Friday, May 25, 2007


Emmanuel Guibert
TRANSLATOR: Sasha Watson
PUBLISHER: First Second Books
GENRE: Science Fiction

FORMAT: Paperback
PAGES: 122 pages
COLOR: Full Color
ISBN-10: 1-59643-126-1

Space Pirates
Swashbuckling Adventures

Aboard the spaceship “The Huckleberry” a trio of space pirates – Uncle Yellow Shoulder, kid niece Sardine, and kid cousin Little Louie – race across the reaches of space to foil the plots of the evil chief executive dictator of the universe, Supermuscleman and his side kick, Doc Krok.

SARDINE IN OUTER SPACE is a funny, mildly irreverent, “Captain Underpants” meets “The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show” for all ages. I thought that was a rather clever thing of me to say until I realized that my friends over at All Ages Reads said the same thing first. That just tells me that it is right on. I enjoyed reading through this book, but the whole time I felt guilty that I was somehow breaking the rules and reading a book that I am not welcome to read. As the inside cover says: “No grown-ups allowed unless they’re pirates or space adventurers”. This book is for kids – written for them, illustrated for them, and all about them. The kids act like kids, feel like kids and do kid-like things. All of which gets them into all kinds of trouble, but that is just how it is when you are a space pirate.

The characters will appeal to kids because they are just a bit naughty. They wear skulls on their shirts, have scars, and their clothes are tattered and worn. Emmanuel Guibert’s writing is tight and concise; the stories are short and to the point. A kid can pop through one between finishing one assignment and beginning another. It’s almost like experiencing a toned down Monty Python or Mel Brooks movie. This is great children’s humorous literature. It is clever and full of all kinds of references.

Be warned. With irreverence comes some things that could raise the ire of parents. On page 40, Sardine cuts a honkfish in half. It doesn’t kill him; why I don’t know. That’s how it works in the Sardine universe. Also, as a space pirate, Captain Yellow Shoulders drinks space rum. They are pirates after all. You have to expect some things. Other than that, it’s fine, but you should consider your community.

Joann Sfar has done a brilliant job illustrating this book. Her style fits the writing and theme of the story and gives it a child-friendly appeal. Honestly, when I first saw the art, I was not impressed, but after the first chapter, I knew that this art was perfect for this comic. The more I read it, the more I love the art. I think kids will too.

Check out the this page.
Galactic Booger! Kids
will dig that.

This is the bad guy,
Supermuscle man and

his sidekick Dr. Krok.

My Rating: All Ages
Publisher’s Rating: Younger Readers
All Ages Reads: Kids’ Comic
Comics in the Classroom: All Ages

From cover to cover this is a book that is meant for kids. It may be too irreverent, silly, or too filled with bathroom humor for many grown-ups.

SARDINE IN OUTER SPACE is a good book to help that inattentive, uninterested, unmotivated, frustrated student. Some kids do not care about reading, even good works like Harry Potter. Books can seem overwhelming. This comic holds some things that those books do not. It is irreverent. Because of the bathroom humor and focus of the book, a teacher might be inclined to pass on this comic as having little literary value. That would be wrong. This book, unlike other works, has a special draw for certain kids. It may just be the book to spark an interest in reading.

Besids, our culture’s best comedians have started out reading comics, MAD magazine and other things deemed trash. They spent time in class getting in trouble for joking around. A sense of humor is the best way to help students cope with life and deal with anger issues. If properly channeled and coddled, that annoying jester may be able to turn his kidding into a profession someday. For the kid who likes this book, encourage him or her to write funny stories and use comedy in his or her journals.

The chapters are very short and are stand-alone stories. This allows that reader with a very short attention span to read without feeling overwhelmed by the number of pages. It also lets students read a little bit between assignments.

This is a French book that has been translated into English. At the time of publication, there were two more volumes in the series.

MY RECOMMENDATION: Highly Recommended
A creative work of children’s humor, this book has a special place in your library.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007


You can see by my list of COMICS TO REVIEW (on the right-hand column), what I’m reviewing in the upcoming days and weeks. The list includes both books that have been sent to me, and comics that I have purchased. This is just a small sampling of the many all-ages comics out there.

