Friday, December 19, 2008


Staff Writer Michael Schofield and I are Making the Case for Comics at Fordham University's Graphica in Education Conference in New York this January. We are very excited. He's coming from Florida and I from Missouri.

It's my first time in New York so it will be a real experience. Michael has been there before and he promises to show me around and help me out. We hope to bring back excellent information to share with our readers. The movement is growing my friends. Universities, libraries, public schools, parents, teachers and administrators are hearing the soft mumblings of comic literature bubbling in the educational field. People are taking notice and changes will come. They may be slow, but they will come.

We will continue to keep you on the cutting edge of comic literature in the classroom, so that you can bring literature to your 21st century scholars.


From the Editor

My family starts its family festivities today. We will have a short break come Monday, then back at it Tuesday. I have a large family so we see all kinds of friends and family. Be that as it may, the comics keep coming and those of us at TGC do our best to keep reading and reviewing for you.

Speaking of the continuous flow of comics, here is the list this week:
  1. Batgirl #6 (of 6)
  2. Marvel Adventures Avengers #31
  3. Super Friends #10
  4. Tiny Titans #1


ORIGINAL AUTHOR: Charles Dickens
PUBLISHER: Papercutz
GENRE: Traditional Literature in Comic Format

FORMAT: Hardcover
COLOR: Full color
ISBN-10: 1-59707-097-1
ISBN-13: 978-1-5970-7097-3

The classic Dickens tale weaves a literary tapestry of love, duty and morality caressed by a long time mystery: who is Pip’s benefactor? The boy grows and learns, loves and leaves, all the while he discovers, sometimes painfully, how his decisions impact his young life and those around him. This is the story of growing up.

I first read an abridged version of Dickens’ yarn in grade school and the story presented here is much like the first one I read. What I remember best is the mystery and cruelty – it is, after all, a tale of a boy growing up.

Mostly, I remember the nasty and hateful Miss Havisham, and her dirty little taunting of both Pip and the spiteful girl he loves. In those days I just knew that the mysterious benefactor was Miss Havisham. I would have bet on it. This go around I knew better. Good stories are not so easy to figure out.

What I missed the first time was Pip’s neglect of Joe. Teenagers never appreciate what they have until they have children of their own. This time I felt Joe’s pain, but was refreshed in his pastoral and unconditional love for Pip.

It took some time for me to adjust to the art, as the style is different than modern comics; however, I came to appreciate the charm of the art and the affectionate connection between it and the story. I found myself smiling as I read this adaptation, breathing in the time Dickens takes to weave his stories.
My Rating: Ages 8 and older
Publisher’s Rating: Ages 8-11

This classic tale is appropriate for any children, but the reading level is most appropriate starting in upper elementary.

This is an abridged version perfect for young readers who are ready to taste traditional literature but who are not mature enough for the daunting pages of the unabridged prose. Consider this a stepping-stone to traditional literature, a bridge to help students learn to accept traditional literature as important and interesting.

Click here for a preview.

The Classics Illustrated series is an excellent introduction to traditional literature.

Thursday, December 11, 2008


By Kevin Hodgson
Staff Writer

The stories that form the narratives of our families often remain hidden, just outside the field of vision, and it is only through questioning and exploration that some people break through the white noise and find some truths about themselves and their family tree. First, in an award-winning movie documentary, and then, in the illustrated memoir entitled THE MAGICAL LIFE OF LONG TACK SAM, Ann Marie Fleming pulls back the stage curtain on her family and delves in.

Fleming began her investigation into her own family history with a simple question: Who was her great-grandfather, known as Long Tack Sam. And she ended her journey with another query: Why was Long Tack Sam forgotten by the world?

In the world of magic and vaudeville, Fleming's great-grandfather was a certified star – a brilliant Chinese acrobat and magician who traveled the world many times over with a troupe of entertainers, playing to sold out shows throughout the early 1900s. Long Tack Sam had fame and fortune and the ability to draw huge crowds. THE MAGICAL LIFE OF LONG TACK SAM is all about Fleming's own journey to discover her roots as she interviews members of her family, friends and others in the dwindling network of magicians. Along the way, Fleming also unfolds the history of the 20th Century as her great-grandfather's arc of popularity follows a similar trajectory of global prosperity and trouble.

Her great-grandfather was born in China in the late 1800s, married a woman from Austria and never felt rooted in any country. Throughout their lifetime, as wars raged in Europe and Japan and while a revolution took place in China, Long Tack Sam and his family always felt like outsiders and this rootlessness, Fleming suggests, is one of the reasons why the world has forgotten one of the most famous magicians of the 20th Century. She also notes that her great-grandfather resisted the push to Hollywood when movies were luring the stars of the vaudeville network to the big screen. (He feared that he would be cast as a stereotypical Chinese villain, with a long beard and evil eyes. There is even an excerpt from a newspaper interview that Long Tack Sam gave in which he is explicit in his desire not to be drawn into Chinese stereotypes).

Using the genre of the graphic novel in interesting ways that mixes comics, photographs, sidebars, handbills from performances, and timelines in a huge melting pot of narrative, Fleming relates the multiple versions of how Long Tack Sam came to be famous and casts ample doubt on most of what she has heard. But by digging deep, Fleming does come to some insights about her great-grandfather.

She ends her book with the satisfaction that she has been able to resurrect the memory of Long Tack Sam back into popular culture. The reader stays with her on the journey, following the threads of her investigation with interest and wondering about the inner world of Magic, the impact of racism on such a strong personality as Long Tack Sam, and who in our own family has the box of photographs stored under their bed that might help tell the tale of our own family's history.

