Wednesday, July 29, 2009


By Chris Wilson

Author & Illustrator: Art Spiegelman
Publisher: Toon Books
Genre: Animal fantasy

Format: Hardcover
Pages: 32
Color: Color
ISBN-10: 0-9799238-3-2
ISBN-13: 978-0-9799238-3-8

When I first found out that Pulitzer Prize winning comic creator Art Spiegelman started a comics company for primary aged children, I was ecstatic – couldn’t contain my excitement. Comics for little ones! He’s the perfect person to take such an undertaking because 1) he understands the importance of great storytelling and 2) he learned to read by looking at comics.

Spiegelman has known for years what we now know and many more are soon discovering: Comics are a powerful bridge to reading. When he was a young father he took some of his personal comics – quite valuable comics, I might add – and offered them at the alter of literacy so that his own children could learn to love reading and literature as much as did.

Along came JACK AND THE BOX, a tiny tale about a rabbit and his new toy – a Jack-in-the-box. There are at three things I can think of that are designed for children but are rather terrifying, at least at first: clowns, sock monkeys and a Jack-in-the-box. Spiegelman is aware of at least one of those fears.

Our curious rabbit, Jack, is a typical child. He wants to play, but that darn toy refuses to come out. Then, all of a sudden, it pops out catching Jack unawares. It’s all in good fun and Jack laughs after being scared a few times.

The back-and-forth of Jack the rabbit and Zack the toy is classic childhood. Play-pretend and reality get a bit muddled, and when Zack introduces a toy of his own, things get quite out of control. Isn’t that the way it always is with kids?

Ah yes, JACK AND THE BOX is a pleasant surprise for me as well as for kids. The delightful interplay between the boy and his toy is dynamite. Spiegelman knows his audience well, giving them an outside-looking-in perspective of a child with a new toy.

JACK AND THE BOX springs to life and gives the young reader a book to care about, enjoy, reread, and pass along to his or her own children.

Chris’ Rating: Ages 4 and older
Publisher’s Recommendation: Grades K-2
Guided Reading Level: G
Lexile: GN 100
Reading Recovery Level: 11-12

Toon Books continues to publish spot-on comics for primary readers that can be used in as many ways as traditional books. Comics, however, are especially and uniquely created for paired read-alouds. Not only does such an activity support shared reading experiences, but also promotes a sense of community and the sharing of stories among peers.

Click here for the lesson plans developed by the publisher.

Highly Recommended


By Kevin Hodgson
Staff Writer

A peaceful society confronted with the face of evil.
A legacy of a legendary sword and the long shadow of a hero warrior.
Deceit, deception and redemption.

Such are the themes that run through this graphic interpretation of the popular REDWALL series of books by author Brian Jacques. The REDWALL tapestry that Jacques has created is filled with characters and stories, but this graphic novel (illustrated by Bret Blevins) follows the attack on the peaceful Redwall Abbey in Mossflower Country by the evil Cluny the Scourge, a one-eyed, poison-tailed king rat who wreaks havoc everywhere he goes.

Cluny has his sights set on destroying the Abbey stronghold where the mice (and a few other critters) of Redwall live out their lives. At the center of this particularly graphic novel is the young mouse, Matthias, and his realization that he truly embodies the spirit of the great mouse hero from long ago, Martin the Warrior, whose sword has disappeared over time. While Cluny the Scourge attacks the Redwall Abbey, Matthias searches for the sword, and removes it from the lair of a massive snake just in time to bring revenge upon the attacking rats.

REDWALL moves quickly from scene to scene, leaving the reader breathless with cliffhangers and plot developments, but most of the loose ends are tied up as the mice are victorious over the invaders of the Redwall Abbey. In true Jacques fashion, the aftermath of the battle provides the main characters with an opportunity for reflection and renewal, as the abbey is now set to become a safe haven for other creatures in the woods, including the sparrows and shrews who came to the mice's defense in their hour of need. The book ends with the leader of Redwall – the Abbott – dying but reminding the Redwall citizens:

"Do not be sad, for mine is a peaceful rest. And Redwall ... our home ... is safe."

Blevin successfully captures the images of these creatures of Redwall. The black and white drawings could have benefited from some color, perhaps, but even in this grey scale world of shadows and light, the glint of evil is as clear on the face of the nasty Cluny as is the courage on face of Matthias. There are many characters floating in and out of the stories, but Blevin does a good job of making the main characters distinguishable from each other. The artwork is a nice tandem to Jacques' writing.

