Monday, April 30, 2007


I am reveling in the fact that I am able to head to Kansas City, Kansas this weekend for the annual Planet Comicon. It’s a smaller convention than others, but it is a good start for me. It is an event that I had made before, but it was only for fun. The KC con is the only one I’ve ever attended. I’ve never made it to a big con before, but the wheels are in motion for Wizard World Chicago.

I have friends going with me this weekend: one friend, one teenage cousin and possibly one other. They have been warned. I am not there for fun. For me, this weekend is about connecting with writers, illustrators and publishers. It is all about promoting the use of comic literature in the elementary and secondary classroom. The only way for me to do that is to stand in lines to talk to these folks and attend any seminars.

One writer that I am dying to meet is David Petersen, the writer and illustrator of the ever-popular MOUSE GUARD. I haven't reviewed this book personally; but I am very interested in it. My personal budget is small and I can't afford too buy too many books, so I don’t have that one yet. Besides, I have books sitting on the shelf that creators or publishers have sent me, so those always come first.

We are only going up for one day, but I will be sure to come back and write about the experience and hopefully share some pictures. Blog reader, writer, illustrator, or publisher, let me know if you are going. I'd like to meet you.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007


Perfect bound, magazine-sized (8.5x11) paperback
Little Spirit Bear Productions
Chad Solomon and Christopher Meyer
Chad Solomon
Historical Fiction

Native Americans (Ojibwa)
18th Century Colonized North America
Oral Stories

Rabbit: 12-year-old Native American
Bear Paws:
10-year-old younger, but bigger, brother
Clover Blossom:
The boys’ adoptive mother
Grey Stone:
The boys’ adoptive father and tribal medicine man

Two Ojibwa boys, Rabbit and Bear Paws, from the Northeast are prone to adventures as opposed to working on their chores for the tribe. Older, but smaller, Rabbit is hyperactive and ornery. He easily tires of chores and chooses exploration and experimentation instead. Rabbit easily leads his larger but younger brother, Bear Paws, astray and the two find themselves getting into all kinds of trouble. Colonies are popping up, trade is occurring, and trouble is brewing, leaving all kinds of new discoveries for the duo.

Many times writings about Native Americans are based on stereotypes of all native cultures. In the case of the ADVENTURES OF RABBIT AND BEAR PAWS we have a book created by Chad Solomon, a member of the Ojibwa nation. Solomon and Meyer do a good job of incorporating Ojibwa traditions and beliefs into the story line. Both the elders and the animals impart knowledge through the deep-rooted oral traditions of real Ojibwa story telling, which makes the book personal and inviting.

The depiction of adults as inferior or ignorant is common in children’s literature. Young people enjoy seeing adults as the antagonist. The dichotomy is stated, but in this case it is not between young and old, but between native peoples and foreign cultures. The Native American viewpoint is strong here as the British soldiers are depicted as simplistic, bumbling fools. The Ojibwa, on the other hand, are the peaceful, reverent and thoughtful culture, caring for all things created. That is, except the boys. They, especially Rabbit, are mischievous. It is a great perspective and one that is sometimes lost on the typical American of today.

Other aspects of culture revolve around the medicine. Many native cultures believed in the ability of humans, or some humans, to transform into animals. The same is true with the Ojibwa, and this ability is a literary device that is used to save the boys from their own adventures and eventually teach them about their wrong doings.

Despite all the good in the book, the plot and characters need some work. The mistake that many writers of children’s literature make involves underestimating the audience. Solomon and Meyer fall into that trap. Rather than allowing the interesting and powerful oral stories to stand on their own, the characters will then tell the reader what he or she was supposed to learn from the story.

When I was getting my bachelor’s degree in writing, one of my professors offered the lesson with simple words: “Show me; don’t tell me.” The writers need to allow their stories and young characters to show the reader, rather than relying on some dialogue to insult the reader and tell them what they should have learned.

After getting in trouble and then hearing an oral story, which taught them about respecting all creatures great and small, Rabbit and Bear Paws have a discussion themselves. Says 10-year-old Bear Paws on page 11:

“If the bulk of the world is carried by the smallest, shouldn’t we celebrate them instead of belittling them?”

Children do not have lengthy philosophical discussions about life lessons. That is an adult activity. Children think and they act. In this book, our young characters do not always talk like children, in order to hammer home the intended lesson. Unfortunately, this technique ends up taking away from the story. Children are used to being preached at, and they will typically reject it in their literature, especially if they are reading for enjoyment.

