Tuesday, April 28, 2009


Spring is here. School is almost out. Both signal the great annual comic give-a-way known as Free Comic Book Day (FCBD). It is a beautiful Saturday – the first in May – and regardless of weather you can celebrate that weekend with loads of free comic literature.

It's easy and there is no catch. Designed to rebuild interest in comics, FCBD does exactly what it states. Go to your local comic book store. Choose a free comic from the stack of available FCBD comics available. Some stores allow one comic per customer. Others allow you to take 2-4. I've found some that let you take one copy of everything offered.

Teachers: This is an excellent way to build your comic library or to stock up on prizes. Promote the day with your students and give it a try yourself. I always go and bring home a haul to give out to young readers.

Free Comic Book Day This Saturday, May 2
(always the first Saturday in May)

Saturday, April 25, 2009


(EDITOR'S NOTE: This week’s reviews come from a graduate-level, special topics English class at the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP). The instructor is Dr. James “Bucky” Carter of EN/SANE fame. He and his students graciously agreed to allow The Graphic Classroom to reprint the students’ reviews. Three of the students are teaching K-12 or are on track to do so soon. The others are more interested in the university setting. The articles are reprinted as they appeared sans interior art.)

By Cira Montoya
Student Reviewer, UTEP

Gilbert Hernandez’s SLOTH is an imaginative graphic novel that examines the feelings of fear, frustration, uncertainty, and joy all adolescents go through during their teenage years. He does this by constructing an imaginative plot line; wherein the two main characters Miguel and Lita, escape the trauma of adolescent love by “willing themselves” into a self-induced coma. When both characters emerge from their coma, they seem to have forgotten about the most stressful moments of their past, and opt to perceive the world in a much slower, methodical way.

Hernandez artfully creates illustrations that suggest to the reader that Miguel and Lita are in a dream-like trance while existing in their self-induced comas. His illustrations also suggest the dreamy-like state of a coma is connected to a peace of mind only found with in the lemon grove that much of the plot-line takes place in. The third character, Romeo, also experiences a method of escape from the stresses of teenage angst and love. Romeo succumbs to urban legend folklore and actually transforms himself into a teenage idol with hopes of romance with Lita. When the romance between Romeo and Lita backfires, Romeo escapes inflicting any more trauma upon Lita and Miguel and “wills himself” into a coma as well.

Hernandez creatively suggests how young adults opt to escape the social and emotional pressures of growing into adulthood in the 21st century. Within the graphic novel, Hernandez touches on the volatile themes of abandonment, female discrimination in the workforce, love versus lust, teenage idolization, and adolescent self-esteem. Furthermore, Hernandez successfully depicts how the three main characters opt to “fade out” of society through self-induced comas, rather than the much glorified subject of teen suicide. This aspect of the graphic novel makes it a possible candidate for use in the classroom, preferably for twelfth-grade and college-level students.

A possible lesson plan for integrating Hernandez’s SLOTH into the classroom includes the exploration of the themes mentioned above. For example, one may choose to create a unit plan on the theme of discrimination in America. Varied texts may include THE INVISIBLE MAN by Ralph Ellison, RACISM 101 by Nikki Giovanni, and SLOTH by Gilbert Hernandez. After a class discussion on the re-occurring theme in all three texts, one may ask students to write a persuasive paper on discrimination in America citing all three texts, or for those students who have a more creative edge; ask students to create their own poem or comic strip incorporating the discrimination theme.


(EDITOR'S NOTE: This week’s reviews come from a graduate-level, special topics English class at the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP). The instructor is Dr. James “Bucky” Carter of EN/SANE fame. He and his students graciously agreed to allow The Graphic Classroom to reprint the students’ reviews. Three of the students are teaching K-12 or are on track to do so soon. The others are more interested in the university setting. The articles are reprinted as they appeared sans interior art.)

By Nadia Morales
Student Reviewer, UTEP

DEOGRATIAS is a graphic novel of a minimal length but one which might need to be read twice and with an ample amount of supplementary contextual information. And even then, engaging the truth becomes a meticulous process of revelation, not through direct statement of fact but through innuendo, suggestion and second hand accounts (at least at first). Furthermore, the confession of the ultimate crimes remains vague and information regarding the degree of complicity is absent. The translator, Alexis Siegel, incorporates several pages of contextual information that is perhaps intended as an anticipatory element that will help the reader absorb the narrative. Still, I found myself completely unprepared to mentally deal with the adumbrations regarding the subjects of genocide and cannibalism.

The novel unveils parallel realities of existence in which the pedestrian world of logic and cause and effect compete with the sublime reality of physical addiction and insanity. The story discloses the life of one young boy, possibly orphaned and living somewhere between the streets, the Christian missions, the brothels and the mercenary recruiters. His life becomes a daily struggle with alcoholism, drug addiction and later insanity. He suffers from delusions that he has become a dog who eats dead bodies due to the guilt he feels over treacherous acts of torture, rape, murder and possibly cannibalism he has committed against people he knew as childhood friends. The overarching cause of the atrocities might be attributed to the ethnic struggles between the Tutsi and the Hutu tribes of Rwanda and yet this explanation seems grossly inadequate.

I was left wondering how a young, innocent boy evolved into a torturous, murdering cannibal and the most dangerous kind of sociopath. And yet he is not completely a sociopath. His journey into insanity in the wake of his deeds is evidence of his moral struggle. The novel could be extended and developed into a study on how life on the streets serves to neutralize feelings of human empathy and personal conscience. Was it the physiological changes due to drugs and alcohol or the psychological impact of a life devoid of solid social bonding? If there is a moral to the story, it is implied in the life of this young boy, who is subject to a substantial discourse of contingencies and who has never known boundaries or rules of any kind. Even the missionary priest who is supposed to teach morality is rendered inept to the task as his widely known affair and love child with one of the town’s prostitutes has extinguished his credibility (Strassen, p.12).

