interest Level: Grades 3-9 (ages 8-15)

Considering the vocabulary, most kids will want to be around 8-years-old or so before beginning this book. That is not to say that younger and older readers will not be interested. The comic itself is only 27 pages long and with an average of two panels per page, it should not be too overwhelming for most kids.

This book is perfect for a technology-based elementary classroom. The students have ample opportunities to use the Internet for further research. The book uses FactHOund to help located appropriate Internet sites for children. The FactHound code is 0736849742. Problems with the Inuit was a problem for more than one Viking settlement as was the harsh winters and poor soils. They were a very curious culture, and were always looking to find new lands, making for great classroom discussions. The book leaves other questions open that is perfect for more investigation by students such as why their boats were so fast and why books always portray them with horns on their helmets, when they did not really wear them. It would also be interesting to know what crops they planted and other cultural issues.

The story gives a very basic understanding of the explorations of the Vikings, and it would not serve as a stand alone unit on all things Viking., but it will be an excellent source to capture the interests of the students and to incite a question and answer session. The Capstone website offers a list of the state standards that this book will meet. One simply need pick his or her state from the pulldown menu and click on the state standards button. There is a list of four Communication Arts Frameworks listed for the Missouri State Standards: K-4, Grade 3, Grade 4 and Grade 5.

AR Quiz Number: 101372
ATOS Level: 3.3
Guided Reading Level: S

This company publishes many different historical and biographical graphic novels. Following is a short sampling of the many graphic novels Capstone offers:
  • Benjamin Franklin: An American Genius
  • Booker T. Washington: Great American Educator
  • Eleanor Roosevelt: First Lady of the World
  • Elizabeth Cady Stanton: Women’s Rights Pioneer
  • The Adventures of Marco Polo
  • The Battle of the Alamo
  • Betsy Ross and the American Flag
  • The Boston Tea Party
  • The Curse of King Tut’s Tomb
  • Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad
  • The Salem Witch Trials


History is one of the subjects that is frequently reported as boring by young students. Many times the subject is taught through lecture and memorization of dates, rather than of concepts and understanding. The Graphic Library series of books offers a more interesting form of History for children to learn about. Combined with technology, many subjects could come alive for students.


Mail Order Ninja – Volume 1

Mail Order Ninja – Volume 2

Manga paperback digest
ISSUE: Volumes 1-2
AUTHOR: Joshua Elder
GENRE: Action-Adventure

  • Martial Arts
  • Bullying
  • Pop Culture

  • Timmy McAllister – The protagonist
  • Ninja Jiro – Timmy’s ninja
  • Herman W. Poindexter – Timmy’s friend
  • Felicity Huntington – Timmy’s nemesis
  • Ninja Nobunaga – Felicity’s ninja and Jiro’s arch enemy

Young Timmy McAlister is a typical kid in a plain-Jane school. He has a bothersome younger sister, Poindexter as a friend, and his very own bully. When Timmy finds an ad for a mail order ninja in a graphic novel things take a different turn. The jocks, the preps and the bullies all find that Timmy is off limits and his life is good. All that is left is running for student body president, which is pretty easy when you are cool enough to have your own ninja. Taking power away from those who’ve always had it is not such an easy thing to do. The uber-popular and ever-hateful Felicity doesn’t like being one-upped or left out. She certainly cannot tolerate being beaten out of being student body president by the likes of Timmy. Felicity sends off for her own ninja and the battle for total coolness ensues.

My Rating: Ages 8 and older
Publisher’s Rating: Ages 8-12
Comics in the Classroom: Ages 8 and older
News-A-Rama: Ages 7 and older

Unlike Marvel, Tokyopop does a good job labeling the recommended ages for their books. The comic frames, very mild violence, and the higher vocabulary make this a great fit for kids beginning at age 8. The violence is very mild. Pokemon and Power Rangers have significantly more violent content than Mail Order Ninja.

It is easy to tell that Josh Elder has a great time creating this story. It is an absolute crack up. Elder’s attention to details and his nod to pop culture creates an enjoyable and hysterical read for any kid or adult. He gives us bios on the characters, creative background details, pop culture references, and a great premise. More than anything, readers will have a hoot with this series – suspending their disbelief in order to experience this great theme park ride.

The story is not serious: The dialogue is witty, the premise clever and the narrator’s interaction with the reader is hysterical. Elder even takes jabs at himself as an American manga creator. Behind the fun, there are some series issues; they are simply covered with humor, making that pill easy and fun to swallow. If only I had my own ninja.