The influence of Fleming's movie and animation career are felt throughout this wonderful book. She shares not only her own drawings and comics (even inventing a stick figure narrator of herself that dances in and out of the frames), but she also provides the source photographs that she discovers in her exploration, frames from home movies, picture collages and other images. This mix of media makes for an interesting experience for the reader. Our eyes are drawn to every inch of the page. She even includes a flip-book figure on the lower right corner of the book, showing her grandfather doing cartwheels and other acrobatic acts in colorful motion.

When the story shifts to the tangled origins of Long Tack Sam's emergence as a world performer at four different times in the book (with four different stories), Fleming enlists the help of comic book artist Julian Lawrence to illustrate the tales, and the result is a series of traditionally-looking comic books embedded inside a graphic novel. (She even calls the fake comic, Magical Comics and Stories, and pins the cost at ten cents per copy).

This book is appropriate for young adults and high school students, although middle school students could certainly read it and get a lot out of it. There is no profanity or violence, although the issue of racism and discrimination is a topic of the book at times. The publisher’s recommended age is 18-years-old and up.

THE MAGICAL LIFE OF LONG TACK SAM has the potential for classroom use on many levels. First, the memoir demonstrates the power of storytelling on a very personal level. Fleming is honest about the success and failure she had in finding out the truth about her great-grandfather. But it is clear that her reliance on a wide range of sources – from people to newspaper clippings to photographs to movies – is an important way to document history. Flemings' use of a timeline along some pages shows the convergence of world events with the life story of Long Tack Sam. This reflection of the world gives the story a powerful backbone narrative and the technique reminds us that our lives often do mirror the times. Fleming never shies away from the racism endured by her Chinese great-grandfather and Austrian great-grandmother and for students, this is a powerful reminder that skin color, cultural heritage and other factors still can divide us as much as they unite us together. Finally, in considering the emergence of digital storytelling through personal narrative of images and voice, THE MAGICAL LIFE OF LONG TACK SAM is a prime example of how a thoughtful mix of media can be a powerful platform for telling a story.

Highly Recommended



By Chris Wilson

AUTHOR: Sholly Fisch
PENCILS: Dario Brizuela (1, 4, 6-7), Stewart McKenny (3, 8), Joe Staton (2)
INK: Horacio Ottolini (2), Phillip Moy (3, 5)
COLORS: Heroic Age
LETTERING: Rob Clark, Jr. (1, 3), Randy Gentile (2, 4, 6, 8) Travis Lanham (5, 7),
GENRE: Super Hero
FORMAT: Monthly comic
ISSUES: #1 - #8
COLOR: Full color

I reluctantly picked up copies of DC’s SUPER FRIENDS after they had been on the stands for a few months. My reservation was due mostly to the squat and thick artwork of the characters; the art just did not appeal to me.

Funny thing about teaching. It’s not necessarily about what I find appealing, what I am drawn to. The key to reading motivation, as supported by research, is that children have choice in what they read.

My comic book guy slipped a copy in my weekly bag, thinking I neglected to order it from him. I bought it and took it home, having low expectations regarding the reactions. I gave it to my daughter and she immediately nabbed it from my hands and took off for the bedroom. When she was done I asked her what she thought. “They look like action figures,” said Sophie. What I saw as overly cute and childish, she connected with her toys – a text-to-self (or in this case a text-to-toy) connection. You know, it says so right on the cover that this comic book is based on the toy line. Incidentally, that is an odd statement as the toys originally came from the pages of the DC Universe comic books.

I didn’t give the book a fair shake. I did what educators sometimes do. I viewed the title from my eyes, when what I should have done was considered the book from a child’s perspective. I ended up going back and buying all the back issues. Sophie loved the book so much that I signed her up for her own subscription. So now I have my classroom copies and she has her own copies.

I love it when I learn life lessons from an 8-year-old. It keeps me young and puts that ego in check. There’s no getting too big for your britches with a precocious third grader around. She sees those warts and does not hesitate to point them out.

With that said, what about the writing of the book? It is young – very young in fact. The stories are morality tales focusing on being good and doing good. The entire package is wrapped in short action sequences, with frequent breaks in between – just enough time to do a game or puzzle, riddle or joke which is conveniently included. It’s a response to students with short attention spans.

Chris’ Rating: Ages 8 and older
Publisher’s Rating: Ages 8 and older

For those looking for wholesome values-based stories, then this is just right. It’s not a title that I think will appeal to the majority of older elementary-aged students. I think those students will prefer more complex and deep themes. However, the reading level is not too young with words like earthquake, cavern, experience, difficult, android, programmed, abilities, and debut. For students who need solid vocabulary and linear stories, then SUPER FRIENDS fits the bill.

The Super Friends are presented with problems and must make decisions on how to approach and solve those problems. This series could be used as choice exercises, where students are given a problem and asked how to solve it using reason and logic. Student answers can then be compared and contrasted with the actions of the super heroes.

SUPER FRIENDS fulfills a purpose for some students and is more appealing to kids than I thought.


Nick Magazine, the flagship for kids’ magazines, is counting on kids ages 14 and younger to vote in the mag’s first-ever comic awards. Voting runs until Dec. 31 and young people have two ways to vote: online or by mail. Ballots are available online or in the December issue of Nick Magazine. The best comics will be announced in the April 2009 issue.

“The Nick Magazine Comics Awards tap into kids’ increasing enthusiasm and excitement over graphic novels and comics,” said Laura Galen, Editorial Director of Nick Magazine. “Our readers have consistently told us how much they love The Comic Book in each issue of Nick Magazine, and now we’re giving them the opportunity to tell us about all of their favorite comics.”

