Friday, November 27, 2009


I'm taking a quick break from my Christmas tree decorating to bring you this news. The new comic literature section of the Bonner Springs City Library caters to kids ages 6-11. The lead photo shows a youngling reading THE INCREDIBLES hardbound edition. The librarians did their job by bringing in titles other than super heroes such as AMELIA RULES! (a favorite of ours), BABYMOUSE (another great title), NANCY DREW, STAR WARS and many others. 

Thanks to Staff Writer Tracy Edmunds who sent this link to me.


From the Editor

Yes, I purposefully published a PETA comic book review the day after Thanksgiving. Sometimes I feel a bit snarky – today being a perfect example of one of those days – and I thought it would be hysterical to contrast the big turkey day with an animal rights comic. I’m making no political statement here, just being funny. Please take no offense.

In other news, today is Black Friday and I have absolutely no interest in fighting the throngs of rabid shoppers to make my way to the comic book store. So the comics for this week will be saved for next. I will tell you that I am working on a contest for December. This is one that your students could participate in. So watch for that announcement.

Enjoy your Thanksgiving holiday.


By Kevin Hodgson
Staff Writer

I am always curious about the ways in which comics can be used as rhetorical devices. Sure, many comics are just for entertainment purposes (although, as a teacher, I try to look for use beyond the story itself). But many political groups long ago learned that one way to get a message out to a broader audience is through the use of something familiar and comprehensible, and the comic format often fits the bill.

Not long ago, I ordered some free comics from PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals). I am not a member of PETA and I am often appalled by some of their strategies. (Tossing blood at people? Not cool, man.) So, I was curious about their offer for free comic books about the world of animals. The four comics came yesterday – A COW'S LIFE, A RAT'S LIFE, AN ELEPHANT'S LIFE and A CHICKEN'S LIFE – and I almost put them in the hands of my four year old because the covers were so cute and, well, it was about animals.

Luckily, my parental instincts kicked in and I thumbed through some pretty harsh stories and images. In A COW'S LIFE, for example, we see a tiny calf being injected with hormones from a dozen large needles. The same cow is later being cattle-prodded into a truck and then brought to the doorstep of a veal factory where he is stuck inside a tiny box. (The elephant book is about the circus, the rat story is about scientific labs, and the chicken story is about egg farms). Each book begins with a nice page about the special qualities of the animal in focus, which is a nice touch.

Listen, I know these stories are based in reality of modern day treatment of animals and I get what PETA is doing here. A COW'S LIFE is about saving a cow and about being kind to animals. These are important issues. But you are dancing on a dangerous line when you use a cute comic book aimed at little kids to teach a lesson about cruelty in the world. And I think PETA stepped across the line here. (Although, I am sure PETA is just fine with that, by the way).

The art by Ken Cursoe is colorful and simplistic, just right for young eyes (see my complaint above). The animals are both cute when being cared for and come across as terrified when not being cared for. The use of perspective – of making the cow look small while the needles look huge, for example – is effective for the message.

Obviously, these free books from PETA could allow for a strong discussion among older students about the use of comics for political and rhetorical purposes. It might also spark a discussion about how early a parent might introduce such a controversial concept and I am sure you could fashion a debate about animal cruelty versus human survival easily enough. From a writing standpoint, these comics might also provide fertile ground for students to fashion their own comics for a political purpose. How can they use the comic format for pushing forward on a controversial topic?

These comics are free from PETA, so you can make your own decisions about the merits of them. You just need to fill out the form at the PETA website and wait a few weeks.

This is a little tricky because while I didn't necessarily like the comic books, I can see some value for the classroom. I would suggest that these comics might be appropriate for upper elementary and middle school students, but not for younger students (despite their appealing covers). I would recommend them, but only with reservations. In other words, I would not likely just put these out on the counter without some discussion about them and the rationale behind them. 


By Chris Wilson

Author: Tony Lee
Illustrator: Sam Hart
Colors: Artur Fujita
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Genre: Legend
Format: Hardcover
Pages: 160
Color: Full color
ISBN-10: 0-7636-4399-8
ISBN-13: 978-0-7636-4399-7

The Robin Hood stories I’ve been exposed to have always started with an adult archer-extraordinaire. OUTLAW: THE LEGEND OF ROBIN HOOD is the first piece of literature I have read that gave me such depth into the childhood experiences that drive Robin Hood to do what he does. I care for and understand the charitable thief and root for him because of his back-story.