What are some of your favorites that I have not reviewed? What am I missing? I am curious what my readership wants me to review in the future. If you have idea or a request, post it (or them) in the comments section. You can also email me, but it would be fun for everyone to see.

I always give priority to books that are sent to me, but I do purchase my own books as well. So think about it and lets get a discussion going. I’d like to know what you are thinking. Maybe you have used a particular comic in class and found it to be very successful. I’d like to know that too.

Friday, May 18, 2007


Scott Christian Silva
ILLUSTRATOR: Diego Jourdan
PUBLISHER: Blue Dream Studios
GENRE: Science Fiction

FORMAT: Hardback
PAGES: 84 pages
COLOR: Full Color
ISBN-10: 0978916816
ISBN-13: 978-0978916817

Life Goals

Ed: Good kid who gets teased because he loves comics and make believe
Natalie: Spoiled rich girl who takes what she wants
Marcello: The leader of the alien refugees
Al: The octopus-looking alien refugee
Gus: The big, pink alien refugee
Maximus Obliterus: Intergalactic mall security officer sent to retrieve the refugees

Ed is a dreamer. He loves his comics and make-believe and isn’t really interested in the grown up world. That is, until a space ship full of intergalactic refugee slaves comes crashing down into his tree house. The three aliens quickly set up shop in an effort to teleport their people to Earth, one by one, to save them from their bonds of slavery at the hands of the intergalactic food court. Others have a different idea. Ed’s bullying rich girl, Natalie, and Maximus Obliterus, the greatest of all the mall security from space are coming in to stop the underground space railroad.

Ed is a kid that gets laughed at because he loves to read comics. When his class is discussing what they want to be when they grow up, Ed can’t think of a thing. You cannot make a job out of reading comics, can you?

What Ed doesn’t realize is that you can make a life doing the things you enjoy. It just takes some practice and creativity. Even the seemingly silliest things can turn into a successful lifelong ambition. Before Ed can learn all of that, he must help his three friends save themselves and the rest of their planet from slavery.

The naughty Natalie, on the other hand, doesn’t learn much. She is interested in pretty, shinny things and acquiring as much as she can.

Scott Christian Sava has a winner with ED’s TERRESTRIALS. This is a great book for that day dreamer child – the one who wishes to be more than his or her current life allows. I could write about all the great aspects of the books, but there is a better barometer than my opinion. My daughter and I read this book a few days ago. Ever since, she has asked me to re-read this to her every night, with creative voices to match. She loves the story. A creator can ask for nothing more than to be loved by the children he writes for, and Sava has done just that.

UPDATE: When I first posted this, I failed to mention that there was a usage error on page 78. "Your" was used when the word should have been "You're".

Diego Jourdan has created a beautiful backdrop to support the writing of this book. His cartoon-style fits the subject perfectly, creating a wonderful product. The characters are alluring and fun to look at. I find that me and my daughter enjoy just looking at the pictures after we have read the text. It is kid friendly and it works.

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

Some younger children, say first grade, will be able to read this by themselves with a little help on some of the words. Others will need it read to them, but it’s time well spent either way you go. This book is perfect for those who enjoy using voices in their reading. This book isn’t limited to young children.

Besides being used as a way to encourage and entice students to read, there is also a lesson about careers and finding your own path. The books also touches on slavery that occurs on another planet. A great idea with this book, would be to put up a page on the overhead and ask students to make up their own story. The characters, mostly aliens, would make for good creative development for many students. I would do this before I had them read the book.

It would also be a good book for the budding artist. Kids would enjoy reproducing the characters and they would be able to do so without a lot of trouble. That should not be construed as a comment on the quality of the art. The art is great. It is just that the kids would have an easier time reproducing this cartoony style on some level.