The eight categories and the nominees are as follows:

Favorite Graphic Novel
The Arrival by Shaun Tan
Baby Mouse (series) by Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm
Bone (series) by Jeff Smith
Diary of a Wimpy Kid (series) by Jeff Kinney
The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick
Naruto (series) by Masashi Kishimoto

Favorite Comic Book Series
Star Wars

Cutest Comic Character
Bartleby (from Bone series)
Snoopy (from Peanuts)
Super Diaper Baby (from Super Diaper Baby)
Manny (from Diary of a Wimpy Kid series)

Favorite Comic Strip
Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson
FoxTrot by Bill Amend
Garfield by Jim Davis
Mutts by Patrick McDonnell
Peanuts by Charles M. Schulz

Best Hair in Comics
Calvin (from Calvin and Hobbes)
Kakashi Hatake (from Naruto)
Storm (from X–Men comics)
Veronica (from Archie comics)

Favorite Manga Series
Best of Pokémon Adventures by Hidenori Kusaka and Mato
Fruits Basket by Natsuki Takaya
Kingdom Hearts II by Shiro Amano
Naruto by Masashi Kishimoto
One Piece by Eiichiro Oda

Grossest Thing in Comics
Captain Underpants’ underpants (from Captain Underpants series)
The Cheese (from Diary of a Wimpy Kid series)
Venom’s tongue (from Spider–Man comics)
Wolverine’s back hair (from X–Men and Wolverine comics)

Favorite Fantasy Graphic Novel
Amulet by Kazu Kibuishi
Bone (series) by Jeff Smith
Redwall the Graphic Novel by Brian Jacques, Stuart Moore and Brett Blevins
Warriors (manga series) by Erin Hunter
W.I.T.C.H. (series)


From the Editor

My finals this semester (next week) are pretty easy going as all of my work were projects. No major tests, but I have significant work to complete. Next semester is student teaching and I am so excited. I will be in a fourth grade technology-based (eMINTS) classroom.

Oh, did you want to hear something comicy? All right. Notice that Marvel has put out yet another adaptation: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. The slippers are silver and the story should be closer to the book than the movie. It is coolness all around. We had that one on our subscription list sometime ago and we have greatly awaited it’s arrival. The daughter snagged it up immediately.

Here are the titles that made their way into the classroom this week:

Friday, December 5, 2008


From the Editor

We’ve been busy little boys here in the Classroom. We are submitting two proposals for a comic literature conference in New York. Keep your fingers crossed.

If you are on the hunt for a different gift for a child, teen or adult, consider comics. There are plenty to choose from and the gift lasts all year long. You can take out a comic subscription at your local comic book shop. Every month the store will pull your subscription(s) and set them aside for you. Some stores even bag and board the comics for you.

Enjoy the reviews for the week. Here are the titles that made their way into the classroom this week:


By Chris Wilson

As you have undoubtedly noticed, I have never written a single-issue review because I want to get a thorough feel of a story in order to write a comprehensive and accurate review. I made an exception in the case of SUPERGIRL because we have so few female superhero books for children. Most of the time, the superhero books for kids are either male- or team-oriented.

My daughter and I have been looking forward to SUPERGIRL’s release for months now, hoping and finger-crossing that the book would be well crafted. It did not disappoint. The daughter, having had a terrible day from the moment she woke up, walked into my office after school, took the book off my desk and sat in my easy chair. While my wife and I cooked dinner, Sophie read her book, emerging later with a better outlook on life. Like our other reviewer, Kevin, I pay attention to the books my child snatches up immediately and I question her afterwards to check her comprehension and enjoyment.

Sophie stood in the middle of the kitchen floor, spinning left and right, flapping her arms and talking incessantly about the adventures of her first female super heroine. She retold the story and referenced pages. Because of the importance and rarity for an all ages super female story, I sat down to write.

Supergirl wastes no time making a mess of her unexpected life on Earth. After a fight with her parents, typical teenager Kara runs off and hides in her father’s Kryptonian rocket headed for Earth, supposedly carrying naught but a message for Superman. Unbeknownst to her parents, they send the rocket through space and time, straight for Superman, our galaxy’s greatest hero. That is the story of Supergirl. Now that she’s here, she cannot get back because of some dimensional barrier. She’s stuck with us.

Our young protagonist no sooner lands that the media is on her snapping photos. Innocent Kara realizes she can see through their clothes and she is upset. “I don’t want to see through everyone’s clothes!” From the art to the outset of the story, Supergirl is an innocent young girl with morals and values.

DC presents us with a non-sexualized version of feminine heroism, a real girl with real problems that flesh and blood readers can relate to, complete with teenage turmoil and wild emotions. She is not a big breasted, pouty-lipped woman – a Bratz doll – posing as a teenager. She is a regular 13-year-old girl.

A few pages in, Kara (her Kryptonian name) is explaining how she ended up leaving her home planet. The beauty here is that she tells the story from her perspective: a perfect little angel whose parents were simply irrational. Superman isn’t buying it, but we don’t know that until the next page, where Kara is forced to tell it how it really was.

Reading this scene gives teachers a chance to talk to young readers about perspective. Not everything in a book occurs exactly how it was portrayed. Sometimes characters, including the narrator, lie to the reader and we must be on the lookout for such deceptions or perspectives.

Superman acts quickly by giving Kara a pair of glasses, the same disguise as Clark Kent his alter ego, and changes her name from Kara to Linda Lee. How exactly does a pair of glasses fool all the Earthlings? Well, it’s called suspension of disbelief and it is part of the Superman mythos. Just accept it, make fun of it if you like, and debate it in class. It’s part of the Super story.

Supergirl #1 takes on the banner of young ladies everywhere by telling the every-girl story. It reminds me a lot of Amelia Rules! (vol. 1, vol. 2-3) and this yarn is sorely needed.

I highly recommend you put this on your radar and add it to your monthly comic book store subscription so you get every single copy. I have added three copies to my monthly subscription: one for my classroom, one for my daughter and one for my niece. It’s worth every penny. Suitable for all ages.

Click here to see the five-page preview.