Writer Tony Lee spends time developing the character before our hooded protagonist even thinks about robbing the usurping aristocracy and wreaking havoc across the land. His character story continued through the end, culminating for me in one particular scene. I tip my hat to Lee who created an emotionally stirring scene when King Richard the Lionheart returned. I was captivated by the story as I watched King Richard disrobe his peasant garb and reveal his kingly crimson breastplate emblazoned with three golden lions. It was goosebumbs worthy and I sat and gazed at the page for several minutes allowing the story, the scene, the beauty of the moment rush through me.

I especially enjoyed the addition of the Robin Hood afterward written by Robin Hood authority Allen W. Wright. The changes and adaptations of the Robin Hood mythos have made for a long-lasting legend who remains relevant in current society.

Sam Hart’s choice of heavy inks and strong contrast makes for a mysterious style. In doing so he also dispensed upon the reader two problems: character differentiation and weak backgrounds. The style is wonderful and artful, but is executed to the point that I often found myself confusing characters causing me to flip back and reread scenes to determine who was speaking or committing a particular action.

With a heavily inked and contrasted illustration also comes a less detailed background, which was overly minimalist probably in order to portray the characters.

The battle scenes, on the other hand, were tastefully executed being neither too complicated nor too bloody.

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

Because of the cursing I would likely place OUTLAW: THE LEGEND OF ROBIN HOOD on the Restricted Reading list for elementary students, but offer open access beginning with middle school students.

There are numerous times – a half-dozen or so – when characters curse with a mild “hell” or “damn”.

It should go without saying that Robin Hood offers a wealth of discussions about society, wealth, poverty, types of governments, birthrights, taxation and terrorism. I would think that a unit about government and democracy could come alive when combined with the Robin Hood story.

ROBIN HOOD also gives rise to a heavy discussion about heroes, terrorism, and freedom fighters. Was Robin Hood a hero or a terrorist? How do we know? How do we define a freedom fighter, an insurgent, a subversive home grown terrorist? How do we label Robin Hood and why do we come to that conclusion. I would not suggest this discussion for elementary students, and would be careful using it in middle school.

This very idea demonstrates how a book can be used with students of varying ages and maturities. A young student could read ROBIN HOOD on its surface and explore the five elements of fiction, relish the hero story, and use it to learn about different governments. The older student can deeply explore the themes and answer the hard questions. All can enjoy the story on their own level and connect it to their own lives in some way.


Tuesday, November 24, 2009


By Chris Wilson

On Monday we challenged the fourth grade super heroes in THE HALL OF HEROES comic book club to think about what it means to be a super hero. We discussed the current American economic downturn and how it affects the kids and families in Nixa, MO and the greater Ozarks region. Students in Nixa, Ozark, Springfield, and other surrounding school districts have an increase in homeless students. There are families who go to school and work hungry. It is a serious situation, one that requires the assistance of an entire community.

Presented with this problem, the students came up with a list of ideas on ways they could address the issue. Short of having a bake sale, car wash or drink stand to raise money they decided to work on donations. Over the next couple of weeks the students will gather

  • New toys
  • Gently used toys in excellent condition
  • New and gently used clothing for kids
  • Coats for kids and adults
  • Clean blankets
  • Canned goods
  • Boxed goods
  • Books
  • Comics

The coolest idea came from a couple of students working off each one another. The students will create their own comics. They can work in teams or alone; it is their choice. They can use lined unlined paper, but the art must be black and white only.

We will then put them all together and copy them, making our own make-shift book. The students want to give away their handmade comics to kids in need. I think it's brilliant. Someone will know that kids cared enough to make them a gift – something the students really cared about and thought through.

Perhaps we can get a printing company to help us bind/copy the comics? I'm hoping the local chamber of commerce can assist us.

Two important concepts are at work here:
  • Students are connecting their love of comics with the real world, chosing to become super heroes in their own communities and understanding the motivation driving the characters they read about. 
  • Students see comics as a legitimate source of Christmas cheer. That is to say, the students value comics so much, they feel comics (handmade or commercially printed) are a valuable Christmas gift. 

