Sunday, October 31, 2010

SECRET SIX: UNHINGED -- A DEMENTED HALLOWEEN SUGGESTION FOR MY ADULT FRIENDS



By Chris Wilson
Editor-in-Geek



STORY SUMMARY
The Secret Six (Catman, Deadshot, Scandal Savage, Bane, Jeannette and Ragdoll) are misfits to be sure. They have fought everyone under the DC sun, good and bad. A band of hired capes, they do what they can to survive and make their way.

But this job, this job my friends, tests them beyond their limits. They are hired to extract Tarantula from prison, retrieve an artifact of great worth from Tarantula’s possession, and deliver that object to Gotham City for a massive payoff. The item of ultimate worth is a get-out-of-hell-free card. Seriously. The owner of the card gets to, upon death, bypass hell and Satan despite his or her transgressions. Priceless.

Everyone, and I mean everyone, wants the card and will do anything to get it including the betrayal of friends and team.


REVIEW
The promo on the back cover of SECRET SIX sums it all up succinctly: “Thugs. Killers. Maniacs. And they’re the good guys.”

Comic Book Guy is my pusher and I am one of his many junkies. Yes, my friends, I am a shameless addict jonesing for the next comic fix. Most of the time I enter the store in full-on teacher mode, but periodically I come in needing a special not-for-school hit of the really good stuff, his private stock, his hold-back.

“Ragdoll,” he says to me.

When Comic Book Guy stops to tell you about a title he does not do so willy-nilly. He is thoughtful and reflective, contemplating stories that will interest his particular users. He knows his junkies well and when he says you need to buy a title, it is not suggested flippantly. He has not been wrong yet and I trust his judgment.

Ragdoll.

Knowing my penchant for the dark and the disturbing –– the PULP FICTION or SILENCE OF THE LAMBS of comics as it were –– Comic Book Guy had ready a suggestion: SECRET SIX. He smiled, which he does not often do, while describing the gory details and the back-story. He kept coming back to one character in particular … Ragdoll, a word he whispers every so delicately with a nasty smirk on his face and a shudder of his shoulders. If you pick up SECRET SIX for no other reason, you should do so just to experience Ragdoll.

Ragdoll and his sibling, Junior, are some kind of disturbed, messed-up poobahs. Ragdoll, in an attempt to please his demented father, underwent disfiguring surgeries to make him a contortionist. Ragdoll also had his genitalia removed.

Daddy issues.

The truth is, the characters in the SECRET SIX all have their neuroses and are not what anyone would consider heroes. This unseemliness is exactly what draws me to the story. The psychological aspects of the team are fascinating. Gail Simone’s understanding of depravity is brilliant and, quite frankly, is scary as hell. I love it.

The elementary teacher in me looks at these characters and wonders what they were like as children. Who were they? How did they behave? Did their teachers know something was wrong? Let’s face it, characters like this don’t just pop up over night.

Make no mistake –– this title is not for children. Period. If you enjoy nefarious and mischievous stories then SECRET SIX is a must-read. If you do not, then stay away … far, far away. If you do delve into the realm of the unsavory, you will find yourself addicted and wanting more. There is plenty of Simone’s SIX to read.



ART REVIEW
Bloody, dark, grotesque American realism at it’s best. The text and art are beautifully interwoven in this piece.


AGE RECOMMENDATION
Chris’ Rating: College and older


BE AWARE
Did you read the review above? You need to be aware of everything in this title.


IN THE CLASSROOM
Two major themes of SECRET SIX are redemption and coveting. Everyone seems to be doing a lot of both. That is to say, they covet the card and, by the very nature of needing the card, are seeking some redemption from their crimes against community and humanity. It is interesting to see the lengths someone will go to for redemption –– absolution. Not that they seem to be seeking forgiveness, mind you. It’s all very interesting and it would be fun to extrapolate it out, applying this story to our own lives.

If SECRET SIX has implications in a classroom, it would only be on the college level. I think a case could be made for studying SECRET SIX in the religious or theological class where students can explore how the story is connected to the everyday, flawed human’s search for redemption, absolution, forgiveness (or lack thereof) and how fear and coveting can effect our lives and distort our ethics and morality. It better be a liberal class because it’s likely to make students very uncomfortable, not that that’s a bad thing.


OTHER INFORMATION
Author: Gail Simone
Pencils: Nicola Scott
Inks: Doug Hazlewood
Colors: Jason Wright
Publisher: DC Comics
Genre: Superhero

Format: Softcover
Volume: Unhinged
Pages: 168
Color: Full color
ISBN-13: 978-1401223274  


CHRIS’ RECOMMENDATION:
Highly Recommended for mature adults only. I have the rest of the series on order at my comic book store.