This book is pure manga, and it is good manga. Kids will really dig it. The art is compact yet cleanly drawn. It is very clear what is going on, even though there are several panels per page and lots of details to take in. The details are not in the rendering of the characters, but hidden in titles, names, bios, and other background material. Like many manga books, this is black and white. Though this title uses little shading and very thin inking.

Felicity punishes Timmy with her
Praada stilletos after he stole the
student body president election from her.

Notice the newspaper, poster
propaganda, the "yal Subject"
T-shirt and how the protagonist
is portrayed as a young child in
this panel. The cereal is fantastic.
These are the details that Elder uses.

The students rebell against
Felicity's total domination.
Notice the name of the school?
You have to love that. In case you
don't know, L. Frank Baum wrote
"The Wizard of Oz".

Even the adults are overtaken by
the High Queen Felicity.
Eventually, reality sets in.

Bullying in schools is a problem: a big problem, which starts small in elementary school and continues to escalate throughout the secondary years. There are serious comics and graphic novels addressing the problem of bullying, and then there is Mail Order Ninja. The bullies in this story are real and they act like bullies, making plots against the weaker. When the bullied stand up, some of the bullies fight back – a lesson well learned in today’s society. The whole story is wrapped in humor.

Humor is a great teaching tool and can make for a fun classroom discussion. The class clown and other jokers in the classroom, who usually get into trouble because of their clever banter, can find a place to shine with this graphic novel. This is the perfect opportunity for a teacher to allow them to explore their humorous side in an appropriate manner. It’s also an opportunity for the teacher to find a way to praise the class clown, and forge a relationship.

Children will enjoy writing ridiculous and outrageous stories, using real topics or issues as the backbone. Be prepared for bathroom humor and gross details, but remember that those things have a place in childhood and should not be dismissed outright, even though our adult tendencies are to completely school that out of kids. Considering statewide assessments, teachers can become too serious, and take the fun out of school. We may find that this type of creative writing assignment may be one of the most popular assignments given. After all, someone has to grow up to write the scripts for National Lampoon’s Vacation, Airplane, Army of Darkness, and Better Off Dead.

Volumes 1-2 are a single story, so you will need to purchase both. Volume 3 is coming.

Highly Recommended
This is a fun adventure that children will really enjoy. It’s as funny a graphic novel as I have seen and it is little known. There is plenty for the child and adult reader and it will spark the creative juices of many students.

Friday, March 16, 2007


ISSUE: Volume 1, collecting issues 1-4
PUBLISHER: Image Comics and Runemaster Studios
Mike Bullock
ILLUSTRATOR: Jack Lawrence
GENRE: Animal Fantasy

  • Toys Coming to Life
  • Monsters
  • Family Dynamics
  • Courage
  • Death

  • Joey
  • Courtney
  • Pallo
  • Aries
  • Venus
  • Minerva
  • Mumbler
  • Grumble
  • Valthraxx

Joey’s mother got a new job and he has to move away from his friends and his beloved grandmother. Loneliness has already set in. With his grandmother far away, he wonders who will be around to comfort him when the Beasties come out of his closet at night. Before he leaves, granny gives him the Night Pride, a package of four stuffed animals that protect children while they sleep. It’s a good thing, because that very night the Beasties came after him. What ensues is a wonderful adventure for Joey, his pride, and a new friend.


My Rating: All Ages
Comics in the Classroom: Ages 8 and older

This is an action-filled plot that will keep even very young children’s attention. It has a scary element, but nothing beyond the imagination of the typical child. LIONS, TIGERS AND BEARS offers a creative solution to the nighttime problem of monsters in the closet. It is just enough to be suspenseful, but not enough to be inappropriate. It is a fantastic story that is great for all ages.


What kid doesn’t think about his toys coming to life or monsters laying wait in the closet? They are universal concerns for children and Lions, Tigers and Bears hits on both fronts. This is a fantastic story with a nicely varied pace. Mike Bullock does well to discuss real issues without being too mature, and yet his writing does not talk down to children either. It is the perfect balance.

My 6-year-old daughter was interested in this book from the beginning. I kept the reading limited to one chapter per day, but that was not enough for her. She begged every morning and every evening for us to read another chapter. She could not wait to find out what happened next. The story had no significant effect on nightmares or on her being scared. Even still, after the first chapter we had to dig out four stuffed animals and put one at each corner of the bed, just like Joey does with the Night Pride. She took his fear and made a game of it, enjoying the creativity and incorporating the idea into her own play-pretend. She was hooked on the story because it is that good.

