Thursday, December 23, 2010

HAPPY HOLIDAYS

From the editor,

Enjoy your break from school. We will return with reviews and articles in the new year.

GHOSTOPOLIS




By Chris Wilson
Editor-in-Geek

Second grade student, Brock, could barely contain himself when his fourth grade brother was accepted into the Hall of Heroes comic book club at my school. He wanted to read what his big brother got to read. At first, Roman lent Brock some comics, then Brock begged to be able to check out comics himself. 

A softy for the excited reader, I granted Brock access and he's been reading comics since late September. It was not until he grabbed up GHOSTOPOLIS that his inner writer kicked in. Something about the skeletons and magic and mysticalness of GHOSTOPOLIS fueled his spirit. He wanted to write. I told him if he wrote a book report then I would publish it. Two days later came the following handwritten report on a book that is meant for kids older than he. 


Reader of all forms (traditional and comic) Brock, grade 2, voluntarily wrote a
review of GHOSTOPOLIS for The Graphic Classroom

Click for larger image.


Receiving early praise from comics educators such as Kate Monin, GHOSTOPOLIS was also a huge hit with the Hall of Heroes members. They fought over it, traded it, read it together and checked it out with greased-pig speed. From both ends, this comic has found an audience. 

Nothing is left for us to do but to Highly Recommend it.


OTHER INFORMATION
Format: Softcover
Publisher's Recommended Age: Ages 10 and older
My Age Recommendation: Ages 10 and older (parent permission for younger kids)

HIRO: DRAGON WARRIOR




By Kevin Hodgson
Staff Writer


STORY REVIEW
This short graphic novel is one of a series that is being put out by Innovative Kids under the banner of Phonics Comics. HIRO: DRAGON WARRIOR tells the story of a young dragon, Hiro, who must learn the ancient ways of the Dragon Claw dojo (taught by the patient Master Fu). Hiro is sent on a quest by Master Fu to recover seven Power Jades that were once stolen by the nemesis, Master Gomi. Along the way, Hiro recruits his former bullies to become his allies and uses his new understanding of harnessing his fears and intelligence in the midst of battle.

While the story is predictable to anyone who has ever seen The Karate Kid, the story moves along at a brisk pace and we do cheer Hiro on when he confronts the enemy and has to use his wits to survive. HIRO: DRAGON WARRIOR is a perfect book for a beginning reader, who will surely be hooked by the pint-sized dragon who overcomes the odds. The second volume of the series – BATTLE AT MOUNT KAMADO – continues the quest for the other lost Power Jades, and I expect there must be a handful more HIRO:DRAGON WARRIOR books in the pipeline. Unlike some of the other novels in this Phonics Comics line that I have bought for my young son where the story seems secondary to the art, HIRO:DRAGON WARRIOR is coherent and easy to understand.


ART REVIEW
The book is colorful and simply drawn, with enough energy to excite and spur on even reluctant readers. Illustrator Robbie Short doesn’t break any new ground here, nor should he. Hiro and his band of young dragons are cute, and even Master Gomi, the villain, is not all that scary. It’s a nice mix of cartoonish illustrations in a graphic novel setting.


IN THE CLASSROOM
Since this series is designed around phonics, there are plenty of ways HIRO: DRAGON WARRIOR could become a popular staple of a classroom library. I liked that the publishers provided a list of words on the last page of the book that are considered challenging for the reading level and also a list of sight words that readers should see frequently enough to know on sight. The editors also provide a nice introduction to the phonics-based graphic novel at the start of the book, which I think can be beneficial to parents who are reading HIRO: DRAGON WARRIOR with their children.


MORE INFORMATION
Reading level: Ages 4-8
Format: Paperback
Pages: 24
Publisher: Innovative Kids
ISBN-10: 1584766166
ISBN-13: 978-1584766162


MY RECOMMENDATION
This graphic novel is perfect for the emerging reader and I would highly recommend it.

INTRODUCING KAFKA




Ellen Ma
Staff Writer

I’m starting to see introducingbooks.com as one of my new favorite visual guides into literature. But of course, other great topics offered are psychology, science, politics, semiotics, sociology, religions, linguistics, cultural studies, gender studies, economics, anthropology, and philosophy. The list within each topic is obviously still growing, and I was very impressed when I got my hands on INTRODUCING KAFKA.



STORY REVIEW
David Zane Mairowitz does a great blend of writing Kafka’s biography and his own work together within this graphic novel. The storyline lets the reader see when Kafka’s work emerged and what he was thinking or going through during that time that could have inspired him to write. This is a very insightful way of understanding one’s writing process, particularly Kafka’s since his work could be perceived as being derived of the norm when he had lived.




ART REVIEW
I’ve heard from a few people that Robert Crumb’s art is slightly disturbing or has an unattractive appeal, but I feel his art fits with this particular graphic novel rather well. Crumb’s artwork is very sharp and detailed in black and white. I’d say that the artwork is equally as detailed as the text, and this graphic novel definitely requires the reader to read both the text and image at the same time for the full explanation.



