Saturday, December 31, 2011


By Adrian Neibauer
Staff Writer

THREE SHADOWS by Cyril Pedrosa and translated from French by Edward Gauvin is the saddest and most moving graphic novels I have ever read. Louis and Lise are a husband and wife who are raising their young son, Joachim, in an unnamed rural, European landscape. Their small family is filled with simple pleasures and lots of love as they work together on their farm. However, everything changes when three mysterious shadows appear on the horizon haunting the family.  Never explicitly stated at first, we learn later that the shadows beckon for the young Joachim. Joachim’s father, Louis, flees with Joachim in a brave, yet foolish attempt to outrun his son’s fate: death.

Throughout the story, we learn just how far a parent would go to protect their child. Embedded within this story are deep and complex discussions about fate, life, and death; as well as plenty of opportunities for older readers to practice the skills of making inferences and predictions.

THREE SHADOWS is completely pencil-drawn. Pedrosa’s use of black and white charcoal prepares the reader for the dark tone of the story. Pedrosa is a former Disney artist/animator and this experience serves him well here. He writes little dialogue, yet conveys much action, movement, and emotion.  he characters seem to animate themselves as you turn each page. 

Pedrosa’s artwork forces the reader to stop and think. His attention to detail gives readers all the clues they need to make accurate predictions and to infer about the plot. Each page can be used as a talking point or a stand-alone example of the novel’s themes and symbols.

THREE SHADOWS is a more adult graphic novel that can be used effectively in any high-school literature classroom. That said, I always advocate taking grade-level appropriate sections/pages of any graphic novel in order to illustrate how to accurately use any comprehension strategy or model the use of these strategies. 

Making predictions, inferences, and then synthesizing this information takes practice to do well.  Often, students make superficial predictions, which lead to inaccurate inferences. THREE SHADOWS gives students a chance to analyze how the visual elements of the story contribute to the meaning, tone, and beauty of this text. For example, the beginning of this story has a set tone of simplistic happiness. This, however, changes very quickly and with only a few words.

Teachers can guide students to make inferences by asking questions like:

  • What clues do we have that something bad is about to happen? Both visual and textual?
  • What clues do we have about the character’s thoughts and feelings?
  • How do you think the characters will respond to this change?
  • What do the shadows want?

Teachers can teach inferences by modeling for students how to read with a particular question in mind. Keeping this question present gives students opportunities to chart any facts they find and the inference it leads to. For example, when reading these next pages, keep these questions in mind: 

  • What do these figures want?
  • What is the purpose of these figures?

Teachers can use a simple two-column chart with FACTS on one side and INFERENCE on the other in order to record students’ answers.
Synthesizing is about taking all reading and thinking practices and putting it all together to comprehend reading. In THREE SHADOWS, readers can synthesize in various ways:

  • Describe how the narrator’s point of view influence how various events are described.
  • Compare and contrast two or more characters, settings, or events in the story.
  • Draw on specific visual and textual details

In a high-school literature classroom, discussion of literary elements and themes oftentimes plays a greater role than teaching specific reading strategies. THREE SHADOWS has such deep motifs and symbols, students can participate in rich discussions. For example, THREE SHADOWS explores themes such as mortality, fate, and fairness. The overarching symbols of life and death are throughout the story as well. Teachers can have students discuss questions such as:

  • Can fate be changed? How?
  • How does Louis’ decision to take Joachim away show strength? Weakness?
  • How does Lise’s decision to stay show strength? Weakness?
  • Why do the shadows come for Joachim?
  • How does the shadows’ symbol change from the beginning of the story to the end?
    • What does this change say about life and death?
  • How does Joachim and Louis’ relationship mirror that of life and death?
  • How would THREE SHADOWS be different if told from another character’s perspective?

Author & Illustrator: Cyril Pedrosa
Translated by: Edward Gauvin
Format: Paperback
Pages: 268
Color: Black and White Pencil
Publisher: First Second
ISBN-13: 978-1-59643-239-0

I would highly recommend this book for any high-school literature classroom.  Certain sections can also be used in the middle grades (6-8) for discussing the graphic novel’s major theme of fate.  However, due to some mild language and non-sexualized nudity, THREE SHADOWS is best kept in high-school literature courses.  


By Kevin Hodgson
Staff Writer

BEST EDITORIAL CARTOONS OF THE YEAR is a collection of, well, some of the best political and editorial jabs of the past year, and as you might expect, there are very few sacred cows left unscathed by the creative pens of these artists. Ranging from topics of presidential politics (President Obama gets skewered left and right here, mostly from the right) to the emergence of the Tea Party to education, the courts and the environment, this collection that is edited by Charles Brooks and put out by Pelican Publishing is interesting and thoughtful. Most of these editorial cartoons were published in daily newspapers, and while there is a dated quality to many of them (current events being not so current anymore), I love how the voice of the cartoonist comes across loud and clear. There’s no murky middle ground in these frames.

