Sunday, July 24, 2011


Sabriel by Garth Nix. The article is not about this traditional book,
but how how I use literature to change lives.

By Chris Wilson

The dark-haired boy sat down next to me, his red Converse chucks tapping the ground in rapid syncopation. I didn't even have time to say hello to his mother before he began describing his latest novel. It's hard to find great literature appropriate for students whose reading level is exceedingly higher than their age and maturity level. It's even harder when their tastes are not aligned with the school library's trappings or the school's reading comprehension program.

This boy who is stoic in many ways, giving hints to his feelings only through infinitesimal facial expressions and body language, clamored on about the story of Sabriel. He could scarcely keep the spoilers inside –– the story line dripping like sweat from his forehead. I listened and smiled and gently reminded him not to tell me this part or that detail so he didn't ruin it for me. 

Within a week we saw his family again and he brought his hard copy of Sabriel to me. I've heard from him twice in the week that followed, he inquiring excitingly as to whether or not I had started it. I'm still trying to finish the 1,000+  page novel I'm halfway through, but I told him I would look at it when I finished my book, but it would be a while.

The teacher in me finally realized my misstep, after his second inquiry. You see, I may not be his teacher, but I am a teacher and I recognized what he was doing. He was trying to connect with me. We have a literary sharing community he and I. I've thrown several comics his way and he's read many of them, but it has been a one way street for the most part. This was his attempt to take our literary circle to a deeper, two-way street.

It was very important to this boy that I read his novel, the one thing that has brought his so much joy and excitement. To put it off sends him a message that his books may not be important to me. That's not true, and as he grows older he will see the fallacy in that and gain patience. Right now he sees the world as a new 12-year-old who needs me to be excited about his book.

Despite the fact that I'm reading (for the second time) George R.R. Martin's acclaimed fantasy series A Story of Ice and Fire, the first novel of which is now a hot HBO series, as well as reading and reviewing comics and comics education textbooks, I knew that I had to make time for Sabriel in order to build the connection with this kid. Loving his book will mean so much to him and will affect him. 

Sabriel is not comic. Why am I writing this on my comic website? The relationship building I am discussing is the exact approach I use in my school and my classroom. Obviously, I cannot read every book that every student ever gives me. I don't claim to. I do, however, pay attention to my students, especially those who really need me: those who need a strong but loving man in their life, those labeled as at-risk, those with behavior problems, and those who are struggling academically or socially or emotionally. I pay attention to what they need. If they need me to read a book, I do it. If they need me to pull them aside and chit-chat, I do it. If they need me to have lunch with them during my break, then I do it. If they need comics to get into reading, then I give them to them. 

My approach at school is predicated upon relationship building. Everything I do –– decorating my room with my old toys, getting kids into comics, wearing superhero belt buckles and T-shirts, running a comic book club, dressing up as our principal (a female), eating with kids, talking to them as I walk down the hallway, asking about their day, complimenting them on a new hair cut or shirt or glasses, high fives, hugs, knuckle bumps –– it is all done to create an environment where I can connect with students and change they way they see education (reading specifically), and how they see adults, men, and the world.

I don't really have time to read Sabriel, but I'm going to. He will be better off for it. I am willing to be I will be better off as well. When our students trust us and we trust them, then amazing things happen in the classroom and in their souls. I am a teacher. It is my job to educate students and I get there by building trust and relationships.  

So, I started reading Sabriel last night and it's great so far. 


It's San Diego Comic Con time and many of my friends and comics educator colleagues are in California soaking in all the geekness the coast has to offer. Comic Con means the Eisner Awards, our beloved comics industry's Academy Awards.