The art is accessible to people of any age. Like the story, the illustrations are engaging and enticing bringing the reader, especially the young and the reluctant reader, into the pages. The art is some of the best I have seen. There is a youthfulness about it, yet it is not childish for the older reader. The inking is thin. Details are achieved through coloring and shading. The panels are complete and interesting, yet clear and concise. Young readers will be able to follow the story and illustrations without any problems.

Joey is getting ready to move
to his new home and he is not happy.
The darkness of the sky is a nice touch.

This is the gift that Joey's grandmother
gave him before he left. It's the
Night Pride and they will protect him.

Joey is in his new house and
he sets up the Night Pride.

This story opens the doors for children to explore things that scare them: beasties, bugs, sock monkeys, puppets, dark hallways, clowns or other innocuous things that, for one reason or another, can scare a kid half to death. The magic here is the mixture of the real and the fantastic. With guidance and rules, children could develop creative works – short stories, poems, illustrations, or comics – that can help them make sense of their world and use their imaginations. The works do not have to be fantasy. The scary image does not have to be magical. Children could explore the ideas of loss, death, friendships and other social aspects that affect their daily lives. For instance:

Communication Arts and Science
Each student or group of students could be asked to make up a story – fantasy, realism, or some combination of the two – that includes an animal. As part of the research, the student or group can research that animal’s habitat and behaviors and make a poster that depicts the information. All the stories and scientific information could be shared with the entire class.

Communication Arts and Science
Each student could pick an animal that scares him or her: spiders, snakes, lizards, cockroaches or the like – and then he or she could research that organism and learn about its behaviors, habitat, food sources, natural predators, and environmental factors that affect it. Each student could create a non-fiction, informational book about that organism.

Technology in the Classroom
Runemaster Studios also publishes a self-contained issue of LIONS, TIGERS AND BEARS online. That is the perfect addition for an eMINTS or other technology-based classroom. (NOTE: This section was added after the review was posted. Thanks to Comics in the Classroom's Scott Tingley for pointing this online issue out to me.)

Lions, Tigers and Bears, won the 2007 Angouleme Discovery Prize for Younger Audiences. According to Diamond this award is similar to the America’s Eisner Award.

Highly Recommended

The pacing, style, story and illustrations give way to a perfectly produced piece of children’s comic literature. I can imagine all kinds of students (those from different backgrounds, gender and reading ability) being enthralled with this high quality work. It taps into their interests and spins a great yarn. It should be in every home, public school classroom and library.


Volume 1, collecting issues 1-5
FORMAT: Paperback
GENRE: Fantasy

  • Friendship
  • Love
  • Mystery
  • Growing Up

  • Acheron
  • Lei’ella
  • Shiara
  • Kayn’Dar

Acheron, a young Da’kor, makes an unlikely friendship with an elf, Shiara. He discovers that her soul mate, Kayn’Dar, was kidnapped when they were young. This caused great strife because the Elves blamed the Da’Kor for the kidnapping. Acheron, smitten with Shiara, sets off to find out what happened and who really kidnapped Kayn’Dar twelve years ago.

My Rating: All Ages
Publisher’s Rating: All Ages
Comics in the Classroom: 10 and older

There is mild violence in the book, but not what one would typically expect for a fantasy novel of this type. There is kidnapping involved, and Acheron is an archer who hunts to put food on the family table. There issues that some may find objectionable, which discussed below. If a person objects, then they will not want their child reading this book at all. If one does not find those issues as being objectionable, then the book is appropriate for all ages.

This is a slow-paced, character-driven story with more dialogue than action. Over half the book is set-up for Acheron to leave his family and set off on his adventure. That could prove to be unnerving for children who are used to more immediate gratification. I think the mystery should be interesting enough to keep readers moving along and asking questions.

The young pup, Acheron, is an atypical Da’Kor male in that he is very peaceful and non-violent. He doesn’t really fit in to typical Da’Kor society but he seems well liked. He opines that he just knows there are others out there like him. While the mystery surrounding Kayn’Dar is the catalyst for his adventure, the story is also strongly linked to Acheron’s finding himself and growing up.

The art in this story is where the book really shines. The storytelling comes alive with the art, Rather than being a backdrop to the story, the art seems the focus, which leads us to the sparcity of text, as compared to other comics.