And on another level, the purpose of the Christian missionary presence is called into question. The moral message fails to transform the society possibly due to the lack of a good example. In addition, the priests and the religious workers appear to assume a “laissez faire” attitude regarding the horrors being committed by the Hutu against the Tutsi. The tone conveyed appears to be one that is essentialist in nature (attributing individual acts as evidence of ubiquitous characteristics that are rooted in genetics or cultural norms) and one that dismisses the barbaric acts as somehow a foregone conclusion and beyond empirical control. Throughout the novel, the revelatory style of narration suggests predestination or the unveiling of some sort of sublime, metaphysical occurrence. I was left wondering why the author ironically named the boy “Deogratias” or “thanks be to God.” I also found myself objecting to the apparent lack of human agency (the characters appear as sleepwalkers) in the narrative which implies an ideological complicity with predestination that affects the interactions between the social, economic and political forces that constitute the story.

Lesson Plan Ideas:
This graphic novel could be taught in conjunction with a unit on the Rwandan genocide. The students would be asked to research news stories on the subject from the archives of at least five reputable agencies to include Reuters, The British Broadcasting Company, The New York Times, the United Nations report on the genocide and several publications local to the country of Rwanda. They might be asked to discuss the rhetoric of Deogratias in their journals and contrast this narrative with actual news accounts. A class discussion would follow in which each student would summarize their interpretations as juxtaposed with factual reports contained in their journals.

DEOGRATIAS could also be used as a springboard for sociological studies in which the students will research the ways in which societal contingencies – economic, religious, ethnic, political and governmental – influence the moral development of a person.

The students might conduct research on what constitutes sociopathic behavior and discuss their findings in their journals.

After reading DEOGRATIAS, each student might form a single theory regarding the cause of Deogratias’ mental state. The students would write one paragraph in their journals explaining their reasoning. The students could conduct research on drug addiction, alcoholism and insanity and apply factual information to their own interpretation of DEOGRATIAS and their individual line of reasoning.

The students could research the history of Rwanda, ethnic identities, the United Nations’ policies and the role that other forces played in the perpetration of the genocide. The historical research could be conducted in conjunction with a “Deconstruction” exercise in which the students gather a list of ethnic characteristics of Hutu and Tutsi through their research. They would construct a binary list of opposites and then identify places in the novel in which those binary distinctions are undermined or proven to be false.


(EDITOR'S NOTE: This week’s reviews come from a graduate-level, special topics English class at the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP). The instructor is Dr. James “Bucky” Carter of EN/SANE fame. He and his students graciously agreed to allow The Graphic Classroom to reprint the students’ reviews. Three of the students are teaching K-12 or are on track to do so soon. The others are more interested in the university setting. The articles are reprinted as they appeared sans interior art.)

By Javier Guerra
Student Reviewer, UTEP

A.D. is the story of the aftermath Hurricane Katrina left in New Orleans as it is intertwined and told by people that lived in New Orleans at the time; and how their lives were changed by one common event. The novel retells the events of Katrina in the lives of five people (Leo, the doctor; Kevin; Hamid; and Denise) and their families and friends. During the hurricane and its aftermath, each of the individuals must make a decision or are part of a decision, of whether to stay and wait out the storm or leave (just in case) and return when it is safe to do so.

In the case of leaving, Leo and his girlfriend Michelle decide to leave and stay with a friend in Houston, Texas; Kevin and his brother are sent to California to stay with a family friend. This includes Hamid’s family, who he sends to Houston while he and his brother decide to stay and look after his store. The doctor also stays, only because he thinks it is one of the “usual” storms that NOLA gets; while Denise must stay to care for her mother and her niece and her baby.

The novel begins on Monday, August 22, 2005, as the hurricane is nowhere to be found and slowly starts to grow; ends on September 1, with a follow up 1 ½ years later on February 6, 2007, when all the individuals in the novel tell Neufeld what they returned to and how they are doing now. It has been said that you can never go back home, as far as leaving home and returning later on and realizing things have changed. But A.D. certainly is a twist on this idea; whether you stayed home or returned after being forced out, due to factors not in one’s control, home is definitely no longer the same.

A.D. is a perfect novel to use when learning about the human system and experience. How not only man can affect nature, but how nature can also affect man; and from it, what could, is, can, and has been done since to present or alleviate such disasters and human suffering during natural crisis. Being that the novel is accessible online, soon to be out in print, it gives great links to add to the story/occurrences of Katrina to better help in learning and precariously experiencing the event. The following are exercises for the novel:
  1. Students can explore themes of Man vs Man, Man vs Nature, and Human Nature (Psychological), and determine what each character could or should have done differently. Then, based on those decisions, would it really have mattered during Katrina?
  2. Students can write what they would have done in the same situation, and then research safety measures that have been created for natural disasters (focusing on hurricanes) and then rethinking and rewriting their original responses to what they would have done in the same situation. The online version would help out with this because of the added links.
  3. If students recall Katrina they can describe their feeling about the disaster and the aftermath for New Orleans residents. If they cannot recall, they can still describe how they feel now, after having learned about the disaster and having read the novel.


(EDITOR'S NOTE: This week’s reviews come from a graduate-level, special topics English class at the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP). The instructor is Dr. James “Bucky” Carter of EN/SANE fame. He and his students graciously agreed to allow The Graphic Classroom to reprint the students’ reviews. Three of the students are teaching K-12 or are on track to do so soon. The others are more interested in the university setting. The articles are reprinted as they appeared sans interior art.)

By Ana D. Valtierra
Student Reviewer, UTEP

CHIGGERS is a fun graphic novel written by Eisner Award Winner Hope Larson. CHIGGERS is an interesting and enjoyable story about a adolescent girl named Abby who is going through what all young people go through: friendship and identity issues. The title itself comes from an inside joke that the campers circulate around the camp. “They’re, like, these little, tiny bugs that crawl under your skin and die, and they itch a lot. Way worse than mosquito bites” (p.24).

The graphic novel revolves around Abby and her return to summer camp. Abby being very young and a bit of a naive adolescent is returning to her what seems to be yearly summer home where she expects to see all her old friends and start from where they left off, but things did not turn out exactly how she wanted them to.

