Thursday, January 29, 2009


Dr. Dale Jacobs, University of Windsor in Ontario, Canada recently wrote a nice piece about The Graphic Classroom on his blog, More Than Words. Like us, he is "interested in the connection between comics and multiple literacies we use to read them". We like the sound of that. Perhaps there is a research project in our mutual futures? I'd like that.

More and more scholarly and academic persons are discovering the power of comics in education. Dr. Jacobs is just one more example of how this movement is growing and gaining acceptance. The wheels move slowly, my friends, but stand firm in your belief in comic literature as a powerful tool.

More Than Words has been added to our blog roll of related comic links.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009


Posts are short and early this week because of the GIE Conference in New York. Michael and I are still putting the finishing touches on our presentation and will offer it on Saturday. Because of snow, I am unable to get my comics for this week. So the weekly list will have to wait.

There will be some wonderful experts speaking at the conference and the two of us should learn a lot. We hope to pass much of it to you.


Author & Illustrator: Lat
Publisher: First Second Books
Genre: Realism

Format: Paperback
Pages: 144
Color: Black and white
ISBN 10: 1-59643-121-0
ISBN 13: 978-159643-121-0

From the book jacket: “Lat recounts the life of Mat, a Muslim boy growing up in rural Malaysia in the 1950s: his adventures and mischief-making, fishing trips, religious education, and work on his family's rubber plantation. Meanwhile, the traditional way of life in his village (or kampung) is steadily disappearing, with tin mines and factory jobs increasingly overtaking the village's agricultural way of life. When Mat himself leaves for boarding school, he can only hope that his familiar kampung will still be there when he returns.”

KAMPUNG BOY is the typical life of a Muslim community in Malaysia. Except for the specific cultural and religious traditions, the story could take place in any community where industry threatened to crush the rural way of life. The location may be different, the customs foreign, but the truths explored in KAMPUNG BOY are universal. Maintaining cultural traditions in the face of an expanding world is a challenging and sometimes impossible task. As many children find out when they leave home, the nest they knew may never be the same. This can be much to the dismay of both child and parent alike. Pastoral, intelligent and idyllic, KAMPUNG BOY is a beautiful yarn about friends, family, and growing up.

Lat’s black and white line art is distinctive and expressive, calm and inviting. He forgoes the traditional, outlined comic panels opting for a slower paced story with one to two pictures per page. The book is more text heavy than typical comics, but it is appropriate for the style of the story and makes the book unique.

My Rating: Ages 9 and older

There is some innocent, child nudity, but it is very appropriate to the story and is drawn in such a way as to hide genitalia. There is also a ritualistic circumcision. The nudity and the circumcision are neither gratuitous nor obscene, but are merely representative of rural childhood.

KAMPUNG BOY allows students to explore both other culture while simultaneously drawing connections to our own heritage and history. Industry and maturity are the overarching themes, sprinkled with relationships and tradition. Get out those maps, teachers, because there is much to explore in that part of the world.

The religion is cultural in nature and is not didactic, nor created to convert children to Islam. It is factual rather than spiritual and quite interesting. Of course, offering literature that speaks to multiple cultures supports a well-rounded classroom and promotes a diverse learning community.

TOWN BOY is the second installment in this creative series.

KAMPUNG BOY is demonstrates the many dichotomies and opposing forces at work in the world. From the push of industry onto agrarian communities to the friction between urban and rural life, KAMPUNG BOY defines life in terms of the small culture and the old way of life.

Friday, January 23, 2009


By Chris Wilson

Author & Illustrator: Mike Kunkel
Lettering: Steve Wands
Publisher: Johnny DC (an imprint of DC Comics)
Genre: Superhero

Format: Monthly comic
Issues: #1 - #4
Pages: 32

Family-less Billy Batson is a street kid with good ethics who is chosen to be the savior of the world. The wizard Shazam gives to Billy the power of the wizard’s name:

S for the wisdom of Solomon,
H for the strength of Hercules,
A for the stamina of Atlas,
Z for the power of Zeus,
A for the courage of Achilles, and
M for the speed of Mercury.

When Shazam is spoken, Billy magically morphs into an adult superhero known as Captain Marvel. Set on doing good, Billy seeks out his orphaned sister, Mary, and she too is granted the power of the name. Together, the two battle the forces of evil beginning with the wizard’s first prodigy, Black Adam, who fell from grace and uses the cunning and enticing power of the seven deadly evils to wreak havoc and chaos.

Why read another comic about a muscle-popping, uber-moral, caped super hero meant to save the world from utter destruction when you can simply read Superman? This very question makes most readers pass by any incarnation of the Shazam-reciting Captain Marvel.

It would be a mistake, I think, to pass on BILLY BATSON AND THE MAGIC OF SHAZAM simply because Captain Marvel offers a vastly different experience than Superman. (By the way, both characters are property of DC Comics.) Billy Batson and Captain Marvel have a built-in gateway into the imagination of children with the very manifestation of the characters. Typical youngster, Billy Batson, need only speak the word “Shazam!” and his small frame is transformed into the heroic, powerful and adult-sized Captain Marvel. What imaginative child hasn’t dreamed of saving the world and being the hero and envy of the world? In their young eyes, to be an adult is to live free from mandates. To be young ….