One aspect of the writing that I did enjoy was the nod to Mark Twain’s Tom Sawyer. Rabbit, who is high spirited and adventurous does not con anyone into painting a fence, but he is able to get his younger brother, Bear Paws, to embark on all kinds of things that he would not normally do. Rabbit is clever, like Tom Sawyer, in the way he convinces his young brother to buck the rules and go along. Bear Paws is a good boy who does what he is supposed to, except when his brother is around.


Unlike sections of the writing, the art is not cluttered. The color palette is light and bright. The shading is done eloquently with color and the inking is left to a minimum. The sequential art is easy to follow and makes sense from panel to panel. Solomon uses several panels per page, which works well with the oversized format. He averages 12 panels per page but had up to 15 on some pages. Sometimes the size of the font is small in order to fit in all of the dialogue. This typically only happens when a character is preaching to the reader and could be eliminated by reworking the story. Solomon does include a nice map at the beginning to help the reader make sense of the location of the Ojibwa nation and America in the 18th Century.

Sample art.

The map at the beginning of the book.

My Rating: All Ages
All Ages Reads: Not Rated
Comics in the Classroom: Not Rated

This is an appropriate book to use when studying Native American peoples and cultures, especially those cultures that are different than those living in the plains regions. The oral traditions are strong and would be a perfect fit for study in the classroom. Students could write about the Ojibwa story that describes how the world was flooded because of corruption and how the world came into being again. Specifically, they could compare and contrast that story with others they know or have heard of. If a teacher stops the students right after the oral stories, then the students could also write about what the story means, before the characters tell them. This would allow the students to re-read the Ojibwa mythos and make sense of it on their own.

The comic is also produced online, which is the good compliment for any technology-based classroom. The creators and publishers should be proud of the fact that they publish an online version. According to the website, there is a strip posted every Monday, which could make for an on-going Communication Arts or Social Studies assignment. has also published two different lesson plans around this work. Click here and here for them.

There is an online comic and there are other graphic novels in the works.

Despite the writing issues, the work is still advantageous for the classroom. Students need to be exposed to different cultures and sub-cultures. This is an appropriate book for any classroom or library. The art is great and the pages are easy to follow. I do hope that the writers work harder to show us, rather than telling us.

Saturday, April 14, 2007


Kids love nothing more than to learn through hands-on manipulation and creativity. For those teachers who use comics and graphic novels in the classroom, making use of the medium can be an engaging tool for students, but there is more to using comics in the classroom than simply reading them.

There is certainly an argument to be made for students taking their knowledge and creating their own comic book. I just finished a similar assignment in my Biology class. We spent a few weeks studying the mealworm and keeping data on the organism. Eventually we learned that the mealworm is not really a worm at all, but the larva stage of the Darkling Beetle. Like the caterpillar, the Darkling Beetle goes through the process of metamorphosis.

Our assignment, given after we studied the mealworm, was to write a children’s book on the subject. Elementary and secondary teachers could do similar assignments allowing students to choose their own book format. This is the perfect time for a student to use the idea of comic book in a way that is fresh, new and engaging. This would take time on the part of the teacher to instruct about the creation of a comic book – plot, characters, sequence, illustrations, panels, dialogue and thought bubbles, and narration – but it could reap some creative results.

In the technology-based classroom, this could be really fun with the use of comic book creation software. In my own situation, I used the program, Comic Life 1.3, a Macintosh-based program that has received the “Best Product New to Mac OS X 2005” award. Not all technology-based classrooms have Macs, but some do. Comic Life does not currently come in a PC version, but the company is working toward one. Classroom and District licenses are available for a very reasonable cost.

This program was a lot of fun and was easy to use. It functions by using your own photos from your computer’s iPhoto library. I could have easily done my own illustrations by hand, scanned them and then imported them into iPhoto.

Once in the iPhoto library, the images are instantly accessible to Comic Life without having to do anything. There are page templates available, comic fonts, and colors to make things more fun. The pages are formatted for an 8.5”x11” sheet of paper rather than traditional comic size.

My comic book was nine pages long. I chose to make my characters (Percy the mealworm and his mother a darkling beetle) out of my 6-year-old daughter’s modeling clay, then I shot the clay characters with my digital camera. A high quality technology-based class should have a digital camera. I then uploaded the photos to iPhoto and turned them into black and white shots. Then I formatted my pages using the templates and came out with a fun little comic at the end. I took my images to Fed-Ex/Kinkos and had my comic printed on 11”x17” glossy paper, had it folded and stapled and put it in a magazine-sized bag and board. Most classes would not need to have it printed on fancy paper. Printing and binding is up to the teacher and the resources available to the school, but there are several different inexpensive solutions.