AGE RECOMMENDATION
Middle school – college



BE AWARE
There are a few sexual and violent images, but nothing that strays away from the purpose of the story.



IN THE CLASSROOM
INTRODUCING KAFKA is a great in-to graphic novel in regards to reading any of Kafka’s work and understanding who Kafka was as a man and writer. Perhaps the other strength with this graphic novel is exploring how writers, in general, find inspiration. This could be translated toward students who struggle to find a worthy or interesting topic in their own writing.  Just having a discussion about the writing process can perhaps help students think where they can draw their own inspiration.



OTHER INFORMATION
Author: David Zane Mairowitz

Illustrator: Robert Crumb

Publisher: Icon Books

Pages: 75 pages

ISBN-10: 1-84046-787-8

ISBN-13: 978-1840467-87-1


MY RECOMMENDATION
Recommended

READING COMICS: HOW GRAPHIC NOVELS WORK AND WHAT THEY MEAN




By Ellen Ma
Staff Writer


STORY REVIEW
READING COMICS is another great source to turn to in regards to both instructors and students who aren’t as familiar with graphic novels. Not only does Douglas Wolk discuss the theory and history of comics, but he also has a number of essays discussing different comic book writers and artists: Will Eisner, Frank Miller, and Alan Moore, just to name a few. I found these essays to be the most interesting and noteworthy aspect of this book, since the essays can work well as an in-to activity for both instructors and students not familiar with looking at the analytical aspects within a graphic novel. Since Wolk has provided specific analysis within the essays, taking a page or two from the actual graphic novel, he explains what the writer/artist is trying to convey. Overall, the essays are great models that can serve as helpful thinking and writing tools within the classroom.



ART REVIEW
The book does provide frames from different comics here and there to supplement certain points that are being made.



AGE RECOMMENDATION
My Rating: Middle school to college


IN THE CLASSROOM
The first part of this book (Theory and History) is definitely something to be considered, particularly with the beginning section: What Comics Are and What They Aren’t. Wolk’s sub-section “Explaining Myself to a Straw Man” let’s the reader understand the purpose of the book and he further discusses how he defines comics.

As mentioned earlier, the individual essays can also be used as other readings to go along with a graphic novel. Though keep in mind that these essays might probably work better if the graphic novel was of the same writer/artist.


OTHER INFORMATION
Author: Douglas Wolk Publisher: Da Capo Press
Pages: 405 ISBN-10: 0-306-81509-5 ISBN-13: 978-0-36-81509-6


MY RECOMMENDATION
Recommended

ATHENA: GREY-EYED GODDESS





By Chris Wilson
Editor-in-Geek


STORY SUMMARY
Gather round children and hark the tales of the goddess Athena spun by the sisters three known as the Moirae. The Fates, as they are otherwise known, sit and weave the tapestry of all lives and narrate the highlights of the goddess’ existence: Athena’s tumultuous origin story; how she came to take the name Pallas and obtained Zeus’ aegis, forevermore using reason over emotion; her epic battle with the Gigantes; Athena’s punishment of Medusa after the priestess’ desecration of the Athenian temple and then Perseus’ gift of the gorgon’s head to Athena; and finally Athena’s weaving competition with Arachne and the ensuring wrath over the mortal’s insolence.


REVIEW
Continuity is such a beautiful thing for a reader and I give copious amounts of kudos to publisher First Second for ensuring that writer/illustrator George O’Connor stayed on for this second book in the Olympians series.

It makes a difference.

In my review of the first of the Olympian series, ZEUS: KING OF THE GODS, I commented that O’Connor left me with many unanswered questions, making me want to read and know more; I am sure students will be the same. As I’d hoped and predicted, O’Connor continues the stories and answers some –– but not all –– of my questions. Finally, we can find out what happened to Metis. It does not bode well for Metis, unfortunately, but it is not a fact that should come to a surprise to anyone who knows Zeus. He did overthrow his own father after all.

The narration in this story is different from the Zeus story. ATHENA: GREY-EYED GODDESS is comprised of several stories of the goddess with identified narrators, but this fact does not detract from the series continuity. The approach makes the stories connected but varied so as to give each god or goddess his or her due.

As before, O’Connor gives the reader insight into the process of adapting the stories into comic format. He addresses the age of the stories, the conflicting accounts and his reasons for his approach. He also provides interesting endnotes categorized by page and panel. I love it: the maps, the essay, the endnotes, the character sheets, and the story. I just love the whole dang thing. It is Greek myth done very well.



ART REVIEW
O’Connor art is so distinct and unique it would be easy to see a page of his work and identify it as his without any trouble. It is attractive. His characters are moderately detailed while his backgrounds are sparse. His color work is reminiscent of the comics of yesteryear. His art approach highlights the characters in such a way as to guide the reader’s eye and mind toward them and not the backgrounds and keeps the reader from being distracted or confused by too much detail.



