Sunday, May 30, 2010


By Peter GutiĆ©rrez 

Here’s an idea, perhaps simultaneously refreshing and depressing, for K-12 educators and department heads to consider: pay a visit to the foreign realm of higher ed and check out how it handles curriculum. 

There the concept still often seems to be approached with an eye to original thinking and cross-disciplinary opportunities as the rule rather than the exception. But is this true when it comes to comics and graphic novels? Well, yes and no. While academic research and critical analysis of the medium seems to be stronger than ever, even starting to rub shoulders with the rest of comics culture (witness the presence of the Comic Studies Conference at C2E2 and New York Comic Con this year), how many typical college professors consider graphic texts as legitimate — and valuable — resources to include in their syllabi? 

Not enough as there should be, it seems. At least that’s the sense one gets from an eye-opening exhibit that opened this spring at Columbia University and will continue to run throughout the summer. Spotlighting specific titles from a wide range of time periods and formats — serial comics, mini-comics, graphic novels, manga, and more — the exhibit, entitled “Comics in the Curriculum,” shows how such texts can “be incorporated into research and curricula to illustrate a variety of themes.” 

A partial view of the exhibit in Butler Library.

It’s not a huge exhibit by any means, especially given the sweep of its topic. There are only about half a dozen tall display cases to work your way through, but each one is bursting with ideas guaranteed to make your brain hyperventilate. Which is largely the purpose of the exhibit: not to recap how comics are being used in curricula, but to suggest how they might be. “This exhibit is an argument,” says its curator, Ancient & Medieval History and Religion Librarian Karen Green. 

And it’s an argument that’s hard to refute because graphica isn’t simply presented in isolation, but rather as part of a tradition of visual media, a tradition that few would hold as academically inappropriate. For each of the exhibit’s topical categories, an initial key image is provided that proves this point—and to which the graphica excerpts then stand as historical/aesthetic echoes or even cousins.

"Perceptions of War" section pairing Guernica and TWO-FISTED TALES.

So in this way we see Guernica starting off a “Perceptions of War” section that also includes Harvey Kurtzman, and “Heroes and Antiheroes” featuring an illuminated manuscript depicting the Antichrist side-by-side with Brian Bolland and Alan Moore’s Batman/Joker dichotomy

"Heroes and Antiheroes" section featuring Hortus Deliciarum with THE KILLING JOKE.

Even more inspired are William Hogarth paired with Scott McCloud (under “Didacticism and Pedagogy”), and Otto Dix with THE WALKING DEAD (“Society in Crisis”). What gradually becomes clear, then, is that the comics works on display are not just vehicles for content but as media artifacts themselves, as reflections of the times that produced them––a strategy that secondary teachers might consider to leverage this high-interest medium to teach media literacy and cultural studies. 

The comics featured in the exhibit are informed by Columbia’s graphic novel holdings, a collection that Green herself is responsible for developing over the past several years. In addition to her university duties, she writes a widely read column at ComiXology, “Comic Adventures in Academia,” and is frequent speaker at both academic and comic conventions. We’re grateful that she was able to spend a few minutes answering our questions about this unique exhibit. 

Graphic Classroom: Have there been any "Aha!" moments on the part of Columbia faculty or students? Have any told you about specific ways in which the exhibit is inspiring them to incorporate graphica into their work? 

Karen Green: I haven't really had “Aha!” moments per se. That's not so much how faculty operates here. I was contacted by a lovely woman who's a professor in our East Asian Languages and Cultures (aka EALAC) department; she is currently working on an article that focuses on a manga series called OOKU. She wrote to ask if she could meet with me, and we had a long conversation about the possibility of my working with her and her students — and with the East Asian Library, where manga really belongs but which hasn't set about to collect it seriously — in the future. Also about planning a possible conference.

I have gotten several emails from students thanking me for the collection — people who hadn't known who was responsible for it before. But faculty and students are very... self-sufficient here. I'm gradually becoming aware of who is using these materials in classes, and sometimes they know about others, and it becomes a daisy chain. I'm pretty happy for this to happen slowly and organically, actually. Change is coming. I can wait!

The curriculum referenced in the title is at the university level, so how many of the featured titles do you think would work at 9-12 or 6-12? Are there ones that you feel are particularly promising for secondary educators that they might not be aware of... or ones that they might find problematic including in their curricula? 

Well, I think you'd definitely want to avoid the collection of Tijuana bibles! But other than that... I'm not sure that I would shield any of the 9-12 kids from any of these titles. Actually, I recently visited a high school class and wrote about it in my column this month. I took THE ALCOHOLIC and FISHTOWN and THE FABULOUS FURRY FREAK BROTHERS to talk to ninth and tenth graders about substance abuse narratives in comic books. I asked the teacher if the material was too... strong, but he seemed to think it was okay. I think most high school kids are a lot more prepared for intense materials than parents and policy-makers want to believe. 

Grades 6-8 — well, that's another story. A book like ARAB IN AMERICA has some strong language, but its story is a powerful one, and encountering that kind of narrative early on seems right to me. My twin nephews are in sixth grade and, while I wouldn't necessarily want them to read THE WALKING DEAD on their own, without someone to give them a context and a structure and things to think about, I don't think they need to be protected from it. ARMY@LOVE I'd reserve for the older kids. But other than that? Not really.

Of course, I've got no training in secondary-school pedagogy, so my opinions are not to be trusted! 

Yes, but as a librarian yourself, what might teaching librarians or school librarians at K-12 learn from the exhibit? For example, do you think it might shed light on new ways to approach superheroes, or to look differently at the kinds of graphic nonfiction they add to their collections? 