The magical journey from boy to man is only a physical thing, which is the other wonderfully significant and defining characteristic of Captain Marvel. Billy may become a superhero, but he still has the mind and morality of a boy, giving this super hero an innocent quality that is most endearing.

Kunkel understands the childlike nature of Captain Marvel well and designs the stories, both the text and images, from the perspective of kids. Case in point: The orphaned Billy and his younger sister, Mary, are due for a parent-teacher conference, which is hard to do when they have no adults in their lives. Billy must become Captain Marvel, then disguise his super-self as a typical father. I felt for Billy when he tried to tie his necktie; he’s never had a man teach him how. The dialogue that transpires between Billy and the adults is cackling funny. Poor kid tries so hard to talk like a grown-up.

Amazingly, this boy and his even younger sister manage to be great, upstanding citizens despite the fact that they have no real parental figures in their lives, except the elusive wizard. It is Billy’s compassionate nature and depth of character that make him qualified to be the hero the world needs. These qualities are why the wizard chose him in the beginning.

Another interesting aspect of BILLY BATSON AND THE MAGIC OF SHAZAM is the allegorical nature of the story to Christianity. Like THE LORD OF THE RINGS and THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA, there are strong religious themes present in the title.

The wizard Shazam represents God, while Captain Marvel stands for Christ, with Billy and Mary as the apostles. Black Adam, of course, is our Satan figure – fallen from grace – who is the agent of evil and chaos. By simply calling upon the name of the Godly wizard, Billy and Mary have the power to stop Black Adam and evil. Together, these themes create a chance to study the characters beyond the superficial.

If that wasn’t enough, BILLY BATSON also gives the reader a heavy dose of nostalgia with its accompanying secret code in every issue. It’s not just notes written after the fact, but pieces of the story are written in code. A super decoder ring is not necessary as the key is provided in each issue. Talk about keeping kids busy, give them a code and a key, and they will be busy little bees. You can click here to for an online key to the code.

BILLY BATSON AND THE MAGIC OF SHAZAM have a lot to offer students and teachers, specific themes and characteristics that are especially interesting to kids and necessary for proper developmental. Above all, it is a fantastically crated story.

Not only does Kunkel write an outstanding yarn, but he illustrates it with soul and passion. The characters are so full of expression and the story unfolds so smoothly that it is hard to put down. Kunkel does a good job giving the reader the origin story, without taking up too much time. He separates his explanatory narrative sections with a more sketchy notepaper, child-like imagery, which scaffolds students so they can make sense of the different styles of storytelling.

This is an example of the pages describing Captain Marvel's back story.
Notice the pages looks as if it is created on a page of notebook paper.

This page is an example of the typical art within the story.

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

This title is perfectly appropriate for all ages, but the reading level is best suited beginning with the average third grader and older. However, with help, younger students could also enjoy this title.

Not only does BILLY BATSON AND THE MAGIC OF SHAZAM offer a superb story with artfully crafted illustrations making it easy to teach literature in the classroom, but it has deeper implications to students: connections to the young imagination through child superhero aspects, strong character development and morality.

The private, faith-based school has an additional advantage as they are able to use the Christian allegory to teach Biblical principles through modern and high quality story telling, something that is often hard as many of the religion-based texts can be trite. It should be noted that these religious themes are not necessary to enjoy the book, but are simply another avenue for understanding.

As for the code, well teachers could easily make use of that in a classroom and connect it to mathematics, real-life and also plant career seeds.

Exhausting legal battles aside, both DC and Marvel have a character brandishing the moniker of Captain Marvel. The compromise means that DC’s Captain Marvel cannot flaunt his name in the title of any DC book, but the company can use his name in the narrative. This is why you always see Shazam in the title of any Captain Marvel DC title. Click here for a preview from Newsarama.

Highly Recommended
This is one of the top titles offered by Johnny DC as it presents a fully articulated and intelligent story to youngsters – a story that can be read superficially as well as with increasing depth and complexity, depending on the need of the readers.


By Kevin Hodgson
Staff Writer

Is it pure marketing to put President Barack Obama on the cover of the latest Spider-man comic? Of course. Does it work? Certainly, the inclusion of the popular new president during the week of the inauguration has helped sales of THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN (No. 583) fly off the shelves. At my local comic book store (Modern Myths), I put in a reservation for the comic a few weeks ago, and was told that the first shipment could not fill all the pre-orders, and I had to wait. I finally got the comic in the second shipment and the salesman said the response to get a copy has been overwhelming (the comic is now on its fourth printing).

However, as I was placing a second order to get a copy for my sons, he made sure I understood that I should not view this comic as some sort of valuable collectible. "It won't be worth much," he said. "Buy it because you want to read it."

Who knows. For me, I wanted to see what the folks over at Marvel Comics were up to. It's an interesting concept but the storytelling was, well, underwhelming.