Highly Recommended

This is a high quality book that should be in every home, classroom and school library. The story and art function well together to create a beautiful work of children’s literature.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

AMELIA RULES! The Whole World's Crazy

Jimmy Gownley
Renaissance Press
GENRE: Realism

ISSUE: The Whole World’s Crazy
FORMAT: Hardback
PAGES: 176 pages
COLOR: Full Color
ISBN 10: 0-9712169-3-2
ISBN 13: 978-0-9712169-3-8

Moving to a new home
Fights with friends
Feeling alone
Play pretend
Santa Claus

Amelia Louise McBride: 9-year-old protagonist
Reggie Grabinsky: Amelia’s friend and superhero wannabe
Pajamaman: The silent friend
Rhonda Bleenie: Amelia’s arch-enemy and a member of the group
Mom: Amelia’s mother
Tanner: Amelia’s aunt

In this first volume the book is split into five sections, each one a separate story from the others. This is the story of Amelia. Her mother and father are recently divorced. She and her mother moved in with Tanner, Amelia’s 20-something aunt. Amelia finds herself a new group of friends, two of which she likes and one she does not. She and Rhonda love to hate one another and they frequently compete and bicker.

Jimmy Gownley has tapped into something special with AMELIA RULES! Not only is she a likeable character, she also has her faults. Each of the characters do. Life isn’t easy for Amelia, but she is happy. Like all kids, she finds her way through her circumstances and discovers little gems about life along the way.

Amelia has a habit of talking directly to the reader from time to time. This can be a dangerous writing tool if not done correctly, but no worries here. Gownley pulls it off and ends up making Amelia more interesting because of it.

Amelia and her friends are round characters, with depth and meaning. They are real, enjoyable, and kids will be able to make sense of Amelia’s life. They laugh, they fight, they have fun and they struggle: all things that real kids go through. Gownley crafts a story with laughter and fun, while still taking on all kinds of hard issues. Even still, he never once bogs down the reader.

Gownley even takes on the subject of Santa Claus, specifically the existence of said Christmas icon. Between fake Santas at the mall, and confusion about why some kids do not get Christmas presents, Amelia learns about Santa, agrees that he is real, but that sometimes he needs a little help. It is one of the most poignant Christmas stories I’ve ever read.

As with the story, the art is high quality. Gownley’s sense of color and shape makes the story engaging on a very youthful level, while offering a stream of good stories. The inking is subtle, backgrounds accentuate the story, and the colors are bright. The flow from panel-to-panel and page-to-page is clear and readable allowing the reader can move through the stories in a fluid manner. One aspect that I found particularly enjoyable is that the outlines for the panels are hand drawn giving the book itself a personality.

My Rating: All Ages
Publisher’s Rating: Ages 8-12
All Ages Reads: Not Rated
Comics in the Classroom: Not Rated

This is a great book for young readers. Older children will enjoy reading it for themselves and younger ones will beg to have it read to them. My 6-year-old daughter loved the book; we read it together. She read Amelia while I read the other parts, and together we finished a chapter a night.

AMELIA RULES! offers many opportunities for a teacher to engage students and talk about life issues the kids will encounter everyday: divorce, fights with friends, feeling alone, love and adventures. It is all there and makes for great reading and discussion. This would be a hit in the classroom on so many different levels and would be a great book to hook kids on reading.

Lesson Plan: Economics

There are two more books in the series: What Makes You Happy and Superheroes. According to the official homepage, AMELIA RULES! has been nominated for three awards: The Howard Eugene Day Memorial Prize, the Harvey Award, and the Eisner Award.

Highly Recommended
This graphic novel is fantastic. No doubt about it. Kids, even those who struggle to read, will enjoy this book and find reading (or being read to) enjoyable. This has a place in every classroom, library and home. This is definitely one of my favorites.

Monday, May 7, 2007


You are dying, no doubt, to hear of my adventures at Planet Comicon comic book convention in Overland Park, Kansas this weekend. It went just as expected. I met several comic book creators and talked with lots of hard-core fans who know more about comics and the industry than I will ever know.