AGE RECOMMENDATION
Chris’ Rating: Ages 9 and older
Publisher’s Rating: Ages 9-14


BE AWARE
It’s Greek myth and that means there are battles and births and gods.


IN THE CLASSROOM
For upper elementary or middle school kids interested in Greek myth, this series is excellent. For high school students, the Olympians series would be a nice companion. Themes of the number three, treachery and trickery, the struggle for power, and the use of myth as the cautionary tale are all easily identifiable.

A teacher’s guide (pdf) is available from the publisher’s website. It offers book-specific questions (by page and panel) as well as bigger questions based on the entire series.


OTHER INFORMATION
Author & Illustrator: George O’Connor
Publisher: First Second
Genre: Greek Myth

Format: Paperback (hardback available)
Volume: Olympians series volume 2
Pages: 80
Color: Full color
ISBN-13: 978-1-59643-432-5



CHRIS’ RECOMMENDATION:
Highly Recommended

Sunday, December 19, 2010

REVIEWERS NEED HOLIDAYS TOO

From the editor,

In celebration of the holiday season, we will publish a few reviews and articles next week which should last you, our faithful readers, until the new year. We teacher-reader-writers need our time off just like the rest of the educational world. Although we often spend a lot of the Christmas break reading and writing reviews so we don't have to during school, not publishing while on break is helpful.

If you get a chance, leave a comment letting the volunteer staff writers how much you appreciate their time and dedication to the comics-in-education movement. Praise and free comics are their only pay and they are richly deserved.

May your holiday be restful and rejuvenating, giving you the energy you need to fill more minds with comic goodness in 2011.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

WONDER WOMAN: THE CIRCLE and ENDS OF THE EARTH

Wonder Woman: The Circle


Wonder Woman: The Ends of the Earth



By Chris Wilson
Editor-in-Geek


REVIEW
Wonder Woman is one of my all time favorite mainstream comic book characters. The search for strong female characters, after all, was the driving force behind my decision to read comics in the first place. I’ve always loved the idea of comic book characters, but I was not a comic reader as a kid for two reasons: The nasty not-real-reading stereotype, and the off-putting art styles of the 70s and 80s. Why were so many walls, tights and other various things pink? Pink!

Despite my dislike of the art, I was into the characters, the ideas, the story. With towel tightly knotted around my throat, I once asked my mother if she would like me better if I could fly. I thought the woman was off her nut when she answered in the negative because in my mind any person was better if he could fly. I mean, duh. Moms say the weirdest things. 

Females have not always, traditionally, been written so well in the comic book industry. They have often been written as being weak, pitiful or in a perpetual state of love-struck idiocy. At the very least, it sometimes seems many of our female supers are afterthoughts to the industry. I have a friend who buys SUPERGIRL for his fourth grade daughter despite the fact that he loudly laments the writing as incoherent and inconsistent. He buys it anyway because she likes it. I suppose it is the right of every child to like garbage whether it is on television or in print. I loved KNIGHT RIDER and THE A-TEAM as a kid. I enjoy reading about powerful women.

My comic guy, knowing my desire to promote strong female characters in comics, makes sure to point me towards great girl titles. On his recommendation I picked up BATGIRL and I went nuts. I’m still subscribing to that title and enjoying every minute of it. He also directed me toward writer Gail Simone (SECRET SIX and WONDER WOMAN).

After I purchased my first two volumes of WONDER WOMAN hardcovers (The Circle and The Ends of the Earth) I got right to work. Not only is Simone’s WONDER WOMAN a beautiful title, but scribe Gail Simone may very well be my favorite comics writer. Her layered storytelling is classic in structure moving between the modern story and Wonder Woman’s hostile birth, all the while peppered with subplots and references to other times, other battles, other people.

Simone treats her subject seriously and reverently without glorifying the conflicted Amazonian beyond humanity. Wonder Woman is at once a woman, a warrior and a philosopher. She is introspective and reflective, classy and charming, yet authoritative and unstoppable. It is Princess Diana’s warrior code that intrigues me the most. She is not a sanctimonious “boy scout” nor is she an antihero. Princess Diana, is an honest character capable of understanding her enemy, extend an olive branch to her enemy, or obliterating her enemy depending on the circumstances. She is a true warrior with a code that is reflective of honor.

It is Wonder Woman’s warrior code that makes her such an admirable hero to study. In the beginning of Ends of the Earth, Diana treks through an icy netherworld, hunted by pack of wolf-creatures. She subdues them easily with her lasso and then realizes the extent of the creature’s torment. An animal lover and vegetarian, Diana also recognizes their need to be freed. “The lasso soothes them, momentarily. But otherwise, they know nothing but agony and fear. They’re begging for release, before they lose their way and turn on each other. A pack to the end,” she thought. With Hephaestus’ gift she ended their long suffering though it hurt her to do it.

Neither weak nor ostentatious, Wonder Woman is diplomatic even when faced with an overweening Beowulf who places his hands upon her wrist in an obvious authoritative move. “I warn you sire,” she says respectfully, “but I will not be handled.” She then grips her hilt.