KID BEOWULF AND THE SONG OF ROLAND



By Kevin Hodgson
Staff Writer



STORY REVIEW
KID BEOWULF AND THE SONG OF ROLAND is the second in a series of graphic novels by Alexis E. Fajardo that uses history as a creative launching pad for wonderful storytelling. Set in the Middle Ages, KID BEOWULF AND THE SONG OF ROLAND is a rich stew of characters, stories and historical narrative of Europe around 750 A.D.

Some of the story revolves around two brothers –– Beowulf and Grendel –– as they journey to France. But really this is an epic poem (turned into story via the graphic novel) of warring factions in the Frankish Empire and Hispania, and how Kind Charlemagne’s troops fends off their arch-enemies.

It would take me far too long to summarize all of the storylines here. Suffice it say, Fajardo has pulled together a wonderful concoction of humor, battle scenes, betrayal and more as Roland (one of the Peers who defend the kingdom) must come to the defense of King Charlemagne.

I was completely entranced by the story here in this book (which is longer than most graphic novels, I have to say) and now I find I want to go back to the first book in the series: KID BEOWULF AND THE BLOOD-BOUND OATH to see what sets the characters Beowulf and Grendel (the monster from the classic Olde English story, although here he is kind of cute) in motion since they play only bit parts in THE SONG OF ROLAND.

The humor is a mix of Old English puns on names along with current topics, such as union representatives and obsessions with amusement parks. Add in a massive elephant who goes berserk, and you get the picture. I appreciated, too, that Fajardo includes maps of the Frankish and surrounding empires in 750 A.D. and I appreciated even more the two-page spread of characters in the book, since I began to lose track of who was who when I put the book down and returned to the story.


ART REVIEW
Alexis E. Fajardo, who works at the Charles Schulz Studio, is clearly a talented writer and artist with imagination galore. His characters are well-conceived and his mix of seriousness, intrigue and slapstick humor (Beowulf and Grendel sometimes take on the role of Abbott & Costello, it seems to me) reflect a deep appreciation for both Looney Tunes and ancient stories of our culture. While the cover is awash with color, the inside pages are black and white, which may turn some students off (it shouldn’t but I find it does, unfortunately).


IN THE CLASSROOM
This graphic novel might be a nice supplement for a unit on the Middle Ages (when countries were forever on the brink of war) but I think the book could go a long way if it made its way into the clutches of some of our advanced readers. It’s a great text that will stretch a reader, and I already have a current student in mind for this book.


MORE INFORMATION
Reading level: Ages 9-12
Format: Paperback
Pages: 272
Publisher: Ink & Paper Group
ISBN-10: 0980141923
ISBN-13: 978-0980141924

Video trailers for the graphic novel and an iPod App for the book series are available.


 
MY RECOMMENDATION
I highly recommend this book for a library in middle or high school classroom. I think the story might be a bit too much for most elementary classrooms in terms of content. There is some sword fighting and cartoonish violence, but nothing too inappropriate.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

GRAPHIC CLASSICS










By Nate Stearns
Staff Writer


My first exposure to classic literature was a Star Trek comic that had Captain Kirk and his crew somehow tracing the journey of Odysseus as he tried to make it back home to Penelope. I’m sure Penelope was some green-skinned alien. I still remember the changing contours of Kirk’s face as he was tied to the mast of the ship so that he could hear the Sirens’ song without going looney and crashing the ship. Whenever I teach the Odyssey I have to constantly remind myself that that there are no Prime Directives, phasers or Vulcan mind melds involved.

When I read The Graphic Classics series, they seems to be made for the classroom. The series is a set of graphic novels attack classic adventure stories – Poe, Stevenson, London, Conan Doyle—with a swarm of adapters and artists. For instance, the Ambrose Bierce volume gathers together 31 artists and writers in only 137 pages to take their shots at the misanthropic genius’s work (the Oscar Wilde volume is more leisurely –– only 5 much longer sections). There are pages from The Devil’s Dictionary as well as from much more obscure pieces such as Moxon’s Master. That seems a natural approach to take as it would be impossible to amass the number of volumes the series contains (17 volumes and counting!) by employing one artist/writer team.

Furthermore, you can see the rationale behind the series. Imagine a reading-resistant boy (and the vast majority of these volumes are boy-centric, though a volume of Louisa May Alcott is due out soon) being given one of these graphic novels and it’s not impossible to imagine that he might find something engaging about these stories as they are illustrated. Yes, something is lost in some of the stories as they get simplified, but it’s also hard to imagine some of my students being willing to sit down with The Picture of Dorian Gray or even Captain Blood. We live in a visual society and it may be that our literature classes will need to accommodate that somewhat.