Of course there were plenty of vendors with comics, toys and whatnot to pilfer through. That is an adventure in and of itself, especially if the comics are not categorized or alphabetized. Plenty of the cheap comics are just boxes and boxes, lined up on tables, with all manner of comic goodness inside. It can take hours to make it through them all. I don’t have that kind of patience, but there are plenty who do and they walk away with arms loaded.

I spent my time doing research. I left my friend, Larry, and my cousin, Austin, to their own devices and headed for the creator corner. There I found a nice mix of artists and writers who were all too happy to discuss their works (and the works of others) with anyone who took the time.

I especially enjoyed talking with David Petersen, writer and illustrator of the acclaimed book MOUSE GUARD. He was working on some illustrations (inking) while we talked. Those illustrations were for sale as was some of the original art for MOUSE GUARD. I was tempted to buy some of the original art from the book, but the lowly graduate student cannot afford $350 on art. Would if I could, but can’t right now. The wife of the graduate student, who is the only one working, might furrow a brow over that. Who could blame her? Peterson and I talked about his work and how some classroom teachers have used it. He agreed to being interviewed by me at a later date for my thesis and for this blog.

Incidentally, I am keeping a list of people – writers, illustrators, publishers, teachers, librarians and students – who are involved in using comics in the classroom, especially the elementary classroom. If you are a part of that process and are interested, please drop me a note, either a comment on the blog or an email. I would love to talk to you.

I also talked to John Schuler. He is the illustrator for SUPER BILL & BUSTER. The interesting thing about Schuler is that he is also a middle school art teacher. So we talked shop for a bit, which was a lot of fun. He, too, agreed to a future interview for the thesis and this blog.

As for photos, I took what I could without being intrusive or annoying. I did not take pictures of the creators that I talked to. In hindsight, I think I should have. It would have made for a better blog post, but at the time I did not want to be a bother. I did, however, get some shots of the place. I have Comic Life on my Mac, so I put the photos into that. If you want to see my photo comic montage, then you can click here to go to my personal photo site and check them out. Don’t bother emailing me to critique my comic layout. I just did it for fun.

The table is set. I have made room reservations for Wizard World Chicago later this summer. I cannot wait to go. It sounds like so much fun. And the research opportunities! I can only imagine the creators and publishers I will be able to speak with out there. I giddy with anticipation.

Friday, May 4, 2007


AUTHORS: Shannon Denton and Keith Giffen
ILLUSTRATOR: Armand Villvert Jr.
GENRE: Manga Sci-Fi Adventure

FORMAT: Paperback digest
PAGES: 95 pages, black and white
ISBN: 1598165887

EDITOR’S NOTE This review will contain spoiler information. I find it necessary to talk about aspects of this book. To do so, requires me to reveal some of the great aspects of the story and discuss how they can be used in the classroom.

Space travel
Transportation between worlds
Princess rescuing
African American protagonist

Armand Jones: 12-year-old protagonist and P.O.O.P operative
Payleen: P.O.O.P. operative and Armand’s new sidekick
Gladys/Nyrimion 9 Princess: Armand’s friend at school
Nigel: Armand’s friend at school
Thadeus Todd Muk Walaku/Terros: Former P.O.O.P operative turned evil henchman
Gongar: The main evil in the universe

Armand is a typical kid, complete with his own friends and bullies. While digging his homework out of the school trashcan, thanks to a bully, he is zapped out of this world and into another. For reasons unknown, Armand is chosen to be a member of the Pangalatic Order Of Police (P.O.O.P), which seems unlikely as he isn’t popular or exceptional. After a quick bungling and a resignation he is returned to school and life as normal. That is until he discovers that the princess of Nyrimion 9 is kidnapped by Terros. He returns to P.O.O.P so that he can assist in her recovery and take down Terros.

Not only is this puppy plumb full of P.O.O.P but it is also a hoot. The kids will like this. Besides of the acronym of the Pangalatic Order of Police, this is not a book of bathroom humor. Rather, it is a science-fiction adventure whose main character is a plain old kid with no apparent abilities. That is, until he is faced with extreme circumstances that require him to be more. He does just that.