While The Dragon (a name she was given at birth by a trusted comrade turned enemy) can and will destroy a foe, she fights with a code that few can hold: “Don’t kill if you can wound. Don’t wound if you can subdue. Don’t subdue if you can pacify, and don’t raise your hand at all until you’ve first extended it.” In the eyes of some, such strength and character may give Wonder Woman the stereotype of angry female activist. She understands such labels strong women receive and curtly speaks about it: “Why is it that people feel a belief in woman equals a hatred of man?”

Ideological and pragmatic, Wonder Woman is capable of incorporating her peaceful philosophies into her militarist duty. The Amazon is a woman who is hard and soft, strong and empathetic, commanding and diplomatic, invincible and vulnerable. She is the epitome of what many women strive for. She is a hero –– a wonderful woman.


ART REVIEW
The art between issues is subtly varied as different artists worked on different issues within each volume. The panel layout is brilliant, pulling the reader through the flashbacks with ease. Some panel frames are exquisitely detailed with scrolling ivy, wolf heads and dragons, reflecting the fantasy otherworld that Diana is forced to endure.

I did find that Wonder Woman’s legs and boots were often too sparsely shaded or soft, giving the feel of clown shoes rather than warrior’s boots. I would not recommend the Princess look like a modern female body builder, ripping with muscles. I prefer a more female look. However, I think her legs could use a bit more sculpting. I am thankful that her stiletto heals were replaced with practical, flat-soled boots fitting an authentic warrior.


AGE RECOMMENDATION
Chris’ Rating: Ages 13 and older

It is not that WONDER WOMAN is inappropriate for younger readers; it is just that the story is complex enough that younger readers might really struggle with comprehension.


BE AWARE
There are no inappropriate words, but there is superhero violence. Wonder Woman is dressed like Wonder Woman. That is to say, she is in a swim suit-style uniform. She is not, in my mind, over-sexualized or inappropriate. I would allow my 10-year-old to read these books.


IN THE CLASSROOM
There are two story arcs each in both volumes. That gives the teacher four stories from which to build a lesson. The first arc in The Circle details Diana’s birth as well as a modern attack on her home island. The second arc follows Wonder Woman’s courtship of soldier Tom Tresser with the Department of Metahuman Affairs. At the same time, Wonder Woman is needed on another planet to stop an invasion. The catch? The people being invaded are themselves invaders of planets.

The first arc in Ends of the Earth continues with the courtship of Tom, but their relationship is complicated by the fact that his superior wants Tom to spy on Diana Prince and report back. While this occurs, Diana finds a stranger in her office at the Department of Metahuman affairs. When the Amazon lasso’s him to unlock his soul, she finds he has no soul. The depths of his void and blood lust are endless and she experiences it all. She finds herself sucked into a mythical world where she meets Beowulf and they work to defeat the devil. Through this fantasy story, the reader discovers the character of Wonder Woman. The last arc is a humorous yarn about an attempt to make a Hollywood flop “about” Wonder Woman. It’s merely a ruse for a sinster enemy to try to destroy Diana.

Not only should students read these for enjoyment, but they should study the outstanding narrative structure. How does Simone tell her layered stories while still keeping the reader? Who is Wonder Woman? How does she define women? This tale is at home for a feminist study of modern women in literature and pop culture. How does this portrayal differ from other movies, comics or books? Is Wonder Woman a feminist, a pacifist, an activist? How has Wonder Woman evolved over the years? Is she a role model for girls and women? Do you admire her or criticize her? Why?


OTHER INFORMATION
Author: Gail Simone
Illustrators: Bernard Chang, Rachel Dodson, Terry Dodson, Aaron Lopresti, and Matt Ryan
Publisher: DC Comics
Genre: Super hero

Volume: The Circle
Format: Hardcover
Issues: #14 - #19
Pages: 160
Color: Full color
ISBN-13: 978-1-4012-1932-1

Volume: Ends of the Earth
Format: Hardcover
Issues: #20 - #25
Pages: 144
Color: Full color
ISBN-13: 978-1-4012-2136-2

Both volumes are also available in softcover editions.


CHRIS’ RECOMMENDATION:
Highly Recommended
Wonder Woman is the epitome of womanhood and her stories are superheroic and yet still human and real. 

BINKY TO THE RESCUE



By Chris Wilson
Editor-in-Geek


STORY REVIEW
One November evening our old college theater friends decided to go back to the Alma Mater to see a performance of the musical production Company. As social and outgoing as I am, there are days, weekends – entire weeks actually – that I simply can not bear being bothered by hoards of people even people for whom I have a strong affection. One couple drove almost four hours to attend and did not have childcare. So I volunteered to watch the toddler, who slept the entire evening, and the 7-year-old.

Sam and I played the requisite Wii marathon full of Lego Indiana Jones and Lego Star Wars. He looked at my samurai sword and my old toys. As midnight approached we sat on the couch together, my 7-pound Yorkie-Bichon mix sprawled over Sam’s legs, and we read comics.