There are many middle and high school readers (my guess, from personal experience, is that they are mostly boys) have grown up reading the many books of the Redwall series. These novels are dense, and full of rich language and vocabulary (and sometimes, as in the case of the sparrows here, dialect), and many intersecting histories are being told or called upon.

This graphic novel may provide an entry into the novel series for readers seeking more challenges and stories of adventure. It might be interesting for students to use REDWALL as a character study, contrasting both Cluny the rat (evil) and Matthias the mouse (good), as both characters are visited in their dreams by the historical hero, Martin the Warrior.

It is unfortunate that the female characters are mostly given a backseat here, although one of the strongest and smartest defenders of Redwall during the battles with Cluny is Constance the Badger, whose character is more prominent in the novels than in the graphic adaptation.

  • Reading level: Ages 9-12
  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 148
  • Publisher: Philomel
  • ISBN-10: 0399244816
  • ISBN-13: 978-0399244810

I would highly recommend this book as an action/adventure story for middle and high school students, with the caveat that there is violence throughout the book as the Redwall mice and friends defend themselves from the marauding rats. Characters on both sides die often, and sometimes in gruesome ways (for example, the huge snake who has stolen Martin the Warrior's sword is eventually decapitated by Matthias).

The message of founding a society based on peaceful means and maintaining these values even in the face of evil is an important theme of the Redwall series. Even in victory, the mice are merciful. While the story is set at an abbey, there are no specific religious overtones to the story that might offend readers.


By Tracy Edmunds
Staff Writer

Helping students connect mathematics to their everyday lives is a challenge most math teachers face. MANGA MATH MYSTERIES, just announced by Lerner Publishing, aims to engage students with manga stories while teaching mathematics fundamentals.

Here is a description from the Lerner Publishing website:

In each book, a group of friends from a martial arts school uses visual clues and mathematics to solve a mystery. The stories illustrate problem-solving thought processes and reinforce math concepts taught in third and fourth grade. Written by a math educator and illustrated by talented manga artists, these mysteries will increase readers' understanding of how math can be applied in real-world situations.

Written by math teacher Melinda Thielbar and drawn by artists Tintin Pantoja, Yuko Ota, and Der-shing Helmer, each of the four titles addresses a different mathematics strand:
  • THE LOST KEY – whole numbers
  • THE HUNDRED-DOLLAR ROBBER – currency values
  • THE SECRET GHOST – distance and measurement
  • THE KUNG FU PUZZLE – time and temperature
MANGA MATH MYSTERIES carry a grade 3 reading level and an interest level of grades 3-5. Look for a full review at The Graphic Classroom soon!

Monday, July 27, 2009


By Tracy Edmunds
Staff Writer

On his Boneville website, Jeff Smith has posted more information about the upcoming additions to the BONE world. BONE: TALL TALES will be a collection of full-color comics written by Smith and Tom Snigoski.

BONE: TALL TALES will be the next graphic novel in the series.

According to the website: "This new book, which takes place after the Bones have returned to Boneville, revolves around Smiley and Bartleby telling tales around a campfire to a group of young Bone Scouts (their names are Ringo, Bingo, & Todd!)."

Several of the stories will be a repackaging of previous black and white work from STUPID, STUPID, RAT TAILS and Disney Adventures magazine, all colored for this book. There will be new stories as well; Smiley and Bartleby stories will be written by Smith, and “Johnson Bone, Frontier Hero” stories by Snigoski. BONE: TALL TALES is scheduled for release in the summer of 2010.

BONE: QUEST FOR THE SPARK is something entirely new – a series of three prose novels, written by Snigoski and illustrated by Smith. The stories will “follow a new generation of Bone characters into the Valley.”

BONE: QUEST FOR THE SPARK will be a series of
prose novels with illustrations rather than graphic novels.

Said Smith:
"I was a bit unsure about this project when Tom first suggested it, but when I read the first book I laughed so hard, I agreed to do it. Scholastic was so blown away by it, that they decided to make it available in hardcover and wanted the illustrations, of which I think I’m going to do about twenty, full bleed and in color."

The first volume of QUEST FOR THE SPARK will be released in 2011.


By Tracy Edmunds
Staff Writer

The Eisner Awards are the Oscars of comics. This year there are two categories for young readers. Personally, I love the nominees this year – high-quality all around. Any of these titles would be a great addition to your classroom library. Winners are in red.