Best Short Story
"Post Mortem," by Greg Rucka and Michael Lark, in I Am an Avenger #2 (Marvel)

Best Single Issue (or One-Shot)
Hellboy: Double Feature of Evil, by Mike Mignola and Richard Corben (Dark Horse)
Best Continuing Series
Chew, by John Layman and Rob Guillory (Image)
Best Limited Series
Daytripper, by Fábio Moon and Gabriel Bá (Vertigo/DC)
Best New Series
American Vampire, by Scott Snyder, Stephen King, and Rafael Albuquerque (Vertigo/DC)
Best Publication for Kids
Tiny Titans, by Art Baltazar and Franco (DC)
Best Publication for Teens
Smile, by Raina Telgemeier (Scholastic Graphix)
Best Humor Publication
I Thought You Would Be Funnier, by Shannon Wheeler (BOOM!)
Best Anthology
Mouse Guard: Legends of the Guard, edited by Paul Morrissey and David Petersen (Archaia)
Best Digital Comic
Abominable Charles Christopher, by Karl Kerschl,
Best Reality-Based Work
It Was the War of the Trenches, by Jacques Tardi (Fantagraphics)
Best Graphic Album—New
Return of the Dapper Men, by Jim McCann and Janet Lee (Archaia)
Wilson, by Daniel Clowes (Drawn & Quarterly)
Best Graphic Album—Reprint
Wednesday Comics, edited by Mark Chiarello (DC)
Best Adaptation from Another Work
The Marvelous Land of Oz, by L. Frank Baum, adapted by Eric Shanower and Skottie Young (Marvel)
Best Archival Collection/Project—Strips
Archie: The Complete Daily Newspaper Strips, 1946–1948, by Bob Montana, edited by Greg Goldstein (IDW)
Best Archival Collection/Project—Comic Books
Dave Stevens' The Rocketeer Artist's Edition, edited by Scott Dunbier (IDW)
Best U.S. Edition of International Material
It Was the War of the Trenches, by Jacques Tardi (Fantagraphics)
Best U.S. Edition of International Material—Asia
Naoki Urasawa's 20th Century Boys, by Naoki Urasawa (VIZ Media)
Best Writer
Joe Hill, Lock & Key (IDW)
Best Writer/Artist
Darwyn Cooke, Richard Stark's Parker: The Outfit (IDW)
Best Penciller/Inker or Penciller/Inker Team
Skottie Young, The Marvelous Land of Oz (Marvel)
Best Painter/Multimedia Artist (interior art)
Juanjo Guarnido, Blacksad (Dark Horse)
Best Cover Artist
Mike Mignola, Hellboy, Baltimore: The Plague Ships (Dark Horse)
Best Coloring
Dave Stewart, Hellboy, BPRD, Baltimore, Let Me In (Dark Horse); Detective Comics (DC); Neil Young's Greendale, Daytripper, Joe the Barbarian (Vertigo/DC)
Best Lettering
Todd Klein, Fables, The Unwritten, Joe the Barbarian, iZombie (Vertigo/DC); Tom Strong and the Robots of Doom (WildStorm/DC); SHIELD (Marvel); Driver for the Dead (Radical)
Best Comics-Related Periodical/Journalism
ComicBookResources, produced by Jonah Weiland (
Best Comics-Related Book
75 Years of DC Comics: The Art of Modern Mythmaking, by Paul Levitz (TASCHEN)
Best Publication Design
Dave Stevens' The Rocketeer Artist's Edition, designed by Randall Dahlk (IDW)
Judges' Choices: Ernie Bushmiller, Jack Jackson, Martin Nodell, Lynd Ward
Elected: Mort Drucker, Harvey Pekar, Roy Thomas, Marv Wolfman
Will Eisner Spirit of Comics Retailer Award:
Comics & Vegetables, Tel Aviv, Israel - Yuval Sharon, Danny Amitai


By Chris Wilson

No one wants to play with Cousin Bo. He breaks all the toys, takes things, makes mean faces and is not nice. When Benny and Penny find out Bo is coming over, they try to hide all their toys except Penny’s monkey doll. Bo starts right in, taking a toy they didn’t hide and hitting Benny with it. He sticks his tongue out and then takes their treasure map. Half the day is spent dealing with Bo’s monkeyshines.