The problems I have with the Graphic Classics series is not the dumbing-down of literature but the havoc that is wreaked with the constantly shifting succession of artists. Some of this art is absolutely stunning: Bierce’s Oil of Dog is illustrated by Annie Owens who captures the creepy strangeness of the tail with deft lines. I wish I could have read the entire volume with her work. Other artists either have styles that simply don’t match up well with the material or are honestly not very good. The mishmash of styles and approaches adds up to volumes that lack any possibility of unity. The books practically force you to thumb through them rather than read them cover to cover. Therefore, it might make sense to have copies of these books in your library to pull down for Silent Sustained reading periods, but the idea of buying a class set and trying to teach with them seems difficult to imagine.

Still, they are reasonably inexpensive (10$ each!) and each volume contains gems as well as groaners. What I want, no doubt, is implausible. I’d love to see classic works that are translated by talented artists into works that maintain a sustained vision throughout the piece (see Peter Kuper’s THE METAMORPHOSIS. I want to be able to reach out to the student who has no reason to believe that literature has any value to him, but beyond bamboozling him with pretty pictures, I want to introduce him to the possibilities that literature embody and imagine that—in time—he’ll also want to pick up the original…even without the art.

Is that too much to ask?


MY RECOMMENDATION
Appropriate for middle school and high school ages.



GRAPHIC CLASSICS: OSCAR WILDE
Author: Oscar Wilde
Illustrator: Various
Publisher: Graphic Classics
Genre: Traditional literature in comic format
Format: Softcover
Volume: 16
Pages: 142
Color: Black and white
ISBN-13: 978-0-9787919-6-4


GRAPHIC CLASSICS: AMBROSE BIERCE
Author: Ambrose Bierce
Illustrator: Various
Publisher: Graphic Classics
Genre: Traditional literature in comic format
Format: Softcover
Edition: First edition
Volume: 6
Pages: 139
Color: Black and white
ISBN-13: 978-0-9787919-5-7


GRAPHIC CLASSICS: RAFAEL SABATINI
Author: Rafael Sabatini
Illustrator: Various
Publisher: Graphic Classics
Genre: Literature
Format: Softcover
Edition: First edition
Volume: 13
Pages: 141
Color: Black and white
ISBN-10: 0-9746648-6-3
ISBN-13: 978-0-9746648-6-6

SALT WATER TAFFY VOL. 1: THE LEGEND OF OLD SALTY


By Kevin Hodgson
Staff Writer



STORY SUMMARY & REVIEW
SALT WATER TAFFY is a delight. It probably helped that I took this graphic novel with me on our family vacation to Maine because the story focuses on two brothers –– Jack and Benny –– as their family vacations in Maine. The older brother is bored out of his head, particularly since the batteries on his Gameboy have died. What’s he to do now? Explore the small town in Maine, where they meet with an old fisherman named Angus who tells them the tall tale of Old Salty, the gigantic lobster who rules the ocean.

It’s a tall tale, for sure, but the boys can’t help but get drawn in, particularly when a band of thieving lobsters (you heard that right) steal salt water taffy from the downtown store (yep, you heard that right, too) on behalf of Old Salty, who apparently has a bit of a sweet tooth (yep). The boys help Angus grapple with Old Salty (scenes of Moby Dick come to mind), spark a revolution of freedom by the little lobsters and forget all about that Gameboy in lieu of living a real life of adventure.

There are plenty of moments of comedy, including the “meeting” of the lobsters and a mysterious visitor to the town which turns out to be a flock of seagulls in a strange disguise. It’s all great fun in SALT WATER TAFFY by Matthew Loux. (And I see that Loux has put out at least two more SALT WATER TAFFY books, which is good news).


ART REVIEW
Drawn in black and white by Loux, the art here is a perfect combination of energy and curiosity. The bodies of the characters are long, and lean, and seem almost on the verge of movement. The faces of the characters, particularly Angus the fisherman, contain just enough of a look of a smile that you know Loux is putting us, and Jack and Benny, on the road to a tall tale, and that’s okay.


IN THE CLASSROOM
I could see SALT WATER TAFFY having a place on the book stand for upper elementary or middle school readers. The character of Jack, in particular, is interesting, as he is cast first as a typical 11 year old who would rather be anywhere but with his family but then comes out of his shell through experiences in the real world (as opposed to that of his beloved Gameboy). The book also provides a nice entry into the use of setting, as the flavor of New England is all over this story. How might the story differ if it was set in the Midwest, for example?