Best Publication for Kids

Best Publication for Teens/Tweens
  • CORALINE, by Neil Gaiman, adapted by P. Craig Russell (HarperCollins Children’s Books)
  • CROGAN’S VENGEANCE, by Chris Schweizer (Oni)
  • THE GOOD NEIGHBORS, BOOK 1: KIN, by Holly Black and Ted Naifeh (Scholastic Graphix)
  • RAPUNZEL’S REVENGE, by Shannon and Dean Hale and Nathan Hale (Bloomsbury Children’s Books)
  • SKIM, by Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki (Groundwood Books)

Creators Art Baltazar and Fraco (TINY TITANS)
displaying their Eisner Award for Best Publication for Kids.

Pictured above is Jill Thompson, Eisner winner for Best Painter
for her wonderful kids' book, MAGIC TRIXIE.

Click here to see who won in all the categories.

The Shuster Awards are for Canadian comic creators. I haven’t read all of these titles, but I highly recommend JELLABY (a cute monster mystery) and NO GIRLS ALLOWED (Tales of Daring Women Dressed as Men for Love, Freedom and Adventure). RABBIT AND BEAR PAWS would be great to use during a study of native cultures and history.
Here are the Shuster Awards “Comics for Kids” nominees:

  • NO GIRLS ALLOWED, by Susan Hughes and Willow Dawson (Kids Can Press)
  • TEEN TITANS: YEAR ONE, by Karl Kerschl and Serge Lapointe, (DC Comics) (Written by Amy Wolfram, USA)
  • RAMP RATS – A GRAPHIC GUIDE ADVENTURE, by Liam O’Donnell and Michael Deas (Orca Publishing)
  • ARIANE ET NICOLAS TOME 5: LES TOURS DE BABEL, Paul Roux (Éditions Les 400 Coups)
  • THE ADVENTURES OF RABBIT AND BEAR PAWS VOL. 2: THE VOYAGEURS, by Chad Solomon, (Little Spirit Bear Productions) (Illustrated by Christopher Meyer, USA)
  • JELLABY BOOK 1, by Kean Soo (Hyperion)
  • EMIKO SUPERSTAR, by Mariko Tamaki and Steve Rolston (DC/Minx)

Friday, July 24, 2009


I went to a small comic book convention in town a few weekends ago. I stopped by a comic shop table and was pilfering when a man asked me what I was looking for. I told him what I do (teach) and how I use comics in schools. He asks if I would like multiple copies of any titles, to which I replied in the affirmative. He reaches behind the counter and donates the books in the picture above to my classroom and The Hall of Heroes!

It takes a pretty big village to help a teacher educate students. We appreciate all the people that help us do our jobs, including the nice folks at Hurley's Heroes. And you can bet that I will be at the next HH con in Joplin, MO.

Follow Hurley's Heroes on Twitter


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.


By Nate Stearns
Staff Writer

My first exposure to classic literature was a Star Trek comic that had Captain Kirk and his crew somehow tracing the journey of Odysseus as he tried to make it back home to Penelope. I’m sure Penelope was some green-skinned alien. I still remember the changing contours of Kirk’s face as he was tied to the mast of the ship so that he could hear the Sirens’ song without going looney and crashing the ship. Whenever I teach the Odyssey I have to constantly remind myself there are no Prime Directives, phasers or Vulcan mind melds involved.

When I read THE GRAPHIC CLASSICS series, they seem to be made for the classroom. The series is a set of graphic novels of classic adventure stories – Poe, Stevenson, London, Conan Doyle – with a swarm of adapters and artists. For instance, the Ambrose Bierce volume gathers together 31 artists and writers in only 137 pages to take their shots at the misanthropic genius’s work (the Oscar Wilde volume is more leisurely – only five much longer sections). There are pages from “The Devil’s Dictionary” as well as from much more obscure pieces such as “Moxon’s Master.” That seems a natural approach to take as it would be impossible to amass the number of volumes the series contains (17 volumes and counting!) by employing one artist/writer team.

Furthermore, you can see the rationale behind the series. Imagine a reading-resistant boy (and the vast majority of these volumes are boy-centric, though a volume of Louisa May Alcott is due out soon) being given one of these graphic novels and it’s not impossible to imagine that he might find something engaging about these stories as they are illustrated. Yes, something is lost in some of the stories as they get simplified, but it’s also hard to imagine some of my students being willing to sit down with “The Picture of Dorian Gray” or even “Captain Blood.” We live in a visual society and it may be that out literature classes will need to accommodate that somewhat.