Being the first person to be dropped off at camp, Abby anxiously waits for everyone to arrive and for her fun to start as soon as her old friends arrive, but Abby's excitement quickly ends. Rose is the old friend who Abby especially cannot wait to see, but from the first encounter between the two, Abby quickly realizes that things at camp are going to be a lot different this year.

This year her friend Rose is a Cabin Assistant and a bit too busy to really get to talk to Abby, let alone spend time with her. All of Abby’s other friends from last camp also seem to be different. One has piercings, others have boyfriends, or some just think that they are too mature and cool for Abby. The only person who seems to be the only one who does not think that she is too cool for Abby is a young girl named Shasta who was new to the camp and had been struck by lightning. In CHIGGERS it seemed like Abby would do anything to try to fit in with her old “friends.” Abby often did things that we as readers could see were not characteristic of her such as treating Shasta horribly and taking insults from them. Eventually Abby finally realizes that all she has to do to be happy is be herself.

Although this book seems to be very realistic, we as readers are also introduced to supernatural occurrences. One thing made me think about this is when Abby and Teal run off together we get a visual of them being elves and another is when they develop wings like fairies. In a discussion in class we talked about the magical realism of the novel. The fantasy world is just like a reflection of what their camp is; it is only real for that particular time and it will only last till the end of the summer.

As mentioned above it is a really fun story to read especially for younger girls in middle school or even the early high school. It follows the format of the movie Mean Girls. It is not the most educational story that one can find, but I believe that it is a great book to have in the classroom. I think all kids will be able to relate to this book mainly because everyone goes through the types of changes that Abby is going through.

One lesson that I feel that could be taught using the graphic novel CHIGGERS is a lesson that deals with identity. Abby seems to be struggling to find out who she is or who she wants to be and at the middle school and early high school ages many students are dealing with the same thing; therefore, creating a lesson dealing with something that relates to them will definitely have them engaged.


(EDITOR'S NOTE: This week’s reviews come from a graduate-level, special topics English class at the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP). The instructor is Dr. James “Bucky” Carter of EN/SANE fame. He and his students graciously agreed to allow The Graphic Classroom to reprint the students’ reviews. Three of the students are teaching K-12 or are on track to do so soon. The others are more interested in the university setting. The articles are reprinted as they appeared sans interior art.)

By Marcy Alvarado

Student Reviewer, UTEP

AMERICAN BORN CHINESE depicts the life of an adolescent Chinese boy and the struggles he encounters throughout his childhood and education. Although there are several stories occurring throughout the novel, they all tie in with characters struggling against discrimination, the quest for self-identity, self-acceptance and truth.

It is clear that Jin Wang’s family moves to America to give him a better life and more opportunities for Jin. Jin Wang’s curiosity with the transformer action figure is symbolic of Jin’s desire to become someone greater and more accepted than the identity he was born with. This is relevant to younger secondary school students because they often find themselves trying to fit in with different crowds of kids to feel accepted and wanted by others. “A robot in disguise. Like this one! He changes into a truck…See? More than meets the eye” (28). The robot that is able to transform to something unexpected is appealing to Jin Wang because he secretly wishes he could transform himself and give others the opportunity to discover more than meets the eye.

“Returning to true form” is a reoccurring theme throughout this graphic novel. The Monkey King feels he is destined to rule but has no desire to return to the form he was given. After reading this novel, middle school students could choose one story to discuss and write about. Students will identify with one or more characters and describe what the main theme is throughout the novel.

  • Students will identify adolescent themes through a cultural assimilation story.
  • Students will discuss the importance of remaining true to themselves or to their “true form.”
  • Students will discuss how this graphic novel is relevant to their lives in and out of the classroom.

Background Web Quests
Students will research information regarding the Chinese culture, customs, and traditions that affect the characters’ lives and choices in this graphic novel. This will help students understand the importance culture plays in growing up in a country where diversity is often times scorned or not readily accepted.

Discussion Questions
  • What is the main struggle each character is faced with?
  • Why is it important to remain true to yourself or to always return to your true form?
  • Discuss the importance of parents’ rules regarding expectations for children. Are your parents’ expectations similar to Jin’s parents as far as education and expectations?
  • Choose one page, panel, or phrase to discuss with a partner. Discuss why the page, panel or phrase stuck out to you. What is the significance of it and how does it relate to the graphic novel as a whole?

Students will create a few panels portraying Jin Wang’s life after high school. What will he be doing in his future? Will he fulfill his expectations his parents desire for him or will he escape his true form and create a new destiny? Students will present their predictions to the class and explain each panel through a short presentation.

Friday, April 24, 2009


From the Editor

Summer approaches my friends, and so does your opportunity to build your comic library – the one to suit the unique needs of your students, classroom, grade, and subject. You do not have to have a lot of comic literature. A few will do. You can build your comic library over the coming years. We can help.

Our compilation of The Best Comics for Your Classroom (a link is also provided in the sidebar) is the perfect place to begin. From there you can review comics based on grade level and recommendation. Let us know how things are working.

Last week we published five reviews from some UTEP graduate students. We will publish the remaining five this week, so stay tuned for several new reviews.

To the list:
  1. Batman: The Brave and the Bold #4
  2. Female Force: Hillary Clinton
  3. Female Force: Michelle Obama
  4. Female Force: Sarah Palin
  5. Marvel Adventures Fantastic Four #47
  6. Thor #601

Saturday, April 18, 2009


(EDITOR'S NOTE: This week’s reviews come from a graduate-level, special topics English class at the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP). The instructor is Dr. James “Bucky” Carter of EN/SANE fame. He and his students graciously agreed to allow The Graphic Classroom to reprint the students’ reviews. Three of the students are teaching K-12 or are on track to do so soon. The others are more interested in the university setting. The articles are reprinted as they appeared sans interior art.)

