Sunday, August 29, 2010


By Chris Wilson

The superheroes of old have moved into their twilight and handed the reins to the next generation, but those new heroes do not possess the guiding principals of what it means to be a hero leaving them to squabble and destroy one another in a pathetic power struggle. The old guard must come to grips with their mistakes and regrets to bring the world back into balance.

I feel excitedly overpowered, if not pathetically ill prepared, to review KINGDOM COME with its religious overtones, political allegory and social commentary. What makes KINGDOM COME special is the fact that it can be deconstructed with so many lenses and viewpoints. The narrative is simultaneously apropos in the political science, religion, sociology, psychology, war history, philosophy, gerontology and, of course, the literature classroom. It would take a master’s thesis to explain the implications of KINGDOM COME, which is what makes it so beautiful and wonderful.

Such intricacies, while too much for the meager review, demonstrate the importance of comics to literature, to our society, and to our own sense of self. KINGDOM COME is important to civilization because it taps into us in relevant and applicable ways by speaking many languages –– philosophical, religious, and political –– and giving readers an opportunity to explore our vast world of competing (and sometimes conflicting) ideas.

KINGDOM COME is, without a single hesitation, one of the greatest comics I have ever read. It is canonical, academic, philosophical, and should be taught in schools.

The gouache-painted pages are exquisite in color, tone and detail. The style is so powerful that it stops being a page and becomes an image imprinted onto the brain as if I witnessed the scenes in real life. The art is a thing of beauty.

Chris’ Rating: High school and older

No nudity, small amounts of minor cursing, and comic war.

The trick with KINGDOM COME, as first explained to me by Staff Writer Ellen Ma, is building a foundational superhero understanding from which to deconstruct. Her reflection on using KINGDOM COME in a college classroom can be found here. After I read KINGDOM COME I understood her point of view. The text supposes the reader comes with knowledge of the caped and the cowled –– a place from which to begin to decode the comic and assimilate it into one’s schema. Some history, research, context will be necessary for students to attack KINGDOM COME, and attack they will when it is treated with respect, enthusiasm, and a short history lesson.

The ABSOLUTE KINGDOM COME hardcover is also available, retailing for $75.

Authors: Mark Waid
Illustrator: Alex Ross
Publisher: DC Comics
Genre: Superhero

Format: Softcover
Pages: 232
Color: Full color
ISBN-13: 978-1-4012-2034-1

Highly Recommended


By Ellen Ma
Staff Writer

I was given the opportunity to teach freshman English while I was still going through my graduate studies at San Francisco State University. SFSU offers three sections of freshman English and students are placed in these particular sections based on what score they receive on their placement test. English 114 is a freshman composition course, whereas English 106 and 104/105 is Integrated Reading and Writing (IRW). The term “developmental” isn’t necessarily used to label English 106 and 104/105 because the students are doing the same level of work as English 114, but just given more time. English 106 is approximately 30 minutes longer than an English 114 course and English 104/105 is a year-long course.

I was given the pleasure of taking on an English 104/105 course which was very challenging, especially since it was my very first time teaching. I had 18 students and everyone was bilingual. The majority of the students were Generation 1.5, along with two international students and two students who were native speakers, but spoke in another language besides English at home. Most students showed signs of an ELL writing pattern, i.e., subject/verb agreement, verb tense, or writing in a speech based manner. These students were also inexperienced readers, specifically in the area of reading comprehension, so this invited me to think about bringing in a graphic novel.

KINGDOM COME was my main choice, perhaps due to the superhero genre. Everyone was familiar with superheroes, or at least familiar with Superman and Batman, since movies had recently been made about these two iconic characters. I also felt the graphic novel was rich in the visual and verbal aspects. Alex Ross’ beautifully painted images gave a realistic feeling to superheroes and Mark Waid’s writing was filled with great vocabulary and storytelling. The biggest mistake I made was assuming these students read comic books and were familiar with the superheroes from DC comics. S imagine my reaction when I found out none of them had ever read a graphic novel and knew very little or nothing about superheroes.

