Friday, July 24, 2009


By Chris Wilson

Author & Illustrator: Jay Piscopo
Publisher: Nemo Publishing
Genre: Science Fiction

Format: Paperback
Volume: 1
Pages: 104
Color: Full color
ISBN-10: 978-0-9817132-0-5

You do not have to read the foreword by Charley Parker or the quote by famed comic writer Roy Thomas on the back to pick up on the strong Johnny Quest influence in THE UNDERSEA ADVENTURES OF CAPT’N ELI by Jay Piscopo.

Our boy genius, shrouded in a mysterious origin story reminiscent of Superman’s own introduction to Earth, is a being of the water. He washed ashore as an infant, encased in a technologically advanced pod. Eli’s energy, interests and spirit is drawn to the open seas despite any concerns by his Earthly adoptive parents. The preteen boy builds a sub and begins his destiny with the undersea world.

It is not long until Eli is met with adventure, thrills and chills with the equally mysterious Commander X, who wears a X-Men style “X” on his hat and sometimes his belt buckle. Our young protagonist, being a boy-genius, is asked to join the famous and exclusive scientific exploration group, The Seasearchers.

The writing is well-suited for kids and the classroom, although the narrative does a bit more telling rather then showing, for my taste. There is plenty of mystery and adventure for kids, but thankfully the action does not move at breakneck speed.

What makes the series different is that Piscopo mixes computer-generated images with Golden age illustrations. The background and setting are all CGI images whereas the characters are hand illustrated.

The mixture of media in CAPT’N ELI’s case is a bit distracting for me. The two styles are not compatible to my eyes and it makes it hard for me to become immersed into the story. However, I was also uninterested in manga when I was first introduced, but given time I have come to appreciate the art style and the stories a great deal. The same may be true with CAPT’N ELI’s art style. Only time will tell.

I found I enjoyed THE BIG 3 title at the end of the book. It is a comic about Commander X during the days of World War II many years prior to the current story time line. I discovered that I was able to connect with the story more because of the familiar art style. Piscopo used old-school comics art that I found quite entertaining, leaving me wishing the rest of the book was illustrated similarly. It left me excitedly uttering “Fraffle!” which is Eli’s favorite exclamatory word.

How will students react to the mixture of medium? Since I read the book over the summer, I am unable to answer that question. It could be that the younger generation finds the unique style right up their alley.

Chris’ Rating: Ages 8 and older
Publisher’s Recommendation: Ages 6-13

The publishers have introduced several in-depth lesson plans covering communication arts, history, science, geography and art. One lesson is even a WebQuest. The publishers offer standards covered, lesson overviews, materials, objectives, technology integration, writing prompts and much more.

For the teachers looking to connect elementary students to science and marine biology, as well as mystery, then they need to check out CAPT’N ELI.

I plan to use this book with the fourth graders in my K-4 Technology Lab. I am especially interested in using the WebQuest with these students, so we can infuse communication arts, social studies, and science standards into my technology classroom. I’m sure that will make the grade level teachers quite happy.

I do have some recommendations for the publisher:
  1. Make an electronic copy available for purchase so teachers can use it as a classroom book on the interactive white board.
  2. Make a hardcover version available to schools. I read the book once and pages started falling out, but that is consistent with all digest-sized trade paperbacks from any company. Regular-sized trade paperbacks last longer, but are still not the best solution for classrooms. If it is to be used in schools, then hardcover versions are a must.

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