AUTHOR: Landry Q. Walker
COLORS: Joey Mason
LETTERING: Pat Brousseau
GENRE: Superhero

FORMAT: Monthly comic
COLOR: Full color


By Kevin Hodgson
Staff Writer

I always take it as a good sign that as soon as a book comes out of the box, my eight- and ten-year-old sons grab them out of my hands and disappear for a long stretch of time. Such was the case with the delivery of the graphic novel interpretations of classic stories by Stone Arch Books. The box came in and the books were gone. I later had to search around to gather the graphic novels back up and as I was doing so, one of my sons said that he just loved THE SWISS FAMILY ROBINSON (adapted by Martin Powell from the original novel by Johann D. Wyss). Then he asked me to read it to him, and so, the two of us went through the tale of the shipwrecked family of missionaries who find a new kind of peace, along with many adventures, on an island somewhere in the world.

The story flows along at a brisk pace in this graphic novel version and the illustrations by Gerardo Sandoval really give a better sense of the creatures the family discover while trying to survive. For instance, the 40-foot boa constrictor that has been stealing their food and instilling terror in their hearts leaps right off the page when the family finally confronts the massive, vicious green monster. While my son was fully engaged with the story, though, I wondered about all of the narrative pieces that must have been left out when reconstructing a long novel into a short graphic novel. The plot moved along quickly, and for me, it was a bit too brisk. I wanted to know more (although, as someone who has read the novel, I already knew the answers to my questions). For example, the oldest son, Fritz, finds a girl castaway on the island, but we never really come to understand her character or why the two of them are attracted to each other. And the mother character is given little play throughout the book, even though she is a central character to the story itself. Something is gained by these graphic interpretations (i.e., kids are reading the classic stories that they might otherwise pass by), but something gets lost, too. I suppose the hope is that these introductions to the stories will later guide young readers to the novels, and the framework of the tale will allow for deeper reading of the original books. I do like how all of the graphic novels in this series begin with an introduction of the characters, since the narrative often jumps past basic character development (and my son could not figure out who the narrator was until we sorted out who might be the one speaking).

The artwork for THE SWISS FAMILY ROBINSON maintains a Manga-like quality, particularly to the eyes of the characters. Sandoval is very effective in using the illustrations to fill in some of the narrative gaps of the story. And the sense of wonder and terror is expressed nicely on the faces of the characters throughout the story. A combination of dark and light gives the story a mysterious feel. The palette of colors used most effectively when the family is adrift on the ocean, with sharks closing in. The blue of the sea gives the reader a sense of the depth of isolation.

Stone Arch Books is wise to include some related expository information at the back of these books that could be helpful to teachers in the classroom. In THE SWISS FAMILY ROBINSON, for example, there is a whole expository section on uninhabited islands and it gives advice to the reader on what to do if they are ever a castaway (main advice: find some coconuts for both nourishment and for making rope and insect repellent). There are a handful of discussion questions that talk about cooperating with others in the face of tragedy, identifying with specific family members and wondering why the mother and father would remain on the island even after the family is rescued. Also, for older readers, it might be nice to read the actual book and then compare the graphic novel with the original, and consider what choices went into what needed to be brought to the forefront of the graphic novel and what needed to be removed (and why).

  • READING LEVEL: Ages 9-12
  • FORMAT: Paperback
  • PAGES: 72
  • PUBLISHER: Stone Arch Books
  • ISBN-10: 1434208524
  • ISBN-13: 978-1434208521
I would recommend this novel for a classroom collection or for a library and could be aimed for upper elementary and middle school readers. There are no inappropriate situations nor is there any profanity in this book.


By Chris Wilson

ADAPTED BY: Eoin Colfer & Andrew Donkin
ILLUSTRATOR: Giovanni Rigano
COLORS: Paolo Lamanna
PUBLISHER: Hyperion Books for Children
GENRE: Traditional Literature in Comic Format

FORMAT: Softcover
COLOR: Full color
ISBN-10: 0-78684882-0
ISBN-13: 978-078684882-9

A 12-year-old super villain as the protagonist? The concept is irresistible. The great mastermind, Artemis Fowl, is a criminal and plotter-of-bad-things. What’s to be expected when a super genius is essentially parentless and left to his own devices? Filled with fairies and technology, ARETMIS FOWL is an action adventure unlike most others. Even the most intelligent of children need guidance and protection lest they travel the road less desirable.

The story is not new. Many a parentified child has made bad choices and fallen into bad ways after tragedy or sickness, after neglect, after pain. It is, indeed, an old story, but one worth exploring with kids.

The mixture of panels and authentic documents make for a delightful read. The art is slightly stylized and modern, without being overly dramatic or distracting.

Chris’ Rating: Ages 10 and olderBold
This is a book mostly for older elementary kids.

Seems to me that bad paths – choices – is a great place to start with ARTEMIS FOWL. Not only dissecting why he makes the choices he makes, but more importantly, how he can learn to make new choice, better choices. In the end, what does Artemis choose, and how (if at all) is his character different?

I also think it would be very interesting to compare and contrast the original prose with the graphic novel adaptation. What was left and what was taken out? It is very interesting that the original author played a role in adapting his book to graphic novel.

It can be fun to play the bad guy, to like the bad guy, and to explore those relationships. Is the bad guy really a bad guy? Is he all bad? So much to explore.

Saturday, November 29, 2008


By Chris Wilson

AUTHOR: J. Michael Straczynski
PENCILS: Olivier Coipel (1-6, 9-10), Marko Djurdjevic (7-8)
INKS: Mark Morales (1-6, 9-10), Danny Miki (7-8)
COLORS: Laura Martin (1-6, 9-10), Jelena Djurdjevic (7-8)
LETTERING: Chris Eliopoulos
PUBLISHER: Marvel Comics
GENRE: Super Hero and Norse Mythology

ISSUES: 1-10
COLOR: Full color

Thor, god of Thunder and son of Odin, was dead along with all the other gods of Asgard. His earthly persona known as Dr. Donald Blake helps to bring Thor back to the realm of the living. Thor recreates Asgard and seeks to bring his brethren back to life and return Asgard to its former glory as home of the gods.