Since I had this class for a year-long, I decided to solely use KINGDOM COME on its own during the first semester. The graphic novel was conveniently divided up into four chapters, so after ending each chapter, an essay would be assigned in regards to the chapter. During the first four weeks of the semester, I front loaded the course by giving the students tools and strategies on how to compose a college essay as well as giving low-stakes writing assignments to get students to start brainstorming and thinking about the concepts that were being presented in the first chapter of the graphic novel.

However, before asking the students to start reading the graphic novel, I created a reading guide for them, giving them a step-by-step approach as to how to read the panels, speech bubbles, and the images, i.e. symbolism, allegory. This aspect was perhaps the hardest to get across to the students, most likely because I didn’t know how to approach it and I made the assumption that the students would automatically pick up knowing how to read the graphic novel. I then decided to take the first few pages from KINGDOM COME to use as a model on how to read the graphic novel. I first only showed the students text from these few pages, asking them to articulate what they thought the meaning of the text represented or was trying to say to the reader. I then showed only the images that the text was taken from, then asked students what they thought the images were trying to convey. Then upon bringing the text and image together, students began to understand that they needed to pay attention to both the text and image. I then assigned students to do a research presentation on the main characters within KINGDOM COME, just so they could have background information to rely on once they started reading.

KINGDOM COME had many issues and themes but because my class had the most difficulties with comprehending the text and images, we didn’t necessarily cover most of the subtle themes. However, morality seemed to be the biggest debate within the classroom, since the majority of the students sided with Superman’s character whereas only a few students sided with the anti-hero’s views. This seemed to also to tell me which students were looking at the graphic novel on a superficial level, i.e., Superman is a hero because he’s strong and good, compared to students who were reading the graphic novel in a critical manner, i.e., even though Superman is a hero, he can’t be everywhere because he’s still just one man.

Overall, the students really enjoyed reading a graphic novel and some were very surprised that they would be reading one for their English class. Day by day, they started to display more interest in the superhero genre (some did research on the Justice League or began to pick up comics on their own) as well as trying to understand the complexity of the hero and villain archetypes in stories.

What I remember fondly about this group of students was them telling me that they couldn’t stop re-reading the graphic novel. Although they got through the entire graphic novel very quickly, they didn’t mind re-visiting it to look more closely at a certain concept or page. Also, I presented very challenging writing assignments to the students. They needed to refer to the graphic novel for evidence and support, and basically construct a college essay with the context of superheroes. This definitely was not an easy task, but this seemed to motivate the students to write, especially the ones who were struggling with their writing. In the end, I asked the students to write letters to Alex Ross and Mark Waid on what they learned about reading and writing from KINGDOM COME. I was impressed with most of what they had to say because the students wrote their letters with confidence, so I could tell that they recognized their own growth as readers and writers.

In regards to what didn’t go well and what I would do differently, I’m still optimistic in trying to use a graphic novel that has a lot of history or continuity, but KINGDOM COME was just a little too rich in that aspect. The graphic novel definitely required a lot of time (which I thankfully had) just to get students to understand the KINGDOM COME universe. The next difficulty would be trying to understand why students were reading very literally and this may just go back to students being inexperienced readers. Only one student managed to dig a little deeper with the religious theme that surrounded the graphic novel, while other students were perhaps just trying to understand the entire graphic novel. I also wasn’t prepared in guiding students through with just understanding how to read the graphic novel. This came to be the most difficult aspect since some of the students still ended up only looking at the images and disregarding the text. I would imagine the first step to stress to students is jut how important it is that a graphic novel requires the reader to interact with both the image and text. 
(EDITOR'S NOTE: It is important for teachers of all levels to hear about and learn from the comic book teaching experiences of other educators. We encourage other teachers to submit your reflections on teaching comics in the classroom (elementary, middle school, high school or college) to The Graphic Classroom. Send queries, ideas or submissions to

Saturday, August 21, 2010


By Chris Wilson

First year teachers struggle … a lot, but I might as well tell you the sun is a big, hot object because you already know that high quality instruction is a daunting task and that the first year teacher spends most of his time surviving, learning and building towards mastery.