The characters have a typical manga styling to them, especially in their eyes. The inking lines are thin and the details are subdued, but the colors and the way the characters are drawn should be an instant draw to readers, especially children. The typesetting in the word bubbles is a bit larger than in a typical graphic novel, making it easier to read for younger kids. The paper is a high quality, glossy paper.

Ellerton uses a wide range of colors.
This is a scene in the forest.

This is the most violence that
is in the story so far. Acheron hunts
to put food on the family table.

A brighter color palette is used here.

This would be a great book to teach about character development and to compare and contrast pacing issues with other books. It would also be advantageous to talk about crimes against children, as well as the social barriers and conflicts between different ethnic groups. This struggle is illustrated when Acheron is talking to his mother:
MOM: “Humans and Elves hate us, fear us, despise us. All that does is breed the same feelings from the Da’Kor toward everyone else in return. I don’t think something like that can ever change. It’s the way things have become.”

ACHERON: “I don’t want to be a Da’Kor!”
Touching on Romeo and Juliet, Acheron’s real issue with his race is that he is in love with an Elf and he can’t be with her because he is a Da’Kor. This is the perfect opportunity to talk about race without directly engaging the typical black-white scenario, although that could certainly be a part of the discussion. Sometimes it is very helpful to talk about a serious issue in another context.

Inverloch started as a web comic and due to its popularity, was also published in book form. The first scene in the published version has been reworked. The story is the same as the web comic, but it is put together differently. I think the published version is the better one. Volumes 1-5 are available on the web.

Recommended with strong reservations

I like this book and think it is a worthy piece for children to read. I would have no problems with my daughter sitting down with this book. However, it does contain material which some may find objectionable: magic, kidnapping, hunting and drinking of mulled wine.

So far in the story, the only person reciting an incantation is the unnamed and unknown character who kidnapped Kayn’Dar in the first place, but he is not the only one who has magical abilities. All the elves are able to use magic.

Acheron is an archer who hunts to feed his family. Hunting is a socially accepted practice in many parts of the country, but certainly not all. Many people have strong objections about weapons, violence and hunting.

Characters in this book, as is common in many fantasy stories, drink mulled wine, including our young pup, Acheron. This, too, could be a source of trouble for a teacher depending on what part of the country a school is located. It may be hard for a teacher to explain the inconsistencies of drinking by the young protagonist, as compared to the strong anti-alcohol emphasis in the modern school.

There are at least two places where there are grammatical or spelling errors in the text. This should not have been a problem for a good editor and considering that the text itself is not overly used, it is a bit frustrating.

While I rate the book as an All Ages book and I would allow my own child to read it, because of these issues I am very hesitant to recommend it for the classroom without taking the culture of the population into account. I have decided to recommend it, but with strong reservations. Overall, I think the positives of the book outweigh the concerns, but I am not convinced that I would keep the book on the shelf in my classroom, considering the local culture. If the school library carried Inverloch then I would definitely have no qualms at all.

Saturday, March 3, 2007


ISSUE: Volume 1 – Super Crush
FORMAT: Digest covering issues 1-5
PUBLISHER: Marvel Comics
GENRE: Teen Romance

  • Relationships (friendship and romance)
  • Bullies
  • Adolescence
  • Brief Action-Adventure

Written by Eisner Award-winner Sean McKeever, this is the story of Mary Jane, the long time love interest of Peter Parker. In this volume, collecting issues 1-5, Mary Jane is in a pickle, several pickles actually. She just broke up with her boyfriend and she is in love with Spider-Man. Peter is fawning over here, using his role as algebra tutor to be close to her, which has worked as he has become her new best friend. That has caused problems with Mary Jane’s best girlfriend, Liz. How many best friends can a girl have?

Mary Jane has also decided to try out for the school play and has made enemies of long time drama queen, Lindsay Leighton (although Mary Jane doesn’t know she’s made an enemy) when Mary Jane beats Lindsay out of the title role. That’s just asking for some type of adolescent revenge. Mary Jane gets tired of waiting for Spidey and she chases him down to ask him out, leaving Spider-Parker in the lurch. What does he do, go out with her as his alter ego or decline and hope that his geeky true self can convince her to go on a date. This title is all about drama and the life of an adolescent.