The problems I have with the Graphic Classics series is not the dumbing down of literature but the havoc that is wreaked with the constantly shifting succession of artists. Some of this art is absolutely stunning: Bierce’s “Oil of Dog” is illustrated by Annie Owens who captures the creepy strangeness of the tail with deft lines. I wish I could have read the entire volume with her work.

Other artists either have styles that simply don’t match up well with the material or are honestly not very good. The mishmash of styles and approaches adds up to volumes that lack any possibility of unity. The books practically force you to thumb through them rather than read them cover-to-cover. Therefore, it might make sense to have copies of these books in your library to pull down for Silent Sustained Reading periods, but the idea of buying a class set and trying to teach with them seems difficult to imagine.

Still, they are reasonably inexpensive (10$ each!) and each volume contains gems as well as groaners. What I want, no doubt, is implausible. I’d love to see classic works that are translated by talented artists into works that maintain a sustained vision throughout the piece (see Peter Kuper’s THE METAMORPHOSIS). I want to be able to reach out to the student who has no reason to believe that literature has any value to him, but beyond bamboozling him with pretty pictures, I want to introduce him to the possibilities that literature embodies and imagine that—in time—he’ll also want to pick up the original … even without the art.

Appropriate for Middle School and High School

Author: Oscar Wilde
Illustrator: Various
Publisher: Graphic Classics
Volume: 16
Pages: 142
Color: Black and white
ISBN-13: 978-0-9787919-6-4

Author: Ambrose Bierce
Illustrator: Various
Volume: 6
Pages: 139
Color: Black and white
ISBN-13: 978-0-9787919-5-7

Author: Rafael Sabatini
Illustrator: Various
Volume: 13
Pages: 141
Color: Black and white
ISBN-10: 0-9746648-6-3
ISBN-13: 978-0-9746648-6-6

Format: Softcover
Genre: Traditional Literature in Graphic Format
Publisher: Graphic Classics

Thursday, July 23, 2009


Jeff Smith, creator of the fantastic BONE series, just signed on with Graphix, an imprint of Scholastic, to expand his acclaimed fantasy epic. What's to come?

BONE: TALL TALES (Summer 2010)
BONE: THE QUEST FOR THE SPARK book two (Spring 2011)
BONE: THE QUEST FOR THE SPARK book three (Summer 2011)

Smith just finished ROSE, which is a prequel to BONE, and it will be released this August. Our reporter-on-the-floor, Tracy Edwards, is at San Diego Comicon and will do her best to get you the insider scoop on this incredible news. Stay tuned. Until then, you can read our review of the original nine-book BONE series.

Monday, July 20, 2009


By Tracy Edmunds
Staff Writer
The Good Comics for Kids blog at the School Library Journal has posted a list of Comics That Celebrate America’s Cultural Diversity. This excellent list is broken into Pre-Teen and Teen categories. A great resource for your classroom!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009


By Kevin Hodgson

Staff Writer

It's no secret that I love comics.

I make them (Boolean Squared). I use them in the classroom as both supplements to literature and as writing activities. I read comics regularly in book form and in my daily newspaper (and I still wish Bill Watterson was making Calvin and Hobbes). I watch my own children write comics on their own for long stretches of time with no help from me. And I truly believe the art of comic form can engage some learners (not all) on a very different level than prose or poetry can. There's something about the combination of art and words that seems to have a magic all of its own.

So, I took the plunge this summer and decided to offer up a four-day camp for middle school students who might be interested in creating comics for four hours each day. The idea first came during this year's 24 Hour ComicS Day event, when my son and I went to the local comic book store only to find the place mobbed with young writers sitting all over the place writing and composing quietly and with full focus. That scene blew me away. I knew that few of their teachers probably saw in the classroom what I was seeing in the comic book store.

Even so, I had no idea if the camp – to be run jointly by a local high school and the Western Massachusetts Writing Project – would get enough kids to make it viable. But it filled up quick and there was even a short waiting list, so I guess I was on to something. I teach sixth grade during the year and this was the third summer in a row that I taught a claymation/animation camp for middle school kids, so it wasn't completely unknown terrain for me.

Still, I struggled with how to provide some instruction while leaving enough space for kids to create what they wanted to create.