Introducing comics into the classroom in an alternative way, gives the students a new way to process information and use their creativity. It can also give students an appreciation of the craft that goes into producing a high quality piece of comic literature. Besides being fun, my project helped me not only learn but internalize the information, making it a lasting experience. Following is my little comic that I put together for my Biology class using Comic Life 1.3:

Page 1

Page 2

Page 3

Page 4

Page 5

Page 6

Page 7

Page 8

Page 9

Tuesday, April 10, 2007


CD-ROM and Comic
PUBLISHER: Learn Well Graphics
AUTHOR: Richard Keaton
GENRE: Non-Fiction

American History
The American Revolution
The Shot Heard ‘Round the World
The Proclamation of 1763
The Sugar Act of 1764
The Quartering Act of 1765
The Stamp Act of 1765
The Townsend Act of 1767
The Sons of Liberty
The French and Indian War
The Patriots
The Loyalists
The Intolerable Acts of 1774
The Boston Massacre
The Boston Tea Party

As is stated in the title, this story follows the American Revolution and the causes behind it. This CD-ROM comic with printed booklet gives a concise overview of the taxation, boycotts, and the tensions between the colonists and the British Parliament which led to the American Revolution.

AGE RECOMMENDATION My Rating: Ages 11 and older
Publisher’s Rating: Ages 11-17
Comics in the Classroom: No Rating
News-A-Rama: No Rating

History can seem boring to many children, especially when a teacher focuses on names and dates as opposed to concepts and deep understanding. CAUSES OF THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION by Richard Keaton at Learn Well Graphics has come up with a wonderful way to make history more accessible and interesting.

History requires discussion and explanation, yet Keaton does not overly emphasize exposition, but makes his points concisely. He stops the story, from time to time, to define a word to the reader and even offer pronunciation guides. The Lesson Plan CD offers a series of exercises for the students that can be printed off. There is a wealth of information chucked into a 33 pages of comic, but it is well worth it. This is, by far, a much better choice than a typical textbook and is perfect for school, beginning in the upper elementary grades.

I did find one spelling mistake. The word was spelled “whoo”; it should have been spelled “whoa”. Spelling is a serious issue for any piece of professionally produced curriculum for the classroom and it should be corrected.

My criticism of this book, and it will prove true for the other book in the series, is the artwork. The illustrations are a bit juvenile for my taste. That is not to say that it is drawn in such a way as to attract young readers; rather, the illustrations are not of the high quality that I would expect to see in a mainstream comic book or other illustrated book for children or teens.

The rendering of the illustrations is a significant problem. There are some differences in the rendering of the art displayed on the interactive CD and the printed comic. The printed work has some art that is pixilated (has jagged edges that look like the picture was blown up too large). That does not appear to be a problem on the CD. Also, the art in the printed booklet is sometimes much darker and harder to interpret than its CD counterpart. Despite the fact that the rendering was better on the CD than the printed booklet, that does not have any effect on the quality of the images as a whole. I think the illustrator, if he spent more time developing his talent, would be able to really increase the quality and likeability of the entire series. To the illustrator’s credit, the art was designed in color, which is a must for children. It would have been much easier and cheaper to produce this in black and white. They held out and utilized color.

Unlike many comics, this entire series by Learn Well Graphics is intended and designed to be used in the classroom. Mixing technology with comic books, Keaton writes an overview of the American Revolution that could easily be incorporated into an existing class. This series is a perfect addition to a lesson or unit on the American Revolution.

What makes this so exceptional and sets it apart from other comics or graphic novels, is not just the electronic rendering of the comic on CD, but the interactive nature of the CD version of the booklet. Children will respond to the movement of the panels and the voiceovers that can read all of the text, in theatrical ways. This is brilliant on the part of the creators and is essential in an inclusive classroom. Students with disabilities and those with lower reading abilities will be engaged and can read along while the narrator reads the text. Students who are gifted or those who are especially interested in history can also use the additional resources to learn more about the American Revolution. This approach makes better use of Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences when compared to traditional lecture.

Periodically, when using the CD-based comic, the narration ends and a short quiz will pop up to assess the learning. A teacher can choose to stop there for the day or continue on, based on the results of the assessment.