Truth be told, Bo is a bully. At the very least, he is a bully-in-training. Either way, he constantly steals, hits, destroys things, and acts mean toward other kids. Finally, Bo runs away to play with other kids and gets stuck in a hole. Always compassionate, Benny and Penny assist him, which leads to much better play for the rest of the day.

It’s a cute early childhood introduction to bullying and problem solving where children resolve their own issues. Are they friends in the end? For the day, it appears so. Will Bo continue his behaviors next time or has he changed? Only time will tell, but I suspect he’s not changed so much. Next time Benny and Penny may need to enlist the help of adults. Or not. Hopefully not.

BENNY AND PENNY is a stellar series of life lessons for the very young. Geoffrey Hayes continues to tell stories that are important for young children to experience in order to connect with the difficulties of life in ways young children can grasp. It’s why his books continue to delight children and parents and why B&P wins awards and kudos.

Chris’ Rating: Emergent reader and older
Publisher’s Rating: Ages 4 and older

THE TOY BREAKER is quintessential social interaction and problem solving strategies for early childhood students. It speaks their language and understands their interests. Not only is it a top notch read-aloud in the pre-K to grade 1 classroom, but also a safe and appropriate resource for school counselors who want to introduce bullying prevention in early grades.

Lesson plans are available on the B&P website.
Students can create their own BENNY AND PENNY cartoons on the website.
Visit the B&P blog.

Author & Illustrator: Geoffrey Hayes
Publisher: Toon Books

Format: Hardcover
Pages: 32
Color: Full color
ISBN: 978-1-935179-07-8

Lexile Level: BR
Guided Reading Level: H

Highly Recommended

Sunday, July 17, 2011


By Kevin Hodgson
Staff Writer

Suffice it to say that satire is alive and well in THE ADVENTURES OF UNEMPLOYED MAN. Erich Origen and Gan Golen have a political stance and they run with it from the very first page. The story is about a superhero, Ultimatum (power: motivational speech), who is transformed into Unemployed Man when he loses his job and discovers the masses of people out of work. Unemployed Man then helps lead the people into revolution, overthrowing the capitalistic superheroes of wealth (led by The Invisible Hand).

The book echoes all of the classic comic books of the past, but the message is underpinned with biting humor and a fearless look at the current state of economics, including elements that led to the recent financial meltdown. I found myself laughing at loud at the ways in which the writers used comic tropes to make political points, never pulling any punches. This is clearly a jab straight at the political right from the political left, and the book makes its points loudly and pointedly and with no apologies. It is a story sure to rile the conservatives.

THE ADVENTURES OF UNEMPLOYED MAN is drawn and colored in the manner of classic superhero comics. In fact, if one was to just look at the art (and not read the words), you might think this was a typical comic. There is the same style of inking, and the same facial expression as we used to find on the old Superman and Batman and more. Of course, here, the words are everything. I particularly liked the fake advertisements in this book, as much as the story itself, as the ads played up the theme of political and economic unrest. It’s hard to resist something like the “Political Science Kit” that allows kids to discover the properties of Reagonite, Clintonite, Dubyanite and Obamamite. Or how can you not smile at the ad for the self-pulling bootstraps, which promise you “…a better quality of life than your parents.”

I’m not sure exactly where this book would fit. It is clearly designed for an older audience with knowledge of economics and politics. Understanding satire is an advanced skill (you should have seen the confusion on my young sons’ faces as they read this book). While not inappropriate in content, the story and theme leans so far left of center that to treat it as anything other than a political document would be an injustice of sorts. Not every realm of the world requires such balance, but I believe a classroom does.  I imagine that an upper level high school political science class might be a good place for this book as well as a class exploring rhetoric or author's point of view. Mostly, it seems to me that this is a college-level example of satire and popular culture.

Format: Paperback
Pages: 80
ISBN-13: 978-0316098823

Click here for the Unemployed Man website.