Well, I don't know that I would say they should/could collect differently, but I'd love for them to find in it a useful way to open up lines of communication with teachers. Now, for all I know, K-12 librarians and teachers are already using comics in exactly this way, and my advice sounds just patronizing! But I hope that, for all the spectacular work that public/school librarians have done in using comics as literacy gateways, they're also thinking about ways to use them in the classroom.

If you had more room in the display cases what are some works that you might have included under the same thematic/topical categories? 

Yikes. I think I had 5-7 titles for each category before I winnowed through and picked the best. For example, in “Racism and Ethnicity” (which began, simply, as “Racism”), I realized that my first set of choices all dealt with African Americans. I had SENTENCES: THE LIFE OF M.F. GRIMM and something else, I can't remember now what. But I wanted to make clear that racism hits a lot of different groups in a lot of different guises in this country. And there were more that I could have used. [Will] Eisner's THE PLOT, for example. Perhaps a better heading would have been "Hatred of 'The Other'"! 

I'll also forever be sorry that I didn't get my hands on the Department of Health's store of "Decision" subway posters... [These were comics-style serialized posters about AIDS and HIV awareness that appeared in the New York City subways in the 1980s. -PG]

In a similar vein, if you had a lot more space — or were simply asked to do this kind of exhibit in the future — what are some other areas or curricular topics that you might explore? 

I'd love to have done a “History of NYC” theme. Or a theme that picked up on the two recent classes I've done: one on illness narratives and another on substance abuse. I still think that, eventually, I could have come up with a better set of images for “Religion” — or, perhaps, a better way to frame that topic than simply "Religion" — than the ones I eventually abandoned. I'd also like to have done something on unconventional narrative — maybe looking at the way WATCHMEN includes the chapter-ending narratives along with the nested pirates story, or the multiple Bryan Talbot narrators that appear in ALICE IN SUNDERLAND. And another theme that I let go for space was “Reportage”: that would have started with the Bayeux Tapestry and included things like JOURNEY INTO MOHAWK COUNTRY and BURMA CHRONICLES

The Graphic Classroom: Well, I’d love to see you get a chance to do this again sometime, maybe on a larger scale. Anyway, thanks so much for your time. 

Comics in the Curriculum is open to all, with free admission, at Columbia University’s Butler Library until Labor Day. The hours are really the hours of the Library Information Office, which visitors have to stop at in order to get a pass to get in; in the summer, it’ll be open 9 a.m. to 5:45 p.m. every weekday, 11 a.m. to 5:45 p.m. on Saturdays, and noon to 4:45 p.m. on Sundays. Karen Green can be reached for questions or comments at

Peter GutiĆ©rrez writes on graphica and education for publications such as BookShelf, School Library Journal, and Graphic Novel Reporter. If you’ll be at ALA, drop by on Monday, June 28 (1:30-2:30 p.m.) to see him moderate a session on navigating teaching resources for graphic novels with a panel that includes David Serchay, Sari Wilson, and Katie Monnin. He can be reached at

Monday, May 24, 2010


Two brothers, Alexander and Joseph Lagos, have written an historical fiction graphic novel set during the American Revolution. The Graphic Classroom is one stop on the brothers’ blog tour, and THE SONS OF LIBERTY is already in our hot little hands. A review will be forthcoming. We sat at our keyboard, and they at theirs, and embarked on a quick Q&A:

To get things started, we provide a synopsis of the story, thanks to the publisher.
THE SONS OF LIBERTY is the story of two young slaves in the wake of the historic war for American independence. But freedom was not won for all. As the story unfolds, readers will explore the darker corners of our nation’s earliest days as history is brought to life this full-color, two-fisted, edge-of-your-seat style.

Graham is the newest slave at Sorenson's Plantation. He dreams of having the freedom to return to Africa. But he's more of a fighter than a dreamer. When a younger slave, Brody, is threatened by Sorenson's wicked son, Graham takes a stand. Soon the two youngsters are on the run, relying on each other to survive the vicious dogs of a notorious slave hunter. But when they're taken in by the son of Benjamin Franklin, they'll wish they'd taken their chances with the dogs. Subjects of a horrific electricity experiment, the boys are left for dead—but awaken super-charged with power. Benjamin Franklin begs them to keep their abilities to themselves in order to remain safe. But Quaker abolitionist Ben Lay has another idea. One that involves the African martial art known as dambe . . . and masks. Graham's motto is seemingly simple. "Sometimes you've gotta fight." But what fight can two runaway slaves hope to win?

Laden with action packed scenes, historic heroes and equal parts fantasy and realism, THE SONS OF LIBERTY charters new territory in both graphic and historical novels. Readers both young and old will not be able to put this engrossing story down until the heroes get the freedom that is owed to them.

Exclusive interior art provided by the publisher. 

What makes THE SONS OF LIBERTY interesting?
Thank you for inviting us into The Graphic Classroom.

We set out to create a great adventure story with rich characters and a journey unlike anything else on the bookshelves — a graphic novel for readers of all ages that would get them thinking about the time period in ways they had not imagined before reading THE SONS OF LIBERTY. Since the story is told from the perspective of two runaway slaves during the American Revolution, topics that are marginalized in social studies texts get brought to the forefront.

Did you think of schools, teachers, or students before you began writing?
We were not thinking about how schools would use the book in the beginning, but the deeper we got into researching the period, the more we felt a responsibility to shed light on what we did not ourselves learn in school. Beneath the layer of the superhero adventure, action and fun there is a deep story about relationships – foundations, progressions and divisions.