As for a technology-based classroom, there is no better way to teach history than through this medium. The information can be studied in several ways: one-on-one, small groups or as a classroom. Students can read through the booklet alone or in groups of two, or students could utilize technology and study the subject at a single computer in groups of two or more. The teacher could also choose to project the comic on the CD onto a screen and teach the entire class at one time. This opens a lot of doors for a teacher to work with a classroom that may have many students at many different levels.

There are two CD’s. One contains the interactive comic, complete with moving panels and theatrical reading of text. The other CD contains information and exercises for the teacher to utilize. There is also a matrix that shows what pieces of curriculum each exercise meets.


This almost deserves a HIGHLY RECOMMENDED rating as the interactive nature of the series is amazing. The only reason I did not was because of the poor quality of the art and the spelling mistake. However, that opinion should not prevent anyone from using this in the classroom. It could be an essential piece of curriculum that can energize and educate students, especially those in a technology-based classroom.

Thursday, April 5, 2007


(EDITOR'S NOTE: The recommendations (age and appropriateness) for this title have been revised since the original publication. JOURNEY TO MOHAWK COUNTRY now carries a "Recommended with Reservations" rather than a "Not Recommended" label, and the recommended age for the classroom has been increased to "Middle School". Upon review, we felt a label of "Not Recommended" was unfair as this is an authentic piece of history and the literary significance of which outweighs the one panel of nudity from the side.)

PUBLISHER: First Second
GENRE: Historical Non-Fiction

Native Americans (Iroquis)
Early American Settlements
Trade Routes

Harmen Meyndertsz Van den Bogaert

Young Dutch trader, Harmen Meyndertsz Van den Bogaert, set of on an adventure to explore the Northeast area and establish trade agreements with the Mohawk Indians, who controlled the trade routes in 1634.

What makes this story amazing, what sets it apart from other historical accounts, is that it is in the words of the Dutch trader himself (translated into English). The words are his own and the story is true. This is an exploration of real non-fiction and should appeal to students as a way to explore history outside of a textbook or lecture. There isn’t a lot of action in the book, besides walking from one community to another, eating, sleeping and trading. There are no great action-adventure scenes and no war parties. Even still, I think students will be interested in it, if they know about the lack of action to begin with.

George O’Connor has taken Van den Bogaert’s words and then created a pictorial account of his journal. O’Connor utilizes a minimalist approach in the inks and colors, yet the story is rich and interesting. The quality of the book is excellent and at 141 pages, is very interesting.

There is one scene in the book where three Native American ladies are topless. The picture is not obscene, but it does raise concerns about the appropriateness of the book for children.

This art is bright
and colorful.

Panels are easy
to understand and read.

Notice the brief nudity
on this page. It is tastefully
done, but could cause
problems in the classroom.

My Rating (in general): Ages 10 and older
My Rating (for the classroom): Middle School
Comics in the Classroom: Ages 10 and older

Once again, you may notice that there is a discrepancy in the ratings. In fact, I have split my rating up into two categories: “In General” and “For The Classroom”. This is because the book is hard to rate. As stated above, there is a panel where some women are topless. There is another scene where a Native American and Van den Bogaert get drunk. The intoxication is obvious through the illustrations.

I have no issues with either the toplessness or the alcohol. Both are cultural. In the case of the women, the illustration is tasteful. Drunkenness has been a part of American culture for many years and is nothing new to children of today. When my daughter is old enough to read, understand and be interested in this book, say 10 years old, then she can read it. I have no objections, which is why I offered a general rating.

For the classroom, however, I have a different opinion. Many classrooms, especially in the midwest, are very sensitive to sexuality and alcohol. For classroom use, I think the ages need to be older, at least in more conservative communities.

(NOTE: Comics In The Classroom has updated it's recommendation to "Ages 10 and Older".)

You might think that I would have little to say in this section; however, I think that some communities could use this book in the classroom. Specifically, this could be used when discussing Native Americans and their culture. Many times, we think of the Plains Indians when we think of Native Americans, with teepees and males wearing nothing but a broadcloth. There are many other Native American cultures from different areas. This book gives a great look at the Iroquois culture, specifically the Mohawks. I think students would enjoy reading a real account of a trader in New York and how he survives the journey.

George O’Connor has written several pictures books for children including some on the New York Times bestsellers list.

Recommended with Reservations
The nudity, albeit quick and partial, is a problem for a classroom, especially for elementary or middle school students. At least that is true for many parts of the country, including many parts of Missouri. I would recommend it to my own child when she is around 10-years-old or so because I think the book is worthy of being read.