Comics, dear readers, are literature. Ask any of the students in the HALL OF HEROES.  These students are taking their love of literature to higher levels.

Saturday, November 21, 2009


From the Editor

It is almost December and it is time to think about how to be a hero in our community. I am thinking about THE HALL OF HEROES comic book club and I wonder what we can do to connect our comic literature to our real lives. Super heroes answer the call of service when those in need cry out and so I want our club to think up ways we can be heroes in our community of Nixa, MO. What can we do to help others? What does our community need that we could provide?

December is the perfect month to think about service learning and giving to others. I see it as a teaching moment, one where we connect the stories we read about in our comics and connect those stories to the world around us. There are students in our district who are homeless. There are students in our district, many in fact, who will go without Christmas this year. A number of them are going without food. It is a tough economic time and what we see is being observed throughout the country.

I want these super heroes to consider those around them and come up with ideas on what they could do to benefit our little town and those who live in it. Consider it a Call to Service, one which I hope my super heroes will answer as best they can.

I envision a toy-food-coat drive where students bring in a wrapped present for a boy or girl, canned goods, boxed goods, clean coats, and blankets. We could then dress up as a super hero o(f our own making – something the students are already working on) and then present our donations to the school to be given to those students who need food or who will otherwise go without Christmas this year. We will alert the local media about how a reading club is taking the study of literature to new heights.

As we continue through this process, I will keep you posted on our goings-on. Until then, check out the comics that made their way into The Classroom this week and enjoy the reviews:



By Kevin Hodgson
Staff Writer

The title of this book is catchy and, written just below the author's name, is this blurb: "The World's Youngest Professional Cartoonist." That had me intrigued and so I sat down one night with GROWN-UPS ARE DUMB! (We're not! Really? We just seem that way sometimes, kids) and fell in love with the comic mind of young Alexa Kitchen.

GROWN-UPS ARE DUMB! is not a graphic novel but a collection of comics created with loving care and quirky humor by a 10-year-old comic artist. Kitchen (who must live in my area because her bio says she resides in Western Massachusetts) was nominated for both a Harvey and an Eisner award – making her the youngest nominee ever. That's pretty impressive and you can see why she was nominated as you peruse her work.

GROWN-UPS ARE DUMB! is a series of comics around some main characters, including Molly. The opening comic shows Molly sitting at her seat in the classroom as the subjects of the day roll by (Math, English, etc.) with an expressionless face until dismissal, and then she is on her feet in celebration. Another character, Lucy, is clearly a kid on the cusp of some independence, but maybe not quite ready for it. When her mom leaves her alone (and then waits five minutes), Lucy is caught eating on the couch and watching television. "Ha! Gotcha!" says mom, and the look on Lucy's face is priceless. One longer form story – called Noise, Pens and Annoying Little Brothers – is a sweet ode to a typical day of the trial and tribulations of a young teenager, ending with the main character going to sleep, hoping for a better day tomorrow.

Kitchen's art in this book is just perfect. The expressions on the faces, the minimalist backgrounds and the use of pink as a shading color, with black lines and white backgrounds, gives the book a distinct feel. It's clear that she has a fine eye for her characters and knows kids inside and out. In fact, her humor is right along the lines with my own sons and my own students (sixth graders) but it is her artwork that really sets her apart from others. It's interesting how she has developed her own style at so early an age.


Reading level: Ages 9-12
Format: Paperback
Pages: 96
Publisher: Disney-Hyperion
ISBN-10: 1423113314
ISBN-13: 978-1423113317


It's not often enough that we can share work from a published writer and illustrator who is roughly the same age as our students and so I see this book as a very valuable commodity in a writing classroom. I also see that Kitchen's last book, DRAWING COMICS IS EASY (UNLESS WHEN IT IS HARD), is all about how to make a comic strip from the perspective of a young comic – interesting. She wrote it when she was 7.

There is a lot to be said, too, of how Kitchen develops the handful of characters in this collection. We immediately understand them, particularly if you have spent any time around children. Add to the fact that her characters are girls with strong opinions about things and you have an interesting resource.