By Nadia Morales
Student Reviewer, UTEP

This graphic novel is a page-turner and definitely contains all the necessary elements for a narrative saga. In spite of this, there is something intrinsically offensive in the rhetorical framework that appears to be substantially essentialist as certain traits are portrayed as intrinsic or mandatory to the state of existence that governs the lives of a country and its people. If an uninformed reader who has never traveled or been exposed to Mexican culture were to read this, he or she would come away with a linear view of a culture driven by the drug trade, governmental anarchy and rampant violence that is categorically directed at women.

And yes, I understand that this novel is conveying an ex-patriot experience in Mexico City, but I feel that the rhetorical implications extend far beyond that singular dynamic. Furthermore, a binary is established that positions Anglo American culture and society at a distinct advantage. From the beginning, the half-Mexican Carla Olivares and her Anglo one-time boyfriend Harry, are portrayed as possessing intrinsic or “a priori” privilege that is God-given and serves as a veil of protection. Also the tone of the plot dynamic suggests that both Harry and Carla are rooted to an institution that affords a sense of balance and stability that they can always return to when they tire of wild living.

The social ties that connect them to the United States and their families are identified as through legitimate means via stable family situations and the sound economic practices of their progenitors (although Carla is of lesser means, her family appears to be established and not due to any swindles). They are also positioned within the novel as the object of covetous thus spawning and nurturing the notion that the American capitalistic lifestyle is what is the most desirable and the viable yardstick through which all other groups are gauged and accessed.

The Mexican nationals are primarily portrayed as degenerate, conniving, abusive and amoral individuals who prefer criminal activity to legitimate channels of economic endeavor. Furthermore, for the most part, the Mexican nationals are portrayed as foolishly earnest and ignorantly sloppy desperadoes who are really never even afforded the rhetorical gift of potency as competent criminals. With the exception of a few obscure friends of Carla’s brother Rod, the Mexican characters are absorbed in the full-time task of attempting to perpetrate a scam on someone. With that in mind, the plot develops into a full scale kidnapping of Harry which leads to Carla’s eventual involvement and several murders. Even the Mexican Communist revolutionary is exposed as a blatant hypocrite who is another complicit agent in the plot to obtain the fruits of capitalism through extortion.

The novel does not offer a satisfactory anecdote. Yes, Harry’s father is revealed to be the owner of some imperialist companies exploiting conditions in Mexico but the information is given as an aside. And yes, I get the sense that the primary cartel leader may be an ex-patriot American posing as a South American. Still, the ending reaffirms the initial assumptions of the novel. Nothing in the plot offers an alternative point of view that would usurp ubiquitous assumptions or suggest a route towards change. Harry and Carla Olivares survive the ordeal with their special status and privilege intact.

Now I must admit that the information given does not offend the boundaries of verisimilitude. There is an aspect of existence here on the border in El Paso and in Mexico which somewhat parallels the lives of characters in LA PERDIDA. (I have lived here for 24 years.) I have personally known various such desperadoes living on the edge of existence and peddling for any little, minute advantage that will carry them into the next day. And yes, I would dare say that certain cities could be considered as sustained through drug economies.

When you have a city in which the median income is $15,000 and sixty percent of the student populations of the various school districts are receiving free and reduced lunch and yet a percentage of these same students live in $400,000 homes and when many homes are bought with cash, you know there has to be a source of unreported income. Yes, this side of life exists. And yet this is not adequately representative of the Mexican community. There are many families who reject this drug related lifestyle and who work earnestly at legitimate jobs. There are a significant number of individuals with advanced college degrees and strong cultural ties. There are those with engineering and medical degrees who attend symphonies and send their children to catechism and violin lessons.

Contrary to the suggestions of LA PERDIDA, not all Mexican men beat women and act like prolific gigolos. Thus, the novel does not offer a balanced view of reality. Ironically, the main character Carla, assumes responsibility for the deaths of two of her close, drug dealing friends, who upon her suggestion, seek asylum in the American embassy. I feel that the author needs to assume responsibility for such a linear view of a culture. Incidentally, in her long list of acknowledgments, Abel only mentions two people with Mexican surnames who assisted her in this project.

Lesson Plan Ideas
One project might be for students to look at the way both English and Spanish are used in the novel. Initially, the author has the characters speaking in Spanish with English translations. As the story progresses, and the main character Carla learns Spanish, the English translations merge with the Spanish. Then the novel becomes a dialogue in strictly English but it is not standard English. This English conveys literal translations of Spanish phrases into English. As most of us know, the literal translations do not always convey the meaning as it is intended. I believe this is done in order to convey what incorrect Spanish would sound like to a native speaker in a manner that English speakers can identify with.

Students might compile a list of Spanish words in the novel and couple these words with their English translations and various connotative and denotative meanings.

Students might engage in a deconstructionist exercise in which words and phrases that are presumed to be analytic or true by definition are examined for flaws in interpretation and meaning. The students might construct two lists of words with opposite meanings or opposing characters on opposite sides of a page and reserve a middle section. In this middle section, they can describe ways the words with opposite meanings and or opposing characters are not so different. They will look for flaws in binary distinctions between words and their meaning, concepts and people.

This novel could be paired with an essay entitled The Task of the Translator by Walter Benjamin. Students might read the essay and identify key arguments regarding what constitutes a good translation (a translation need not always be an actual translation – it could be rhetorical or figurative) or a cultural communication. Then they would examine various rhetorical strategies and literary elements in LA PERDIDA and decide whether the ideas suggested by Walter Benjamin can be found or not. This novel could be paired with a book on cultural studies or politics such as:
  • Decolonial Voices: Chicana and Chicano Cultural Studies in the 21st Century by Arturo J. Aldama and Naomi Helena Quinonez. Indiana University Press, 2002.
  • Capital: A Critique of Political Economy by Karl Marx. Frederick Engels editor. Charles H. Kerr & Company, 1906.

This graphic novel could also be paired with Ernest Hemingway’s novel THE SUN ALSO RISES. The student could compare and contrast the two different portrayals of an ex-patriot experience. The students could also write essays in which they compare and contrast the cultural perspectives in the two novels. The students could compare and contrast the characters’ involvement or lack thereof with the native populations. THE SUN ALSO RISES takes place in Paris, France and several cities in Spain in the 1920’s. The students might discuss how portrayals of the ex-patriot experience have changed over time.