My Rating: 11 and older
Back of the Book: Teen Romance (12 and older)
Publisher’s Website: All Ages
Comics in the 10 and older

There is some discrepancy as to the appropriate age of the reader for this title. The back of the book rates it as a teen romance recommended for ages 12 and older. However, the Marvel website rates it as an All Ages book. Marvel is the publisher mind you. recommends the book for children ages 10 and older. The discrepancies are probably related to the romantic situations of teenagers. The characters are dressed in contemporary styling, but nothing revealing or sexual. The violence is mild and includes typical comic book action. As the story is about Mary Jane and not really Spider-Man, the action is kept to a minimum.

This is a book that will appeal to anyone interested in budding romantic relationships and the troubles caused by being in some form of love or like. This will appeal to both everyone, but I would think that girls would be especially interested.

Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane is a perfect book to help kids make sense of their friendships, budding interests in the opposite sex, and the wide range of emotions that they are feeling or will be feeling. Characters, just like people in the real world, hide their feelings, are confused by what is going on, and are overwhelmed by their emotions. There is plenty of school drama here for anyone’s liking. The ebb and flow of friendships and the constant change that is the “first best friend” and “second best friend” hierarchy of relationships are all present. Jealousy and envy are also part of the mix, making for an interesting read.

This is not a typical superhero book. Told from Mary Jane’s point of view, and focusing more on her relationships with her many friends and love interest Spidey himself, this is considered a teen romance, thus the name Super Crush.

Illustrated by Takeshi Miyazawa, this is a digest sized, paperback compilation of the original comics. It is in color and printed on a high quality matte paper. The cover art is representative of the art inside in both style and coloring. The colors are bright and the illustrator utilizes a medium contrast. The art maintains a youthful tone by establishing a cartoonish feel, rather than more realistic works of other books. Yet, it is not a childlike nor is it in a manga cartoon style.

(NOTE: I had this book for a week and the pages started falling out. I will exchange it for another copy and see if it was an isolated incident or a problem with the overall construction.)

One of the jobs of an upper elementary and middle school teacher is to help students work in groups, develop relationships and communicate effectively with others. This would be a perfect book to discuss communication in its many forms. As children only develop empathy beginning around 12 years old, this book is a good way to explore the feelings of others and how one’s actions affect others. Other explorations can also be discussed as upper elementary children and teens are discovering their interests in extra-curricular activities, such as drama. Present in all Spider-Man comics is the issue of bullies. This book openly explores the issue of bullies from the perspective both from those that dislike you and those who pretend to like you. The rollercoaster ride that is the typical female adolescent relationship is also ripe for discussion. There are many avenues for a teacher to use in a classroom.

I recommend this book beginning in fifth grade. At that age, relationships are developing and drama is setting in. It would be a boon for female readers, especially those that may be dealing with relationship issues (both good and bad) and those who struggle to read, as well. It would be very applicable on the middle school level.


FORMAT: Paperback, collecting all five comic issues
PUBLISHER: Active Synapse
GENRE: Biological Fiction

The lifecycle of the bee

This story is about Nyuki, a bee, who is born a larva and lives her life according to the hive rules. Her older sister, Dvorah, is a friend who helps her learn what she needs to know of bee life. The story begins as Nyuki is a bee larva and takes us through her entire life cycle.

  • Nyuki: The main character
  • Dvorah: Nyuki’s sister
  • Sisyphus: A dung beetle
  • Bloomington: The flower

My Rating: 8 and older preferred
My Recommended Target Age: 10-15
Comics in the Forth grade and above

This is a science comic, first and foremost. It is intended to be used as an informational book about the life of bees. Life, death and mating is a part of the life cycle and is not dumbed down or scrubbed from the script just because it may be sad. These topics are addressed in an appropriate and scientific way to discuss bees.

Clan Apis (Latin for bees) is the story of the birth, life and death of bees, specifically the life cycle of Nyuki (Swahili for bee). While the story is anthropomorphic, that is the characters have some human qualities such as speaking English and experiencing emotions, the story is not allegorical to human life. It is, aside from speaking and feeling emotions, strictly an informational book about bees and their habits and behaviors. They do not put on clothes or dream of a more human existence outside the hive. The plants and animals in this story act as plants and animals actually behave.

Author Jay Hosler, who is a neurobiologist who studies olfactory processes in honey bees, has stuffed all kinds of interesting bee information into the story, giving it depth and academic credibility. We learn about the hive, how the bees construct the hive, why it is designed the way it is, and about the different roles that bees assume in the hive. We understand pheromones and learn about how honey is made. This is a fantastic scientific story that is excitedly written to teach children without boring them, making the experience meaningful and long lasting.