He finds land in Texas and reestablishes the grand kingdom, which piques the interested of Iron Man and the rest of The Avengers. Of course, there is history between them – bad blood caused by CIVIL WAR – but a political compromise is forged, at least for now.

With renewal comes millennia-old baggage: deceitful and jealous gods, frost giants, and much more. Once again the Asgardians must fight foes from within and without and set the world right.

THOR is an outstanding blend of Norse mythology and Marvel universe – a concoction of legend and spandex, caped, armed and ready to battle the external forces of evil and the destructive manipulation of internal politics. Superheroes may not be real, but the situations they endure, albeit allegorical at times, are authentic. Thor’s sibling, Loki, is the perfect example of one who seeks the deception and destruction of one’s own kind, and yet is a necessary part of life.

From that perspective, THOR is indispensable literature for the student preparing him or herself for the hardships of life. Choices must be made and the consequences, no matter how destructive, must be accepted.

THOR is beautiful in its presentation of friend and foe, foreground and background, details, composition and layering.

Chris’ Rating: High School
Publisher’s Rating: T+ (Ages 13 and older)

The book is not inappropriate for most middle school kids, but the comic is not necessarily intended for children. The ladies can be more scantily clad and sexual themes are suggested.

Magic, gods and goddesses, and strong fighting scenes with blood splatters are frequent. There are sexual themes, too.

For the reasons stated above, this comic has a specific impact on teens that is apropos to their lives. High school is full of politics, intrigue, switchbacks, backstabbing, plots, alliances, severed friendships, disappointment and double crosses and so is THOR. Real life comes alive in this superhero tale.

A movie tie-in is scheduled for release in July 16, 2010 and will be directed by Kenneth Branagh.

I do not recommend the book to just any high school classroom. It should have a purpose, a goal, in order for THOR to be appropriate, but THOR has its place for the right students in the right classroom. The story is great and the opportunity for a lengthy backstory (especially with CIVIL WAR) is available.

Monday, November 24, 2008


The 1977 SRA Super B comic book set for education.
The lid is missing.

By Chris Wilson

I scored a rare box of educational comic books this weekend. Straight from the 1977 vault, SRA (in cooperation with Warner Bros. who owns DC Comics) put out a set of motivational reading comic books for the classroom. I was 4 years old.

A copy of the different stories. There are six copies of most titles.
It includes both Super B and a few Super A stories.

The set includes four stories from the Super B set and includes: lesson plans, comprehension questions, vocabulary, phonics, themes attached to life skills and curriculum, task cards, and activity sheets. Apparently there was a Super A pack too, as I have a few of those stories in my box as well.

This is an example of the stories. The books are 8.5 x 11 inches.

Lest we think we had the idea of using comics in the classroom, there was a push for the movement back in the day, but it didn’t take off. Unfortunately, schools didn’t buy in and it was never released to the public. The world was not ready then, but the world has moved on and educators are now accepting, albeit slowly, that comic literature is valuable and educational.

The cover of the teacher's manual.

Inside the teacher's edition.

I am putting these bad boys to work. They may be old, but I bet they still have value.

Friday, November 21, 2008


By Chris Wilson

AUTHOR: Paul D. Storrie
ILLUSTRATOR: Sandy Carruthers
COLORS: Hi-Fi Design
LETTERING: Bill Hauser
PUBLISHER: Lerner Publishing Group
GENRE: Mythology (Chinese)

FORMAT: Library binding
COLOR: Full color
ISBN (10): 0-8225-3088-0
ISBN (13): 978-0-8225-3088-6

From the back cover: “The great Emperor Shun has called Yu before the Dragon Throne. All of China is beset by terrible floods. Homes, farms and villages are being washed away, and Shun believes Yu is the only one to save the land and the people. Yu vows to end the floods, but first he must face the angry Yellow Emperor – the ruler of the gods – and Yu’s own grandfather. Will the Yellow Emperor help Yu or set a trap for him? And how will Yu ever stop the floods?”

Did you know there is a difference between Chinese dragons and Japanese dragons? There are many differences, actually, but I noticed one in particular. Chinese dragons have five toes. Japanese dragons have three claws. It may seem an insignificant difference to westerners, but not for the Chinese culture. Count the toes in YU THE GREAT and you will find your first clue that Storrie and Carruthers did their research.

YU THE GREAT is a fabulous tale of family loyalty, honor and duty. Yu was an honorable hero, unlike his father, whose selfless acts saved all of China from the deadly flooding. But the personal costs were high, indeed.

The research and clarity of the story makes for a great read and the art really accentuates the story and punches the many emotions of Yu.

My Rating: Ages 9 and older
Publisher’s Rating: Ages 9-14
Publisher’s Reading Level: Grade 4
Publisher’s Interest Level: Grades 4-8

ATOS: 4.1
AR QUIZ NO.: 111966

When completing a practicum experience with a fifth grade class, I noticed right away a high interest genre with many of the boys: mythology and legend. This group of kids routinely checked out books on mythology from the library. They simply could not get enough. I brought in the three titles I had (HERCULES, YU THE GREAT and BEOWULF) and they loved them, seeking out more titles from the library.

Those are, of course, the experiences we wish to offer our students. Self-discovery – inquiry – drives authentic and long-term educational experiences. With these graphic novels, a powerful unit on myth and legend could be designed.

A compatriot of mine, Paul Epps recently wrote a lesson plan comparing and contrasting myth with science – discussing the roles that each play within society and the questions both try to answer. Paul used HERCULES in that lesson plan, which will be published later this year, but other myths and legends would be just as applicable, especially if students are charged with creating their own myths in order to explain a natural phenomenon.