What research did they do to make sure the language/costumes/settings are authentic?”
While writing the story, we immersed ourselves in the learning process and got our hands on everything we could about Colonial America, the American Revolution, and slavery. We visited historical sites, went on walking tours, attended reenactments, and spoke to historians. We bought books on costumes, landscape, architecture and tools of the period. We researched language dialect to give conversations a more authentic feel. We watched films, documentaries and educational programs. We referenced maps and art from the period. Some of the artwork in our book is based off of these resources along with photographs taken during trips to Colonial Williamsburg and Philadelphia.

I want to know how the creators envision teachers using this comic.
There were several driving questions we asked ourselves while creating THE SONS OF LIBERTY that teachers may present to students in the classroom:

  • Imagine what it would be like taking Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X in their teenage years, and placing them in the time of America’s fight for independence. What would their stories be like? What choices would they make? How would they face slavery, war and the birth of a nation?
  • What was life like for slaves during the creation of our country?
  • Which founding fathers wanted slavery abolished and who supported slavery?
  • What role did African Americans play in the creation of our country?
  • How can we compare and contrast the colonies’ rebellion against Britain to that of the slaves? When is rebellion justified?

The major themes explored in THE SONS OF LIBERTY are heroism, racism, prejudice, slavery, abolition, and the birth of our nation — all topics that are relevant to middle and high school curriculums and standards in classrooms everywhere, but often times presented in ways that do not connect to young people’s sensibilities. SOL is a graphic novel that is fun to read (unlike most history books) and offers much to learn.

The best teachers know how to engage and motivate students by taking what kids are already interested in and connecting that to the curriculum’s required learning objectives. THE SONS OF LIBERTY is a great way to get students excited about the lives of people who lived during the American Revolution. Students will understand history better through the eyes of Graham and Brody (teenagers like them). The graphic novel can be used as a link or a partner with classroom textbooks. By exploring real historical events in a fun and engaging way, students become curious and are more likely to ask questions and search for additional information to find the answers.

We imagine teachers of every subject area using THE SONS OF LIBERTY in their classrooms. A science teacher might peak students interest in understanding how electricity is conducted through the body by presenting the superhero abilities of the main characters. An English teacher may use the book to open up student dialogue about racism and then give kids an opportunity to write about it, as well as many other struggles the main characters face — some similar and others very different from the reader’s experience. A social studies teacher who is presenting a unit on the American Revolution can use scenes in the book to introduce specific topics. Students can use the artwork in the book to develop descriptive writing skills in English class. Teachers can collaborate so that students can use what they learn in history class to separate out fact from fiction while reading the graphic novel in English class.

How much of the book is historical fact and how much is fiction?
Ultimately, THE SONS OF LIBERTY is more than a history lesson; it is about our relationships and responsibilities to each other and to our society. So much of history gets broken down into places and events, but in the end, actions and attitudes toward each other define our culture. What we do today will become history, but how we treat each other will be the defining attitude carried on for generations to come.

The SONS OF LIBERTY Educator's Guide includes an American time line to place events in context, vocabulary words to be defined and discussed before reading, student prediction activities based on the cover and title, internet resources, and questions for group discussions. Click here for a downloadable PDF of the teacher’s resource.

THE SONS OF LIBERTY is a work of historical fiction. Some characters, events and settings in the book are drawn from history while others are imagined in the interest of creating an exciting story. We want the reader to separate out fact from fiction. Visit the official website for an interactive quiz game and other additional content that will help guide the reader in finding these answers.

THE SONS OF LIBERTY graphic novel is a Junior Library Guild selection and has been nominated by the American Library Association for the YALSA award for best graphic novel.

Other information
Published by Random House
Publishers Recommended Age: Ages 10 and older
Available tomorrow (May 25, 2010)
The next stop on the blog tour will be A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy.


By Nate Stearns
Staff Writer

I’ve always wanted to like Native American mythology; I’m sympathetic to the grousing that occurs when people realize that so much more time is spent in school on following the exploits of Zeus, Hades, Poseidon, and the gang than on the homegrown gods and monsters native to our own land. Why should we care more about Odysseus’s wanderings around Ithaca when we don’t know about the stories of the Coyote and Opossum?

I have to admit, however, that I get more enjoyment out of the Greek myths and sometimes find Native American myths obscure and difficult to connect with. Some Native American myths seem to be shaggy dog/just so stories and others lack the kind of characterization and dramatic tension that I expect from good storytelling. But I don’t want it to be like this.

One inescapable aspect of this is class and culture. Studying Greek people and their lives, considering the impact their culture has had on Western civilization, has a sort of snob appeal, a feeling that what you’re learning is very important – even if what you’re learning is more or less about a randy sky god impregnating a series of unlucky mortals. Again, this is nothing to be proud of.

When we teach Greek mythology, we also find a nice neat hierarchical set of stories and characters that are easy to quiz (How are Ares and Aphrodite related?), whereas the variety and different tribal traditions that Native American myths come from make the evaluation process more complicated. Somehow, teachers need to have the resources to help students relate not only to a Western heritage that only a percentage of our students experience directly, but also connect with a tradition with direct connection to the land we live on.

The recent graphic novel TRICKSTER by a collection of collaborators is the most successful attempt I’ve seen in quite awhile and yet when paired with a graphic novel version of Greek myth such as Athena: Grey-Eyed Goddess by George O’Connor, you can still see the difficulties mythology teachers face in giving Native American myths their due.

