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.