I would highly recommend this book. It is likely more appropriate for the middle school classroom but it has a place in any elementary or high school library, too. I think young artists, writers, and lovers of comics would find something of value in GROWN-UPS ARE DUMB! and you know as I know that title is sure to grab someone's attention.



By Chris Wilson

Authors: Stefan Petrucha, Maia Kinney-Petrucha, John l. Lansdale, Jim Salicrup
Illustrators: Rick Palmer, Miran Kim, James Romberger, Marguerite Van Cook
Cover Art: Mr. Exes
Publisher: Papercutz
Genre: Horror, parody

Format: Softcover
Volume: 8
Pages: 96
Color: Full color
ISBN-13: 978-1-59707-163-5

TALES FROM THE CRYPT Vol. 8 takes back the parody genre, lampooning DIARY OF A WIMPY KID and TWILIGHT. I no more than opened the book when my fourth grade daughter snatched it and read the entire book in one sitting. When we went to the park later that afternoon, I took it along to see for myself what she enjoyed in this multi-story.

In the vignette, Diary of a Stinky Dead Kid, Glugg our zombie-to-be, is a normal (and quite ugly) kid. One day headed for a school field trip he gets shoved onto the rail system’s tracks and electrocuted. Death would not be so bad except his mother botched his reincarnation spell, leaving him a flesh-eating zombie. Poor guy.

His predicament would be tragic if it were not so entertaining. Glugg’s best friend, Crowley, rips off Glugg’s arm only to reattach it backwards. Then his brother, Rock, tries to sell his soul to a demon. The guy simply can’t catch a break.

Glugg finally connects with other zombies. They end up in a Guitar Zero competition with a group of gaming nerds. It should be no surprise that zombies cannot compete with geeks. What do they do? If you can’t beat ‘em, eat ‘em. That’s just what the “Z’s” did.

DieLite is the story of Lou Anne Lugosi, high school student, who could care less about lovesick vampire, Deadward. Her problem is that he won’t take the hint. “He was different from the boys back home,” she thinks. “He looked young, but inside he seemed more like one of those old men on To Catch a Predator. He was … bizarre.” Lou Anne’s sardonic tone was a nice jab at the adolescent love affair that is TWILIGHT.

While I enjoyed Diary and DieLite, I wasn’t so impressed with the third story, Carrier. The fact that it was a continuation of a story in vol. 7, should account for my feeling lost. I might like it better had I read the beginning. Stories tend to be better when you don’t just read the ending. That’s my problem not the book’s.

Various artistic styles accompany each story, a requirement when one book contains such different story lines. While Diary is sketched out exactly like it’s real counterpart (i.e. notebook paper and cartoony art), DieLite has a dark painted feel.

I really like the book because it is a very gruesome comedy. It has great illustrations and it makes fun of DIARY OF A WIMPY KID and TWILIGHT and it is Halloween-like.


Chris’ Rating: Middle school

Papercutz generally promotes their titles for kids. Normally, I agree with them on the age rating; however, this volume contains enough semi-language and blood that I might hold off giving it to students until middle school. Keep in mind that I was perfectly fine with my own 9-year-old reading it.

“Hell”, “crap”, “sucks”, “mother trucker”, “we have to control our burning passions”, a demon, and spells are all present.

While the book does contain some language and themes that might upset some parents of elementary-aged students, it also has some really funny scenes that kids could make strong text-to-text connections. I think the Diary stories are less objectionable than DieLite.

If provided in isolation, I think it would be creative and inventive for students to study Diary and then create their own parodies of books they have read. How would they make fun of the books or characters. What messages might they send to the reader? Who would be the appropriate audience for such a story? The intended message and understanding of audience are both national standards. Creating a unique piece is a higher order thinking skill.



Tuesday, November 17, 2009


Reading With Pictures, an educational non-profit that promotes the use of comics and graphic novels in the classroom, is actively soliciting donations of original art, prints and commissions for an art auction fundraiser to be held in December.

RWP is also accepting proposals for 1-10 page short stories (both story and art) to be included in a full-color, all-ages benefit anthology intended for publication in the summer of 2010. The proceeds from both will be used as seed money for the organization and will be put toward its application for 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status.