The Spidey/Obama story is sort of a comic within a comic and relegated to the back of the book. In the plot sequence, an evil Obama twin appears and Spider-man has to help figure out which president is the real president (while taking some comedic pot shots at Vice President Joseph Biden along the way). An old foe of Spider-man, Chameleon, wants to change places with Obama and be on the stand to take the presidential oath of office. I'm sure he has some nefarious ideas in mind for our country. Spidey foils the plot and Obama gives a little victory speech, and the story concludes on a hopeful note.

In an recent interview, the legendary Stan Lee (who was not one of the writers of this story but still has a strong hand at Marvel) says the idea of the book came from reading that Obama was a fan of Spider-man and other comics as a kid. (You can read the full interview here.)

The artwork here is typical Marvel Comic fare, with Obama looking quite presidential in his comic book cameo, although there are times when Obama's comic persona looks a little strange and distorted. The cover of the book shows Obama giving a thumbs up to the world, with Spider-man dangling from a web in the background. The art doesn't stand out as anything spectacular, but it works for this particular story.

Honestly, the story itself lends very little for the classroom, although I expect that young readers and fans of Spider-man (and Obama) will flock to the book just to find out why the new president is on the cover of a comic book. That's why I bought it, and that's why my sons immediately took it out of my hands. The comic might allow some discussions about how icons are created in this day and age, and would Sen. John McCain have been on the cover if he had won the election. (I'm not sure about that).

Cost: $3.99 (although some folks are selling it on ebay and other sites for more than $100). You can preview some of the frames through the USA Today site. To purchase, you will likely need to contact a local comic book store near you (you can use to find a store near you, but not all comic shops are listed because they have to pay for the advertisement).

I would recommend this comic, if only for capturing the moment in time when Obama has a high approval rating. It's worth the four bucks, but not much more, in my opinion. There is nothing in this comic that would likely offend anyone, and it would be suitable for upper elementary through high school students.


From the Editor

It’s crazy days around these parts as I continue my student teaching. A great experience to be sure, but an experience that takes up a lot of my time. The comics are a big hit in this classroom; I’ve had students reading comics during recess.

Michael and I are working on our presentation for the Graphica in Education conference in New York. Perhaps we can meet some of our devoted readers at the conference.

To the list:

  1. Battlefields: The Night Witches #3 (of 3)
  2. Benny & Penny: The Big No-No
  3. Lone Ranger & Tonto #2
  4. Luke on the Loose
  5. Marvel Adventures Avengers #32
  6. Tiny Titans #12

Monday, January 19, 2009


Publishers DC Comics and Stone Arch Press have teamed up to bring students some new comic-based reading. According to the news release “the full-color chapter books feature contemporary adventure and crime fighting tales with appropriate language and content for students in elementary grades. The series will include a total of 48 titles published over a two-year span. Chapter books based on DC’s WONDER WOMAN character will be introduced in Spring 2010.”

Of these news books, Joan Berge, President of Capstone Publishers’ fiction division had this to say: “These books are unlike any other books in the market. Our DC SUPER HEROES series features new stories and original art in a chapter book format, helping readers transition from picture books and beginning readers to short paragraphs and chapters with lots of action.”

The Writing Contest
One of the most exciting aspects of this release include the accompanying writing contest for upper elementary students. To enter the FIND A HERO! writing contest, students in grades 3-6 should write about a real hero, someone from their school or life, someone who is a true hero in their eyes.

While super powered heroes are not required, creativity certainly is. Naturally, we were curious if original student stories could be in comic format and our contact at Stone Arch confirmed that comics are great. So go crazy, kids! And teachers, this is exactly what educational gurus and philosophers talk about when they encourage us to make learning authentic and real-world. Kids won't bother asking why they are doing this project.

As for the winner of the contest? Well, the first 50 entrants will get two free DC Super Heroes chapter books for free. One will go to the student and the other to the school library.

Get this. The first place winner, the big dog of the writing contest, the bard of elementary school will star in an upcoming DC SUPER HEROES book right along with Batman, Superman, or Wonder Woman. That’s not all. Along with the student, his or her hero, the school and the principal will also be featured in the storyline. How cool is that?

I’m sure you are dying to learn more, to see more, to get a peak at some pages. Well click here to go the site and read up. By the way, these books have guided readling levels.

Contest runs through February 28. Entry forms are available here. Winning entries will be announced on March 15.

DC Super Heroes
56 pages each
Copyright 2009
Hardcover Price $18.99 (S/L) / $25.32 (List)
Paperback Price $5.95
Interest Level: Ages 8-12
Reading Level: Ages 7-8
Guided Reading Level: M

Saturday, January 17, 2009


By Chris Wilson

Author & Illustrator: John Bintz
Publisher: Clarity Comic
Genre: Realism

Format: Soft cover
Volume: 1
Pages: 176
Color: Black and white

The transition from elementary to middle school is so difficult, emotionally and academically. The movement from Mommy and Daddy to ‘rents is enough to send a boy skyward. Many a kid is not quite ready to move on from being a child to being … something older and more mature.

A MOMENT OF CLARITY provides young readers – those nearing the end of childhood and those who’ve recently but barely crossed the line – with an authentic story about cartoons, bullies, video games and [gasp] girls.

John Blitz touches on the sweetness and struggles of preteen boys, young lads who will soon be teenagers, but might be a bit resistant to the great change. Blitz understands these boys and gives them a piece of literature that is wholly their own and gives them that much needed moment of clarity in a confusing world.