I teach K-4 technology in a computer laboratory setting with excellent national standards leaving me open to explore and interpret technology use in very broad terms. I choose to use the state standards in each grade level as my guide for teaching. That is to say, I consult the second grade standards established by the State of Missouri and use those goals as the crux of my lessons and use technology to support those goals for second graders. This approach allows students to explore and apply the classroom curriculum in a new setting and it promotes teamwork as we all work toward similar goals, whether in the grade-level classroom or the specials classroom. Naturally, I also use comics along with technology as a device to learn.

Communication arts and math are the top priorities for most states and my students are no different. Language is a cornerstone to being able to function and excel in the world. My grandmother, a teacher for 33 years often told her students, “If you can read, you can do anything,” and she is right. Phonemic awareness, fluency, vocabulary, reading comprehension and story sequencing are vital to a young child’s success later in school. As a technology teacher, I want to reinforce those key elements and help my students achieve, while engaging them using a technological perspective.

Last year I was a first year teacher and I was struggling to help students achieve these lofty communication arts goals while using technology and do it in a way that is meaningful and authentic. Many of the sites out there are more game or fluff than education. I do not want to waste my students’ time and energy goofing around.

When Bob Levy from Professor Garfield called me during my plan and lunch break at school last year, I nearly came undone. He spent an hour taking me through the Professor Garfield website and I was electrified at the opportunity to engage my students in the technology-based learning. I spent the entire year using Professor Garfield with my students, all of them. It simply was incredible.

I started out using TOON BOOK READER, which offers 11 comics published by TOON BOOKS. Since each student has his or her own computer, the children were able to sit down and read each comic at his or her own pace, clicking through the pages. If the student chose, which most did, he could have the book read to him. Most books are offered in numerous languages including Spanish, French, Russian and Chinese. I often allowed my English Language Learners (ELLs) to read the books in their native languages first and then read it in English. With Kindergarten and first graders, I often displayed the comic on the Smart Board as a big book, and read it to the entire class. One time I assigned a comic and gave the students the opportunity to read it at their computers or stay up front with me and I would read it aloud at the Smart Board. I often used the comics as a springboard to introduce a subject or enhance another technology project.

I created several lesson plans using TOON BOOK READER. This included having students read the book and then blog about it. I also had students read the comic and then compare and contrast with other books with which they were familiar.

I quickly started using TRANSPORT TO READING with my K-first graders to promote phonics, phonemic awareness, fluency and comprehension. TRANSPORT has two settings: an island and a farm. Orson’s Farm focuses on phonics such as blending, rhyming words, and phonemic manipulation. Garfield’s Island focuses more on story.

I used READING RING mostly for sequencing. That takes three Garfield panels and scrambles them. The student must then arrange the panels in order. When completed, the student must then answer questions about the reading to ensure comprehension. It is a real student favorite.

Not only can a student read a comic, but she can create her own in either the COMICS LAB or the COMICS LAB EXTREME. In COMICS LAB EXTREME, students can save their work and come back later, which is an important aspect for me as I only have students for 50 minutes. The exciting part is that students can create something based on the standards being taught. If we are learning about the life cycle of a plant, the students can create a comic on that subject and include the required information while still being creative. I can assess their learning (science and technology) and they can enjoy the process.

The Professor Garfield website is incredible. It is so dense that was not able to make use of all its capabilities last year. However, I will expand this year and give my students more to explore this year. The TEACHER’S LOUNGE gives a great overview of the site and how to use it. It also offers a site map to explain each section, gives grade levels and a break down of the topics covered. The site map is available below in pdf and web:

The multi-award winning site is a must-have for any teacher who has an Internet connection and a projector. Technology and eMINTS certified teachers are in for a real treat. The breadth of the site is unbelievable. 
This week is the second full week of school and my first graders (approximately 100 of them) will experience the free inference lesson plan located in the Teacher’s Lounge at Professor Garfield, which is designed for use with the free online comic BENNY AND PENNY IN THE BIG NO-NO. The lesson was written by Peter Gutierrez, who has contributed to The Graphic Classroom before. I am so excited to use his lesson plan to teach what students learn in the classroom as well as technology.