Sam lives sans canines but has cats, so I pulled down the only cat comic I had at home –– a book I had been meaning to read and this seemed the right time. Just as I guessed, BINKY TO THE RESCUE was a hit.

Binky is a space cat (average house cat) living on a space station (a normal human home) and is charged with protecting the indigenous population (his humans) from alien invasions (bugs, bees, flies and whatnot). He takes his job quite seriously.

One day he accidentally fell through a space hatch (window) and was trapped in outer space (the yard). Fortunately, Binky procured an oxygen source (water hose) before he was attacked by space aliens (bees) protecting their mother ship (bee hive). In his haste toward safety (the house) Binky left behind his only team member (stuffed toy mouse). As any good military officer knows, you cannot leave a comrade behind. Binky conceived and executed many plans to save Mouse, most of which were thwarted by the ignorant humans. 

Even nearing midnight, Sam giggled his way through the comic. In Captain Underpants fashion, Sam broke out in hysteria every time Binky tooted –– and Binky tooted a lot. Sam delighted in each attempt Binky made to save Mousie.

BINKY TO THE RESCUE is as adorable and priceless as the first book in the series. It is a tad long for a book for little ones, but is worth every darling little page turn. BINKY just makes you want to own a cat or more cats. 


ART REVIEW
BINKY has a very muted color palette that reminds me of many of the old Winnie the Pooh stories. The illustrations carry semi-detailed backgrounds without clutter making it easily accessible to young brains.


AGE RECOMMENDATION
Chris’ Rating: Ages 7 and older
Publisher’s Rating: Ages 7 to 10


IN THE CLASSROOM
BINKY is all about the coexistence of play-pretend and real life. I can see a lower grades teacher using a document camera to display BINKY on the wall and use it as a real aloud. I would certainly stop periodically and ask students to predict what will happen next. To incorporate writing, the students could even write what will happen next. Then back at the carpet to find out what really happened.

Older elementary students, grades 3-4, could even create their own pet comics using BINKY as an example. To further the classroom curriculum, the students could be required to use one or more of their weekly spelling words into the narrative. This allows the teacher to check those vocabulary words for both spelling and context, while also supporting other Com Arts standards.


OTHER INFORMATION
Author & Illustrator: Ashley Spires
Publisher: Kids Can Press
Genre: Animal Fantasy

Format: Hardcover
Volume: 2
Pages: 64
Color: Full color
ISBN-10:
ISBN-13: 978-1-55453-502-6


CHRIS’ RECOMMENDATION:
Highly Recommended

Sunday, December 5, 2010

TRON: BETRAYAL




By Kevin Hodgson
Staff Writer


STORY SUMMARY
Disney is seeking to bridge the story gaps between its two Tron movies with this graphic novel, TRON: BETRAYAL. My gut instinct was to resist the hype, but I have to say that this story stood up fine on its own, for the most part. This graphic novel by writer Jai Nitz is touted as a prequel to the movie, Tron: Legacy, and is designed to show how the virtual world moved forward with advancements and then started to fall apart when new elements were randomly introduced (through the computer-created species of Isomorphs). The world's “creator,” Kevin Flynn (played by actor Jeff Bridges in the movie), is caught between the stresses of his real world (where the birth of his son, Sam, is balanced by the unfortunate death of his wife) and the world of the virtual reality Grid, where the designed order of the world is being threatened by chaos. 

There are times when the story veered off on strange tangents, and I was scratching my head here and there, but I was thankful for a narrative trope that really worked: an ongoing comparison of the virtual world to Rome, which rose and then fell with similar brilliance.  TRON: BETRAYAL works best for readers with some knowledge of the first Tron movie, but that's not necessary. If you can envision a world inside your computer that has its own rules and structure, then TRON: BETRAYAL is sure to engage you as a reader.


ARTWORK
I thought the art here in TRON: BETRAYAL was engaging, as artist Andie Tong really uses dark blue hues and bright whites, and angled frames to show us the virtual world that Kevin Flynn has created, and which he returns to when he can. The scenes of the games being played in the virtual world, while visually delightful, were all too often too confusing for me to follow, as they often arrived on a page with little context. I cared less about the games in the Grid, and more about the personalities of power playing out in the virtual world.





IN THE CLASSROOM
There are going to be those geeky kids who will eat up any and all version Tron, including this book, and there will be those who won't have anything to do with it. This book is for the former, for sure. I do find it interesting that the story of virtual worlds and video gaming coincide here, and an interesting discussion might revolve around how far technology has taken us and where it is going.


MORE INFORMATION
Reading level: Ages 9-12
Format: Paperback
Pages: 128 pages
Publisher: Disney Press
ISBN-10: 142313463X
ISBN-13: 978-1423134633


MY RECOMMENDATION
I recommend this book but, honestly, it is for a select audience. I imagine high school students (OK, boys) will be the likely audience for this story. The narrative device of moving from real to virtual worlds may be too confusing for middle school readers, and most certainly will be difficult reading for elementary students.