Also illustrated by Jay Hosler, the artwork is the weakest aspect of the book, if indeed there is a weakness at all. The story is illustrated with high contrast, black and white drawings. The illustrations could be clearer at times, especially if color were used, to make distinctions between different bees very clear. However, most of the time, those distinctions are clear. The paper used, is a decent quality matte paper.

This book is right at home in the classroom. The story allows a teacher to discuss biology in general, and bee behavior specifically, and to address science on many levels, depending on the ability of the classroom. Everything about bee life is addressed in the book including information on why the honeycomb is built with a 13 percent slope, what a bee dance means, and how the queen bee makes sure no other females can reproduce. Student can be engaged in low level and high level thinking skills based on this book.

There are some fancy vocabulary words in the book; the author does not shy away from offering complex ideas into the story. I think most students will appreciate a book that does not talk down to them and most teachers will enjoy that the book challenges, but doesn’t overtax the students.

You can get a rundown of the information contained in each chapter of Clan Apis by clicking here.

Jay Hosler is a neurobiologist who studies the olfactory processes of honey bees. He is also an Assistant Professor of Biology at Juniata College. If you wish to use his book Clan Apis or his other work “The Sandwalk Adventures: An Adventure in Evolution”, in your classroom you can contact him at:

Jay Hosler
1082 Von Liebig Center for Science
Juniata College
Huntington, PA 16652

He is currently working on other projects such as “The Age of Elytra” a comic about the beetles as well as “Optical Allusions”, a science comic book that is funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation.

Highly Recommended
I cannot recommend this book enough. It is a high quality science graphic novel that is amazingly interesting and engaging on numerous levels. It does discuss mating and death as it pertains to a bee’s life, but not in ways that are inappropriate for children. This comic, unlike many others, is a science book that also addresses literature requirements.

I would go so far as to say that this is a perfect book to introduce more informational or non-fiction type books into a child’s home library. What a perfect way to help people become less scared of such a fascinating organism.


Reinforced Library Binding (Hardback)
PUBLISHER: Stone Arch Books
GENRE: Traditional Literature in Graphic Form

  • Relationships (friendship and mild budding romance)
  • Death
  • Crime
  • Adolescence
  • Rural Living
  • Honesty
  • Secret Keeping
  • Attending School
  • Action-Adventure
  • Racial Stereotypes
  • Greed
  • Deception
  • Betrayal
  • Acceptance

The clever boy, Tom Sawyer, is a precocious child full of trickery and general mischief. He has an active imagination and enjoys childlike adventures and playing tricks on everyone, including his Aunt Polly. His best friend, Huck Finn, lives on his own and the two frequently play together. One night, however, the two witness a murder that leads to some real-life danger-filled adventures. The two must decide whether to keep the secret or risk life and limb to do the right thing and save an innocent man’s life.

  • Tom Sawyer
  • Huck Finn
  • Joe Harper
  • Aunt Polly
  • Injun Joe
  • Muff Potter
  • Doc
  • Becky Thatcher
  • Widow Douglas

My Rating: All Ages
Publisher’s Recommended Reading Level: Grades 2-3
Publisher’s Recommended Interest Level: Grades 5-9

The reading level of the work is low, which is appropriate for young readers and higher-grade reluctant readers. I can see early emerging readers being very interested in this book, as will upper elementary and even middle school students.

This is a retelling of Mark Twain’s famous novel by the same name. This particular adaptation is done in comic book form, reinventing this classic story for a modern young audience. It is very hard to capture the richness of the original novel in just 63 pages; author, M.C. Hall, did it in six chapters: Tom in Trouble, Murder in the Graveyard, A Pirate’s Life, More Trouble for Tom, Treasure, and Lost and Found. The story is rushed a bit and is focused on the action, leaving the character development as a side note. That will leave young readers wondering why the characters do what they do and may even confuse them about what is going on. However, that can lead to good discussion and possibly send a student toward the original work. To that end, the sparseness and speed of the story may serve the graphic adaptation well. I would still argue that the storyteller could have gone into more detail.

Illustrated by Daniel Strickland, this book is in full color with heavy inks. The characters are simply drawn with medium to heavy ink outlines. The coloring is mostly one-dimensional and shading of characters is typically achieved through high contrast, heavy inking rather than through the use of color. The backgrounds, however, are sometimes constructed with color shading. Typically, there are 2-3 panels per page with very little overlay. The illustrator used a minimalist approach with both character and setting. Considering a young audience, the art may be very appropriate. This does not have a grown-up look, making it very appealing to kids. It is obviously meant for children, pre-teens and teens. The construction of the book is very good. It is a hardback edition with high quality glossy pages.