MORE INFORMATION

Publisher's Recommended Reading Level: Ages 9-12
Format: Paperback
Pages: 96
Publisher: Oni Press
ISBN-10: 1932664947
ISBN-13: 978-1932664942


MY RECOMMENDATION
I highly recommend this book. It is great fun and is completely appropriate for the classroom.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

ADVENTURES IN GRAPHICA: USING COMICS AND GRAPHIC NOVELS TO TEACH COMPREHENSION, 2-6



By Chris Wilson
Editor-in-Geek



REVIEW
I cannot believe I am going to state this but … I really loved reading this textbook. Who says stuff like that? I mean really! But it’s the truth; I had the best time reading this book and thinking about all 500 students I see per week and especially my struggling and reluctant readers in grades 3-4. ADVENTURES IN GRAPHICA resonated with me in ways I did not anticipate.

In my neck of the woods, the law states that fourth grade students will be held back if they cannot meet basic reading competencies. So reading is serious business. My 92-year-old retired grandmother-educator says, “If you can read, you can do anything.”

I take my role as educator very seriously and I consider my school’s Hall of Heroes comic book club a significant factor in the student body’s literacy. My principal does as well. In fact, we have talked about the Hall of Heroes as a Tier 2 intervention. I have observed how reading comics can change a student’s lifelong reading habits, and the results have piqued the interests of other teachers in my building.

So yeah, this textbook lit my teacher-brain up like a Roman candle.

ADVENTURES IN GRAPHICA is penned by Terry Thompson, a literacy coach at a Title I school in Texas. His experience is varied: classroom teacher, basic skills teacher, Reading Recovery teacher, reading intervention teacher and state testing coordinator.

Thompson does not offer elusive ideas or present ivory tower discussions; he is nitty-gritty. Obviously a practicing teacher, Thompson puts the kitchen sink onto paper, giving specific strategies and approaches to the educator who wishes to use comics in the classroom to enhance student literacy. He shows pictures of anchor charts, student work, and specific comics covers. He details how the progressive and excited teacher can use comics to teach the necessary literacy skills (inference, fluency, vocabulary, etc.) in ways that can then be translated to the traditional chapter book and other types of reading.

What he does is simple. Thompson demonstrates in no nonsense terms how to teach struggling readers to visualize stories in any form and internalize concepts and strategies so they can apply those skills in any situation. He simply uses comics as a vehicle –– a supercharged street racer.

It is nothing short of brilliant, and the approaches are simple and easy to incorporate into the classroom. If there is a down side to his book, I think it could be said that it is overwhelming for the comic-teaching beginner. With all the strategies and approaches, where does one begin?

Inferring. I think teachers should start with the basics of the comic structure and how to read a comic. Once that is complete teachers should, in my opinion, move directly toward teaching inferring. Many assessments, such as the Scholastic Reading Inventory (SRI) are inference-based exams. If students cannot make inferences they will continue to fail their reading assessments.

Thompson’s seventh chapter addresses the student’s ability to 1) create mental images of the story and 2) infer. I found this chapter to be the most powerful as it gives the students strong strategies that will impact their reading ability and confidence. The best part is that Thompson gives specifics on transferring the strategies to traditional texts including read-alouds, which I found particularly helpful.

He not only provides reading strategies. Thompson also offers websites, of which The Graphic Classroom is listed, as well as suggested titles, selection guide, comic sketch templates and others items.

I do offer a word of caution regarding his history chapter, however, thanks to a fantastic colleague who mentioned to me that he does not allow his students to cite Thompson’s history chapter because of problems. That section is not the purpose of the book so skip it. There are more in-depth sources out there.

If you are looking for an outstanding text to help you teach literacy to all elementary students, including your most struggling and reluctant readers, then this is the place to start. If applied, these strategies will change your students by exciting them and helping them.


OTHER INFORMATION
Author: Terry Thompson
Publisher: Stenhouse Publishers
Genre: Textbook (not comic format)

Format: Paperback
Pages: 200
ISBN-13: 978-157110-712-1

Preview available here.

CHRIS’ RECOMMENDATION:
Highly Recommended

STAR WARS OMNIBUS: BOBA FETT


By Chris Wilson
Editor-in-Geek



STORY SYNOPSIS
Dark Horse, the purveyor of Star Wars comics for several years, finally released an all-Fett volume collecting nine of the bounty hunters’ great stories from years past. With such a volume comes a plethora of writing and artistic styles – some more serious and in-depth while others offer more comic relief. The stories begin approximately three years before the Death Star was destroyed (known as the Battle of Yavin) and continue along the continuum 10 years after the Battle of Yavin.