The camp was therefore a combination of how to do some things (such as how to use ComicLife software or how to use our closed comic networking space set up through ToonDoo), helping the 16 young comic writers figure out what they wanted to do, bringing in a few guests (such as Hilary Price, who does the syndicated Rhymes with Orange comic) and then letting them do what they wanted to do. In my heart, I knew what they needed most was a supportive place to create. It was wonderful to watch and my co-teacher, Tom Fanning – who had never ventured into the world of comics before – was hard at work on his own comic projects and engaging kids with an outsider's eye.

We had graphic stories developing page by page, including one that was inspired by anime and manga-style comics. We had character-driven comic strips, such as Unlucky Joe who just could not seem to get a break. We had a series of comics built around a prop (a blue alien slug). Two students collaborated on a series of comics about The Old Man whose memory was, well, sort of faulty and got him into strange situations. And we even had a spy mystery story that unfolded one comic strip at a time with hopes of reaching 100 pages in an ebook format.

These were motivated writers and they milled about, sharing their ideas and comics with each other with very little trepidation. We heard a lot of a laughing and a lot of supportive comments. This group was mostly boys (14 of them) and how often do you have boys coming in willingly to write for four hours every day for four days? Did I already mention the magic of comic books?

We did spend time on the first day of camp reading through the many graphic novels that I now own and talking about what makes a comic strip different than a graphic novel, and we also chatted about the genre of comics and how they integrate the visual into the story. Terms such as speech bubbles and text boxes joined the unknown concept of emanata in the lexicon of the young writers.

In my conversations with them, I tried to make clear to them that their art was valued here and even if their own teachers did not always see the merit in the work they were doing, they should have faith in it and continue with their passion.

If you are a teacher reading this post, please encourage the comic artists in your classroom and find ways to bring their talents to the forefront. Many of these students were already feeling marginalized in their classrooms by their teachers, who saw their work as scribblings in the margins of papers. We owe it to them to encourage them as writers, no matter the genre.

You can view some of the work of the students and visitors (plus the collection of Claymation Movies from the morning session) at our weblog Clay Comics.

Comic Camp Art Gallery from Mr. Hodgson on Vimeo.


By Chris Wilson


Thousands of years ago the city of Baghdad housed the world’s greatest collections of knowledge – tomes of great importance. In 1258 A.D. the keepers of the knowledge known as the Caliph – aware an attack was imminent – prepared a magical concoction, the King’s Water, and transferred the knowledge of the great libraries into the 99 Noor Stones. The stones were scattered and while the books were destroyed, the knowledge remained intact within the gems.

The stones were later used to construct a magnificent dome upon a great fortress from which all knowledge could be gained when the light was right. This time a special council was put in place to protect the knowledge. In 1420 A.D. a boy, Rughal, was born to one of the guardians of the temple, a boy who would seek unnatural power and knowledge through violence. Once again the Noor Stones and the wisdom within was in danger. Rughal’s attempt to extract the scholarship led to the destruction of the temple, his own disappearance, and the scattering of the Noor Stones.

Today, psychologist and historian Dr. Ramzi Razem is working tirelessly to find the 99 Noor Stones and the unsuspecting 99 individuals who can wield the qualities of the individual stones and bring peace and prosperity to the world. Dr. Razem is juxtaposed with the infamous Ruhgal, who still mysteriously exists, and seeks complete domination and power using the stones and the people connected to them.

My first concern about THE 99 was that it might be religious conversion propaganda rather than good superhero story. What I realized after reading seven issues – and what I want to make clear – is that THE 99 is no more religious pamphlet peddling than is the highly celebrated Christian-influenced fiction of THE LORD OF THE RINGS and THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA.

Instead, series creator Dr. Naif Al-Mutawa has done what J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis did; he infused his religious and cultural heritage into a high quality fictional storyline that tells an excellent and exciting story without preaching or even mentioning the name of God or the name of any specific religion.

The characters are diverse in gender, ethnicity and disability; their religious proclivities are not known or discussed. However, each character’s power and superhero name is connected to the 99 names of Allah, which happen to represent properties inherent in many religions and cultural beliefs. According to Wikipedia, the following characters have been introduced in the series to date (although I’ve only read about five so far):

Jabbar, The Powerful
Noora, The Light
Darr, The Afflicter
Jami, The Assembler
Widad, The Loving
Fattah, The Opener
Mumita, The Destroyer
Raqib, The Watcher
Bari, The Healer
Sami, The Listener
Musawwira, The Organizer
Hadya, The Guide
Rafie, The Lifter
Baqi, The Everlasting
Baeth, The Sender

These characteristics are not specific to any religion or cultural belief and are, in fact, present in many of our American superheroes, Greek mythology and other characters in great literature. The spellings simply reflect a certain cultural heritage.