THE LIGHTNING THIEF





By Kevin Hodgson
Staff Writer


STORY SUMMARY
I imagine any middle school or high school reader with an eye towards mythological books or movies know the basic plot of THE LIGHTNING THIEF, a best-selling novel by Rick Riordan that was turned into a Hollywood movie last year. Percy Jackson, the half-blood son of Poseidon, must find and return Zeus' stolen thunderbolt before an epic battle between the Greek gods erupts, causing mayhem and destruction on Earth and Olympus. Now Robert Venditti has turned the novel that became a movie into a graphic novel.

I have some bias here, since I loved the book (and was not quite as smitten by the movie) and have taught it as a novel to my sixth graders. While the graphic novel is good, it just doesn't hold up to the book. Like the movie, the graphic novel never quite gets the reader in the head of Percy Jackson, whose narrative voice holds the entire story together. And, in a move to condense the story, the graphic novel jumps through events or leaves them out altogether (what, no Medusa?). This is not a bad book; it's just that I think THE LIGHTNING THIEF is a story made for an engaging graphic interpretation, and this one falls short.


ART REVIEW
The strongest element here is the artwork by Attila Futaki and Jose Villarrubia, particularly when Percy is having his dreams that lay the foreshadowing for the story unfolding all around him. There is an eerie quality to these moments. And the Oracle of Delphi is quite unsettling, as she should be. The panes of the graphic novel quiver with strangeness. The Underworld and Olympus, floating high above New York City, are also impressive.





IN THE CLASSROOM
I imagine there are quite a few of my students who will line up to read this book, and you may have those same students in your classroom. It would be interesting to have a three-way comparison between the novel, the movie and this graphic novel –– all have some differences, and to make those differences visible would be an interesting assignment for lovers of The Olympians series.


MORE INFORMATION
Reading level: Ages 9-12
Format: Paperback
Pages: 128
ISBN-10: 1423117107
ISBN-13: 978-1423117100


MY RECOMMENDATION
I recommend this book for upper elementary and middle school classrooms, but not as a replacement for the original novel. It can be a nice supplement. There is some violence in the story, as Percy and his friends battle monsters, but nothing too alarming.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

TRICKSTER: NATIVE AMERICAN TALES



By Chris Wilson
Editor-in-Geek


STORY SYNOPSIS
TRICKSTER: NATIVE AMERICAN TALES is an anthology of authentic cultural stories from 21 indigenous tribes representing various geographic regions. The stories focus on the Trickster, a cultural icon in the Native American oral tradition.  

From the jacket: “Meet the Trickster, a crafty creature or being who disrupts the order of things, often humiliating others and sometimes himself in the process. Whether a coyote or rabbit, raccoon or raven, Tricksters use cunning to get food, steal precious possessions, or simply cause mischief.”


REVIEW
TRICKSTER: NATIVE AMERICAN TALES is the single best graphic collection of Native American folklore I have ever encountered.

Oftentimes attempts to bring indigenous stories to the masses end up with nothing more than culturally insensitive, stereotyped, sanctimonious tripe. When Matt Dembicki decided to create an anthology of comic-adapted Native American tales, he focused his efforts on three aspects: sensitivity, authenticity and storytelling.

Knowing the pitfalls of other attempts, Dembicki first located authentic tribal storytellers from geographically diverse tribes across the US and created a relationship with them. In keeping with the oral tradition, those storytellers conveyed their tales in their own way. Dembicki explained that some chose to scribe their stories and mail them to him while others dictated the stories over the phone. “The way they tell the stories is the way it was presented,” said Dembicki.

He then examined each story and storyteller’s voice and created a list of prospective artists whose style would match up with the oral story. Dembicki then presented that list of 3-5 artists, with samples of their work, to the storytellers.

In what seemed a rather surprising but collaborative effort, Dembicki gave the storyteller the final choice of artist. Giving editorial control over to the storyteller allows the reader to experience the cultural roots of the tribal story. In a back-and-forth process, the artist would send sketches to the storyteller to ensure accuracy and authenticity. The storyteller would make suggestions or comments. Not all of the art spoke to me as a reader, but the knowledge that the artist was purposefully chosen and the art was continuously verified for accuracy gave me a strong sense of respect for and connection to the tribe and its identity.




The art varies greatly in TRICKSTER, depending on the story, culture and purpose of the story. Above are a few examples of the different art styles.


The entire process took Dembicki four years, but it is a worthy four years. The outcome is an authentic and culturally sensitive volume telling the tales of a varied culture in a way that is accessible to children and adults. Some stories are obviously intended to teach young Native American children certain rules or lessons. Others are origin stories describing how the stars came to be or why the rabbit has a short tale. All of them have aspects for adults that will be lost on children. The art is as diverse as the tribes or the storytelling, which adds to the breadth of the varied native cultures represented. The audience is reflected in that diversity.