A REVIEW AND A DISCUSSION FOR CLASSROOM USE
When I was in second grade everyone was talking about the newly released THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, and one character in particular made for wide-eyed discussions within my boy circles: Boba Fett. He was so cool and mysterious.

STAR WARS OMNIBUS: BOBA FETT tells of the merciless, credit-driven Mandalorian-wearing mercenary taking jobs – any jobs – that pay enough for his reputation. The very nature of his vocation lands Fett in many precarious situations including a one-on-one battle with Darth Vader for a magical and coveted siren-song prize in which Fett’s character and resistance is stronger than Vader’s. To do battle with Vader and live another day is a testament to the reason why his father’s DNA was cloned to create an army. Remember that Boba is a perfect clone to his father, Jenga.

The omnibus is an action-packed chronicled story of Fett which is sure to delight fans of the series and entice reluctant readers to literature, which is a key component to reading motivation. The literature review in my graduate seminar paper (available in the sidebar) told of a story of a student who quit reading sometime in sixth grade. He was an avid reader of STAR WARS novels only, but he read them with intensity and furvor. He read because he loved it; however, his teacher chastised him for engaging in what has erroneously been dubbed by many teachers “not real literature”. The boy stopped reading and did not read for enjoyment for the rest of his life. The story is not new and not unique; it has happened with novels and comics and magazines.

With STAR WARS OMNIBUS: BOBA FETT we have a chance to change the attitudes of students by encouraging them to read by giving them titles that are interesting to them. At nearly 500 pages, the story is worthy of studying, discussing and even testing.


  • Is Fett evil or good? Defend your answer using specific examples.
  • Will Fett do anything and take any job?
  • Is Fett part of the Empire or the Rebellion? How do you know?


Many stories have clearly established characters of good or evil. Others, however, are more ambiguous and BOBA FETT allows the readers to explore grey characters and understand the role those persons play in literature and in life. Because students are so familiar with the Star Wars mythos, but not so familiar with Fett himself, BOBA FETT gives depth to the entire Star Wars universe. Teachers could make show clips from the movie or Cartoons and students could use the movies as resources to reinforce their discussion questions.


ART REVIEW
It is difficult to critique a volume in which the art is from different periods. The reading experience can be discombobulating for some and rich for others. For me, and I suspect for most students, the art of the comics published years ago is less appealing and harder to read. The more modern art renders are easier and more accessible. On the other hand, the stories are compelling enough, that the art can be overlooked as an inconvenience rather than a distraction.


AGE RECOMMENDATION
Chris’ Rating: Ages 12 and older
Publisher’s Rating: Ages 12 and older

There is nothing inappropriate in STAR WARS OMNIBUS: BOBA FETT with the exception of a couple of minor curse words. The women in a couple of stories are dressed similarly to Princess Leia when she was a slave to Jabba the Hutt. The sheer depth of the stories might be difficult for some tweens.


BE AWARE
Minor cursing, scantily clad females and Star Wars violence are present.




OTHER INFORMATION
Author: Thomas Andres, Mike Kennedy, Ron Marz and John Ostrader
Illustrator: Ian Gibson, Cam Kennedy, Francisco Ruiz Velasco
Publisher: Dark Horse
Genre: Sci-Fi

Format: Paperback
Pages: 496
Color: Full color
ISBN-13: 978-1-9582-418-9


CHRIS’ RECOMMENDATION:
Highly Recommended  Star Wars is a natural beacon of literary interest for students, especially boys. Children are introduced to the story in the primary grades and the love of the Star Wars universe continues into adulthood. Its inclusion in the classroom is apparent and necessary, especially for certain students who may read little to nothing else. There are strong literary themes present in the mythos to warrant study from the elementary to the college level.

I made STAR WARS OMNIBUS: BOBA FETT available to my fourth graders in the comic club. Since we started in September, the book has been continually checked out.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

SPORTS ILLUSTRATED KIDS GRAPHIC NOVELS

 
By Chris Wilson
Editor-in-Geek



REVIEW
Sports Illustrated Kids, in conjunction with Stone Arch Books, created a series of sports related fictional comic stories for elementary and middle school kids. The comics are designed to teach lessons on teamwork, sharing, anger control, bullying, fair play, disability inclusion, gender inclusion, and other lessons through a sports framework. Both mainstream and alternative sports are included:
  • Snowboarding
  • Baseball
  • Football
  • Basketball
  • Paintball
  • Hockey
  • Skateboarding
  • Soccer

Many of the stories feature an overenthusiastic or even out-of-control parent or coach who pushes a kid to be overly aggressive and win at all costs. After a quick talk with a sage advisor they change their ways and even apologize to the player. Okay, so it’s an ending with a pretty-bow. I’m typically more of a fan of authentic stories rather than teachable moment morality tales or after-school specials, but I understand the place that morality tales play in the classroom especially with younger kids. Considering the discussion of bullying within schools and society recently, perhaps we need more direct instruction on how to treat other people and behave within society. I think these would be well played on the elementary or early middle school level, but I suspect seventh and eighth graders might wholly reject the titles with their eye rolling, sighing and general sardonic teenagerness. That doesn’t mean they don’t need the lessons or should not have the lessons, but you might encounter resistance.