If you have ever read a GARFIELD book by Jim Davis, then you have an excellent idea of the art in A MOMENT OF CLARITY. I was transported back to my elementary days when the only books I remember wanting to read were those rectangular black and white comics of that famous and precocious fat cat. I had a stack of them and read them till the covers came off. Were A MOMENT OF CLARITY around in those days, I would have read it, too.

Chris’ Rating: Ages 10 and older
Publisher’s Rating: Ages 10 and older

This book is aimed squarely at the tween lot, especially the boys. It’s perfect for them.

Johnny puts up with his bully, Tyler, till he can’t take no more. He decides to kick Tyler’s “butt”, but the bully backs down and moves on to another victim when Johnny stands up for himself.

The lives of tweens are on the table in this sweet and endearing story, which started as a web-comic. Their struggles – told from the pre-teen perspective – is ever-present, youthful and endearing. The students will be able to relate to A MOMENT OF CLARITY, giving the teacher so many opportunities for text-to discussions and journal writings.

Blintz continues to publish his mini-comic on his website, so students in a technology-based classroom could access the story on a regular basis.

Highly Recommended
What’s not to like? This is a story for those often overlooked pre-teen youngsters, a story I think they will enjoy and relate to. It’s the common tween struggle.


By Nate Stears
Staff Writer

I have two kids (a girl, 6, and a boy, 2) and there is something undeniably visceral that happens when they come along: you imagine how completely, utterly, unashamedly violent you would get if they were ever threatened. The feeling is ancient. In my normal life, I galumph along in a self-conscious and well-meaning haze, but in my dreams, I just imagine how gruesome it would get if anyone, anyone, even thought...

THREE SHADOWS mines this deep atavistic vein. A mother, father, and their little boy gambol in the fields and in the woods in the French countryside, living their lives in a gentle, Normandy Rockwell paradise. Gradually, the parents become aware – first in dreams and later in reality – that three horsemen are watching them from the hilltops. They tell themselves that they're just horsemen, that they aren't a threat, that there's nothing to worry about, but they know it isn't true. The father, Jules, decides to take the son far away from their home in order to save him and quickly finds that he is being chased and strangely protected by the three enigmatic figures.

The art takes advantage of several aspects of the graphic novel which are harder to achieve in other media: series of wordless panels; swirly, impressionistic art; and a sense of impending dread that colors even the early scenes of familial bliss. The effect reminds me of Craig Thompson's BLANKETS, which used a similarly swooping line to capture the teenage obsession with love and identity. Here, the father is rendered in humps and broad expanses of flesh while the mother is angular and petite. The horsemen often become so sketchy that they seem like crude scratches on the page. The effect is a hallucinatory parable rather than a realistic story, but leavened with an attempt at finding meaning and transcendence out of misery.

Students might have a hard time identifying with the plight of the parents, but the power of the narrative and the artistic vision might surprise them. In my class, I've had success with strong, emotional narratives such as PRIDE and DEOGRATIAS that leverage the visual components of the graphic novel to tell complicated, challenging stories in innovative ways. THREE SHADOWS has the potential to be used as a supplement to books about fate and our place in it such as: OF MICE AND MEN, MACBETH, and even THE ODYSSEY.

Highly Recommended for High School students

Author: Cyril Pedrosa
Illustrator: Cyril Pedrosa
Lettering: Cyril Pedrosa
Translation: Edward Gauvin
Publisher: First Second Books
Genre: Literature

Format: Softcover Digest
Edition: First edition
Volume: 1
Pages: 268
Color: Black & White
ISBN-13: 978-1-596432-239-0



From the Editor

I’ve completed my first week of student teaching and the experience has exceeded my expectations. My cooperating teacher utilizes best practices throughout the day, modeling for me how to run an efficient, exciting and engaging classroom bubbling with learning. I am building strong rapport with the kids and working with some who need more assistance. It’s a beautiful thing.

My cooperating teacher allowed me to bring my comics into the classroom. The fourth graders went nuts. They are reading and enjoying the comics. I caught one student reading during recess. I do not have a reading on their favorites yet, but I will report on it when I get a feel.

The books that made their way into the classroom this week include:

Thursday, January 8, 2009


My long time friend, Larry Litle, played a significant role in my comic reading as an adult, which ultimately shaped my educational pedagogy toward reading and overall educational philosophy.

Litle is a life long comic book fan who delights in passing onto other his love and passion for comic literature, especially the traditional superhero genre. He has worked with pre-teens and teens in various capacities during his life including his time as a school counselor, a mental health counselor, and in church youth ministry.

A poor reader in elementary school, Litle credits his reading of comic books as the intervention that helped him stay interested in reading during his youth and as an avid reader in his adulthood.

Litle comes to the Classroom as a contributing writer submitting reviews periodically.


By Larry Litle
Contributing Writer

I started reading AMAZING SPIDERMAN when I was 5 years old and I was intrigued how a high school kid could be so bullied and his family life so rough, and yet he had these incredible powers. When Peter Parker put on the Spider-Man costume he would transform from a shy nerdy kid into a confident wise cracking superhero. Since that time, I have remained a dedicated fan of the web slinger.