Every classroom that is charged with studying culture – elementary, middle school or high school or college – should stock a copy of TRICKSTER: NATIVE AMERICAN TALES.


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


IN THE CLASSROOM
The study of various cultures is included in state and national standards. Oftentimes, Native American cultures are only lightly taught and it is often, unintentionally, culturally insensitive, especially when Native American studies are combined with Thanksgiving. A Skype session, email or letter exchange, blog conversation or Facebook discussion with some of these storytellers –– many of whom make a living retelling their tribes’ stories –– would be an authentic approach to understanding Native American culture and help the students understand the implications of the comic folktales in the anthology.


OTHER INFORMATION
Editor: Matt Dembicki
Authors: Various
Illustrators: Various
Publisher: Fulcrum Books
Genre: Folklore

Format: Paperback
Pages: 232
Color: Full color
ISBN-13: 978-1-55591-724-1


CHRIS’ RECOMMENDATION:
Highly Recommended

RED TED AND THE LOST THINGS



By Chris Wilson
Editor-in-Geek


STORY SUMMARY
The cuddly and sweater-clad Red Ted finds himself in the lost-and-found at the train station. Unlike the other toys, he is not content to sit on the shelf and await rescue. He and his fearful crocodile inmate hopped off the shelf and sojourned through the busy city streets trying to get back to Stevie. Cat, who does as she pleases, decides she will help the two find Stevie.  On their way they meet an enormous barking dog –– enormous to them anyway –– Crocodile shows his teeth and scares the dog away. Eventually, Red Ted finds Stevie and everyone gets a new home that serves cheese, naturally.


REVIEW
RED TED is the COURDUROY-meets-PETER RABBIT for the 21st Century –– a timeless bear story that children will never tire of. RED TED is delicate and soft with the faintest hints of suspense and surprise that will imprint itself on the lives of future adults. It is a story that this generation’s children will buy for their children and their grandchildren.


ART REVIEW
The soft green, blue and red-brown colors of the characters are subtly accentuated by the monochromatic backgrounds. The ink work ever so delicately outlines only three characters: Red Ted, Crocodile and Stevie. Everything and everyone else is outlined with the same color as the background palette. Joel Stewart’s technique makes for the quaintest storytelling that humbly emphasizes the protagonists.


AGE RECOMMENDATION
Chris’ Rating: Emergent reader and older
Publisher’s Rating: Preschool and older


IN THE CLASSROOM
RED TED provides a solid story for teachers to build reading motivation, comprehension and fluency in emergent readers. The basic elements of fiction (setting, character and plot) along with basic reading strategies (inferences, predictions, etc.) are ripe for the emergent reader to learn and understand.


OTHER INFORMATION
Author: Michael Rosen
Illustrator: Joel Stewart
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Genre: Animal Fantasy

Pages: 40
Color: Full color
ISBN-10:
ISBN-13: 978-0-7636-4537-3


CHRIS’ RECOMMENDATION:
Highly Recommended

Saturday, November 20, 2010

BUILDING BETTER READERS WITH GRAPHIC STORYTELLING


By Peter Gutiérrez
Reading with Pictures

(EDITOR’S NOTE: This article was originally written for a Reading with Pictures project and was intended as a brief rationale for using comic literature to teach reading skills in the classroom. This article and accompanying artwork is free to reproduce by not-for-profit endeavors.)

To those who have witnessed graphic novels come of age over the past generation, their ability to enhance reading skills, and literacy skills more broadly, should come as no surprise. After all, most rich works of art in a sufficiently sophisticated medium will provide texts that readers must decode linguistically, symbolically, and narratively. And these days there’s little doubt about the legitimacy of comics and graphic novels as a robust art form.

Some of these literacy benefits may emerge spontaneously for middle and high school students. Others require that specific attention be paid to them—either by adult facilitators or students who have some meta-cognitive awareness of their own approach to reading. With this in mind, the following reading skills and strategies are offered, presented in a roughly ascending order according to Bloom’s Taxonomy.

SUMMARIZING
At any point students can take a break in reading and verbally summarize what they’ve read up until then, a practice that both supports and assesses comprehension. The neat thing about comics is that the visuals can scaffold this process by aiding the recall of events and their sequence completely apart from the content of the print text. For example, you can ask students to scan the previous page, spread or section for a few seconds (or more, depending upon the text and the student) using the artwork as a prompt.

VOCABULARY
This is an area where research has shown the clear advantage of graphic storytelling in that young people are more likely to encounter new words, and words at a higher reading level, than when reading comparable texts for their age level. My own classroom experience confirms one important reason why graphic novels are so potent when it comes to vocabulary acquisition: in addition to providing the print-based context clues that prose works provide, they also provide visual context clues. Still, this is a two-way street—without explicit instruction, some below-level readers are likely to ignore unfamiliar words because they feel that the artwork helps “fill in the gaps” in their understanding of the print text. 