By Chris Wilson

I strolled through the shabby entrance of the north side hotel along the Interstate and made it five paces into the door before the hotel employee pointed to my right. “It’s right down the hall on the right,” he said. I was wearing a Superman t-shirt, but I suspect I didn’t need to for him to know that the bald, spectacled, overweight guy was looking for the comics.

I made my way to the painfully small and dreadfully underused room in the back of the hotel. Inside were six comic and toy venders from around the area. My students that showed up were disappointed at the size, but I assured them incredible deals could be found at small cons.

One of my fourth grade boys had no idea where to start. So we sat down on the floor together, his mother right behind us, and we pulled out some long boxes sitting under a vendor table. We thumbed through the trade paperbacks (tpb) pulling out titles when he hit his gold: a war comic.

He flipped through it and I looked up at Mom for approval. “I’d let my daughter read it,” I said. She nodded and he held it tight against his chest. He was done. That was it; he knew what he wanted. We had to encourage him to spend the rest of his allotted cash on some other titles. Finally he culled through the bags and boards until he found a few issues of mainline superheroes. Off he ran to read his war comic.

COMBAT TALES is a true account of the 82nd Airborne during the Iraq War in 2003-2004. Karl Zinsmeister, an embedded journalist with the 82nd chronicled the lives and experiences of these soldiers in two nonfiction books: BOOTS ON THE GROUND: A MONTH WITH THE 82ND AIRBOARD IN THE BATTLE FOR IRAQ and DAWN OVER BAGHDAD: HOW THE MILITARY IS USING BULLETS AND BALLOTS OT REMAKE IRAQ. The stories told in COMBAT TALES are adaptations from those books.

Zinsmeister does not glorify the war or heroize the soldiers, and he does not politicize the war. COMBAT TALES is a straightforward, respectful look at the job that soldiers perform in the sands of Iraq. Zisnmeister is in the thick of it all: secret strategy meetings, debates on approaches to accomplish the goal while protecting innocent civilians, guidance from commanders reminding the soldiers of the rules of engagements, and everyday soldier-speak.

Changed is the language. That is to say the only profanities are some hells and damns. I’ve been around enough soldiers to know that they can let it fly and I suspect Zinsmeisters sanitized the language to make it more palatable for the audience. However, Zinsmeister’s focus is not on the personal lives of the soldiers as much as it is on the their job and how they complete their work, in which case the necessity of authentic cursing is tertiary at best. The fights are depicted with minimal blood and carnage while still being true to the destruction. The feelings of the soldiers after the battle are explored as are the problems soldiers encounter when trying to do their job.

For those who have experienced war, it is important to them that American civilians understand the impossibility modern solider face in urban warfare. During engagements terrorists grab women and children by their hair and use those innocents as body shields to escape, leaving soldiers unable to complete their missions. Terrorists use hospitals, schools and crowds as cover. Terrorists wave white flags of surrender then kill soldiers as they get close. As Zinsmeister witnessed, Generals constantly remind their soldiers of the rules of engagement, especially after losing a comrade in battle the day before.

“I know it’s hard to experience those kinds of attacks and not be tempted to just lash back. But we’re not going to do that. We’re Americans. We don’t shoot women and children. We avoid damaging innocent neighborhoods as much as humanly possible. We don’t shoot people who are trying to surrender. Have you all got that?”

Zinsmeister sat in witness as a General contemplated the best approach to taking out two high ranking Baath party members plotting in a building 135 meters from a school and 200 meters from homes: Artillery, Kiowa Warrriors, urban guerilla warfare, a 2,000-pound satellite-guided bomb, Hellfires? The General and his crew had to balance the need to kill the terrorists with the needs to protect civilians and soldiers. It is all interesting and unexpected.

COMBAT ZONE is a tactical-focused comic that is highly engaging for students. I can almost guarantee a waiting list when I offer it in my comic book club.