During the reading I made two connections: text-to-text and text-to-world. While reading about these superheroes and the struggles between the leaders of the two factions (Dr. Ramzi Razem for the good team and Rahgal for the bad) I thought about the struggles of THE X-MEN (text-to-text) and the oft-made analogy between Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X (text-to-world).

For those who may be unaware, THE X-MEN has addressed many social issues such as anti-Semitism, civil rights and religious fanaticism. The series has been seen as allegorical to the racial unrest in the 1960s. Professor X (leader of the X-Men) is representative of Dr. King, and Magneto (leader of the Brotherhood of Mutants) is compared to Malcolm X. Both seek a world where mutants can live free, but both have drastically different approaches to the problem. Professor X seeks a peaceful and collaborative union with humans, while Magneto chooses a turbulent and violent overthrow of non-mutant humanity to ensure peace for himself and his people.

THE 99 seems reminiscent of that social discussion, updated to represent the problems and chaos of the 21st century by using the Middle Eastern community as a springboard to talk about peace and unity for all persons regardless of background. It does so with a strong eye to rich storylines.

I would prefer that the old stereotype of the angry disabled person not be perpetuated. The one character using a wheelchair is portrayed as angry and unable to go out because of his wheelchair. That simply is not a reality for persons with disabilities. I think the creative team should work harder to be more sensitive to the disability community. On the other hand, women have been given powerful leadership roles and are not relegated to traditional Islamic roles or dress.

Highly Recommended
Dr. Al-Mutawa has developed an outstanding series that is culturally relevant and deeply engaging. To boot, it is also gender-supportive. The cultural nuances of the story, along with the positive female role models, make THE 99 a perfect addition to the classroom.

The narrative is ripe for explorations of the myriad of social issues affecting today’s citizen. I think the complexity of the story make it best suited beginning with 10-year-old students; however, I think young students will miss a lot. Middle school and high school students will benefit the most from the rich narrative.

DC and Teshkeel comics are planning a collaborative effort where Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman will meet up with THE 99. Click here to read the ICV2 article.

Publisher: Teshkeel Media Group
Genre: Superhero
Issues: 1-5; Origins; Special Issue

Tuesday, July 14, 2009


By Tracy Edmunds
Staff Writer

All-ages favorite OWLY is now available for the Kindle book reader (story here). If you haven’t read any of the Eisner award winning OWLY books, they are about a little owl making friends with forest creatures such as worms, hummingbirds, and raccoons. The deceptively simple black and white art and lack of text dialogue make this perfect for even the littlest kids, but adults love it just as much. On the cuteness scale of zero to 10, this one goes to 11; it will steal your heart and leave you feeling all warm and fuzzy for days.

Don’t forget, Andy and his mom Patty (a teacher) have put together a fantastic book of lesson plans for using OWLY in the classroom. The 12 language arts and visual arts lessons are adaptable for all grade levels and feature plenty of Runton’s heartwarming art.

Saturday, July 11, 2009


By Chris Wilson

Author & Illustrator: Kerry Callen
Publisher: SLG Publishing
Genre: Philosophy and humor

Format: Softcover Volume: 1
Color: Black and white
ISBN-10: 0-943151-81-3

Katie, a 20-something single girl, lives in a duplex with Sprocket the robot and Halo an angel. Together the offbeat triad waxes philosophic about the quirky nature of humanity. Entrusted in her care, Sprocket is a developing young robot seeking to eventually earn his own individuality and awareness with the help of his friends. They contemplate the “is the glass half full or half empty” question, but Sprocket is unable to understand the point. He sees the glass, which is actually plastic not glass, as 44.89% full of water and 55.11% full of air while Halo sees the reality of “full” and “empty” as two cooperating opposites of a whole – a yin and yang – where one cannot exist without the other. Katie gives up and listens to a song on the radio.

So it goes throughout the entire graphic novel. Katie spends her time trying to explain why saliva in the mouth is acceptable but spit is gross and other oddities to a robot and an angel, both of who are completely incapable of understanding the peculiar habits and nature of human beings.

HALO AND SPROCKET is the Seinfeld of comic books, a book about nothing really but our own introspective lives and the oddities of humanity.

Chris’ Rating: High School

There are some scenes that are more mature. Katie has a food disposal issue so she asks Frank, the next-door neighbor to assist. The beer-swelling handyman makes sexual cracks at her expense even brandishing a T-shirt that says, “Right Here, Baby” with an arrow pointing at his genital region.