The elementary level is where this series will do its good. Classroom teachers and even physical education teachers could use this series to help instruct kids on the complicated issues of bullying, ball hogging, aggression, and extreme sports pressures. Even on the elementary level we see students pushed very hard by parents or coaches to accel, win and often hurt or punish the other team. Learning to deal with those pressures at an early level can help with character development on and off the field.


ART REVIEW
SI Kids comics are designed like a TV sports show with stats, bios, and after-game interviews. The whole package is designed to engage reluctant readers in a TV-style experience. Once hooked, it can teach them honorable sports conduct. In a further attempt to gain entrance into modern minds, SI Kids comics use colorized manga with simple panel layouts, which is popular among youth.


AGE RECOMMENDATION
Chris’ Rating: Ages 7 and older
Publisher’s Reading Level: Grades 2-3
Publisher’s Interest Level: Grades 3-8

Lexile levels, ATOS, and Guided Reading levels are available on all the titles in the series.

BE AWARE
There are bullies and ultra-aggressive parents, but they always learn their lessons in the end.


OTHER INFORMATION
Publisher: Stone Arch Books
Genre: Sports

Format: Reinforced Library Binding
Pages: 56
Color: Full color

Google Previews are also available for some of the titles.

CHRIS’ RECOMMENDATION:
Recommended

USING COMICS TO DEVELOP THE CINEMA OF THE MIND

For many school students, reading and literature can be the most difficult subjects to grasp. Some simply may not enjoy the process of reading because they cannot visualize the story, and others may read perfectly fine but cannot understand how the plot elements of the story work. In these instances, a classroom assignment where students are encouraged to draft up a comic panel of the required reading can be just the trick to teach students about plot devices, characterization, and even to encourage students to visualize the characters of the novel.

Simply put, reading a good novel should be just as enjoyable as watching a movie, or even more enjoyable than that. This is because those who read novels should be able to create their own movies in their minds, casting whomever they desire into the roles of the literary characters. Bad acting and bad special effects are impossible in the cinema of the mind, so reading and visualizing the events of a well-written book should be entertaining and riveting. Yet, some students cannot easily train their minds to produce literary movies as they read along, rendering the reading experience insufferably dull. For these students, encouraging them to draw up some comic panels outlining some major events in the assigned reading can help them to visualize the scenes. Ask your students to draw up their own short comic panel of a particular scene, including adding in some narration and dialogue directly from the book. Of course, poor artwork should not be penalized so that even the most creatively insecure of students can feel comfortable drawing up their depiction of the literary scene. If this type of comic-related assignment is given on a regular basis, every student will soon begin forming visualizations of each scene automatically because they will be trained to produce these images periodically, making reading much more enjoyable.

This same type of assignment could also help students better understand plot development. When considering an entire novel, students can have difficulty understanding where the foreshadowing, conflict, climax, falling action, and denouement are in the tale. These are the same students who may have trouble effectively summarizing a novel without taking five pages to do so. To illustrate how the plot elements for a particular story work, ask your students to create a relatively short comic strip about the entire novel. Depending on the length of the novel, the assignment can range anywhere from six- to ten-panels long. The goal is to force students to condense the story. Many students will be able to see which plot elements apply to which scene once they begin drawing the scenes because it will be similar to storyboarding for a film. As many students are familiar with summarizing films and picking out the plot elements in that medium, it can greatly benefit students to see their novel in a pseudo-film format. Once your students are done creating their short comic versions of the assigned reading, have them identify which scenes (or panels) represent each plot element.

Comics are a valuable resource that schools should embrace because they can make learning new materials more engaging. In fact, comics are so powerful that even the creation of comics in the classroom can help teach visual and tactile learners about literature and encourage them to enjoy reading more in the future.


This guest post is contributed by Olivia Coleman, who writes on the topics of online colleges and universities.  She welcomes your comments at: olivia.coleman33 @gmail.com.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

AN EDUCATIONAL PEP TALK ABOUT COMICS

By Chris Wilson
Editor-in-Geek


The debate on whether or not comics should be used in classrooms at any level (elementary, middle school, high school or college) is a defunct one. While the comics-in-education movement is still scary to some teachers and administrators, it is an established movement with serious scholarly research and anecdotal evidence strongly supporting it. The research is there, my friends. The results are amazing.