(EDITOR'S NOTE: This week’s reviews come from a graduate-level, special topics English class at the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP). The instructor is Dr. James “Bucky” Carter of EN/SANE fame. He and his students graciously agreed to allow The Graphic Classroom to reprint the students’ reviews. Three of the students are teaching K-12 or are on track to do so soon. The others are more interested in the university setting. The articles are reprinted as they appeared sans interior art.)

By Javier Guerra

Student Reviewer, UTEP

BLANKETS is the coming of age story of Craig Thompson during the early 1990s Wisconsin. In the novel, Craig tells the story of how he found a guiding light amongst the uncertainty of teen life and home life. The story revolves around Craig and his friend-and-sort-of-girlfriend Raina, and how both of them need each other to get through their lives (at this point being 18 years old).

Far from being your basic any and every hormonal 18-year-old problem(s), Craig deals with the uncertainty of what is to become of him in the future and not only that, but it is coupled with a questioning of his religions beliefs. While Raina has to deal with her parents separating, having to help raise her mentally challenged adopted siblings, and way to often having to play the role of head of household and responsible adult.

When Craig and Raina meet up and spend time together, not only does having one there for the other (and vise versa) help with their situations, it gives them a chance to develop a romantic intimacy that respectively at their given time both Craig and Raina use this experience to spring board into the next phase of their lives. The love Craig gives and takes is helpful in coming to terms with his crisis in faith, that in turn gives him the fortitude to move out and grow as an individual out in the real world. The love that Raina gives and most deservingly needs and receives certainly helps her get through her family’s disintegration. In the novel, even though both characters do use each other to get the most out of the emotional and mental rut they are in; it is not done in a negative way, rather it is done more in a therapeutic symbiotic relationship.

This novel is perfect for any and all high school teens; but being that Craig is a senior in high school, it may be better suited for juniors and seniors because they are all (to a given extent) going through the same motions, emotions, fears, frustrations, and uncertainties of adolescence and creating a strong individuality from any and all occurrences and experiences in their lives.

These are some exercises that can accompany reading BLANKETS:
  1. Have students point out several themes the novel presents: family values, faith, growing up, the future, etc. And have them write how one or many of the themes they find in the novel help the story progress.
  2. Have students reflect on certain personal experiences that may be mirrored by the text. Were they feeling similarly to Craig, or did they react in a different way? If anything in the novel has not been experienced in any way by the students, have them write what they think they would do in the exact same situation.
  3. Have students compare and contrast Blankets with another novel or the novel it may be paired with to analyze the benefits/drawbacks of both graphic novels and textual novels.


(EDITOR'S NOTE: This week’s reviews come from a graduate-level, special topics English class at the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP). The instructor is Dr. James “Bucky” Carter of EN/SANE fame. He and his students graciously agreed to allow The Graphic Classroom to reprint the students’ reviews. Three of the students are teaching K-12 or are on track to do so soon. The others are more interested in the university setting. The articles are reprinted as they appeared sans interior art.)

by Marcy Alvarado
Student Reviewer, UTEP

AMERICAN WIDOW, by Alissa Torres, portrays the harsh reality of a young widow desperately searching for answers about her late husband Eddie Torres, who was killed during the attacks of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. The themes of loss, surviving through adversity, and the search for a new identity are a few possible themes portrayed in this touching graphic novel. What I found most appealing about this novel was that a woman’s memories and heart-wrenching experiences were so clearly and passionately illustrated. It’s almost as if Alissa Torres were sitting next to me, describing in detail the horrific aftermath of losing a husband and fighting to make a new life for her and her child.

AMERICAN WIDOW can be used in secondary classrooms to teach different themes that may be relevant to the lives of secondary students. Before teaching this graphic novel, I would begin class with a mini-history lesson of September 11, 2001 to refresh students’ memories and thoughts about this historical tragedy. If I were teaching a class of juniors, I would remind myself that these students were only 7 or 8 years old when this occurred so they will have to discuss what they remember about this day, who was involved, and the resolutions this nation took to defend itself.

  • Students will learn new themes through this graphic novel.
  • Students will compare/contrast themes with other novels or whole texts.
  • Students will apply meaning to reality or real-world situations.

When studying a unit on surviving adversity and fighting to create a new life, teaching AAMERICAN WIDOW as part of the Holocaust would be relevant because there are numerous Holocaust survivors’ stories and memoirs just waiting to be read and discussed in the Language Arts content. When choosing to study a novel such as NIGHT by Elie Wiesel, AMERICAN WIDOW can be used as a secondary source of loss, survival, and forming new identities after horrific life changing experiences. Both main characters in these stories are faced with loss of faith, a search for answers, and eventually choosing to write about life’s unfair struggles and tribulations to reach diverse audiences.

Secondary Lesson Idea
High school juniors would begin with front-loading activities by reading AMERICAN WIDOW first to establish the three themes of these novels. By exercising “front-loading” in the classroom, students do most of the unit’s activities before reading the primary or whole text of the unit to gain a better sense of similar themes characters experience during different time periods.

While students are reading AMERICAN WIDOW, they will be asked to select significant lines, phrases, or quotes they feel are important and write their explanations using a double-diary entry log. Since this is a graphic novel, students may also choose to write about significant panels that contribute to the themes or emotions portrayed by the author. After reading this graphic novel students will discuss the relevance of the themes and the significance of the author writing about her experiences of September 11, 2001.

Discussion Questions
  • After reading Alissa Torres’ graphic novel, what do you think gave her the motivation to create her true story in a graphic novel format instead of a traditional novel format?
  • Select a scene, picture, or panel and discuss why it was significant to you.
  • If Alissa Torres was in our classroom, what question would you ask her about this novel or her life-changing experience?
  • If a sequel was created for this graphic novel, what do you think it should be about? What are your suggestions for a sequel?
  • How does this graphic novel relate to today’s conflicts and controversial war?