These myths and legends are also a great way to student other places, countries, and societies, and help them related to students of different nationalities. Understanding the subtle differences in culture and imagery make for a more hospitable community. Dragons in Western society conjure up images of destruction, as dragons are seen as hostile. Dragon imagery in Chinese culture is much more benevolent and symbiotic.

YU THE GREAT offers many learning opportunities in the classroom.

Sources used to create the story include:
Land of the Dragon: Chinese Myth
An Introduction to Oriental Mythology
Chinese art
Mythology and folklore
Museum exhibits
Traditional architecture
Wing Ping, Macalester College, consulted on the project

Other titles in the Myth and Legend series include these Greek, English, Chinese, African, Norse, Arabian, Egyptian, and Japanese tales:

Highly Recommended
This is excellent mythology aimed at a particular age group: tweens and early teens.


By Kevin Hodgson

Staff Writer

COMIX WITH CONTENT is a series of comic books produced by writer and illustrator Bentley Boyd in a way that engages young learners on a variety of levels in the subjects of history and social studies. The comic collections are grouped around different themes (such as The Civil War or The First Americans) and each bound book consists of a series of about two dozen one-page comics. This compilation technique is no doubt the result of these being first published in the newspaper (The Daily Press of Newport News, Virginia) but it also makes it quite handy for the teaching of concepts in the classroom. Boyd also titles each comic page with an essential question. In the COMIX WITH CONTENT: GOVERNMENT BY THE PEOPLE comic, for example, I turned to the section on presidential elections. The overarching titles for the comics here range from "Who Represents in America" to "Who Goes to Electoral College?"

Which is to say, these comics could have been boring and seen as yet another cute use of comics. But they are not. Boyd wisely enlists the use of a handy mascot -- a blue crab named Chester -- to show the reader all of the ins and outs of a given topic of history. Chester cracks jokes, engages in the art of puns, and often brings along a "student" from modern day right into the historical period of the comic.

For example, the five pages of the section around United States presidential campaigns is an interesting look at how the president gets elected, with clear explanations about the two main political parties, an overview of the concept of representative democracy and even an investigation into the ethical responsibilities of candidates to speak truthfully and civilly in a campaign (perhaps someone should pass this book along to the Democratic and Republican National Committees).

A related book in the series – COMIX WITH CONTENT: CONSTITUTIONAL CONSTRUCTION – examines how the United States Constitution was constructed, and why it was created the way it was, starting with the philosophical ideas of John Locke, moving through the heated debates of James Madison and Patrick Henry over the separation of religion and government, and ending with the creation of the three-part government and balance of powers. That's a lot of ground to cover, yet Boyd does it so effectively and with such good humor (using Star Trek analogies along the way, even) that I barely realized that I was learning new things as I was reading.

Boyd packs a lot of punch into his one-page comics, using Chester the Crab as a humorous foil in contrast to the serious nature of the topics at hand. The cartoon elements of the comics are playful and dense. For example, on the comic entitled "How Do Parties Pick Candidates?", Boyd uses almost the entire page, showing a bicycle race between a pack of donkeys and a herd of elephants. We see some of the party candidates "crashing" due to lack of funds and lack of voter support, and winners emerging victorious at the finish line. This visual strategy is very effective, and Chester is not the only source of humor. I may be wrong, but in one of the books in the series, I think I saw an image of Weird Al Yankovich peeking out from behind a rock. You never know when you might come across a reference to science fiction or a superhero (such as when the hero, Pressman, is introduced to explain the concept of the free press in a democracy). Boyd understands the power of the visual and he uses it to good effect here.

Format: Paperback
Pages: 24
Publisher: Chester Comix
Color: Full color
ISBN-10: 1933122323
ISBN-13: 978-1933122328

The books in the series are readily available at and cost only $5.95 each. You can preview some of the books at Boyd's site.

The COMIX WITH CONTENT series would be valuable for any classroom, although I would guess the primary audience would be middle school students. Boyd has said that he purposely puts a question in the title because he imagines that teachers could use that as a writing prompt before sharing the comic itself. Boyd thinks like a teacher. The COMIX WITH CONTENT: GOVERNMENT BY THE PEOPLE comic would be a good companion to a textbook and the front pages of the newspaper these days. Students could even compare and contrast the ways that a writer might relay important information in multiple media. After all, a single page comic provides a tight frame for information and a writer, such as Boyd, has to determine the best way to get the main message across. For teachers, there is also a handy index at the end of each comic book, giving page numbers for references inside the text. And Boyd has been developing lesson plans for teachers using his comics. The lesson plans are free at his website.

I would highly recommend any of the books in this series for the classroom. Boyd effectively uses the comic medium to relay important concepts to the reader and all of the comics in this series seem thoughtful, dense and fun to read. Although the comics could be read by a wide spectrum of students, the text and concepts are probably more appropriate for middle school and lower level high school students. (Although even young readers would get a kick out of following Chester the Crab around).

Wednesday, November 19, 2008


From the Editor

This is the last week of Lunch-N-Munch, my lunchtime comic book reading club for fifth graders. It’s been a wonderful experience and I am going to miss the kids. They truly enjoy the experience and appreciate having comic literature to read. A local comic store contacted me today and stated one of the book club members came in and bought Tiny Titans.

While the comic book club is near the end, so this semester is also drawing to a close with just four more weeks to go. Then all that is left is student teaching. I realized just how close I am to graduating over the past few days as I took the Praxis II exam for my certification and as I was preparing my educational résumé. I must admit that it both excites and scares me. Mostly it excites me.