TRICKSTER collects tales from many Native American traditions and employs a pool of artists to enact stories revolving around the Trickster figure in a variety of ways. The Trickster figure sometimes takes an animal form, other times a human form, but in all of them the Trickster uses cleverness or guile to manipulate or defeat stronger or more powerful creatures. Some of the stories seem cartoonish and geared for younger-readers (for instance, “How the Alligator got his Brown, Scaly Skin” is drawn in bright, primary colors and features a cute little bunny rabbit threatening the alligator with “Mr. Trouble”). Other stories have more intricate art and feel geared more towards at least middle school readers (“Rabbit and the Tug of War” is drawn in a beautifully subtle and shadowed monochromatic brown). A school district that had a substantial war chest for books and a desire to connect students to Native American mythology would have ample reason to choose this anthology.

Example of more realistic TRICKSTER art. 

 Example of cartoony TRICKSTER art.
Other attempts at using pools of artists have often left me feeling cold. The Graphic Classics sets that swoop down on famous writers (such as Ambrose Bierce are the most prominent example of this. The results of these collaborations are often unwieldy and difficult to love. Even when individual parts are strong, others are not so much. TRICKSTER avoids most of these problems, but I still wish TRICKSTER had a more coherent and clearer way to teach the book.

Therefore, if we pair TRICKSTER to the OLYMPIAN series from George O’Connor, I suspect that students will have a hard time not preferring the Greek tales. ZEUS is action-movie intense with big panel scenes of Kronos swinging a giant sickle at a soul-patched Zeus, sprinkled with lots of POWs and BANGs. ATHENA, because her stories are shorter and less elaborate, is a collection of vignettes about Zeus’s daughter and less like a traditional movie arc. Still, O’Connor makes good use of the most dramatic, most superhero-y aspects of Athena’s myths: see Athena spring out of Zeus’s head clad in armor and holding a spear (ouch!); see Athena defeat and skin Pallas the Gigante; see Athena condemn Arachne to a life with 8 legs. Depending on your tastes, the whimsical and more subtle TRICKSTER tales might not be able to compete.

Example of ATHENA art.

When we put the books together, though, we (and hopefully our students) start to see some interesting differences between Greek and Native American myths. The Olympians are constantly battling Zeus’ mother Gaia who is upset at her son’s treatment of the Titans. The Trickster stories, on the other hand, seem much more in tune with nature and less in opposition. In my ideal classroom, I’d have a class set of both books and a request on order for a graphic novel version of the BHAGAVAD-GITA.

Title: Trickster: Native American Tales—A Graphic Collection
Editor: Matt Demicki
Publisher: Fulcrum Books
Genre: Mythology
Color: Full color
Pages: 232
Format: Softcover
ISBN-13: 978-1555917241

Title: Athena: Grey-Eyed Goddess
Editor: George O’Connor
Publisher: First Second Books
Genre: Mythology
Color: Full color
Pages: 80
Format: Softcover
ISBN-13: 978-1596434325

Thursday, May 20, 2010


Macworld reporter Jason Snell reviewed comics on the iPad, and did so pretty well – covering the issues good and bad. The bad isn't really bad, and it will get better. He does ask the question I've been wondering since I bought the device: Where is DC in the digital comics environment? How can I not be able to read any of the BAT adventures or TINY TITANS on the iPad? Cuh-razy!

Saturday, May 15, 2010


The brilliant folks at Toon Books, of whom we are unapologetic fanboys, have a new Benny and Penny blog just for emergent readers! I am so jazzed about this. I will make this blog part of my grade 1-2 curriculum next year and we will be leaving ourselves some comments. Oh yeah! 

From the press release:
The interactive blog features the mice characters from creator Geoffrey Hayes. Hayes, author and illustrator, is the 2010 winner of the Theodor Seuss Geisel Award for BENNY AND PENNY IN THE BIG NO-NO!

The content on the blog is designed specifically for emerging readers. The vocabulary, visuals, and activities target the needs of early reading and writing. Parents and children can tune in every Monday for a great new story with Benny, Penny and their friends in a weekly comic strip. Visit the blog every Wednesday for a new cartoon featuring a caption contest. The author will post the best captions the following week.

Check out the things our students can do on the site:
  1. Read the weekly comic, posted on Mondays. 
  2. Read the archived comics any time.
  3. Download the comic.
  4. Print the comic for students to color.
  5. Cut out the panels, scramble them, and have kids put them in order. (national standard)
  6. Send them your student art for publication. (Hey! We do that too, you know.)

Okay K-2 teachers, this is golden. If you use an interactive white board, you could cut the panels apart and scan them in. Then show them on the SmartBoard and have students rearrange them. In my technology classroom, I could have a Smart Notebook page with the panels. Each individual student could arrange the panels on the computer. How about this? I could collaborate with my art teacher. The students could write their own BENNY AND PENNY story in my room. Then the art teacher could have them illustrate a comic. Then we could hand them in the hallway and have the entire grade  (or student body) vote on their favorite. We could scan the top five in and send them to the blog. 

Students could write their own BENNY AND PENNY story ideas and we could submit them all to the blog. Maybe TOON BOOKS would run a contest to choose the best story idea (that would be worked up by the author, of course) and the winning student could be featured as a guest animal character in the next Monday comic. Maybe The Graphic Classroom could be a co-sponsor?

Can you tell I'm excited?

I love interactive, robust learning activities that connect to the real world. Kids dig it, too. 