As Spiderman, he would fight against super villains of all sorts – some were crazy and fun and others were dark and deadly. The one consistent and important aspect in all the many stories was that the villains were not dumbed down for children. The villains were always a threat to society and to Spidey. At the same time, they were never too insane or dark for younger readers. It is difficult to keep that balance especially when many other comic books move to one extreme or the other.

One of the attractions for me was Peter Parker. His life was always worse than mine. The memory and guilt surrounding his uncle’s death drove him to be Spiderman when it would be much easier to just quit. Aunt May, his guardian, was always the positive voice that reminded Peter that life has a way of working out even when things seem bleak. Her optimism and strength were unwavering even when they were behind on bills or facing deep personal issues.

My hope in reading MARVEL ADVENTURES SPIDER-MAN was simple: I wanted to read a comic that would take me back to my childhood and remind me of those stories that shaped my early years. I wanted to read Spiderman stories that stuck to the nature and balance of the original.

I was more than pleasantly surprised. MARVEL ADVENTURES: SPIDER-MAN achieved that perfect balance between Peter Parker’s life as a teenager and his life as a super hero. This is the comic I remember as a child and I am thankful to Sean McKeever for giving a new generation of readers the Spider-Man I remember.

Issue 5
Electro seeks revenge for Spider-Man beating him in a previous fight, by setting up a super-charged ambush for Spidey. Meanwhile Peter is worried about money issues since the bills are overdue and Aunt May cannot pay them. Peter continues to get picked on at school by the bullies, and Jameson of the Daily Bugle continues to be a pain for both Peter and Spidey.

Issue 6
A class trip to the art museum turns into more excitement than Peter expected. There are scenes with bully Flash Thompson verbally sparring with Peter ending in Peter getting in trouble from the teacher. Sandman is transfixed on a painting and becomes agitated when security confronts him about standing in front of the painting for hours. Sandman steals the painting because he cannot be away from it. The owner of the painting offers Spidey a reward to bring it back. With all the financial issues that Aunt May faces, Spidey takes the job. He tracks down Sandman who is still engrossed in the painting and does not want to fight. Only when Spidey tries to take back the painting does Sandman attack him. A fire starts but Sandman is unwilling to leave the painting. Spidey has to choose to either save Sandman or the painting. The owner of the painting is very unhappy that Spidey chose to save the life of Sandman over his priceless piece of art.

Issue 8
Peter is on his way to meet Liz Allen for a “study date” after selling the Bugle some Spidey photos. Peter cannot believe his luck has changed. He changes into his Spidey persona to make better time getting across the city. He stops to catch a teenage thief and runs into the Scorpion. Spidey thinks he has the Scorpion all webbed up and rushes off to meet Liz. The Scorpion has made improvements to his suit and easily breaks free. He then chases Spidey across the city seeking his revenge. There are some really funny scenes where Spidey gets knocked into the Hudson River and has to go to the Laundry Mat to wash his street close. He then goes through the automatic car wash to rinse the stink on the Spidey costume. In the end, Spidey beats the Scorpion and rushes to meet Liz. He finds her having coffee with his bully, Flash. The study session was supposed to have been the day before. Poor Peter!

Issue 9
It is Fantastic 4 (FF) appreciation day and Peter is not excited about it. He is a bit resentful that there is not a Spider-Man appreciation day. The only other person at Midtown High who is not excited about the FF is Flash Thompson. Flash is Spidey’s biggest fan. Peter notices a couple of suspicious guys lurching around. He follows them through a portal onto Dr. Doom’s spacecraft. Doom has a plan to magnify the sunlight to kill the Fantastic 4. All the fans will just be acceptable losses with the death of the FF. Spidey has to out think Doom to take over the ship and saves the day but gets no credit for it.

Issue 12
Peter is stuck in a nightmare that he cannot wake up from. The nightmare involves everything from public humiliation with high school hottie Liz Allen to the classic only being in his underwear at school. The mystical character “Nightmare” loves the negative energy. Positive thinking wins out in the end.

Issue 17
Peter attends a prep rally for the football team, which becomes an “I love Flash Thompson” rally. Peter is upset with wasting his time. On his way home, he witnesses Flash running out of an old scary old house. Peter watches as Flash transformes into a werewolf. Spider-Man webs up Flash and takes him to Dr. Strange. Dr. Strange tells Peter that he has to get the fur of the werewolf that bit Flash. Reluctantly Spidey goes out to save the bully that makes school miserable.

Issue 18
Peter goes on a school trip to Florida to watch a NASA launch. The launch gets scrapped and Peter is stuck in sunny Florida without his swimming suit. He sees a plane go down in the swamp. He swings out to find out what happened. A few bad guys brought the plane down and are looking for the pilot and his daughter. The Man-Thing shows up and helps the little girl. Spidey misunderstands what the Man-Thing is doing there. A battle begins between the two until the other bad guys try to hurt the girl. Spidey and the Man-Thing team up to take down the bad guys and save the pilot and his daughter.