Here are the titles that made their way into the classroom this week:

Tuesday, November 18, 2008


by Chris Wilson

Thankfully for me – or should I say luckily – I was placed in a classroom last semester with a teacher who is open-minded and embraces innovation. In what was the last practicum I would experience before student teaching, I told fifth grade teacher, Amie Turner, about my work in comic literature and asked her for permission to introduce comics to her students. She agreed, which set into motion a host of changes for her and me.

Come to find out, not only did I learn from her, but she learned from me as well, and we both gained a friend in the process. I will always be indebted to her for her instruction and mentoring. Her consult means everything.

This semester I needed a classroom to volunteer in, so I asked Turner and she agreed again. This time, I am conducting a lunchtime comic book reading club. The hope is to come back later and use the classroom for a causal-comparative research study, which is research conducted after the fact. For now, it is just a volunteer reading club conducted during lunch.

This Lunch-n-Munch book club has received a lot of attention from the local media. One television station, KOLR 10, just covered the book club, putting those excited faces on the news and interviewing a couple of them. The Community Free Press also caught wind of the story and interviewed the kids and me. The CFP also put in pictures of the kids. (All students pictured had media release forms.) The students love being interviewed and having their pictures in the paper and on TV.

More importantly, of course, is the fact that the students look forward to reading … at school … during lunch … on their own time. For them, reading has become an adventure, a treasured experience. Isn’t that what reading is all about? I thought I would share our success with you. If you wonder at all if comic literature is appropriate for the classroom, see these media reports, use them to back up your decisions, and to reaffirm your commitment to instill positive reading habits in your students.

Read the KOLR 10 transcript and watch the video here.
Read the Community Free Press story here.

Thursday, November 13, 2008


From the Editor

It’s been a great week so far. The Classroom has had some wonderful media coverage, which we will post when it hits the shelves or the tubes. I’m working in a classroom, hosting a volunteer lunchtime comic book reading club in an elementary school. It’s going great. I cannot wait to update you on that.

Here are some titles that are on store shelves this week:
  1. Avengers Fairy Tales #4 (of 4)
  2. The Dark Tower: Treachery #3 (of 6)
  3. Franklin Richards: Sons of Geniuses #1
  4. I Kill Giants #5 (of 7)
  5. Legion of Super-Heroes in the 31st Century #20
  6. The Lone Ranger #15
  7. Marvel Adventures Spider-Man #45
  8. Mice Templar #6
  9. Pet Robots
  10. Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane #4
  11. The Stand #3 (of 5)
  12. Voltron: Defender of the Universe #4
  13. Wolverine: Old Man Logan #69


By Chris Wilson

PUBLISHER: HarperCollins
GENRE: History

FORMAT: Trade paperback
PAGES: 400
COLOR: Black and white
ISBN-10: 0-06-273098-3
ISBN-13: 978-0-06-273098-5

Larry Gonick has done a lot for the subject of history, mostly by keeping the warts, the birthmarks, and the hate in the story. It’s not a pretty sight, really, what America has done at times, but it is history – our history – and Gonick brings it to life, boils it down, and gives us a good perspective on the real America from 1585 to 1991. He is quite good at presenting a 360-degree look at some of the controversial issues that have cropped up over the past few hundred years. We learn much about the society and the complexities that have shaped our current community.

Gonick is especially adept at two things: viewing history using different contexts, and inserting his sense of humor in the art and information. He pokes at our bumps and bruises and yet still gives the reader a balanced and humorous presentation.

Although it is only 400 pages, Gonick goes further and digs deep, giving us details that the average adult, let alone the average student, will have not heard of or recollect.

Gonick’s art style could be described, perhaps, as a melding of Calvin and Hobbes and School House Rock. More cartoon than comic, his artistic style is quite effective, giving us the nitty-gritty without bogging the reader down.

Chris’ Rating: High school
Publisher’s Rating: Ages 18 and older

I don’t often recommend a book for ages younger than the publisher’s recommended age; however, Gonick’s CARTOON HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES has more in line with interesting history than most textbooks and really nothing objectionable, except for history, which is often quite offensive and disgusting. Still, I think the publisher’s recommendation is too high.

I would not suggest buying every fifth grader a copy, but I do think a teacher could make use of certain aspects of the book even in elementary.

If memory serves, there was a “Hell” or some other mostly innocuous curse somewhere in there, but other than that Gonick’s book is about history. Sure, it mentions sensitive subjects, but nothing that any good, red-blooded student of democracy should not know.

Not only is this book great for the high school history classroom, but also for that non-traditional student who needs to occupy his or her mind with an unconventional but factual education.

Other books in the series include:

Highly Recommended
Schools need more historical books of interest to students. There is no reason that history must consist of lectures and memorizations of names and dates. The politics, the controversies, and the philosophical debates that have shaped our nation are significant and are interesting when given the right presentation such as Larry Gonick’s CARTOON HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES.

Monday, November 10, 2008


By Chris Wilson

Four weeks ago I began my research study on comic literature for my master’s thesis. I am working with a classroom of fifth graders, conducting a volunteer lunchtime comic book club to promote reading. After the pre-survey, I introduced the students to the various comics and graphic novels, giving them a synopsis of each of the titles.

I pulled out NEOTOPIA, a book about a strong princess who must take charge and lead her nation in the face of an invading army of nasty creatures.

“Ladies, if you want a book about a strong girl …” [loud gasp from the girls] “… who is the only one who can save her country, then this is it,” I said.

I relish the sound of children who are excited about reading and it delights me when I offer girls books that can speak to their femaleness; books that connect with their inner woman; books that promote strong, independent, intelligent females who can make a difference in the world around them. I love the sound of girl power, and I silently gasped with them.

And so you can understand why I gasped for the girls when I discovered a new comic biography series focusing on contemporary female trailblazers. FEMALE FORCE, by Bluewater Productions, is a bi-monthly, full color comic dedicated to preserving the stories of today’s influential women.