I have one more week of school left. It's a good thing, too, because the comic review stockpile is dwindling. Summer means I have time to read and write like a squirrel preparing for winter. We have some interesting articles in the works that explore lesson plans using comics. 

  • A review of
  • Earthquakes unit
  • Mathematics lesson plan
  • Dinosaurs lesson plan

It's all on the calendar and will be coming to you as soon as school is out and I take a few days off, and then get to writing.

What about you? You've been reading The Graphic Classroom. What comics have you used with your students (K-12 or college)? Interested in publishing your lesson plans? We are looking for some guest columnists to address their experiences using comics in the classroom. Shoot me an email ( and pitch your idea. If you struggled or things didn't work out well, we want to know that, too. Perhaps we can give some advice on how to fix or avoid those problems and help others who may have experienced the same issues. It's all about sharing and helping and growing and meeting the needs of our students. 

Incidentally, if you are interested in using comics in your classroom and are experiencing resistance from your colleagues or your administration, we would be delighted to help you out and point you toward the research to make your case.


By Chris Wilson

Author & Illustrator: Yohei Sakai
Publisher: VizKids
Genre: Manga

Format: Softcover
Volume: 1
Pages: 192
Color: Black and white
ISBN-13: 978-1-4215-3253-0

Max and Rex are best friends who enjoy excavating for dinosaur bones. One day while searching for artifacts, Max comes across a tablet, one that transports him back and forth in time. Max’s first jaunt took him into the Jurassic period where he discovered the Alpha Gang’s evil plot to go back into time and use the mythic power of dinosaurs to come back to our time and take over the modern world. It is up to Max, Rex and some dino-friends to stop Dr. Z and his minions and single-handedly save the world.

Already a cartoon on the CW 4Kids network and a collectible card game, DINOSAUR KING is also now a manga comic series for elementary and young middle school-aged kids. The book is presented in the original Japanese comic format. That is to say, it is read from right to left – for Americans that means the back is actually the front. It is a non-issue for kids and it takes no time for adults to adapt to the format. So don’t let that scare you.

DINOSAUR KING is a fast-paced, action-packed story. The story pushes the reader from action scene to action scene, all but skipping everything but the most superficial aspects of character development. One can hardly turn the pages fast enough to keep up with the narrative. I do not mention this as a negative aspect, but merely to provide it for informational purposes. The book is not designed to delve into the complexities of the human condition.

One aspect of manga that I have come to enjoy is the hyper emotional illustrations of the characters. DINOSAUR KING certainly keeps up that tradition. When Max is scared, upset or emotional, he is illustrated in such a way to overemphasize his emotional state.

On page 150, Max is pondering his ability to speak with dinosaurs. He surmises that his ability is due to the fact that he loves dinosaurs so much. His head takes up half the page and his toothy smile nearly one-third of his face. It is abundantly clear that Max is happy.

On page 157 Max is dashing from a herd of run amuck dinosaurs set to kill him. In this scene, Max’s mouth takes up two-thirds of his head, and his teeth are jagged and pointy with huge, round eyes. It is an element that takes time to get used to, especially if the reader is a committed American comic reader. However, the more manga I read the more I appreciate and enjoy the expressiveness of manga illustrations.

Some of the action scenes are muddy, making it hard to discern the movement or technique used to defeat a character or creature. There are a few instances in which the closure between panels is so broad that I had to go back and make some inferences as to what occurred. All of these issues – emphasis on action over character, murky fight sequences, and disconnectedness between panels – may be quite purposeful on the part of Sakai to create a story that is geared toward a certain demographic, providing those key readers a book that appeals to their need for bullet train reading, fight scenes, and clear good-versus-evil delineations.

Chris’ Rating: Ages 7 to 12
Publisher’s Rating: All ages

DINOSAUR KING is a book meant for kids who love dinosaurs, and seems designed with boys in mind. The pace and the art make it easy for all kids to read and love.

Manga is a very popular form of comics especially with kids. It is a niche comic form unto itself and has a strong following. The break-neck pace of DINOSAUR KING, strong action, and the short chapters are of particular interest to reluctant and struggling readers.

DINOSAUR KING also has application in the Special Education department. Many persons who have a diagnosis on the Autism spectrum struggle with understanding body language and reading facial expressions. Manga, with its hyper-expressive nature, may be very advantageous in instructing students on decoding our complex and hidden nonverbal messages.

I especially recommend this title for readers in grades 2-6 who need a lot of action sequences to hold their attention.

Saturday, May 8, 2010


By Chris Wilson

I have never really been an IRON MAN fan. Not that I had anything against Tony Stark, His tale never interested me all that much. Other superheroes caught my eye more. To tell the truth, I tend to be attracted toward independent comics titles.

The feature film of 2008 made me rethink my apathy for the red and gold guy, but I still didn’t pick up the comic. Last year, I did buy the IRON MAN: ARMOR WARS #1-4 thinking it might be a good title for kids. It is except for the single scene depicting a gun and gun violence. Our elementary children are so conditioned to the “no guns at school” policies that they will heartily complain about “inappropriateness” if a firearm is depicted in a comic. Make no mistake: Elementary-aged children know and use the word “inappropriate”. So I probably won’t take ARMOR WARS to school knowing it will cause the kids some distress. I have plenty of high quality comic lit for young ones.

I kept seeing that pesky free copy of INVINCIBLE IRON MAN #1 sitting on the counter at my local comic shop. My comic guy and I started talking and he sang the series’ praises, giving big kudos to writer Matt Fraction. So I took it home and read it.