As with any work by Mark Twain, the story is rich and interesting. It leaves open a discussion on many fronts. There are many topics to talk about in the classroom such as examples:

  • Analyzing how and why Tom tricks his friends into doing his chores.
  • Does a good friend trick his or her friends?
  • Comparison of the life between Tom and Huck
  • Pseudo-adoption and acceptance of Huck by Widow Douglas
  • Examination of how greed influences behavior
  • The stereotypes of American Indians
  • Understanding the grief associated with death
  • The harm of keeping secrets
  • Why do kids who like one another sometimes act mean to each other?
  • Should Tom and Huck have told about what they witnessed?
  • How would the fear of being murdered by Injun Joe affect Tom?

This story is very applicable to many students and from it many discussions and writing assignments could present themselves. The setting of the story lends itself to good discussion about rural living and the importance of the Mississippi River to the economy. The cave as a story element could lead to several science projects about caves and the biological organism located therein. One could even do an experiment to explore the importance of whitewashing a fence and what happens to unprotected wood. It might be interesting to discover what animals live in such a rural setting.

Stone Arch Books also publishes other works of fiction as graphic novels: King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, Robin Hood, Treasure Island, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and Black Beauty.

I would recommend this for any elementary or middle school. It is an excellent way to introduce young children to classic literature without overwhelming them with large amounts of prose. There is only small amounts of reading material to each page, making it pretty easy.

NEOTOPIA: Volume 1

FORMAT: Paperback digest, collecting issues 1-5
PUBLISHER: Anarctic Press
GENRE: Fantasy

Nature versus Industry
Love versus Hate
Standing Up For What Is Right

Professor Felder
Sgt. Tinbolt
Lord Emperor X’Xorgon
Emperor Sinslith
Taskmaster Ghul

At one time, the land of Neotopia became dominated by industry. That industry, however, polluted the land and corrupted the society. Greed and deception ruled the land and the mystical and magical creatures left the world. One thousand years later, the world moved back to a way of life that was in harmony with nature and the magic that was once lost found its way back into society.

During her childhood the main character, Nalyn, played with her friend, who also happened to be Nydia, the Grand Duchess of Methenia. As they grew older the Grand Duchess became bored with the everyday affairs of the kingdom. So her servant friend, Nalyn, stood in her place, entertaining guests, meeting diplomats, attending school, learning self-defense, and attending parties.

Her brother, the Grand Duke was tyrannical and cold. He was concerned with acquiring wealth and territory. One day their land was attacked by the Kingdom of Krossia, from the other side of the world. Other countries came to their aid, but treachery was loose and the Methenians were scattered across the lands. Together with her friends, Nalyn, still posing as the Grand Duchess embarks on an adventure to save Neotopia.

Written by Rod Espinosa, creator of the Eisner-nominated comic book, The Courageous Princess, this is an action packed story, with good character development in the main character, Nalyn. The secondary characters, her friends, are still pretty undeveloped in this first volume as are the evil insect-like invaders from Krossia.

Espinosa did a good job integrating the ideas of nature into the story. Well past the days of industry, work is achieved through old-fashioned hand-work. Jet packs and laser guns are a thing of the past. Weapons include bows, staffs, swords, cannons and the like. Transportation is very representatives of old sailing vessels of old, complete with masts, ropes and modified sails. That is, the ships are able to sail on water and air, using some type of hot air balloon technology.

Espinosa is a manga artist who utilizes thin ink ines and he makes use of color for shading. The color is light and beautiful. Unlike many manga comics, this is in full color, which makes for beautiful pages. It is considered a pocket manga, which means it is a digest sized book. The pages are fine quality matte paper with a 158-page story. Included in the back is a map of the lands and a chart showing the route of each army, which was very helpful.

My Rating: All Ages, 8 and older preferred
Publisher’s Rating: All Ages

While this tale is suitable for all ages, it will be difficult for lower elementary students to grasp on their own. It would be a fine read for those early grades if co-read with an adult to explain the dialogue, story and the art work.

There are a lot of big issues in Neotopia: racism, classism, ecology, and imperialism, all of which could be discussed in a social sciences setting. Nalyn is a servent posing as royalty, and her friend, Monti, is a Chiropterian, a race who is not liked by many humans. These dynamics caqn be played out on the classroom and even school wide unit, discussion how there are different groups of kids in the school and how that plays a role in how others are treated.