I would highly recommend this book, with the caveat of finding the right audience. THE ADVENTURES OF UNEMPLOYED MAN does not belong in the elementary or middle school classroom, but it might have a place in some high school and university classrooms. There is no real violence or inappropriate language here. It just that the content is very sophisticated. When I thought about whom I would share THE ADVENTURES OF UNEMPLOYED MAN with, my thoughts ran to adult friends who are college professors and other political junkies in my circle of acquaintances. I couldn’t think of a single kid I’d pass this book along to.


By Kevin Hodgson
Staff Writer

Finally, Athena gets her due. ATHENA: GREY-EYED GODDESS nicely tells the tale of this unusual female goddess of Greek mythology whose presence is all too often seen as a shadow of her brother, Ares. In ATHENA: GREY-EYED GODDESS, George O’Connor nicely weaves in the origin of Athena and some of the exploits that make her such an interesting character.

The birth of Athena to Zeus is one of the stronger myth stories, as she is birthed directly from her father’s head. The back story has to do with a prophesy that led Zeus to swallow whole his first wife, Metis, who then gave birth to their daughter inside of Zeus. Athena emerged from Zeus, full of wisdom and courage and ready for battle.

In this book, we also learn of how she came to take on the name of “Pallas,” how she defeated the giants of Gaia, how she helped Percy in his quest against Medusa, and more. (One confusing bit is that she takes the name Pallas from a friend whom she has killed in competitive games, only to face a giant named Pallas. Why the two have the same name is never quite clear.) Athena emerges as a full character as O’Connor infuses her with the compassion, intelligence and bravery one expects from a goddess.

The illustrations here are nicely done, with dark colors visually representing the evils, which Athena must face in the world. The colors are vibrant throughout the book. Athena herself is beautiful, but not sexualized, and her persona is representative of the many facets of her personality.

This book would be a great addition to a library dedicated to Greek mythology, and it a nice counter-balance to the male-dominated work that often goes along with studying myths. The story of Athena’s birth will certainly raise some questions, as will the use of The Fates to tell Athena’s tale here. There is also a wonderful section at the back of the book with useful information about Greek myths, profiles of select characters, a detailed reference to mythology in the story and even discussion questions.

Reading Level: Young Adult
Format: Paperback
Pages: 80  
Publisher: First Second
ISBN-13: 978-1596434325

I highly recommend this book for any classroom library, and think it is certainly most appropriate for middle and high school students. While there are some elements of violence in the battles that the gods undertake, the book may be also be suitable for upper elementary students.

Saturday, July 9, 2011


I present at the National Power Up Conference in Las Vegas on Monday, July 11. I used Prezi to discuss Comics, Technology and Core Curriculum. The Prezi is available below for your convenience as is the handout.

Friday, July 8, 2011


Many people, such as myself, give away comics instead of candy on Halloween. You can buy a bundle of 20 mini-comics for $4 to $5 a bundle.

The thing is, they make excellent Guided Reading or small group reading titles. These comics are small in size, 16 pages long and cheap. If you want to get comics in your classroom and try them out without spending a lot of money, then this is a great place to start. You can even work with other teachers so each of you buy one bundle then share and swap. Try it. Trust me.

How do you order? Contact your local or online comic book shop and order them before the end of July. What you order now comes in October. Act fast. 

Titles available this year:
  • Scary Godmother 
  • Archie's Laugh Comics
  • Casper's Scare School/Strawberry Shortcake
  • Fraggle Rock
  • Snarked
  • Donald Duck
  • The Smurfs
  • Mameshiba

Saturday, July 2, 2011


By Chris Wilson

Elementary teachers in cotton states have a humorous cotton comic to add to the classroom library this year. THE SECRET ADVENTURES OF HAMSTER SAM: ATTACK OF THE EVIL BOLL WEEVILS is a crazy little comic about all things cotton, King Cotton to be exact: the cotton industry, cotton gin, the cotton predators known as the boll weevils, and the basic steps from harvest to cloth.