In another scene, Katie et al. have an entire discussion while she is in her nightgown. Toward the end, Katie has hiccups and Halo, in an attempt to scare the hiccups away, makes Katie believe the merchant of death has come to take her soul. He yanks her away, right out of her clothes. Of course, it is appropriately drawn so no vital parts are exposed.

The clever psychology or sociology instructor could make great use of HALO AND SPROCKET by using the text to reflect upon the connectedness of the favorite teenage pastime of hanging out and talking about “nothing”. In reality, “nothing” is not nothing at all – a point that HALO AND SPROCKET make quite well.

Click here to read an 8-page preview.

Recommended with Reservations
HALO AND SPROCKET is tender and unique in its idiosyncratic approach to storytelling. Its Seinfeldian discussions and awkwardness make the book authentic and comfortable yet stimulating and, for some young people, possibly mind-blowing. The scene with the next-door neighbor gives me some pause about using it in a classroom.


By Kevin Hodgson
Staff Writer

INTO THE VOLCANO is about danger and adventure, as two brothers – Sumo and Duffy – get trapped inside an erupting volcano, and Don Wood's first foray into the world of graphic novels works on many levels. Wood, a picture book artist who often pairs up with his wife Audrey, explains in the liner notes that the inspiration for this story comes from living in a tropical jungle not far from active volcanoes.

Wood spent seven years working on this graphic novel and it shows through his vibrant illustrations and rich story lines. The book centers on Sumo and Duffy, whose aunt has summoned them to their mother's birthplace, the island of Kocalaha, only to be sent forth on a mysterious journey with their brawny cousin and a ragged crew that leads them straight into the heart of a volcano that is about to erupt. The reason for the mission unfolds slowly – it has to do with their mother and her work discovering some magical stones in the volcano – and when the boys realize they are being deceived, they break out on their own. When one brother gets seriously hurt in a fall down a cavern, the other must find a way to save him. INTO THE VOLCANO then becomes a story of survival, brotherhood and courage as the boys travel through lava tubes in order to escape, only to find their mother in the heart of the mountain.

As you might expect from an artist of Wood's caliber – he has won many awards for his work with picture books – INTO THE VOLCANO is a visual delight. Wood captures both the wonder and dangers of the tropical rain forest as well as the claustrophobia the boys feel as they are trapped inside the volcano.

My criticism is that I wish Wood had done more to differentiate the faces of the two brothers – Sumo and Duffy – as I sometimes found myself wondering who I was looking at. I also think that Wood could have done even better with the characterization of Sumo and Duffy, allowing us to see them more as individuals who grow through the adversity, instead of a pair of brothers perceived almost as one. I admit that I had sometimes had to stop myself and wonder, “which brother is this?” And given that this is essentially a story of brothers, that distinction seemed important to me.

This book delves into the themes of family ties, greed, and internal strength in the face of death and danger. As such, it would make a good companion book to the adventure story genre that is popular in elementary and middle school classrooms. From a writing standpoint, students could make a map of the volcano paths taken by Sumo and Duffy, and then after some research on volcanoes, write their own story set within a volcano.

  • Reading level: Ages 9-12
  • Format: Hardcover
  • Pages: 176
  • Publisher: Blue Sky Press
  • ISBN-10: 0439726719
  • ISBN-13: 978-0439726719

I would highly recommend INTO THE VOLCANO for upper elementary through high school classrooms. I think it has enough variety of content to capture the imagination of most students. There is no profanity or violence, although some of the scenes in which the boys are in danger are somewhat visually harrowing.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009


By Tracy Edmunds
Staff Writer

Boom! comics – publishers of CARS, FINDING NEMO, TOY STORY, THE INCREDIBLES, THE MUPPET SHOW, and MUPPET ROBIN HOOD – have announced they will also be publishing WALT DISNEY COMICS & STORIES and MICKEY MOUSE & FRIENDS.

These classic Disney titles, formerly published by the financially troubled Gemstone Publishing, will begin in July, offering 24 pages for $2.99. The first issues will feature storylines from the Italian version of the comics; ULTRAHEROES and WIZARDS OF MICKEY, featuring Mickey, Minnie, Donald, and other classic Disney characters in superhero and fantasy stories. More information from Boom! Kids.


Pictured clockwise: Tracy (12 o'clock), Shelby (3 o'clock), and Sarah (6 o'clock).