The earnings will also be used to fund the non-profit’s initial slate of projects, such as a groundbreaking research study undertaken in conjunction with Northwestern University to determine the best methods for using comics and graphic novels in the classroom.

Saturday, November 14, 2009


From the Editor

A few weeks ago I ordered two Flip Video cameras ($150 total) for my classroom from I no more than got them in and told the kids in one of my fourth grade sections that one piped up and suggested we use it in THE HALL OF HEROES comic book club.

We didn’t have time to flush out his thinking – what he envisioned – but my mind is exploding with ideas. We could promote our club on YouTube. We could video the kids’ excitement of reading and document it here. We could create our own live action comic movie using the students’ own comic book characters.

I’ve also had this idea that we have started. I want my students to create their own superheroes. On Monday they are supposed to come to THE HALL OF HEROES with sketches and ideas written down. I would like for them to create their own comics; however, I think we should take the idea further and explore the idea of heroes in our own community. That is to say, I am flushing out this idea that we should dress up as our own super heroes and then do a community project. Working with veterans, homeless persons, cleaning up a stretch of road, or working at a senior center. I think it might help students connect to the idea that heroes make a difference in the world around them. And yes, I would dress up as my own super hero.

We could easily incorporate the Flip Videos into this project. I could have one and document the project from my perspective, sure, but I could also give the Flips to the students and have them document the experience themselves. I would love to see what they come up with. How do they interview one another? What do they choose to shoot? What do they see as important? Of course, we would also alert the media and bring good news to our school district.

THE HALL OF HEROES is more than just a comic book reading club. It is a club that infuses comics into education and everyday life.

Here are the comics that came into the Classroom this week:


By Nate Stearns
Staff Writer

So, imagine you are a publisher. You are in the quaint position of trying to sell hunks of paper pulp and ink in a LOLcat world. Embattled doesn’t even being to cover it. You may even start to suspect that the world is descending into a slough of idiocracy from which it may never emerge. Then, someone comes to you with a proposal to write a full color graphic novel that traces the life of Bertrand Russell as he grapples with the establishment of the logical foundation of mathematics, trying to set them on the firm ground they deserve, proving that 1 plus 1 equals 2 with over 100 pages of abstruse formulas.

Of course, you say yes.

Logicomix is an impressive and painstaking examination of the 20th century philosopher’s quest to give mathematics something which many observers didn’t know it needed: a place to stand. The writers use a double frame. First, we see Russell giving a talk as the US finds itself on the brink of World War II. Second, we see the writers (including a hirsute computer scientist) and artists ponder the best way to demonstrate Russell’s life and work.

In the talk, Russell uses the occasion of a public lecture entitled “The Role of Logic in Human Affairs” to go in painful detail about his childhood and the writing of Principia Mathematica (the audience might need to order out for pizza if they expect to make it to the end). As you might guess, the descriptions of his brushes with madness and marital disharmony are easier to establish than his disquisitions on logic. When reading these, the text does seem to descend into one of those Logic for Dummies books where Russell dreams of Gauss excoriating him for Wrecking the Foundation of Infinity! I’m not sure I’m smart enough to understand why.

Interspersed with the narrative, the producers of this book wander around Athens and debate with each other about the best way to shape this story into something comprehensible. Initially, I thought this would be extremely annoying, but there is something undeniably charming about the earnest, thoughtful nature of their talk. They believe in this project. The story is meaningful and profound in a way that is rare, not only in the world of graphic novels, but also in the world of culture in general. The writers give us the great compliment of honoring our intelligence and willingness to follow their story to its ultimate ends.

And it should be said that the ends are mixed. The payoff after the extended narratives of mathematical proofs and tight logic are not what we might hope for, though the decision to end the novel with a depiction of Aeschylus’s Orestia is surprising but powerful. The suffering of the furies at the thought of their proper vengeance thwarted provides a strange opposition to Russell’s hyperlogical quest.

This book is not for wussies, but it does have the potential to wake in students who have a mathematical or scientific bent an overwhelming desire to undertake an intellectual quest. I could see an AP Calculus class or even an AP Language and Composition class using this as a supplemental text, following Russell’s pursuit with heavy helpings of teacherly guidance. It’s rare that schools and education recognize that the search for knowledge need not be a dreary endeavor but can instead be true and heroic.