All of it is told in anthropomorphic slapstick complete with super hero hamster (inspired by his Macaroni and Cheese Man comic), inchworm sidekick, cheese-fueled time-traveling hamster ball, and a nasty motorcycle gang of boll weevils. Will Hamster Sam and Miles defeat the boll weevils? Of course. Will they learn about cotton? Duh. Will they eat stinky cheese? Who wouldn’t? Will they tell ridiculous jokes and make campy pop culture references? I’d be mad if they didn’t.

This is not serious treatment to the cotton industry, but it is not supposed to be. Learning, after all, can be fun although we teachers can forget that sometimes.

Elementary teachers who are serious about a cotton or inventions unit would be advised to use HAMSTER SAM, but the dangerous and cheese-filled comic has other uses as well. It’s humor, kid humor, and I think budding humorists will not only get a kick out of HAMSTER SAM, but will find inspiration in its narrative and presentation. I had a student once who wrote his own comic titled GUACAMOLE MAN. He stretched his comedic genius there, getting laughs from kids and teachers alike. HAMSTER SAM may well be some kid’s impetus to create his own TITY TITANS (one of the greatest kids comics right now), become a SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE staff writer, or end up as a stage comedian. We might as well channel that class clown somewhere productive. I would highly consider using HAMSTER SAM to demonstrate to kids how to properly use comedy to tell a romping tale or convey information. Good writers use comedy but sometimes we overlook comedy’s importance in rhetoric.

Chris’ Rating: Ages 7 and older

The only thing to be concerned about are students’ sides splitting.

Author and Illustrator: Dave McDonald
Genre: Historical fiction

Format: Hardcover
Pages: 32
Color: Full color
ISBN-13: 978-0-9798445-0-8



By Chris Wilson

Dean is a boy captivated by the mystique and excitement of the United States Army. School, books, girls, bicycling – nothing compares to the allure of playing war with his three friends. For Dean, play-pretend is life. Every event – from his trip to the principal for back-sassing the teacher, to his mundane psychological evaluation, to the playful boys-being-boys needling of a local neighbor woman – is lived as though it is a World War II offensive.

Unfortunately for Dean, and plenty of boys like him, the fantasy world is not enough to get him through school and certainly not enough to get him through life, and his parents and teachers are very concerned for the boy in transition from child to adult.

The fact is Dean does not care to come of age. He is content to play Army and fight the Germans – who serve as an analogy for anyone that interrupts Dean’s play world. To him, nothing feels real or right except war.

Author-Illustrator Kevin C. Pyle was ever so adroit at merging his story and art in order to convey Dean’s feelings of real life tedium. Pyle does this by using a single spot color (brown, green, blue and aqua) throughout the book. The only exception is when Dean enters his fantasy world. The scenes in which Dean comes face-to-face with an authority figure, he no longer sees that person but rather a German enemy. It is in those scenes that Pyle illustrates the comic in full color.

Where BLINDSPOT strikes it rich is in Pyle’s colors, which he uses to bring alive Dean’s feelings about reality and fantasy. It’s a cool and clever element on the part of Pyle.

Grow up or stay a kid. Truly, many a teen can relate to the push of society and peers to age them before they are ready to give up their toys and play-pretend. I was one such kid, hiding many of my toys under my bed so kids who came over didn’t see them. I just couldn’t give them up. Pyle’s story resonated with me because of this push-pull and so, too, will many kids.

My Rating: Ages 11 and older
Publisher’s Rating: Ages 9 and older

I really envision this book for older tweens and teens. Not because of anything inappropriate but because the subject material seems more accessible to kids ages 11-15.

BLINDSPOT lends itself perfectly to the practice of personal narratives. Students could read BLINDSPOT, reflect upon their own lives and own struggles balancing the childhood-to-adulthood transition, and then write a traditional personal narrative.

Author and Illustrator: Kevin C. Pyle
Publisher: Henry Holt & Company
Genre: Realistic Fiction, Coming of Age
Format: Softcover
Pages: 96
Color: Full color
ISBN (10): 0-8050-7998-X

Highly Recommended