Chris’ Rating: Ages 9 and older
Publisher’s Rating: Ages 9-12

COMBAT TALES is about war. It is mostly bloodless with a couple of exceptions, and those are tastefully and minimally rendered. It is full of guns and splattered with minor curse words. It is war and war is hell, but the hell is very limited.

Because COMBAT TALES is a war story and is full of guns, it may not be appropriate for all schools or communities. However, it is a nonfiction piece about current events and is, in my opinion, very appropriate for elementary, middle school and high school.

There are obvious social studies implications, but perhaps not too many other curricular uses. From a reading motivation point of view this story will engross students, especially boys who are otherwise uninterested in reading, and on that alone it’s helpful. It does not glorify killing or war; the story simply tells the tactical tales of soldiers.

Author: Karl Zinsmeister
Pencils: Sandu Florea
Colors: Raul Trevino
Lettering: Virtual Calligraphy
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Genre: War

Format: Paperback
Pages: 120
Color: Full color
ISBN-13: 978-0785115168

Highly Recommended

Because of the inherent reading motivations qualities COMBAT TALES holds for boys, it is a title that cannot be ignored.

Sunday, August 15, 2010


By Chris Wilson

For me, school is back in session this week and with it comes lesson plans, seating charts, The Hall of Heroes comic book club, more than 500 students I see per week, and all the usual trappings of education. It feels good. 

This year I have an excited group of kids, parents and teachers asking about the comic book club. Last year was the first year and we did not have to turn anyone away from The Hall of Heroes. This year, I am afraid, that may be different as the interest level is much higher. I am recruiting help and trying to make it so that we can have as many students as possible in the club. 

Studies are showing the rapid decline in reading among boys. Literacy and motivation are falling. I have stated often my thoughts that educators love to educate the love of reading out of kids. Our intentions are noble and caring, but they are often misplaced as we focus so hard on literacy and forget that the love of reading, the enjoyment of story and the escapism of literature must be present in order to effectively teach reading. Sometimes teachers must put away their conceived notions of what is proper or appropriate reading and allow students to explore story in their own ways. 

I've been focusing on nonfiction lately as I have neglected the nonfiction genre of comics (comics are a form not a genre) unintentionally. Boys love nonfiction and I aim to read and review more of the genre in the future.


By Chris Wilson

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 street 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 –– but Crocodile shows his teeth and scares the dog away. Eventually, Red Ted finds Stevie and everyone gets a new home that serves cheese.

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 21st Century children will buy for their children and their grandchildren.

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.

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

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.

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

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

Highly Recommended


By Chris Wilson

I have always been one of those people who found history exceptionally boring and history classes excruciatingly painful, mostly because history seemed irrelevant to my life: dates, names, memorization, tests, blech. On the other hand, I really enjoy The History Channel and Discovery because those shows make history, mysteries, and science incredibly interesting … engaging … and relevant. Those shows make me want to sit and listen and learn.

My first thought when I read TRACKING BIGFOOT is that this series from Capstone Press’ Graphic Library imprint is The History Channel or The Discovery Channel for kids. The structure of the comic is eerily similar to the story structure of the shows. Although I made these texts available last year during to The Hall of Heroes comic book club members, I did not promote them properly and they got missed. I think that was a serious mistake because I inadvertently missed an opportunity to connect history, science and legend lovers to some really well done books.

I will not make that mistake again. I choose to read and review TRACKING BIGFOOT because I thought that title would capture student minds; it caught mine. Archeologist and historian Dr. Isabel Soto narrates the series. Dr. Soto uses her Worldwide Inter-dimensional Space-time Portal (WISP) to scientifically investigate legends, defunct cultures, historical events, and scientific phenomena. She interviews experts, examines the evidence (or lack thereof), and formulates hypotheses. All of this is constructed using a fictional narrative structure. In other words, she conveys the information in a story format rather than just pages of information.

What are her findings in TRACKING BIGFOOT? She concludes that some evidence is manufactured in an attempt to misguide the public, while other evidence is compelling but inconclusive … for now. There is hair evidence that cannot be identified as belonging to any other species.