Highly Recommended for upper level high school or college students interested in mathematics or philosophy.

Authors: Apostolos Doxiadis and Christos H. Papadimitriou
Illustrator: Alecos Papadatos and Annie Di Donna
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Genre: Biography/Philosophy
Format: Softcover
Pages: 344
Color: Color
ISBN-10: 1596914521
ISBN-13: 978-1596914520


By Chris Wilson

Author & Illustrator: Jay Hosler
Publisher: Active Synapse
Genre: Science

Format: Softcover
Pages: 128
Color: Black and white
ISBN-13: 978-0-9677255-2-9

Who but Jay Hosler, Ph.D, would have dreamed up a scientific comic book about the eye? If you've read his other works, especially CLAN APIS, he's the first person that would come to mind. Is it boring? No. Actually, OPTICAL ALLUSIONS is a well-researched, highly effective graphic novel about the evolution of species, DNA, the scientific process of categorization, gene pools, and sexual dimorphisms all told within the context of the complexities of the different types of eyes.

Like I said, no one but Hosler would even attempt it. No surprise here, OPTICAL ALLUSIONS is a fantastic, albeit it dense, scientific comic-prose hybrid. Wrinkles the Wonder Brain works for three women with one eye to share between them. He loses the eye and must embark on a quest to find the eye and return it to his employers.

Like any great quest, Wrinkles must learn a thing or two before he can complete his goal. Learn he does. Unlike your science textbook, Hosler intertwines Greek mythology (as if you had not already pick up on that) science fiction and all manner of beast and body making the learning of science less like a biology lesson and more like an adventure in education.

The fiction is clearly fiction and the science is clearly science. There is no twisting the two together. What Hosler does is intertwine a piece of the tale into comic format, then he follows it up with a text-based narrative dense with scientific explanation, examples, charts, figures and all the sciency amenities.

We are left with a real science investigation that is clever, engaging and more importantly, understandable. It is a piece of comic-prose informational sharing that should make the National Science Foundation (who partially funded the effort) very proud.

Before I wrote this review, I called my friend Paul, the high school science teacher, and told him - nay I demanded - he borrow my copy. It didn't take much cajoling, as he was open to any approach that would engage his student in the process of investigation. He used it, chapter by chapter with his high school biology class. I cannot imagine teaching biology without having OPTICAL ALLUSIONS on my shelf.

Chris' Rating: High School and older


One scene finds Wrinkles holding a sperm in one hand and an egg in the other while demonstrating the difference between acquired traits and inherited traits. When he realizes what he is holding, Wrinkles asks for some hand sanitizer. Hosler's humor is hysterical, but you should be aware in case that bothers you for some reason.

This entire book screams “science classroom” on the high school and college level. There are so many scientific concepts inside that the biology teacher would be remiss in not using the book (or parts of it) in the classroom.

Highly Recommended

Saturday, November 7, 2009


From the Editor

Funny how first-year teaching really zaps it out of you. I haven’t had time to read comics too much since August. Writing lesson plans and sleeping have taken over, but I accept that fact and embrace it. It’s just that I miss reading my comics. I do, however, really enjoy watching the fourth graders enjoy reading so much. In fact, I’ve had a handful of new kids request to join the club in the last week. Several of them are girls, which I find wonderful.

On Monday the HALL OF HEROES comic book club at Mathews Elementary in Nixa, MO will convene. School was closed last Monday and I really missed seeing the kids. This week we are creating our own superhero personas. The question posed to kids (via my Facebook page and word-of-mouth) is this: If you were a superhero who would you be? Would you have super powers, gadgets, sidekicks? What would your costume look like? What would you do? How would you change the world? Where would you live? Who would be your enemy? (Actually, I just thought of the last question and will have to post on my Facebook page and present to the kids on Monday.)

Here are the titles that came in this week. Pay special attention to my favorite samurai rabbit, Usagi Yojimbo and the new Diary of a Wimpy Kid parody by Tales from the Crypt.