I asked Darren G. Davis, president of Bluewater Productions, why he started the series: “Because it's something people care about; its something with a historical value in a modern context, and because it's important to highlight strong female figures.”

It may have been true in the past that comics were geared for boys; however, that trend is changing rapidly with efforts such as FEMALE FORCE. As the genre gains legitimacy as a true form of literature, and as it increases in popularity, more and more books are being designed for wider audiences, including females and children. When creators and publishers take on the mission to create for the larger audience, the popularity and legitimacy, in turn, grows too. “My hope is that an honest and thoughtful portrayal of women of worth will drag in readers across the board, and if response is any indication, it's working,” said Davis.

The first book, due in January, is a biography about Sen. Hillary Clinton. The second book will feature Gov. Sarah Palin and is due out in February. From then on, the series will be bi-monthly. The stories will be collected every four issues and bound together.

Political figures are not the only subjects. While Davis will not reveal who will be the focus of the third book, he did say “the next one will be a television icon who has made a huge name for herself during the era when television was a male driven arena.” So far, the women will be modern females, mostly because those of yore have been covered extensively and Davis wants the series to be contemporary and immediately relevant.

Why comics? Davis has a reason – a story – and it’s one that you’ve heard before and will hear again. “I had a hard time reading as a kid and comic books helped me get over that. So I want to take these biographies and be able to have others learn from the non traditional book medium.” Those of us involved in comics have heard that story time and again from adult readers. Comics, it seems, was a significant and motivating factor in the life long reading habits of many a person, including Davis. Now his company is creating biographies of important women to inspire a new generation of readers.

Update: Because of the election, Bluewater has adapted it's schedule for Female Force. The next biography to hit shelves, after Clinton and Palin, will be one on future First Lady Michelle Obama.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008


By Chris Wilson

Are you tired? Me too. The election is over and the commercials are done. Life can return to normal. If you used the presidential comics in your classroom, we would appreciate your thoughts, comments or observations. You can email us privately at or leave comments. Don't forget about our Great Halloween Giveaway.

It’s a short list this week:

Monday, November 3, 2008


By Chris Wilson

We are out shaking the trees and banging the drums in an effort to promote the use of comic literature in the classroom. My local area magazine of higher living, 417 Magazine, asked us to write a story about our efforts to use comic literature in the classroom. Click here for the story.

Sunday, November 2, 2008


From the Editor:
We decided to post our reviews early this week because of the election. So you have two reviews of the presidential comics of John McCain and Barack Obama by IDWW. By the way, I saw the flip-book along with other election-related fare on a special table at Borders. Enjoy.


By Kevin Hodgson
Staff Writer

(Disclaimer: Let me just say that while I often lean left in my political views, I am pretty much a centrist and independent voter.)

It is commendable that IDW Publishing has created these two comic biographies of the United States presidential candidates. Although published as two separate comics, I picked up the flip-book version that has Republican John McCain on one side and Democrat Barack Obama on the other. I read both of the comics in one sitting and found them to be very interesting on a number of levels. The text is pretty dense, and I wish they had found some ways to edit down the stories a bit, particularly as we think about ways to have younger children access more information about the candidates. I can only assume that the real target audience here is adults, which makes sense when you consider the voting age requirements.

As a former newspaper reporter, I also tried to read the comics through a lens of critical media. What I mean is: Did the comic book biographies seem slanted in any way or were they politically neutral? There will surely be some other readers who take issue with my assessment, but it appeared to me that the McCain comic dwelled much more on negative aspects of his career (mistakes he made when it came to campaign contributions) and personal life (not knowing his wife was becoming addicted to painkillers) than the Obama comic, which seemed to use more dialogue and storytelling right from Obama's book, Audacity of Hope. While McCain eventually emerges as someone who has paid attention to his mistakes and learned from them, the negative shadow seems already cast. And the writing seems to contain verbal jabs here and there against McCain. In the Obama comic, in contrast, the only negatives that emerge are his associations with controversial figures from the Chicago political grounds (such as Rev. Wright, former Weather Underground bomber William Ayers and developer Tony Rezko).

On the positive side, the issue of "character" does emerge from both of these comics in a way that newspaper profiles and magazine articles often hint at, but don't always seem to address. The comic genre gives life to the world around these powerful men during key moments in their lives. We see McCain as a prisoner of war, grappling with ethical issues in the face of severe punishment. We watch Obama being laughed at by students when they hear his name being called out by the teacher, who further embarrasses him by asking what African tribe his father belongs to. In considering ways that voters can access information about the candidates, these comics serve a useful purpose and combined with other media, I hope people can make an educated and thoughtful decision about the person who will lead our country into the future in the midst of war and economic turmoil.

The artwork here seems varied. At times, the images are vibrant and alive. But in some frames, there is a washed out, photocopied feel to it. And, to continue my political criticism from above, the washed-out illustrations are mostly in the McCain comic. Now, I acknowledge that there are different illustrators for each comic biography, so it is natural to assume that the art won't exactly mesh. But I would argue that, in considering the level of political fairness that must be balanced with this kind of project, particularly being published in the last month of a presidential campaign, perhaps they should have had the same illustrators working on both comics. Or am I just too critical?

I had hoped to use these comics with my sixth graders, but it is clear that the writing is more geared towards older readers. Which is not to say that I have not kept the comics available in my classroom. I have. For older readers, though, I think the comics provide an interesting potential for comparing and contrasting the candidates on a variety of issues. Also, students could use the comic as an analysis of multiple media (comic, magazine, radio interviews, television, etc.) and examine the use of those media in a political campaign.

I would highly recommend this for high school students. There are some moments in the McCain comic where he is being tortured that might make some teachers a bit sqeamish, but there is nothing there that is not talked about or discussed on the evening news.