The Krossian army is trying to take over the rest of the world and they would not be the first to try to create an empire. This could be used in a discussion of 20th or 21st Century politics as well as a history lesson of the rise and fall of other empires.

The driving force behind everything, is the push and pull between nature and industry which is a perfect backdrop to discuss recycling and pollution and how it affected their world, allowing the students to draw conclusions about our world.

You could use the Neotopian technology of flying to discuss how a hot air balloon works and how ships use wind as a power. For that matter, you could discover how different types of renewable energy souces.

Rod Espinosa also created The Courageous Princess, which was nominated for an Eisner Award. He has other works under his belt as well.

I enjoyed this first volume of stories and I want to see what happens next. I appreciated the introduction of nature and how it plays a vital role in our world as well as the different class of people involved. The society seems very real and well thought out. While the story may be difficult even for upper elementary students, I would recommend it for the classroom and school library.


I was a poor, unmotivated reader in school and to some extent, even during my college years, despite the fact that I was seeking (and earned) a degree in English. My emphasis during my post secondary years was on creative writing. We’ll just ignore the hypocrisy of the writer as the reluctant reader for now. Recognizing in the first grade that I was an utterly incompetent reader, as compared to the many girls in my class whose wonderful progress was charted nicely above the green slate chalkboard, I handed over all types of reading to the rest of the world. I just wasn’t interested.

It wasn’t until I had a child that I decided that the road traveled was the wrong path. Not wanting to pass down my poor reading habits, I sought out something new for me: I looked for reading that would somehow help me find my long lost inner reader, that child who enjoyed stories, myths and fantastical adventures. At the same time I wanted something that had a strong female presence, girl power if you will, something to share with my daughter in future years. Something different and fresh and interesting.

I finally found myself in a local comic book store, with my friend Larry, looking for some adventures that a child and her father might enjoy together. My early impression of comics was a misguided and stereotypical one. Like many, I just assumed that comics were for young boys and old geeks, a form of low art – a bastardized form of sub-literature, nothing worth my skills as a writer with a formal degree. I don’t exactly recollect why that changed, but my perspective changed and continues to change.

There I stood, staring at the racks of comic books, realizing that there was an untapped source of legitimate reading material that was not just for little guys and geeky fan boys. There were rich and deep stories from many manufacturers. In the five years since that day, the comic industry has continued to evolve with the culture. In 2002 the American Library Association invited several comic book artists to the group’s convention. Much to those comic creators’ surprise, the librarians knew something about the comic industry that others did not. Comics were key to helping children, especially boys, get involved with reading. Comics are slowly entering elementary classrooms as a cross-curriculum endeavor. They are used to teach history, social studies, science, and other subjects, while also meeting communication arts requirements.

With the prevalence of technology, video games, and animated films, our culture has mutated and evolved. The written word, the traditional book, is not being replaced by comics. Rather, comics are taking their place in the social consciousness right beside its older cousin. Comics are influencing the modern cultural landscape. Just last year the 9/11 Commission released its report in graphic novel form in hopes of finding an audience uninterested by the traditionally-printed report. Today, many comics and graphic novels are produced: both fiction and non-fiction. Classic literature is being reinterpreted for the graphic novel format, and historical figures are being captured in the pages of non-fiction comics. They ain’t your Daddy’s comics anymore.

Understanding the children with whom I will be interacting on a daily basis in the classroom is vital to my making lasting impacts on their young minds. As I have argued before, simply teaching as I was taught is not sufficient in today’s classroom. A good teacher, an ethical and motivated teacher, will seek out ways to enhance learning in a meaningful and lasting way. I believe that comics are simply one tool that can be used in the classroom to help reluctant readers find a way to be interested in the written word. Reading is not just for girls or for children with purely academic interests. Even struggling readers can find enjoyment out of literature, a definition which I proudly state consists of comics and graphic novels.

I have help in my endeavor. Canadian elementary teacher, Scott Tingley, runs the Comics in the Classroom website. He’s been a great help to me in finding the right comics for my future classroom. Comic distributor, Diamond, also has a division geared toward getting comics in the classroom.

It is exciting to be on the forefront of an exciting movement toward the education of our youth. Every good elementary teacher has his own collection of literature for his classroom library. Most educators suggest having at least 200 books. I am amassing my collection now, which will include graphic novels and comics. From time to time, I will write reviews of those comics and post them here for you.