Perhaps, it could be stated that comics supporting curricula and state standards is still in its infancy, but it is definitely not novel and it is not new. More importantly, comics are being utilized at all levels of education and not simply as supplemental material once the “real work” is finished. Comics are used as standalone, legitimate works worth of academic study.

The real debate and discussion now centers around how to properly and academically utilize comics in the classroom to increase student knowledge, teach basic literacy foundations, increase student motivation in all forms of reading, teach state and national standards, and assess student engagement and learning.

It is all very exciting.

Just a couple of weeks ago a high-ranking administrator in my school district approached me about presenting a comics-technology-literacy session at a regional educational technology conference. It was stated that the conference is always looking for presentations that have a wow factor. Comics, my friends, definitely have the wow factor for teachers –– and this is important –– for students.

I have numerous teachers in my building alone who send students to my room to check out comics. Often this is used as an incentive for students struggling academically, behaviorally or socially; however, this approach is not used exclusively for that population.

Last week a special education teacher and her students developed a vocabulary approach using comics. The kids bring in their spelling lists for the week. She has them create a comic using all five of the spelling words. The words must be spelled and used correctly in the narrative. Just like real comics publishers, the kids emphasize their important words by using a different color, ink, and/or changing the way the word is written. Some make new comics every week while others choose to create an on-going narrative. Either way, the kids are now motivated to study, write and understand their spelling words.

In that same week, a student of the Hall of Heroes comic book club stated that he read three comics the night prior. Big deal, right? Fourth grade kids are supposed to read every night. Well, the fact is, many of the students in my school do not read any night. The same is true with this student. This time he checked out six individual comic book issues and took them home. For the first time … ever read that very night. Never before has this child been excited about or even done his reading let alone filled out his reading log. This time, he actually reported to a teacher that he read. I sent him directly to his classroom teacher to tell her. He did and they have since filled out a reading log.

It may seem an insignificant thing to those who read regularly, but for this child, and many more like him, we have crossed a precipice and made an impact. For the first time in this child’s life he read because he wanted to and he was so excited that he just had to tell someone.

My focus now, as an editor and purveyor of comics education, is to read, review and promote the outstanding resources available to help teachers utilize comics in their classroom and their grade level.

The biggest complaint I hear from high school teachers when attending professional development sessions is that the information is geared for elementary or middle school students and is not applicable to the high school classroom. I sympathize with such plights and have resources for all levels of education.

The wealth of information and the vast number of comics is overwhelming and overpowering. It can be frightening to know where and how to get started. I suggest choosing one of the comics in our collection of best comics for your classroom and try it. Observe what works for you and your students and what does not and then try again. Slowly introduce new titles. Consider paired readings using traditional works and comics. Build toward themed and topical units using novels, comics, newspapers, videos, photo collections, and essays. Build culminating events and activities whereby students create their own comics to demonstrate their learning of a particular subject or topic. Bring one comic into your class to build students’ basic literacy skills, confidence and reading motivation.

Just remember: move slow and methodically. I teach my students that comics are not meant to be read fast. I believe the same is true with educational change. Add comics education as you can, one step at a time. Grow and build as your comfort level allows and do not be afraid to contact us. We will do our best to help you or forward you to others. Use our links in the sidebar to find others in the comics movement.

Comics are making a significant impact on education but change is slow and difficult. It is working!

BUILDING LITERACY CONNECTIONS WITH GRAPHIC NOVELS: PAGE BY PAGE, PANEL BY PANEL



By Chris Wilson
Editor-in-Geek



Literary pairings, couplings, braidings –– these are the pedagogical foundations from which BUILDING LITERARY CONNECTIONS WITH GRAPHIC NOVELS is constructed, and the textbook works –– quite well, I should say –– for the high school English classroom.

In truth, the textbook is billed for both middle school and high school classrooms. In fact, a couple of the chapters are designed with middle school classrooms in mind, but the bulk of the chapters are detailed instructions on how to braid traditional canonical novels with comics and create a literature-rich environment where students are highly engaged and participate in the assimilation, synthesizing and schema-incorporating of literature.

Edited by Dr. James Bucky Carter, who was a PhD candidate at the time of publication and is now a professor at UTEP –– as well as a mover-shaker in the comics-education movement –– this textbook gives the English educator 10 chapters of comics infusion into the literature classroom. It does so without compromising the tradition or importance of classic canonical works.