MAKING PREDICTIONS/STRUCTURE
As with any extended narrative, stories told in comics form provide opportunities for readers to pause and reflect on where the story has been and where it might be headed. Graphic novels provide a powerful way to leverage this comprehension strategy because of their naturally occurring and easily recognizable structural breaks. Indeed, effective storytellers often exploit the most common of such breaks by using the “page flip” to both conceal unexpected plot points and then dramatically reveal them when they do occur. Coach students not to turn pages so quickly but rather stop and ask what will they think will transpire in the spread they’re about to encounter. In addition, graphic novels that are collections of serialized stories, such as Watchmen, allow readers to make predictions about upcoming events on the chapter level. Many such sections will therefore end with cliffhangers whose entire purpose is to encourage readers to speculate on future story developments.


Richly developed teen characters populate the graphic novel KATMAN, and their interior states are partly conveyed by an art-within-art device in which the protagonist Kit is depicted as a fictional manga character created by Jess. Note the effective use of the page-flip: the odd-numbered right-hand page ends with a moment that's perfect for readers to make a prediction ––"What do you think Jess will reveal?"––and the following left-hand page provides the answer. (KATMAN © Kevin Pyle. Used by permission.)


SPEAKING AND LISTENING
Wordless passages in graphic novels present a unique platform to practice oral language. Simply have a reader verbally narrate such a section, providing exposition and dialogue as necessary. If working in a group, others can be instructed to listen closely and then to express what they would change in their own narration of the passage. THE ARRIVAL by Shaun Tan, a 2008 YALSA “Best Book for Young Adults,” is an entire graphic novel without words. Furthermore, Stephen Cary’s book GOING GRAPHIC presents a variety of comics-based activities that support the oral language skills of English Language Learners—most of which could apply to native speakers as well.

TEXT TYPE
If one looks closely enough, one finds that graphic fiction presents a wide range of text types, from in-art labels/signs to detailed maps, that can form the basis for reinforcing the formal aspects of such texts. And let’s not forget facsimiles of newspaper headlines and columns—after all, consider the occupations of both Clark Kent and Peter Parker. Also, graphic nonfiction routinely presents cutaway diagrams, timelines, charts, and so on, and does so in a meaningful, often interdisciplinary, context.

POINT OF VIEW
Graphic novels might seem open to criticism for their lack of interiority, a distinguishing feature of effective prose whether in novels or first-person nonfiction—the reader’s sense of being “in” the narrative via a point-of-view character. That’s because graphic storytelling shows the protagonist, who therefore appears as “external” and makes reader identification more difficult. Comics commonly give readers access to internal states though the device of thought bubbles. A fun activity, then, is to shift point-of-view in the middle of a reading by asking, “If we drew a thought bubble above Character X’s head, what would he or she be thinking?” At a more advanced level of literature study, readers can explore how well-regarded first-person works such as AMERICAN BORN CHINESE, MAUS, and PERSEPOLIS convey subjectivity (i.e., composition, visual symbolism, and the metaphoric use of black and white, respectively).


Another outstanding example of contemporary graphic literature about adolescence is REFRESH, REFRESH, whose theme is the impact of war on families and teens. Rather than employ thought bubbles or narrative captions to express a character's inner feelings, the storytelling uses the compositional space metaphorically to suggest isolation and loneliness. In addition, the in-story use of a different text forma––e-mail––provides an elegant way for readers to get a sense of a son's longing for his absent father. (REFRESH, REFRESH © Danica Novgorodoff, Benjamin Percy, and James Ponsoldt. Used by permission.)


CONCLUDING THOUGHTS: GENRE & THEME
For many years it was common to equate graphic storytelling with a single genre—superheroes. Fortunately, that’s no longer the case and those who look to the medium to help foster a lifelong love of independent reading know that they can offer young people works of merit in genres that range from memoir to mystery, from romance to reportage. In addition, such graphic titles can enrich instruction of traditional literature by approaching its themes with different emphases and from fresh angles. The selections in James Bucky Carter’s NCTE book Building Literacy with Graphic Novels makes just these sorts of connections between canon works such as Beowulf, Oliver Twist, and The Scarlet Letter and graphic novels by acclaimed creators. In addition, popular titles can reinforce or allude to motifs and themes from canon lit (Moby Dick in BONE) and classical mythology (X-MEN), providing motivation for students to explore the literary sources that the creators used as touchstones. 

The important thing to keep in mind is that any graphic work does not automatically bestow tremendous literacy benefits for every young reader. Rather, one needs to expose readers to quality texts that are age-appropriate. Then again, that’s what one would expect from a mature medium with a diversity subject matter and creators. After all, handing a young person any book at all is probably a step in the right direction, but when worthy titles are supported by medium-specific strategies such as those outlined above… well, that’s when magic can take place.

Peter Gutiérrez writes on graphica and education for publications such as BookShelf, School Library Journal, and Graphic Novel Reporter. He can be found on Twitter at @Peter_Gutierrez  or by email at fiifgutierrez@gmail.com.