I like this series because of what it does for nonfiction readers. However, I am unsure as to how most traditional nonfiction-loving students will react to the story-like aspect of the series. I find it very compelling and I suspect they will as well.

The art is not dumbed down for the young audience in which it is intended. Tod G. Smith and Al Milgrom illustrated the book using standard American comics realism with approximately four uncluttered panels per page.

Chris’ Rating: Ages 8 and older
Publisher’s Rating: Ages 8 and older
Publisher’s Reading Level: Grades 3-4
Publisher’s Interest Level: Grades 3-9

Lexile: GN 510L
ATOS Level: 3.8
Early Intervention Level: 27
AR Quiz No.: 131453

There are no concerns as this text is very appropriate for students.

First of all, because this series has various reading levels attached, it makes it easy for teachers to use it with the right reading group or individualized reading program that may be used for struggling readers. It has an AR Quiz associated with it, meaning schools that use the AR quiz program to track reading can offer this comic as part of the curriculum.

Beyond the reading specifics, this book is an important piece of comic literature as it is nonfiction, a genre that has traditionally been lacking in the comics industry, but is steadily gaining ground. Studies show that boys are more interested in nonfiction and sports.

On the science side, TRACKING BIGFOOT offers a nice look at science in action, science in the real world, science as it applies to a job. Isabel Soto spends time talking about and analyzing evidence in a way that is most engaging.

On the book page of the publisher’s website, teachers can select in their state from a pull down menu to see the state standards correlating to this book, making curriculum inclusion seamless and beyond reproach.

Author: Terry Collins
Illustrator: Tod G. Smith & Al Milgrom
Publisher: Capstone Press’ Graphic Library
Genre: Science

Format: Reinforced Library Binding
Pages: 32
Color: Full color
ISBN-13: 978-1-4296-3409-0

Click here to see the other titles in the series.

Highly Recommended

Thursday, August 5, 2010


Wendy Martin, blogger for From the Mixed Up Files of Middle-Grade Authors, wrote an article on the pros and cons of comics in academia. We were interviewed for the article. We tend to prattle on and on about comics when we find an ear to bend. Bless her heart for trying to write any of it down.


By Kevin Hodgson
Staff Writer

Eleven-year-old Pablo has big plans for his life –– soccer is going to be his way out of a life of working in the field with his family in rural Peru. And he has the talent, too, developing a real love for the game. But life takes an unexpected twist in THE KING OF SOCCER when Pablo is working in the fields with his family one day. The boy acts on instinct to save the life of a farmhand from an oncoming tractor by putting himself in harm’s way. As a result, Pablo gets injured and has to have his leg amputated.

Writer David Suchanek brings us inside the world of dashed dreams, but also, he wisely gives Pablo a fighting spirit that slowly brings the young boy back to the soccer fields. While Pablo’s prosthetic leg makes it nearly impossible for him to return to the position of striker on the field, he realizes that he can still use his soccer instincts in the goal (where he saves a game for his team), and then later, as a coach of others (including his younger sister). Simply told for young readers, THE KING OF SOCCER is a celebration of the spirit and invites us to move beyond limitations in life.

The artwork here is simple and it is not necessarily all that rich in details, but the story is what remains in focus. The faces of characters don’t always seem fully defined by illustrator Hatem Aly. It seemed to me that noses and eyes seem to shift across the faces, making for a bit of an odd look.

THE KING OF SOCCER is just one of about 60 new graphic novel titles put out by Boldprint (from the Oxford University Press) and the books are thematically connected to existing young reader novels from Boldprint. I think it would be interesting to have copies of both the novel and this graphic offshoot, and have students think and write about how one informs the other (or not).

I imagine I would learn more about Pablo and his life in Peru in the novel than I do here with THE KING OF SOCCER. That is not a criticism, as this graphic novel is about Pablo’s spirit to endure. I also like the discussion questions that follow each of these graphic novels. In this book, for example, the reader is asked to re-examine the importance of soccer to small towns in Peru and to think about the relationship between Pablo and a rival on his team, Jose, who later apologizes for being so competitive on the soccer field.