When I bought my iPad and downloaded the Comics (by Comixology) and Marvel apps, I noticed several IRON MAN titles offered. Why not. I bought a couple to test things out. I read the 2004 series first, which was the pivotal “Extremis” storyline written by Warren Ellis and digitally painted by Adi Granov. Hook, line and sinker, right down my gullet. I downloaded all of the above IRON MAN titles available on the iPad:

  • IRON MAN #1-12 (2004)
  • IRON MAN: DIRECTOR OF S.H.I.E.L.D #15-26 (2007)
  • INVINCIBLE IRON MAN #1-2 (2008)

For the next few days, I read at night instead of watching television. I read while working out. I read IRON MAN while waiting for my daughter’s guitar and gymnastics lessons to finish. I read and read and read. I’m now wishing the entire current INVINCIBLE line was available on the iPad. I may have to track down a trade paperback or hardcover version of the series. It’s just that good.

None of the comics I read involved War Machine, which is too bad because I want to know more about that character and how Rhodey, Tony’s right hand man, became the machine gun-wearing beast. I don’t just want to know. I can go to Wikipedia for that. I want to experience it.

Because of the movie franchise, I think it’s important to use IRON MAN in the classroom now, so that teachers can flush out the literary themes of Iron Man, his role during the Cold War, and his reinvention for the war on terror.
First appearance of Iron Man

I also envision a big Iron Man poster hanging on the wall in a science or technology classroom to promote the link between science fiction literature and real world applications – cultivating a new and exciting engagement in technology and science. Nano technology, cybernetics, human-machine interfaces, voice control, and many other technologies are used in IRON MAN. It was not that long ago that the iPad was more Star Trek than reality. The dreams of geeks are what make fiction come to life and that begins with a love of science and technology, and a desire to create. It’s teachers who often spark, promote, or instill such destinies. It all starts with excitement and interest and we can build that using, among other things, comics.

Highly Recommended


By Kevin Hodgson 
Staff Writer

Gimp. Ubuntu. Linux. Distro. Gui. If this sounds like some alien language to you, then you are probably an adult weened on Microsoft and Apple (me, too, so don't think I am pointing fingers here). But the world of Open Source computing is growing fast and if you were to survey a typical high school, my guess is that you would find more than a few budding hackers who know these terms. They could also quickly teach you a thing or two about the value of the Open Source concept of developers across the world working collaboratively to create free computing software and operating systems. 

And so, along comes a comic called HACKETT AND BANKWELL: SWITCHING TO UBUNTU that can help explain the world of Linux to us and to our students (the ones who did not raise their hands in the previous survey of a typical high school). In the first of two comics (available for purchase as a hard copy or as a free ebook from the website – see below), the two main characters – Woody Hackett and Jerome Bankwell – are taking part in a movie documentary and they convince the producers that using the free Linux system for the production computers is more effective and less expensive. 

Hackett may be familiar to some as the cute penguin icon of the Linux movement. Here, he guides the reader through the basic ins and outs of Linux, including installation. While the story itself gets a bit too jargony, there are doses of light humor tossed in and, as a guide to a complex topic, the comic format here seems like a natural fit. My guess is that any high school student with a bit of an interest in computers could get hooked with this series and learn a thing or two. (The second book, HACKETT AND BANKWELL: INTO THE COMMAND LINE, goes a little deeper into the technology).

The art is effective, if not overwhelming. Hackett is cute but not cuddly, and the way he talks seems a bit at odds with a penguin (not that I am suggesting that penguins are not intelligent but still ... ). Bankwell comes across as a cool kid, with sunglasses and a sort of techno-geek chic that is all the rage these days.

When we think about reading and writing across the curriculum, this graphic guide could find its home in the computer lab of most high schools. In fact, compared to some user guides, this comic is downright friendly. Reading through the book made me wonder what would happen if we asked our students to create an expository comic about a complex idea and then share that with a younger audience or an audience unfamiliar with the topics. From a writing perspective, this would force a new way of approaching text with real value. (Maybe a student could create a graphic comic guide for their parents on how to use Facebook or Twitter or whatever technology emerges from the floor up). It should be noted that the distribution of these two books for free (as ebooks) is a wonderful idea that exhibits the concepts of Open Source, as you could easily have a whole classroom of students reading the books right at their computers in seconds.

Writer: Jeremiah Gray
Artist: Barry Cervantes
Publisher: Intarcorp Limited
Format: ebook
Pages: 38

The two books are available as free ebooks or can be ordered as paper copies (with bulk educator discounts also available) at the Hackett and Bankwell site.

These books have a technical vocabulary that would make it difficult for most middle school students to understand (maybe even some adults), so I would say that this book is recommended for a high school and university audience. Due to its singular focus, I would say the books are of interest to a general audience wanting to learn more about Linux, but that its real value is as a tool for the classroom. There is nothing inappropriate in these books in terms of language and violence.

Saturday, May 1, 2010


I'm loving my iPad comics experience. The portability, quality and the uniqueness is wonderful. Comixology, one of the comic app producers has a new app due out soon just for the kiddos. It was due at the end of April, but I couldn't find it today. 

You can read about it here. It should be noted that Archie Comics has it's own app already. I'll download this puppy as soon as it hits stores.

News tip thanks to the ever-wonderful Tracy Edmunds.


My daughter and I made our way to three local comic stores today and picked up a handful of comics. She will keep hers. I will give mine away to kids. We left at 10:30 a.m. and didn't get home until 3 p.m. One of the stores made a real event out of it, giving away hot dogs and hamburgers, offering sales, and having Hero Clix training demos going on. I left with a starter bag of my own Clix. The group, I found out, plays every Saturday from 2-5ish. I am so taking my daughter this summer. We had a blast. 