Issue 19
Peter went to the New York Natural History Museum to see the latest dinosaur finding. He bumps into Liz Allen at the museum. Professor Lee and Professor Kirby introduce the finding, which is a tribute to real life comic legends Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. Very funny. A lightning strike brings “Fin Fang Foom”, a dragon like alien, to life. He grabs Liz and takes off with Spidey in hot pursuit. Spidey cannot do much against this creature. Finally the creature realizes that he is the only one left of his kind, drops Liz, and leaves New York for the solitariness of the artic.

Issue 20
Halloween is not a pleasant time to be the school nerd. Flash gives him the usual hard time. He bumps into the hero archer Hawkeye at a warehouse smuggling site. Spider-Man and Hawkeye easily take down the thugs, then find a crate with the Frankenstein monster. Frankenstein breaks free and wanders the streets on Halloween night and ends up at the Midtown school dance. They chase him out of the dance to the pier where Frankie falls through and ends up at the bottom of the Hudson.

Issue 40
On his way to school, Spidey stops a mugging of a young lady. Unknown to Spidey, she is the Norse god Enchantress. Spidey leaves quickly so he can get to school to get his assignment on Norse Vikings. Amora, aka Enchantress, follows Peter and confronts him. Then she uses her charms to make him her “Champion” and to transport him to Asgard. She empowers Spidey with god-like powers along with his usual spider powers. Only a confrontation with Thor is enough to knock him out of the trance and to save Asgard. This experience does give Peter an interesting report on the Norse Vikings.

My Rating: Ages 6 and older
Publisher’s Rating: All Ages
The younger kids will not be able to read all the words but should be able to follow the story with the pictures.

There is traditional superhero action and mild violence.

Many of these issues can be used in character education and guidance counseling sessions. There are lessons about taking responsibility, bullying, and acceptance.

My 7-year-old daughter really enjoyed a couple of these issues. She usually does not like boy superheroes but she enjoyed this series. A few of the words were beyond her vocabulary but she was able to use the art to find the context and figure out the story.

Highly Recommended

Author: Sean McKeever (5-6, 8-9, 12), Peter David (17-20), Marc Sumerak (40)
Penciler: Patrick Scherberger (5-6, 8), Mike Norton (9, 12, 17-20), David Nakayama (40)
Inker: Norman Lee (5-6, 8-9,17-20), Jonathan Glapion (12), Vicente Cifuentes (40)
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Genre: Superhero

Format: Monthly comics
Issues: 5, 6, 8, 9, 12, 17-20, 40
Pages: 32 pages each


By Chris Wilson

Author: Ron Marz
Illustrator: Lee Moder
Colors: Val Staples
Lettering: Troy Peteri
Publisher: Top Cow Productions
Genre: Fantasy

Format: Monthly comic
Issues: #1 - #3
Pages: 32
Color: Full color

Half-Caucasian and half-Chinese 14-year-old Aaron – dubbed “white rice” by the schoolyard bullies – is awkward and alone, and he’s not dealing well with his bodily changes. His special brand of adolescent transformation bubbles to the surface when he finds out he is not only bi-racial but bi-species. During an altercation with his formidable thugs Aaron turns green and spits fire, setting one of the bullies on fire.

This incident sets into motion a new world for Aaron as he discovers he is half-human and half-dragon, the last of his line, a hunted breed on the brink of extinction. Once his truer self comes through, the great enemy known as the Dragon Hunters become aware of his presence and prepare to extinguish him.

The first three issues have a steady and heavy pace consisting mostly of flight and survival. The Dragon Hunters are quick to pounce on Aaron and his mother – capturing them – and Aaron soon learns more about his past than he was ready to know.

The story pulsates with energy and action, and bleeds inner turmoil and tension. The story has conflict and drama that readers who enjoy fantasy, magic and dragons will devour. The only negative about the story are the lightly peppered curses throughout, rendering the title inappropriate for some schools and classrooms.

Chris’ Rating: Ages 10 and older
Publisher’s Rating: All Ages

In issue #1 there are two bullies who curse. The main bully says, “I swear I’m kicking his ass anyway”, when referring to our protagonist. Two panels later, the bully’s toady asks, “What the hell was that?” In issue #2 the head magi of the Dragon Hunters says, “Damn that boy.” It should be noted that Aaron is reprimanded by his mother for his language when he says, “crap”. This establishes a divide between acceptable language of heroes and protagonists and the language used by villains – a literary device that can be taught to students.

Not all of the advertisements are entirely child friendly or all ages. The ads promote some titles meant for older audiences such as: Witchblade, The Darkness, Wanted, and Impaler. There are also magical themes and sorcery involved.

If this were a movie, DRAGON PRINCE would likely get a PG rating because of the light profanity and fantasy violence.

Just like the popular HARRY POTTER series, DRAGON PRINCE has an authenticity and complexity about it that is exciting to the reader. It is powerful and engaging, making it hard to put down. For that reason alone, I think DRAGON PRINCE is important to the classroom.

The protagonist is conflicted and confused; his family is split between his mother who wants to save him and his grandfather who, as the leader of the Dragon Hunters, wants to kill him. He does not understand his own body nor does he comprehend his power and importance. Young readers love to pretend that they are special, that they possess something others do not, that they are the long lost prince to a kingdom or the only hero that can save the world. DRAGON PRINCE taps into that universal daydream and hero mythology giving kids a reason to read, especially boys. Curses or not, I think it’s a great story.

