Sunday, March 20, 2011


By Chris Wilson

ZITA THE SPACEGIRL is the story of Zita and Joseph: friends and playmates. One day a meteoroid crashes near them. Inside they find a device that opens a portal to another world. Joseph gets abducted and Zita, after running from her problem, confronts the fear and goes after him, sparking an action/adventure/sci-fi story for all ages and genders.

This comic is a goldmine filled with veins of precious metals and gemstones running deep ready to be extracted, polished and brought to market. ZITA THE SPACEGIRL is an exceptional book in three very specific ways:

Fresh, authentic story that speaks to girls and boys
Perfectly balanced elementary graphic novel accessible to various reading levels, from below basic to advanced.
Exemplary way to teach elementary students foundational reading skills (inference, prediction, summary, retelling, description, etc.)

I could barely contain myself the Friday night I read it. My wife, daughter and I sat in the living room with books in hand. It was one of our famous family reading nights. Unfortunately, I kept interrupting the sustained silent reading (SSR) time, shouting aloud how I could use this book to teach this or that or the other. “Sophie, you need to read this.” “This is a really good book.” “My kids are going to dig this.” “More inference.” “That would work well for so-and-so.” On and on I went. The two of them finally gave up on reading because of my constant blurting out.

So, I get excited about comics and teaching. What can I say?

Ben Hatke’s narrative approach reminds me of AMULET, while his art gives a good nod to AMELIA RULES –– both exceptional comics. The story is less intense than AMULET and not as intricate as AMELIA RULES, but neither of those observations are negatives. On the contrary, it is this less-than approach that makes the book more appealing to a wider audience and to the elementary teacher using it for an entire classroom. Do not mistake my “less-than” comment as a dumbing down of literature. ZITA does nothing of the kind. It is simply exciting and widely engaging.

Chris’ Rating: Ages 8 and older
Publisher’s Rating: Ages 8-12

ZITA is the book –– the book –– I would use to introduce and teach inference to elementary students. After the students had extensive practice understanding inference, I would have them create their own comics (pencil-paper or online) that demonstrate an example of inference. I would then have the students read each other’s works. Then, and only then, would I move on to show students how inference occurs in traditional prose, again using an example from contemporary literature.

While there are not a lot of words in the book, there are some significantly high-level vocabulary words. Check this out:
  • meteoroid (pg. 4)
  • atmosphere (pg. 5)
  • gateway (pg. 25)
  • brute (pg. 30)
  • lummox (pg. 31)
  • constabulary (pg. 31)
  • opportunity (pg. 35)
  • volunteer (pg. 36)
  • candidate (pg. 36)
  • permanent (pg. 38)
  • rigorous (pg. 38)
  • shattered (pg. 50)
  • device (pg. 50)
  • refurbish (pg. 52)
  • vintage (pg. 52)
  • complicate (pg. 54)
  • sentient species (in the art on pg. 55)
  • tentacles (pg. 55)
  • inhabitants (pg. 59)
  • errands (pg. 59)
  • creatures (pg. 64)
  • torment (pg. 66)
  • wretched (pg. 66)
  • preserving (pg. 68)
  • acronym (pg. 68)
  • undignified (pg. 68)
  • numerical (pg. 68)
  • designation (pg. 68)
  • obviously (pg. 69)
  • sacrifice (pg. 69)
  • revenge (pg. 70)
  • rodent (pg. 72)
  • considerable (74)
  • challenging (pg. 74)
  • unhygienic (pg. 76)
  • caution (pg. 76)
  • unfathomable (pg. 78)
  • sacrificing (pg. 78)
  • nobly (pg. 79)
  • plunging (pg. 79)
  • optimum (pg. 80)
  • mortal combat (pg. 83)
  • appreciate (pg. 83)
  • interloper (pg. 84)
  • incessant (pg. 89)
  • surge (pg. 93)
  • reliable (pg. 100)
  • vegetables (pg. 110)
  • majesty (pg. 110)
  • minstrel (pg. 111)
  • flimsy (pg. 112)
  • prototypes (pg. 112)
  • upgrades (pg. 112)
  • barnacle (pg. 113)
  • traitor (pg.116)
  • scavengers (pg. 122)
  • retribution (pg. 122)
  • gravitational tremors (pg. 123)
  • prophecy (pg. 127)
  • foretold (pg. 127)
  • mystical (pg. 127)
  • celebration (pg. 127)
  • impressed (pg. 128)
  • paste (pg. 128)
  • orchestrated (pg. 130)
  • universe (pg. 132)
  • assault (pg. 134)
  • miserable (pg. 135)
  • transport (pg. 135)
  • urchin (pg. 137)
  • vermin (pg. 138)
  • livestock (pg. 142)
  • violation (pg. 142)
  • multiple (pg. 142)
  • infractions (pg. 142)
  • inspector (pg. 143)
  • regulations (pg. 143)
  • ceremonial (pg. 143)
  • spherical (pg. 143)
  • programmed (pg. 152)
  • scrolls (pg. 160)
  • malfunctioning (pg. 163)
  • required (pg. 176)
  • revered (pg. 176)
  • prostrate (pg. 177)
  • shard (pg. 178)
  • destabilizing (pg. 181)
  • fueled (pg. 183)

The art on pages 56-57 details scientific descriptions of the creatures of the new world. This involved oodles of descriptive and high level scientific words.

To look at this extensive list of vocabulary words, one might be tempted to save this comic for the highest of readers. I would consider that a mistake. I would teach ZITA in class, and use it to help students practice their unfamiliar word strategies and learn how to make sense of the vocabulary words –– teach them not to be scared and help them discover a desire to find out what those words mean so they can connect more deeply with the story. Because the story is uncomplicated, it is a good book to teach students strategies and instill in them confidence in flushing out unfamiliar words and concepts.

In short, ZITA is that perfect balance between authentic literature and teachable moments. It is not a classroom-created book, which often strips story over Lexile levels or vocabulary instruction. It is great literature that happens to be an excellent book to teach skills in real ways.

Author & Illustrator: Ben Hatke
Publisher: First Second
Genre: Sci-Fi

Format: Paperback
Pages: 192
Color: Full color
ISBN-13: 978-1-59643-446-2

Highly Recommended

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