I'd love to hear from you readers if you attended a FCBD event? Drop us a comment and tell us about it. What comics did you pick up? Did you read any, yet? Did you see any kids?


By Chris Wilson

Newcomers to the comics in education movement are exposed to many misconceptions and misinterpretations. One such misunderstanding is the use of comics as a purely standalone endeavor, whereby the teacher carves out special time in which to expose students to comic literature. The if-we-have-time-left-over-we-will-read-comics thinking is as wrongheaded as teaching anything else in isolation. As adults, we do not encounter mathematics in a vacuum; rather, we deal with mathematics (and other subjects) as it comes, infused in our everyday walk through life.

The use of comics, I maintain, should be implemented into the classroom in authentic and natural ways when possible. I take this same approach in my technology classroom – intertwining classroom standards into technology so that students study technology in the same manner they might encounter it in the real world.

This brings us to a recent lesson I taught to my second graders. Rather than simply practicing skill-and-drill exercises in my K-4 Technology Lab, I create more interesting technology lessons that are also connected to the grade level classroom standards.

The second graders in my building (approximately 100 of them) finished with a multi-day lesson using comics and technology, and emphasizing the specific skills of typing, clicking, dragging, highlighting (which I refer to as “click-drag-let go”) blogging, creating, analyzing, reading and writing. Did you catch those higher order thinking skills in that list?

First, I use my interactive white board to access Professor Garfield (review forthcoming) and bring up the comic OTTO’S ORANGE DAY published by the incredible Toon Books. We do a picture walk, access our prior knowledge, and make predictions. I then send the students to their individual computers where they read OTTO’S ORANGE DAY.

As a matter of differentiation, the site offers the option of having the book read to you. I allow my students to chose that option if they need or want to. Some do and some do not. Others read the book twice, using both strategies. Each student is also reading the book at his or her own pace.

After reading the book individually, we meet at the interactive white board and discuss the five elements of fiction (character, plot, setting, theme and style) and we record the pros and cons of the story. I ask them:

  • What did you like about the story?
  • What did you dislike about the story?
  • Why? 
  • Be specific?

We then use a graphic organizer program on the computer and create our own web.

Then the students use Microsoft Word to type a basic paragraph, referring back to the graphic organizer they created. The paragraph included a topic sentence, three details supporting that topic sentence and a concluding sentence. Here is an example of one of my demonstrations:

I really enjoyed Otto’s Orange Day. I loved Otto’s funny song. I thought his use of rhyme was very clever. The genie was very mischievous and I liked that. I recommend second grade teachers buy this for their students.

Notice the use of juicy words (adjectives). I encourage students to create deeper, colorful sentences, which relates back to the classroom standards.

After they finished writing their book review, we posted those comments on our classroom blog. For obvious safety concerns, the students are not allowed to post personal information on the web. Therefore, they have all created their own Super Hero Secret Identity to use when we post on the Internet.

Posting our reviews to our blog serves several purposes:

  1. It meets the national technology and eMINTS standards of sharing and collaborating with a wider audience beyond the classroom. Parents, teachers, school districts, librarians, and other students can see what our students think about this book.
  2. It allows the grade level teacher the ability to assess how their students apply writing skills in other situations outside the classroom vacuum and without teacher intervention. This gives the classroom teach another assessment and helps them make decisions about what writing conventions (spelling, capitalization, punctuation, graphic organizers, etc) to focus on. It also helps us see how students might perform on a constructed response during a standardized test.
  3. It serves as a legitimate form of publishing, which is authentic and gives the students a purpose for learning.
  4. It promotes numerous technology skills without skill-and-drill. The students had to toggle between Word and Blogger, cut-copy-paste, right click for spelling corrections, locate letters on the keyboard, gather information online and synthesize an opinion about it and others.

OTTO’S ORANGE DAY was an excellent tool for meeting the curricular goals of both the Technology Lab and the grade level classroom.

This particular assignment was not an exercise in spelling, nor was it a culminating event. Therefore, I did not require proper spelling. I simply instructed the students to do their best. I wanted to assess their ability to write outside the classroom environment without teacher intervention.

I do teach the students to use the right click to auto correct their spelling, and I do write some difficult words on the white board to assist them with spelling. I do emphasize proper spacing, the use of the backspace and enter keys, ending punctuation, and basic capitalization (something second graders struggle often struggle with.)

Following is a diverse selection of responses to OTTO’S ORANGE DAY, published on my second grade technology blog, 2ND TO NONE. Publishing at The Graphic Classroom was also a part of the lesson, and meets our technology standard to communication outside the school community. Those student reviews are categorized by day, exactly as the students published them including their super hero secret identity.

I did not like the genie. The genie is mean.
Otto wished for the world to be colorful again but he made the world blue. The book was just okay.
I think kids should read Otto’s Orange day

by super toad

I thought Otto’s Orange Day was fabulous. I liked how the genie wanted pacific words. I thought that the song was funky. I also loved how Otto was coloring the future. I recommend that teachers should get Otto’s Orange Day.

by: Weirdo500

I liked Otto’s Orange Day because it rhymes. I liked how the genie got what he wanted. And I liked that he changed all the colors back to their normal colors. You should buy this to read to your student because it is really good and it’s really nice. I liked it and you might like it too.