Publisher: Boldprint Kids
Format: Paperback
Reading Level: U
Grade Level: Grade 5
Pages: 48
ISBN-10: 1554775426
ISBN-13: 978-1554775422

I would recommend this book (and many of the others in the Boldprint series) for elementary classrooms. I think the reading level is right around 7- to 10-years old, and for a classroom collection, THE KING OF SOCCER and others would be a perfect addition and would open up some reading choices for students.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010


By Chris Wilson

“Disability is not a ‘brave struggle’ or ‘courage in the face of adversity’…disability is an art. It’s an ingenious way to live.”
 –– Neil Marcus

Even before I considered changing careers from the disability field to becoming a teacher, I worked with youth. I once accompanied a group of high school students to Colorado to volunteer for a week in a recovery program/school for severely abused children and pre-adolescents in the juvenile justice system.

One of the teens on the trip had a mental and physical disability; I’ll call her Casandra. At the end of our volunteer work, we took the teens on a white water rafting excursion. Casandra was concerned because she was partially paralyzed on her left side.

“Chris, do you think I can go white water rafting?” she asked.
“Nope,” I said. “You are too handicapped.”

She was stunned at my response and, I think, quite hurt that I would say such a thing and do it so bluntly. Then I winked and gave her a wry smile. Cassandra’s disability was not really holding her back, her thinking was. We later went to a canyon and we no more than opened the van doors that the kids sprinted off down the treacherous, rocky hillside to play on some boulders. Again:

“Do you think I can go down there?” It was a question she asked thinking more aloud than actually to me.
“Oh, no. You are too handicapped to do anything like that. You better just stay here and be quiet.” This time she understood my sarcasm.
“Will you go with me?” she asked.
“Of course,” I said.

She took my arm and we walked –– differently than the other teens, granted –– slowly down the embankment to the boulders below. Casandra smiled the whole time and it was the last time she ever asked me if she could do anything. The rest of the trip she either did it on her own or she told me what she needed to complete the task and asked if I would provide her the assistance. No more of the “can I” nonsense.

Another friend of mine –– I’ll call her Diana –– was born with cerebral palsy and low vision and has spent most of her life using a wheelchair. During her elementary years, Diana was placed in mostly self-contained special education services because she had CP and was blind. Naturally, that is where she belonged, right? She spent several years in special education services before a teacher questioned the placement. With the permission of her mother, Diana was tested and the school discovered the child with physical disabilities also tested as gifted. She was transferred out of special education and into the gifted program.

Everyone experiences barriers to success –– hurdles we must address in order to achieve our goals. Those barriers increase exponentially for persons with disabilities. Sometimes the individual causes the problems, but in most cases the barriers are institutional or societal and are based on stereotypes.

Despite working in the disability field for nearly a decade, I still battle my own disability-related stereotypes. Case in point, Sport’s Illustrated Kids’ SKATEBOARD SONAR graphic novel published by Stone Arch Books.

I was into the book 16 pages when I stopped and thought can blind people really skateboard? The minute I thought it, I knew I was headed into a stereotype thought process. I put the comic down and contacted Director of the Missouri State University Disability Resource Center Katheryne Staeger-Wilson. I knew I needed a paradigm shift. If I needed it, I was willing to bet other teachers did too.

Within minutes she pulled up two You Tube videos of Cameron, a local blind skateboarding college student.

“People with disabilities face many myths, stereotypes and assumptions,” said Staeger-Wilson. “These barriers are built-in to society and can be very detrimental to the success of those with disabilities.”

She then related a story about a former blind student of hers (we will call her Amelia) who took a journalism class. The professor assigned the students to write an article on their favorite hobby, their passion. The professor then turned to the blind student and said, “Don’t worry, Amelia. You can just do yours on blindness.”

The assumption, Staeger-Wilson explained, was that the person with a disability had no hobbies, interests or passion beyond disability. Staeger-Wilson explained that the student was offended and hurt, but spent her time trying to figure out how best to prove her validity as a human being to the professor.