Recommended with Reservations
The writing is solid and the story is engaging. The art is expressive and aimed at a mixed audience. In all, the story is perfectly suited for the classroom and I believe students would really embrace this title. It's regretful that I cannot highly recommend this title because I enjoyed it so much. However, the minimal cursing and grown-up advertisements pose a possible problem especially to the elementary classroom.

If a teacher wishes to use this story in the classroom, I recommend waiting for a trade (a bound collection usually consisting of 5-7 issues). Typically these do not have the advertisement issues, found in the monthly comics, making objections much less.


From the Editor

It seems this week’s additions to the classroom shelf consisted mostly of children’s titles. My daughter was thrilled with the titles and perused the selection on our way home from the comic book shop.

Next week I enter the classroom for my student teaching experience in a technology-based (eMNTS) fourth grade class. I have my comics boxed, divided by title, labeled and ready to go. I haven’t asked my cooperating teacher yet, but I am optimistic that she will allow me to use comic literature in her classroom. I have three short boxes of comics and a tub filled with graphic novels and trade paperbacks – plenty of exciting, substantial and literary reading material.

Enjoy perusing the list:

Land of Oz: The Manga #1-#4
Superhero Squad: Hero Up! One Shot #1
Wolverine and Power Pack #4 (of 4)

Saturday, January 3, 2009


By Chris Wilson


Author: Jonathan Hennessey
Illustrator: Aaron McConnell
Publisher: Hill and Wang (an imprint of Macmillan)
Genre: Nonfiction, Government

Format: Softcover
Pages: 160
Color: Full color
ISBN-10: 0-8090-9470-3
ISBN-13: 978-0-8090-9470-7

From whom do we derive and receive our rights? You know the ones. The life, liberty and pursuit of happiness rights listed so famously in the Declaration of Independence. Do they come from the Almighty or from us?

Interestingly enough, the argument of God-given versus man-created rights has long been an issue including the time of our beloved Constitution. Philosopher John Locke argued that our rights are not derived from God, but from the people. While his ideas were very controversial in Great Britain, those ideas aided the American Revolution and are clearly articulated in the Preamble of the Constitution:

"We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America."

This is just one example of how THE UNITED STATED CONSTITUTION: A GRAPHIC ADAPTATION is more than an outline of the seven Articles and the Bill of Rights. This graphic novel details the struggles and the back-story that led to the writing of the most famous and important of government documents. More than a listing and explanation of rights, THE US CONSTITUTION gives the reader a fair and accurate view of the creation of the document and the successes and lamentations of the various contributors.

The whole affair was far from courteous, civil or congenial. It was full of acrimony and anger, heated debates and disputes, grandstanding and name calling, much like our contemporary political landscape. We are not so different.

If we are to celebrate our great democracy – and I say “democracy” understanding that what we really have is a republic, which is another issue discussed in the text – then we must understand our founding documents. What better way to study something considered stuffy and boring by so many than to breathe comic life into it?

The 160 pages are dense yet concise, detailed but clear. Complete with Federalists versus Anti-Federalists, philosophical differences of the people, an explanation of the Electoral College and its original purpose, the issues of the divine right of Kings, the Preamble, the Articles, The Bill of Rights, and the Amendments, THE US CONSTITUTION is jam packed with democratic nutrition, enough to chew on for months.

Aaron McConnell’s illustrations are brilliant in their effectiveness of depicting complex themes and ideas in discernable ways. The style is reminiscent of the political cartoons of yore and his use of iconography is clever and informative. Click here to view a trailer of the book.

Chris’ Rating: Ages 9 and older (middle school and high school preferred)

This is a hard book when it comes to recommending an appropriate age. In Missouri, fourth grade students learn a lot about government and citizenship, and this title would be an extraordinary companion to that study. However, I would not typically just hand the book over to most 9- to 10-year-olds, as the reading level is generally much too high. To use certain pages during learning would be more than appropriate with most upper elementary students.

Considering differentiated instruction – a lesson plan that includes diverse learners such as students with disabilities, English language learners and gifted students – THE US CONSTITUTION may need to be a required text for the gifted students in any upper elementary classroom. It would be an exciting piece for those students who require further study to keep them engaged; there is much they would learn.

For the most part, older students – middle school and high school – would benefit much more from the intricacies and depth of THE US CONSTITUTION and I would suspect they would have fun learning about it.

Highly Recommended
If you talk of government and democracy, or discuss our rights as citizens, if you are interesting in the foundation of our country, then THE UNITED STATES CONSTITUTION: A GRAPHIC ADAPTATION is a required text for you or your classroom. From upper elementary to college, this book has a rightful place in the classroom, and the home bookshelf for that matter.


By Kevin Hodgson
Staff Writer

Sardine rocks! In Outer Space! The brave little intergalactic explorer and her family sidekicks in SARDINE IN OUTER SPACE – Captain Yellow Shoulder, her uncle; and Little Louie, her cousin – are the featured characters in the series of collected comic books from the French team of writer Emmanuel Guilbert and illustrator Joann Sfar.