By Barfboy

I did not like Otto .Because it was all orange. Because it was all blue. I did not like Otto because he scared. Teacher should not by Otto’s Orange Day

by mother

She liked the book Otto Orange Day. He did not like the book. She thinks it is awesome. It is pretty because it is funny. He thinks its lame. It is not funny. She what teachers should buy the book Otto’s Orange Day. He says Nobody should buy the book.

by miley2 and nightcrawer.

I recommend otto’ s book for my teacher . I liked win the jenny because it was very funny popt out of the cup . I think it was funny . I think the teachers shod buy otto,s book. I thenk techer,s shud buy Ott,s orag day because it is vary funny.

by Hanna Montanna

I really, REALLY liked Otto’s Orange Day! I think you will like Otto’s song the very best out of the whole book! You will love Otto’s song! Your students will love this book- so why don’t you buy it!? I thought the genie was awesome because he was tricky. I liked the genie’s necklace. I highly, HIGHLY recommend this very, very funny book!

By Batgirl

I like wian otto sat wat pashsikl. I ilke ant Sile iee swrieha. I like that gene to. Ta gene hat pesa (No name listed)

(Translation: I liked when Otto said “what popsicle”. I like Aunt Sally Lee’s …. I like that genie, too. The genie ate pizza.)

I loved Otto’s Orange Day!! Otto’s song was hilarious and awesome. Otto is awesome and crazy. I loved Otto’s Orange Day so much I want to read it every day.
I recommend parents to read this book.

By Baseball Girl

I like Otto’s Orange Day because it was funny. I liked Otto’s song. I liked when his mom takes his popcicle. I like how the genie was sneakie. I recommend this book for all people who likes books.

by blackmagic

I like Otto’s Orange Day I liked Otto’s cool color. I liked Otto’s sweet song. I liked the genies super cool color. I think kids should read this book.

by cool guy

I think oddos orng day is splended
I like odos orng sog.i like the bling bling. recom mend this book for all 2 grade students.

By: dog girl

The writing of the book is top notch, incorporating song, rhythm and rhyme. The art was easily accessible to students and the story caused a bit of drama eliciting real responses from the students.

The students and I Highly Recommend OTTO’S ORANGE DAY for ages 7 and older.

Author: Jay Lynch
Illustrator: Frank Cammuso
Publisher: Toon Books
Genre: Animal Fiction

Format: Hardcover
Color: Full color
ISBN-13: 978-0-9799238-2-1
ISBN-10: 0-9799238-2-4

Lexile Level: GN 230
Guided Reading Level: J
Reading Recover Level: 17

Click here for the publisher’s lesson plans.


By Nate Stearns
Staff Writer

Even though I am an English teacher, I've always loved history and have harbored more than a little jealousy towards my colleagues who get to steer students through The Punic Wars, The Italian Renaissance, and the Disco Era. There's a scene in the seminal movie about teaching Teachers (with Nick Nolte) when the history teacher, who just happens to be a literally crazy man who wanders in off the street, dresses up as George Washington and has his entire class re-enact the crossing of the Delaware: students are frantically rowing and looking out for Redcoat spies, while he stands dramatically at the prow of the boat, barking, "What river are we crossing?"

I've always wanted to be that guy...minus the dementia.

That kind of energy powers the graphic novel RESISTANCE, BOOK 1 by artist Leland Purvis and writer Carla Jablonski which follows a French brother and sister who are suffering under the German occupation in "free" France in 1942. Paul, the older brother, is a compulsive artist who misses his father, a German POW. One the most interesting conceits of the book is his periodic compulsion to replace the people he talks to with the energetic, scribbly versions he creates. His sister Marie is a younger, tagalong girl who is given to histrionic displays and speaking in ALL CAPS LIKE THIS. When their best friend Henri's Jewish parents are taken by the Germans, the three friends band together with the French Resistance to reconnect Henri with his parents.

A story like this always labors under the mighty influence of Anne Frank. It's difficult to tell a story like this without thinking of her and her family hiding in a Dutch basement. However, the perspective here focuses more on the French gentile children than directly on the plight of the Jews themselves. Paul and Marie join the French Resistance for personal reasons rather than lofty We Must Overcome motivations. Similarly, one of the smartest choices the writer makes is to have Henri react to his parents' abduction with less than stoic determination; he's naturally whiny and sulky.

For students, I think the utility of a book like this is that it presents the French Resistance as a story, as a battle that even the children had to fight. Knowing, for instance, that part of France was "occupied" and another part was "free" is much less important than seeing what that meant on the ground as Paul, Marie, and Levy try to slip into Paris. Adults might find that the complexity of motives hinted at in the short essay that ends RESISTANCE isn't reflected in the characters of the story, but the kids feel authentically kid-like throughout. They're irritatingly sulky and strangely heroic in their attitudes towards the German occupation.

We grasp history best in the stories of the people who live it, and graphic novels like this make me wonder if all of our middle school history textbooks should be replaced by short graphic novel historical fictions. I can imagine Paul and Marie navigating the streets of Paris, avoiding the mobs screaming for Marie Antoinette's blood. Either that or we have transform our classrooms with imaginary guillotines and scream out "What should we let them eat?"

Realistic and expressive, the art conveys the child-centered attitudes of the protagonists with the added interest of Paul's drawings interspersed.

Highly Recommended for middle school and early high school students.

Author: Carla Jablonski
Illustrator: Leland Purvis
Coloring: Hilary Sycamore
Publisher: First Second Books
Genre: Historical Fiction

Format: Softcover
Edition: First edition
Pages: 121
Color: Full color
ISBN-13: 978-1-59643-291-8