Our African American hero is just a kid who has a few friends and a bully or two. He makes decent grades, but nothing spectacular. He is not a jock, not overly smart, nor is he an outcast. He’s typical, average, normal … and yet somewhere deep down inside he is much more. His mediocrity and despondency toward school is what will attract kids to him and make him a real character.

Sure he encounters space pirates and monsters – the typical sci-fi fare – but there is much more going on in this story. The history behind Terros and what drives him to a life as a criminal is an great topic for kids to explore. What is it, exactly, that takes someone from a life of goodness and turn them to a life of crime and destruction?

There is an interesting parallel here. Terros was not always evil. In fact, he was the greatest P.O.O.P operative until the agency’s policies forced him into retirement because of his old age (16-years-old to be exact.) There is lesson here for teachers. Our policies and attitudes, our approach to children in our classroom, can backfire and lead a kid away from school rather than toward it. In our vigor to teach (and sometimes control) we can be prone to school the goodness and drive right out of a student. This piece of children’s literature is not so much a story for kids as it is for us, and it is a good reminder of the power that a teacher holds – sometimes too much power, despite our good intentions. This element has a larger implication. It is a lesson for any person – parent, preacher or teacher – who is in a position of control over a child, tween or teen. We should constantly observe our behaviors and reactions to situations to determine if our responses are for us or for the child.

ZAPT! is more than a single, flat, action-adventure story. It is humorous and entertaining on the surface, but it has real meat down below if anyone cares enough to take a look.

This is a manga-styled book, with black and white art. The uncluttered backgrounds lend to easy understanding of the characters and circumstances. Usually the transitions from panel-to-panel and page-to-page work well, but not always. There are a couple of times when the story skips forward in time and yet the illustration does not reflect that overtly. Many illustrators will indicate time changes with a narration bubble that says “later…” or some other identifier. In the case of ZAPT! one must infer the time change based on the preceeding story and the new background. That can cause for some momentary confusion and may require the reader to back up in order to understand what happened.

The placement of the speech bubbles can also be confusing. It can be hard, at times, to discern who should speak first, because the height of some of the bubbles seems haphazard. On page 56, for example, the speech bubbles are placed on the opposite side of the character. Armand is on the left, but his speech bubble is on the right. That means the speech bubble must cross the page to point to him. Payleen is on the right hand side of the page and his speech bubble is on the left, requiring it to cross the page as well. It slows the pace of the story, forcing the reader to stop, come out of the story, and ascertain who is talking.

My Rating: Ages 8-12
Publisher’s Rating: Ages 8-12
All Ages Reads: Not Rated
Comics in the Classroom: Ages 8-12

This book has a couple of nice surprises in it. The hero in the beginning, Thadeus, is the evil henchman, Terros, in the end. What turns this exceptional P.O.O.P. operative to the dark side? He is forced to retire at the age of 16 even though he is the most successful operative. The question is, could the reader have figured that out before it was revealed? With proper instruction, students would be able to figure this out on their own. It’s all about foreshadowing. The prologue of the story shows us Thadeus as a P.O.O.P operative taking down some menacing creatures. He is praised by the masses. When he gets back to headquarters, he finds out that his mission was his last. He has aged out and must retire. The reader is shown a Thadeus who promises payback. The next chapter shows us our main character, Armand.

The discerning reader will ask why the writer chose to show us Thadeus in the beginning. We can see by the his promise for revenge that Thadeus will come back to the story and we should look for that. There are other clues in the plot that lead the reader to this conclusion. By the time we get to the new minion, Terros, the reader should be able to deduce that Terros is really Thadeus. When children understand foreshadowing and can begin to predict the upcoming plot, then they can begin to enjoy reading as a hobby.

Click here for the ZAPT! MySpace page.


There is a lot about this book that kids will enjoy. There is a princess that needs to be rescued, a word to be saved and all manner of space creatures to enjoy or be disgusted by. This is a good book to reinforce foreshadowing and children’s abilities to predict what will happen next.