“Disability is just different,” said Staeger-Wilson. “It is nothing bad. People with disabilities do the same things others do, they just might do it differently.” Staeger-Wilson offered the following chart for establishing a disability-related paradigm shift.

Matty and Tyson are 13-year-old skateboarders and best friends. They decide to enter the local skateboarding contest. Some people don’t think Matty should enter the contest because he is blind and everyone knows blind people cannot skate. The local bullies are the worst. They pick on Matty and Ty and try to intimidate them by making fun of Matty and his blindness. Matty proves his worth on the half-pipe without anyone’s help, busting up many of the major stereotypes about people with disabilities along the way.

Diversity is often –– mistakenly –– thought of exclusively in terms of race, oftentimes the definition being race-specific. However, diversity includes race, ethnicity, culture and even sub-culture. Disability is an often overlooked, but much larger, population than any given racial group because disability occurs across all races and ethnicities. It behooves us to infuse disability culture understanding within the classroom to meet the needs of 21st century learners and to reflect national and state requirements.

From the SKATEBOARD SONAR website, a teacher can select his or her home state to find which standards correlate to this title. Missouri has 13 social studies and communication arts standards connected to this title.

Following is an outline of the lesson plan I am considering for grades 3-4:
  1. Sit around the Smart Board.
  2. Use a document camera to complete a Picture Walk.
  3. In cooperative groups discuss: “Can a blind person skateboard? Why or why not?”
  4. Give time for discussion.
  5. Each group shares their thoughts with whole class.
  6. Watch Cameron’s You Tube video (above).
  7. In cooperative groups discuss:
    1. “Would you like to change your answer? Why”
  8. Read the story aloud using the document camera.
  9. Stop periodically and discuss the myths and stereotypes presented.
  10. Using our class blog, choose one of the questions and answer it.

SKATEBOARD SONAR does a great job addressing the myths, stereotypes and assumptions about people with disabilities. When Matty first tried to enter the skateboard contest, the clerk at the counter tried to deny him access, questioning if blind people were allowed to enter (institutional barrier). Matty quipped that he could not see one, so they had to include him. Clinton, one of the two local bullies, kicked a trashcan in front of Matt to see if he was really blind (Myth: People with disabilities are fakers).

Bingley, the big bully, argued that Matty’s presence in the finals was an act of charity because he did not earn it “fair and square” (Stereotype: People with disabilities cannot do things on their own without help from professionals, institutions, or others.) When it is time for Matty to skate against Bingley, the crowd goes nuts and the commentator calls him a “hero”. When Bingley asked why Matty was a hero, Ty says it’s because everyone knows Matty. He does not call him a hero because he is blind and skateboards. (Myth: People with disabilities are heroes because they do things other people do.) Overcoming struggle does not make one a hero. Having hobbies, interests, or passions does not make a person a hero just because they have a disability. Disability is a natural part of life and persons with disabilities overcome obstacles just like everyone else.

My culminating event, the blog topics, will address the myths, stereotypes and assumptions above and give students a chance to demonstrate their learning about disability culture. The questions will be differentiated so students can choose questions that best meet their level of understanding and ability. The cultural understanding and use of technology is the standard being evaluated, not the writing.

SKATEBOARD SONAR gives teachers a resource to use to address disability culture and change the way society views those with disabilities. It is a title that is brilliantly designed to help students discover their own prejudices and stereotypes and help them view disability from person centered model, rather than a medical or curative model. It is highly recommended for elementary and early middle school grades. 

For more information about the proper infusion of disability culture into education contact Disabilities Studies for Teachers or read the following textbook available from Google Docs.

Eric Stevens
Illustrator: Gerardo Sandoval
Colors: Benny Fuentes
Genre: Sports, Disability Culture

Format: Reinforced Library Binding
Pages: 56
Color: Full color
ISBN: 978-1-4342-1910-7

Reading Level:
Interest Level: 3-8
Guided Reading Level: K
Lexile Level: GN 370L
ATOS Level: 2.5
AR Quiz No.: 135059