By Tracy Edmunds
Staff Writer

I came to comics fairly late. As a kid, I can remember reading ASTERIX at my grandma’s house and a few Donald Duck comics, but not much more than that. About eight years ago my best friend, who has always been a comics fan, got me started on FABLES and I was hooked. I think I’ve been to the comic shop almost every week since then! My favorites in the adult category include FABLES, HELLBOY, and SCOTT PILGRIM. I also love all-ages works like GLISTER, CURSED PIRATE GIRL, BUMPERBOY, G-MAN, and OWLY.

Once I started bringing home comics, my two young daughters wanted to read them too, but most of what I was reading wasn’t suitable for them. So we all went looking for comics and graphic novels that we could read together. The girls are older now (Shelby is 13, going into eighth grade; Sarah is 10, going into sixth grade) and are voracious comic and graphic novel readers. The girls and I have been reviewing comics on the Internet for about six years and the highlight of our year is the pilgrimage to San Diego for Comic-Con.

I’m also a teacher working part time in a reading intervention program and I’ve seen how comics can change a reluctant reader into a rabid reader in a very short time. I’d like to see it happen for more kids. I still deal with teachers who won’t allow their students to read comics in the classroom or to check them out from the library. I’ve become an advocate for comics in the classroom at my school and am looking forward to helping spread the word here at The Graphic Classroom!

(EDITOR'S NOTE: I'm delighted to have Tracy (and hopefully her girls) join our team. She and her girls will be a real asset to The Graphic Classroom. Please help me welcome Tracy, Shelby and Sarah.)

Wednesday, July 1, 2009


By Chris Wilson

Publisher: Jake Lake Productions
Genre: American History

Format: Softcover
Edition: Special Edition
Pages: 96
Color: Color
ISBN-10: 978-1-894998-63-5

THE STORY OF AMERICA retells three different periods in American history. Chapter one, “The Man Who Discovered America”, is about Christopher Columbus’ sailing adventures to the Bahamas in search of a trade route to India. “The Birth of America” is about the circumstances leading up to and including the Declaration of Independence. The last chapter, “Paul Revere’s Ride,” illustrates the story of Paul Revere and the American colonists’ resistance of British tax and rule.

THE STORY OF AMERICA does not just recount the historical happenings of our great country, however. Reflective of the time the stories were originally published (1956), we are also privy to a healthy morality tale. Oftentimes, morality stories are trite and preachy, sending kids running the other way. Thankfully, THE STORY OF AMERICA does not have such a feel. Considering the tense political climate these days the lessons taught on page 51 might do us some good:

“And that is how the United States was born…. Men shall always be equal whether they are rich or poor. We shall help each other no matter where we come from. We shall not laugh at anyone because he is different. We shall all have equal rights to work and earn money. It is everybody’s job here in America to remember that we are all free and equal – that is why the United States came to be!”

Without a doubt, these stories are written from a singular perspective. Liberty and community are celebrated and credited with the success of American independence and promoted as the cornerstones of a democracy. It makes for great reading.

This Classics Illustrated book was originally written during the Silver Age of comics (1956-1970). The art is the same now as it was then. That can be a turn off for contemporary kids because they may not want to read their grandfather’s comics. I can relate to wrinkling my nose at old comic art in the past. (I am still prone to that if I am not careful.) If this is the case with students, then it will be up to the teacher to develop strong relationships with the students and encourage them to read these classic comics anyway. The students will be well served in the end, and if the teacher has done his or her job many students will read a book because it was highly recommended by a trusted teacher.

Chris’ Rating: Ages 8 and older

Many contemporary classrooms are taught in such a way as to promote social learning: group projects, discussion, sharing, collaboration and peer-to-peer instruction. These qualities are consistent with and connected to an underlying theme in this Classics Illustrated book, written during the days of my father’s youth.

I cannot shake the idea that this comic can help bridge a gap between two different times – sometimes seemingly two different worlds – and help our students rediscover the purpose of democracy beyond the sound bytes that bombard us today.

From an art appreciation perspective, the Classics Illustrated books give students a change to love and appreciate comics from another time.

I’d love to have a classroom set or an electronic copy of THE STORY OF AMERICA. It would make a wonderful edition to any democracy unit.

Highly Recommended
What’s not to like? THE STORY OF AMERICA is outstanding constructed and perfectly suited for the classroom, all without being trite. It’s already on my comic bookshelf in my classroom.