By Kevin Hodgson
I’m a big fan of Bill Zimmerman, mainly because his free webcomic creator website –– Make Beliefs Comix –– has been a huge hit with students and teachers alike whenever I share it. I’ve also been impressed with the work that Zimmerman does around literacy, comics and writing with English Language Learners, particularly in New York City. This is a man who sees a lot of potential connections between comics and literacy, and acts on it.
Now Zimmerman has published an interesting guide for teachers to consider that is really a series of writing prompts that uses comics as the way in to writing. YOUR LIFE IN COMICS is an activity book of sorts, in which some of the pages features artwork without words or words without artwork, and the reader/writer is encouraged to finish the page.
Notice the subtitle, too: the prompts are mostly designed for boys and young men, including pages in which the writer envisions a boy talking about something meaningful with his father, has the reader expressing hopes for the future, and more. YOUR LIFE IN COMICS also includes various connections to online resources. I like many of the prompts here, although after awhile, the serious message behind many of the activities starts to feel a bit too heavy. Luckily, Zimmerman adds some touches of humor here and there to lighten the mood. This is a book of activities that works best in small doses, I think.
Zimmerman’s illustrator here, Tyler Page, has a realistic style to these comics, and that is ideal for the creative prompts where the writing is at the heart of much of the learning here. The pages are mostly black and white, with some blue mixed in, and that makes it ideal for teachers to photocopy and share with students. It seems unlikely that many teachers would have the resources for a classroom set where students actually write in the book itself.
IN THE CLASSROOM
As noted above, this book is loaded with interesting writing prompts that are presented in the realm of comics, so it is a nice twist to traditional writing assignments. As Zimmerman notes, using comics in the classroom has the potential to engage even the more reluctant writers. Since the themes in YOUR LIFE IN COMICS are social in nature, these comics could be used (plenty could be used for girls as well as boys, by the way) to spark discussions around issues of friendship, family, goals for life and much more. I’ve also had students use this as a model and then they created their own comics with no dialogue, or write dialogue with no comics. Note, too, that Zimmerman has an online resource component for free downloads from the book at http://www.freespirit.com/.
Reading level: Ages 9-12
Publisher: Free Spirit Publishing
I highly recommend this book as a supplement for classroom writing activities. The book is appropriate for students in elementary through middle school, and maybe a bit into high school. Ideally, this book is for middle school students, where social and family issues start to play a real role in identity.