Mini-Lesson Idea
Introduce Pablo Neruda’s works and discuss their importance in this graphic novel. “You will remember that leaping stream where sweet dreams rose and trembled” (Neruda).

Post-reading Activity
After reading NIGHT and AMERICAN WIDOW, students will create a visual representation of the two texts using any methods the students would like to use to demonstrate similarities in significant historical events that have shaped the nation’s history and future.

Using AMERICAN WIDOW in a secondary classroom is a unique teaching method because it addresses many English Language Arts standards and because it is a non-traditional approach to understanding the history of the Holocaust and the history of the United States. Survivor’s memoirs and true stories are an excellent way to engage all readers of all ages.


(EDITOR'S NOTE: This week’s reviews come from a graduate-level, special topics English class at the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP). The instructor is Dr. James “Bucky” Carter of EN/SANE fame. He and his students graciously agreed to allow The Graphic Classroom to reprint the students’ reviews. Three of the students are teaching K-12 or are on track to do so soon. The others are more interested in the university setting. The articles are reprinted as they appeared sans interior art.)

By Ana D. Valtierra
Guest Reviewer, UTEP

For my English 5350 graduate course we were assigned to do a review on at least two of the graphic novels that we have read for class. I was lucky enough to get one that is truly very gripping. THE 9/11 REPORT: A GRAPHIC ADAPTATION is a graphic novel based on the final report of the National Commission on Terrorist attacks Upon the United States. The authors of the novel are two names which are not new to the comic industry, Sid Jacobson and Ernie Colon.

Similar to what the foreword of the graphic novel is explaining, an article in the New Yorker states that although the 9/11 Commission Report became a best seller, the way that it is laid out will not reach a diverse audiences and that is why the adaptation of the book into graphic novel format was greatly need (Singer, 2008). That is exactly what Jacobson and Colon did by creating a graphic novel based on the event that took place on the tragedy that took place on September 11th, 2001.

From the standpoint of someone who is familiar with the situation only through what was heard from surrounding people or from occasionally clips seen on television, this graphic novel is a great way to learn about what truly happened on 9/11 and on dates closely surrounding 9/11.

The creation of this graphic novel is all around great. The creators give so much detail in this rather small graphic novel. At the beginning of the novel the creators tried and in my mind did a pretty good job of developing a time line of what was going on at specific times in the four airplanes that were hijacked. As mentioned above, the novel presents its readers with different situations that surrounded and probably lead to the tragedy on September 11th, 2001. As a reader you wonder why the government didn’t do things differently to try to better prevent the tragedy from happening. Not only because of how greatly informative this novel is, but also for its fantastic graphics which catch the attention of so many young adolescents this is definitely a book that needs to be incorporated into today’s schools’ curriculum.

I feel that this graphic novel can fit into many different subjects, but because the fact that I hope to be an English Language Arts Teacher, I tried to think of ways in which THE 9/112 REPORT: A GRAPHIC ADAPTATION could fit into a Language Arts class. One way that is obvious is doing a lesson based on vocabulary. I feel that this is a good idea mainly because of the immense amount of intense vocabulary. Another way that a teacher could use this is by teaching about visual representation and visual interpretation.

One could ask there student to develop a graphic novel on an important event that has taken place in their own lives. Another idea of how this could be incorporated into the a classroom is if you are basing your instruction on tragic events this would be a perfect novel to teach about 9/11. I believe that the creators of this graphic novel did such a good job that it could be used in so many different ways and that is another thing that makes it so great.


(EDITOR'S NOTE: This week’s reviews come from a graduate-level, special topics English class at the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP). The instructor is Dr. James “Bucky” Carter of EN/SANE fame. He and his students graciously agreed to allow The Graphic Classroom to reprint the students’ reviews. Three of the students are teaching K-12 or are on track to do so soon. The others are more interested in the university setting. The articles are reprinted as they appeared sans interior art.)

By Cira Montoya
Guest Reviewer, UTEP

In THE EDUCATION OF HOPEY GLASS, Jaime Hernandez attempts to portray the lives of several Hispanic adults, paying close attention to the development of Hopey as a young woman trying to make sense out her life as she takes a teaching assistant position at an elementary school. Interestingly, the graphic novel seems to come to an abrupt break midway through, and turns it’s focus away from Hopey, her lesbian lover Maggie, and her new career as a teaching assistant; to that of a highly sexually charged relationship between the characters of Ray and Viv, and Ray’s unrequited love for Maggie. It is not clear if Hernandez intended the graphic novel to read this way, or if it is a major flaw in the plot line.

Hernandez explores issues of racial identity, racial discrimination, sexual and physical violence towards women, and homosexuality as prominent themes and underlying themes in almost every vignette of his work. He artfully combines the characters choice dialogue with highly explicit illustrations that not only set the scene for the reader, but provide background information as well. His illustrations are done with so much expertise and craft that many times dialogue is sparse or non-existent, and the story line does not seem to suffer. However, it may be this expertise that is Hernandez’s undoing as well.

I suggest that in the second half of The Education of Hopey Glass, Hernandez may lose some of the reader’s interest because of the explicit sexual relationship between Ray, Viv, and Angel. While more mature readers may be turned off by the explicit sketches, some younger readers may be turned on. Either way, the focus on the explicit sexual images may overtake a readers attention, rather than focusing on the plot line and racial themes apparent in the graphic novel.

A suggestion for a lesson plan can be geared towards twelfth-grade and college level students exploring the theme of racial identity and/or the “passing” theme. In the text, Milena Loznika passes for a young Mexican woman to land a job on television. Teaching suggestions include linking THE EDUCATION OF HOPEY GLASS with Nella Larsen’s Passing, and W.E. Bois’ The Veil. One can ask students to read all three texts, hold a class discussion, and then give students a choice of writing a comparative/contrast paper or to compose their own prose or poetry, citing their own experience of passing if applicable.


