Saturday, September 18, 2010


By Chris Wilson

I was one of those kids 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 channels make history, mystery, and science so interesting … engaging … and relevant. Those shows make me want to sit and listen and learn just for the heck of it.

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 this 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 nonfiction information in a fictional 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, a fact which kids will find compelling and intriguing.

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 fiction-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 for 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

No worries. This text is very appropriate for students.

First of all, because this series is leveled, 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 (and in our reviews), 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 their state from a pull down menu to see the state standards correlating to this book, making curriculum inclusion seamless and beyond reproach.

Drawing conclusions is a large part of standardized testing and this series is perfect for reading, analyzing data and drawing a conclusion based on the evidence making it ideal for the classroom.

Lesson Plan Idea
I envision a classroom of five to six cooperative groups where each group is made up of 4 students per group. Each group would include students of various reading levels (Below Basic, Basic, Proficient and Advanced).

Each group picks a nonfiction comic from Capstone's nonfiction comic series: 

Each team studies their area of interest and creates a wiki, Power Point, Glog, Prezi, poster, newspaper, magazine article, or other such culminating event and then presents that information to the rest of the class including that group's conclusions. Additional books, comics, newspaper articles, videos, artifacts, websites or other resoucres could be used to enhance the learning and perspective for each subject level. It would require a good deal of up-front work on the part of the teacher, but once the resources are collected, the students are the ones who research, investigate, analyze, draw conclusions and do all of the work. 

This approach is authentic and allows the students to study their area of interest and creates motivation. I have found it to be very engaging in my own classroom.

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

Highly Recommended

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