Dr. Carter introduces the textbook with an encapsulation of the research and reasoning for using comics in the classroom, including a good deal of personal experience and observation. The next chapter’s authors offer an innovative and progressive approach to the language arts classroom, which, if accepted, requires a restructuring from the traditional whole class novel approach. It is interesting but not required in order to use comics.

The remaining chapters advocate for braided units whereby traditional texts are taught in tandem with a graphic novel in order to explore a specific theme or topic of particular interest. My personal favorites involved the following braidings:

  • Beowulf (poem) with Beowulf (Gareth Hind’s comic adaptation)
  • Dante’s Inferno with X-Men: Nightcrawler’s Inferno
  • Oliver Twist with Fagin the Jew

Dr. Carter also wrote a chapter on using Ultimate Spider-Man to help students develop their own creations with authentic voice.

BUILDING LITERARCY CONNECTIONS is a high school teacher’s bible of comics infusion. The ideas, strategies and opportunities give educators a place from which to build a multimodal classroom whereby authentic literature is devoured, understood and enjoyed not just by literature-loving teens, but also by a diverse population of students who might otherwise have passed up the chance to ever connect with the power and lifelong implications of story. For those teachers who are not sure how to begin or what to teach, this book arms them with plenty of knowledge. For those who have already begun, this textbook helps them continue the journey with confidence.


OTHER INFORMATION
Editor: Dr. James Bucky Carter
Authors: Various
Publisher: National Council of Teachers of English
Genre: Textbook

Format: Paperback
Pages: 164
ISBN-13: 978-0-8141-0392-0

Awards: Inaugural winner, Excellence in Graphica in Education


CHRIS’ RECOMMENDATION:
Highly Recommended
High school teachers should flock to this book and utilize the ideas and strategies to make their literature classroom come alive with student engagement and relevance.

UNDERSTANDING COMICS



Ellen Ma
Staff Writer

I relied heavily on Scott McCloud’s UNDERSTANDING COMICS in my Master’s thesis due to his impressive, thorough explanation of both the visual and verbal aesthetics of comics. It’s perhaps an old fashioned, na├»ve expression if someone says “comics are for kids” since the visuals in comics can be extremely complex and McCloud really shows just how complex comics can be.


STORY REVIEW
UNDERSTANDING COMICS really breaks down the aspects of comics in comprehensible terms. Some of the chapters cover the vocabulary of comics, time frames, space, and sequential art. What I love most about this book is that McCloud explains many definitions used in comics as well as the elements of the visual and verbal aspects. McCloud also brings in a few examples on manga, fine art, and pictures to further his analysis. The most significant aspect I found was the visual grammar of comics, which was extremely helpful upon using a graphic novel in my classroom. Understanding visual grammar gives students a vocabulary in comprehending what the images are representing and why the images are more than “something pretty to look at” in comics.

ART REVIEW
I really appreciate McCloud creating this book as a comic because I’m no expert in art or art history. The images prove to be very helpful and a strong tool for explaining most of his analysis about comics, and I for one, am more of a visual learner. The black and white art is clean and easy to comprehend. There are a few pages that may seem overwhelming with very detailed images but there isn’t anything unnecessary or mysterious; the art is simple and straightforward.

AGE RECOMMENDATION
My Rating: Middle School - College
Publisher’s Rating: Everyone

IN THE CLASSROOM
Even giving one chapter for students to read from UNDERSTANDING COMICS can save you a lot of pain from trying to explain the aesthetics of the visuals on your own, especially if you want to use a graphic novel for what it is: a graphic novel. If your intention for using a graphic novel is for students to do more than enjoy the images, definitely consider McCloud’s analysis and explanation of comics, particularly about visual grammar and how images can be significant and purposeful to the reader.
This would be a really great “in-to” activity with students before they actually start reading a graphic novel with just analyzing the elements and aspects of the comic itself. There is a reason as to why the artist chooses a particular perspective, decides on how much space to fill, what they intend the reader to imagine between the panels, and what effect the reader should feel from the images, is all explained in UNDERSTANDING COMICS.

MY RECOMMENDATION
Highly recommended


OTHER INFORMATION
Author & Illustrator: Scott McCloud
Publisher: Harper Collins
Genre: Comics & Art History
Format: Paperback
Pages: 224
ISBN-10: 0060976255
ISBN-13: 978-0060976255

24 HOUR COMICS DAY



If we had been on the ball and heeded the advice of Kevin, this notice would have come out before today. Alas, a failed logic board on the five-year-old iMac and a busy schedule at school and home made for a hectic week.

So I kinda missed the boat on promoting 24 Hour Comics Day prior to the day. What a cool endeavor, don't you think?