From the Editor

I have lots of good things to report this week. I have a teaching job. I am the Educational Technology Specialist (that is a computer teacher for those of you who do not know) for a K-4 elementary school in one of the most sought-after school districts in the state of Missouri. My very supportive principal has encouraged me to continue my work in comic literature in the classroom with my 120+ students.

I also presented my graduate seminar paper (a thesis paper that is graded by one professor rather than a committee) this week. I turned in the 43-page hard copy to my professor and then I gave the oral presentation this morning to other graduates, my advisor, and two judges from another department.

I passed.

And so my friends and dedicated readers, I will walk in the graduation ceremony at the end of the semester with my Masters of Science in Education – Elementary Education degree from Missouri State University. I am excited and proud. The three-year journey was hard for my wife, my daughter, and me. They did not see me a lot and they put up with a man who barricaded himself in the office while they kept the house functioning. Bless their hearts.

I have every intention of publishing my seminar paper on this website, along with the PowerPoint I used this morning in my oral presentation. Blogger is strange about some formats, so I need some time to figure out how that works. Stay tuned.

This week’s reviews come from a graduate-level, special topics English class at the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP). The instructor is Dr. James “Bucky” Carter of EN/SANE fame. He and his students graciously agreed to allow The Graphic Classroom to reprint the students’ reviews. Three of the students are teaching K-12 or are on track to do so soon. The others are more interested in the university setting.

So sit back, relax, and get ready to read some comic literature reviews by young, contemporary, or soon-to-be teachers. There are several of them, which we will reprint this week and next, so prepare yourself. Incoming!

To the list:

  1. The Dark Tower: The Sorcerer #1
  2. G.I. JOE: Cobra #2
  3. Marvel Adventures Superheroes #10
  4. The Stand: American Nightmares #2 (of 5)
  5. Super Friends #14
  6. Tiny Titans #15

Saturday, April 11, 2009


by Colin Hodgson
Student Reviewer, fifth grade

This book (by Mark Andrew Smith and Matthew Weldon) is about a group of kids who have explorers for parents and their parents die after freezing under snow and ice on an expedition. The kids are two pairs of siblings – brothers and sisters. They move into their godfather's house after their parents die. They find all these goblins and ghosts and stuff in the woods near their godfather's house. The goblins tell them of Galomar, an evil person.

The kids decide sneak into Galomar's house and steal things for a library that will open to another magical land. They also believe Galomar has killed their parents, but they then find out Galomar is really their grandfather. The kids get out of his house with the stolen maps and books for the magical library. The book ends in a cliffhanger as the kids fly off in a blimp to look for more artifacts and then, in an epilogue, Galomar is seen trying to steal more items, too.

The magical beings are the coolest because of the details of the drawings. The illustrator has made all the characters have fat heads. I liked the fat heads for the magical creatures, but it was just okay for the kids. The kids look really strange at times. Some of the pictures have a manga-style, with big eyes and face gestures.

I think this would be good for the classroom because teachers don't usually have comics. It's neat that it has magical people. A teacher could use it for predicting what will happen next in the series (like: they will go, get the books for the library, beat Galomar and everybody likes them ... just like every book like this one).

  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 179 pages
  • Color: Full color
  • Publisher: Image Comics
  • ISBN-10: 1582409730
  • ISBN-13: 978-1582409733

I would recommend this to other kids because it has a lot of action and a lot of magical people in it. This book is appropriate for upper elementary school students. There are no swears. There is fighting but not much blood.

Colin is a fifth grader in Massachusetts. He writes a lot of his own comics and produced his own movies, including stop-motion animation. He is awesome at sports, including baseball and basketball. He loves Garfield comics and he has read almost every Tin-Tin book a few times over.

Thursday, April 9, 2009


The spring edition of School & Community is on the web and the cover article focuses on … comics. The publication of the Missouri State Teacher’s Association (MSTA), interviewed yours truly as well some top ranking comic literature movers and shakers, laying down some nice juice for teachers and administrators to consider. Thanks to Vicki Cox for the article and the interest.

You can read the entire story here.


From the Editor

This was a challenging week for me as a student teacher. I worked with a classroom of students who have very challenging behaviors. On top of that the school began standardized testing which meant every grade’s schedule was completely different. I learned a lot about students and behaviors.

I also had students begging to read comics with me. This included struggling and advanced readers, which I found very exciting. The younglings were anxious to read, share, discuss, laugh and connect with an adult.

To the list:

Saturday, April 4, 2009


By Michael Schofield

Staff Writer

Illustrator: Dave Morice
Design: Christina Davis and Christopher Edgar
Publisher: Teachers & Writers Books

Format: Postcard Booklet
Pages: 25 Postcards
Color: Black & White
ISBN-10: 0915924935

I was lucky enough to stumble on Dave Morice’s POETRY COMICS: A LITERARY POSTCARD BOOK at half-price from the Teachers & Writers booth at GIE-Con, something Chris W. and I hadn’t actually seen until then, although word-art of course exists in x-number of media and “poetry comics” has been thrown around a little recently. Honestly, conditioned as a literature elitist, I was awfully skeptical, especially because a Warhol-like Shakespeare graces the front cover and – okay, I know it’s sacrilegious, but—I am way sick of the bard, at least as the patron-saint of Western literature.

Even though I gather the postcard book exists as a promotional toward Morice’s POETRY COMICS: AN ANIMATED ANTHOLOGY (I’d love a review copy, T&W! Hint, hint!), I am really taken by its novelty as a stand-alone. We are spared Billy Shakes but for two cards, both made highly entertaining as bizarre Where-the-Wild-Things-Are-like cartooning, and followed by a Robert Herrick turned 1930s film noir, a superhero RAVEN (whose only words—“NEVERMORE!” — inspire fear in the hearts of criminals!), and the best use of an Emily Dickinson quote I’ve seen.