Sardine is a spunky girl with big ideas in her head (and a big blue hat and a flying black cat) and her band of friendly space pirates travel the universe in search of adventure aboard their pirate space ship called The Huckleberry. And they encounter adventure from every directions – saving alien life forms left and right from near disaster, usually brought on by the villains of the series – Supermuscleman (chief dictator of the universe) and his brainy mad scientist sidekick, Doc Krok.

Told in short vignettes, SARDINE IN OUTER SPACE has been published in five collected editions from First Second Publishing. Guilbert is most effective as a storyteller as he warps his vision of the worlds encountered by the crew, as seen through the eyes of his young protagonist. Sardine is smart, and strong, but she is also guided by a moral compass and outrage at creatures who have fallen victim to Supermuscleman and his cronies. Revenge is what fuels most of the Sardine stories and yet, the revenge is tempered with the sense that there are lessons to be learned in life, such as not trying to take over the universe with rules such as "no talking or laughing."

Guilbert spins these tales through the eyes of a child. We see Sardine's uncle as a strong and kindly protector. Little Louie gets them in all sorts of trouble, as he clearly needs the excitement of potential chaos in order to have a good day. Supermuscleman and Doc Krok are dangerous, but only in a humorous way. There is no way those two bumbling fools could control the universe and Sardine is not afraid to let them know that their rules will never apply to her and her band of space pirates. Meanwhile, Sardine and her crew regularly return home to Grandmother's house for a good home cooked meal and some loving from the family matriarch.

Oh, and pirates? That's just another way of saying that Sardine and company are always on the prowl for adventure. They are not the throat-cutting, gold-stealing, ship-stealing pirates of the old days on the sea. In space, apparently, viciousness is tempered with humor. In a story in which the group finds what they think is a dead body, the reader is told not to worry – nothing violent has happened and all will be resolved by the end of the adventure. And it is.

Guilbert pokes fun at many things in our own world, including education. In the story called "In the Land of the Bully'ems," Sardine and Little Louie buy a video game called No-Child-Left-Behind-School-II (after which their uncle asks, "Isn't that game a little violent?") and the kids enter a virtual world of a schoolhouse in which they are chased by a truant officer, come face to face with an authoritarian teacher, and observe a classroom of dull and uninterested students. Needless to say, Sardine and Little Louie are happy to leave that place behind and return to their own spaceship.

These books also come with a message for all readers right on the inside cover. In a speech bubble, Captain Yellow Shoulder alerts us that, "NO GROWN-UP ALLOWED! (unless they're space pirates or space adventurers)."

You've been warned.

The artwork of SARDINE IN OUTER SPACE works on many levels. The manic craziness of the colors and characters is a nice tandem to the strange stories that unfold in the books, and the characters of Sardine and others are distinctive in many ways. For example, Uncle Yellow Shoulder is all muscle and brawn and scars, and yet, the wide smile never seems to leave his face while Doc Krok looks like the result of some experiment on an octopus, with huge fingers and a massive oval orange head and small beady eyes.

The illustrations are jam-packed with many strange creatures and details in the background. Sfar (who is listed as the main illustrator for books 1-4 but then is left off the credits on book 5, but her style remains completely intact) also uses a black background for many of the frames and rich colors for everything else, giving the reader a real sense of objects and aliens jumping off the page. In many ways, the illustrations are as interesting as the stories in the Sardine series.

Guilbert and Sfar have created their own universe here and then tweaked it with the laws of our own. They play with the reader's expectations. For creative writing, students could do the same. For example, students could consider themselves in the role of Planet Creator and come up with a list of ways that their new planet is unique. They could create a map of this new world and then invent either a character who lives there or a traveler discovering this place. The conflict between our perceptions of what a world (like Earth) should be like and what this new place is really like provides a potentially interesting setting and plot device for a short story or a comic book.

Format: Paperback
Pages: 128
Publisher: First Second
ISBN-10: 1596-4312-6-1
ISBN-13: 978-1596-4312-6-3

This book is very appropriate for younger readers in the mid- to upper-elementary grades (my 8- and 10-year-old sons kept hiding my books from me as I was trying to write my review and that is always a good sign in our house that there is high interest in a book). There is nothing inappropriate in the stories and no profanity at all. I would highly recommend this book for any classroom setting.

Friday, January 2, 2009


From the Editor

I’m back to it, well sort of. I’m reading comics and writing reviews, trying to prepare for the next semester. It was a great Christmas and New Years for my family and me. This next year will be a full of change as college will end and I will hopefully become a full time teacher.

From this week:
  1. Marvel Adventures Fantastic Four #43
  2. The Stand #4 (of 5)
  3. Wolverine: Old Man Logan #70

From last week:
  1. Billy Batson and the Magic of Shazam! #3
  2. The Dark Tower: Treachery #4 (of 6)
  3. Marvel Adventures Super Heroes #6
  4. Previews January 2009
  5. Star Wars: The Clone Wars #1
  6. Star Wars: The Clone Wars #2
  7. Thor #16
  8. Usgai Yojimbo #116