By Kevin Hodgson
Staff Writer

Poetry, with its use of imagery and word choice, is an interesting twist to the graphic novel format and this collection of two of Langston Hughes' poems – MOTHER TO SON and HARLEM NIGHT SONG – offer up a wonderful convergence of reader interpretation and the deep rhythm of Hughes' poetic voice. Put out by Scholastic and Rubicon Publishing, this book is part of a graphic poetry collection I think can have real value to the classroom. (Although the editors wisely note: "... we made many choices interpreting the poet's original language and ideas. Our hope is that these graphic poems will get you to see poetry – literally and figuratively – in a whole new way.")

The two poems in this particular book are quite different, although both capture Hughes' focus of Harlem, NY, as a teeming community of life, energy and hope. In the first poem, MOTHER TO SON, a working mother chides her son to keep pushing himself for a better life through education, reminding him that "Life for me ain't been no crystal stair." And the mother forcefully tells him: "So boy, don't you turn back!" The other poem, HARLEM NIGHT SONG, is of a different tenor altogether as Hughes seeks to capture the energy, music and vitality of Harlem, repeating the refrain "I love you" throughout the stanzas.

The artwork here by Martin Wittfoot is a nice match to the poetry of Langston Hughes, alternating between the serious and emotional voice in MOTHER TO SON and the playfulness with HARLEM NIGHT SONG. We see the pain of life and hardship on the mother's face as she talks to her son in the first and the reader is brought up on a rooftop tour of buildings in Harlem in the second. The images are colorful and meaningful.

This book is designed for the classroom and it has more than just the graphic poems here. The editors have thoughtfully included the two poems on their own, too, so that the reader can experience the poem as a graphic reading and by itself. The back of this book also has an overview of Langston Hughes' style of poetry and expands into his use of diction and tone for MOTHER TO SON, even pointing to pages to show examples of these terms.

Finally, there are a few follow-up activities for the reader, focusing the attention on the writing of a poem (suggesting the reader write a poem back to their own mother, for example). There is also a wonderful biography of Langston Hughes. Taken together, this one small book provides an entry into the world of Langston Hughes on many levels.

Format: Paperback
Pages: 48
Publisher: Rubicon, Scholastic (Canada) & Brightpoint (US)
ISBN: 978-1-55448-724-0

This book is highly appropriate for students in elementary through high school classrooms, particularly as an introduction to Langston Hughes. I would highly recommend this book for any classroom poetry collection. There is no profanity or violence in this poetry book.


By Larry Litle
Contributing Writer

Author: Scott Nickel
Illustrator: Andy J. Smith
Publisher: Stone Arch Books

Genre: Science fiction
Format: Library binding
Pages: 33
Color: Full color
ISBN-10: 1-59889-313-0
ISBN-13: 978-1-59889-313-7

Guided Reading Level: L
Lexile: GN 390L
ATOS Level: 2.3
AR Quiz No.: 112355
Dewey: 741.5


Buzz Beaker is the smartest kid in school; he is brilliant when it comes to science. Then Sarah Bellum, certified girl genius, starts school with Buzz and continues to show him up in academics. She even beats him at Dodge Ball. Sarah creates a Cosmic Copier that can make an exact duplicate of anything placed inside. When she tries to make a copy of Bobo, her pet Bat, it accidentally makes numerous copies. Sarah and Buzz have to work together to fix the problem of billions of bats.


This story is a wonderful way to demonstrate how we have to deal with change. Buzz prides himself on his grades and intellect, but finds himself learning to deal with someone smarter getting all the attention. He feels the jealously that comes from someone doing something better and it is a tough life lesson.

My daughter enjoyed the story saying it was very funny. She also appreciated that Sarah was smarter than Buzz.

The illustrators by Andy J. Smith are very kid-friendly, fun and help the story move along.

My Rating: Ages 7 to 10
Publisher’s Rating: Ages 8 to 10

This is a great story for the classroom of second to fourth graders. It helps kids think about change and what makes them special. It can also be used to help a class deal with a new kid in the class.

This story has a Reader’s Theater along with a teacher’s version. This allows it to be read allowed in class and discussed afterwards. The book does have questions at the end of the story and offers readers ideas to contemplate. It also has writing prompts and Internet sites.

I highly recommend this book for grades 2-4.