I have to admit that it ruffled my tail feathers to see Shakespeare, Poe, Dickinson, Coleridge and the like anthologized again. I get that they are popular and pioneering figures in canon, but – excepting Emily – their novelty is worn for me. (I had to suffer this stuff for several years straight, so it’s a lot like eating too much chocolate ice-cream.) However, T&W and Morice have figured out this wonderful way of making dated poetry fresh and fun. Then, of course, they throw in a couple modernists and beat poets, and the cartooning gets real weird.

It’s a total blast.

My Rating: All Ages
While you are dealing with occasionally risque subtext, Dave Morice – well, okay, he’s not that tasteful – there is a little cuddling and innuendo, but patterned on plain 30s comic-detail, there is little risk of offense. The reality is that POETRY COMICS: A LITERARY POSTCARD BOOK is an engaging twist on stuffy anthologies, and I suspect potentially a wonderful means of inspiring interest in canon poetry.

Highly Recommended

This book is, frankly, just a lot of fun.

ANOTHER DIRT SANDWICH: Some Ramblings and Hilarious Exploits of Tbyrd Fearlessness

By Chris Wilson

Author & Illustrator: Ray Friesen
Publisher: Don’t Eat Any Bugs
Genre: Humor, Western
Format: Softcover
Pages: 100
Color: Full color
ISBN-13: 978-0-9728177-4-5

ANOTHER DIRT SANDWICH poses a conundrum for the educational book reviewer. Oh, it’s funny enough – stuffed with jocularity like a deer head on an Arkansas mantelpiece. The droll Tybrd Fearlessness meanders through life any way he can, including duping the unsuspecting traveler (as the locals have his number) all the while throwing jokes here and there, cramming them into the comic frames as tightly as circus clowns in a Mini Cooper.

The quandary comes in the form of categorization. How does one classify ANOTHER DIRT SANDWICH? The story and art are not quite aligned with the reading level. In other words, the story is targeted toward a younger audience, but the vocabulary is consistent with older, sometimes much older, students.

I quickly noticed Friesens’s delight in infusing his book with rich and witty nomenclature. I celebrate him for it! I went back and started taking notes on the more interesting words. The following is a list of the engaging lexicon found within the first 10 pages:

  • argument
  • arrangement
  • brandish
  • column
  • concept
  • costume
  • creativity
  • culinary
  • cursed
  • customary
  • disguise
  • dramatic
  • egad
  • engagement
  • favorable
  • fiscal
  • generosity
  • inspire
  • inquiring
  • liberty
  • merely
  • mustard
  • outraged
  • panhandling
  • patriotic
  • patrons
  • perfunctory
  • prior
  • proclamation
  • puckish
  • requests
  • shan’t
  • shenanigans
  • solvency
  • submitting
  • subscription
  • unusual
  • yearn
Vocabulary: Now this is where Friesen’s work shines on an educational level. Not only does he provide students with “juicy words” – as I often describe them to my students – he writes in such a way that students can easily use semantic and syntactic cues to decode the higher-level vocabulary, thanks to the short sentences and the illustrations.

Combine this heterogeneous coupling of story/art (young) and reading level (not so young) with the possibly controversial elements of a bar, gambling, cigars, references to an injured groin, and an almost-cursing with the word “arse” cleverly hidden by another dialogue bubble (page 98), and we have the make-up for a book that kids will enjoy, but some parents and teachers – unfortunately – might not.

That does not make the book bad, at least in my eyes, and it should not be dismissed outright. I find that kids enjoy and learn from books that might be considered questionable by some. I know plenty of families and teachers who strongly object to CAPTAIN UNDERPANTS, which I find boggling. I suspect the decision is mostly dependent upon where a school is located and the standards and cultural traditions of the community.

For my part, I think this book (in its entirety) might push the line for many of the schools in my hometown, but I can always pass it along to my daughter when her reading ability is high enough that she can use her strategies to make sense of the strong vocabulary.

I would highly recommend ANOTHER DIRT SANDWICH, or parts of it at least, particularly when educators are teaching syntactic and semantic cueing strategies. If schools could purchase a pdf version of the book, or subscribe to one online, then those using interactive white boards could post a page or two and allow the students to work in groups to decode the vocabulary. (The first chapter is available online as is a trailer.) This approach would render the few rebarbative pages mute, as the teacher could simply skip them. Keep in mind, the setting of the book is the old west. So bars, gambling, and cigars are appropriate to the time period and there is nothing in the book that is not accessible on television or radio.

It should be noted that the word “a lot” is misspelled as “alot” several times in the book. Other words are purposefully misspelled. It was unintentional on the part of the author and was an editorial mistake. Such is the life of self-publishing. The same has happened on this very site, so we are sympathetic. We also strive for proper spelling and grammar with our students, ourselves, and in the books we recommend.

So what do we do with it, now that it is published? I offer this solution: Challenge your students to find the misspelled word and even consider a prize for the winner. Students will delight in the friendly competition. Then use it as a teaching moment to remind them that we all strive for perfect spelling and grammar. It’s also good to be reminded of one of my favorite Japanese sayings: Even monkeys fall from trees.

Chris’ Rating: Ages 10 and older

Highly Recommended with Reservations
What to do with ANOTHER DIRT SANDWICH? Ultimately, I am splitting my decision. There are strong reasons to use the book for multiple educational purposes; however, there are communities in which some elements would cause distress. I recommend teachers consider their class, parents and guardians, and community. Certainly, a teacher who is uncomfortable could use the book, leaving out the few precarious parts.

To leave the book behind without giving it its due would be a serious mistake on the part of the teacher, librarian or parent. ANOTHER DIRT SANDWICH has so much to offer a child and it should be seriously considered.


From the Editor

I spent time in a second grade classroom this week and the teacher allowed me to introduce comic literature to the youngsters. She challenged me to spend time with a couple of students who struggle with reading and I made some interesting connections with students. Needless to say, many of the students were interested in reading sequential art. I'll say more later.

For now enjoy the comics that came in:
  1. Billy Batson and the Magic of Shazam!
  2. Franklin Richards Son of a Genius: April Fools
  3. G.I. Joe #4
  4. G.I. Joe: Origins #2
  5. G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra (movie prequel) #2
  6. Previews #247