For any high school journalism class, BEST EDITORIAL CARTOONS OF THE YEAR should be an annual reference guide to how to get a point across with art and limited text. The concise nature of editorial cartoons makes for some great lessons around writing, and the partnership of art with words. Students might also ponder why some topics were included in the book and what topics might have been left out (the slow demise of newspapers, anyone?). It is helpful that each section comes with a short narrative introduction, giving a bird’s eye view of the topic before the cartoonists have their way with the subjects.

Another ripe topic for discussion is political point of view and fairness in editorials. (ie, Does President Obama get a fair shake in this book? I don’t think so, but I suppose no president escapes the wrath of editorial cartoonists).

Format: Paperback
Pages: 208
Publisher: Pelican Publishing
ISBN-10: 1589809017
ISBN-13: 978-1589809017

I would highly recommend this book for any high school civics or journalism classroom. The content would likely go over the heads of most elementary and middle school students. There is nothing inappropriate in here, unless you are sensitive to political satire.

Sunday, December 11, 2011


By Chris Wilson

The Graphic Classroom will be changing soon as we have forged a partnership with the national non-profit comics-in-education agency, Reading With Pictures. Josh Elder, award-wining graphic novelist and nationally syndicated cartoonist, founded RWP in 2009 to revolutionize the role of comics in education.

Sound familiar?

That is the same goal as The Graphic Classroom and TGC is not alone in that endeavor. There are many experts out there fighting to change the way education approaches reading, writing and discovery. I consider many of them friends. Our efforts, all our efforts, can at times feel very fragmented and disjointed –– worker bees writing, speaking, influencing educators to significantly impact students lives using comics as a tool in the teacher’s arsenal, but doing so more independently than collectively, at least most of the time.

This fragmentation is changing. Those of us in the movement are talking, sharing, and collaborating on books and speaking engagements. We are becoming friends. Through those friendships, it is becoming apparent that we must become more united in our efforts and supports. It’s time for comics-in-education experts to level up and meld our efforts more officially than tangentially.

After all, there are those who oppose our efforts, despite the academic research demonstrating that comics significantly and positively impact the reading motivation, reading skills of students and leads to reading of other modes such as novels, short stories, poetry and the like. As I have stated before:

“Not reading never leads to reading. Reading leads to reading.”

I look forward to forging more friendships and partnerships so we can stand united behind what we know changes the lives of our students and prepares the for the 21st century. I see that vision coming true and accepted Elder’s invitation to partner with Reading With Pictures. More details on the changes are on the way in January and February. Stay tuned and stay strong. Your willingness to use comics to help your students is research based, innovative, exciting, and beautiful.

The Graphic Classroom and Reading With Pictures stand with you. 

Tuesday, December 6, 2011


By Chris Wilson

Our AMULET contest is over and the winner of the $50 gift certificate and the copies of the entire AMULET series to date is ...

Natalie, 11
Mitchell Intermediate School
Natalie wrote this about her favorite AMULET character:

Out of all the Amulet characters, I admire Emily the most. I think she's really brave and strong. For example, when her brother told her not to touch the stone because it would wake up the robots in her grandfather's house, she did it anyway even though she didn't know what would happen if she did. And she was willing to risk her life to save her mother from the Arachnopod. I also thought it was cool that she was the Stonekeeper, and that the Stonekeeper was a girl.
Natalia drew this picture of Emily:

This exercise is just one of many ways to bring comics literature into the classroom and connect to the standards and skills that students need in order to be successful in school and life. Notice Natalie restated the question, gave her opinion and then supported her belief with specific details from the story.

Sunday, December 4, 2011


By Adrian Neibauer
Staff Writer

SMILE by Raina Telgemeier is perfect for any elementary-age classroom. Raina‘s narrative comic tells the story of how she knocked out her two front teeth in the sixth grade. Her memoir continues into high school as her dental issues pair simultaneously with puberty and growing up. Raina says, “Creating SMILE has been therapeutic for me, and has put me in touch with hundreds of kindred spirits.” This is why I love having this graphic novel as a part of my classroom library. Almost every student can relate to some aspect of this story, even if they haven’t had any traumatic injury. Her storytelling also lends it nicely with teaching students to monitor their reading comprehension by asking questions.

By the end of the book, Raina emerges a stronger person.  Students also emerge stronger readers as they interact with SMILE and learn to question the text, read to discover answers, and ask questions to expand their thinking.

Although taking place in middle school and high school, SMILE’s fifth grade following stems from Raina’s artwork. In 2004, Raina published SMILE as a weekly webcomic for the popular site, I believe this has influenced how she breaks up her story page-by-page, but also how she uses color.  Her artwork has the feel of reading the Sunday comics, but with more mature character development. She captures each character’s personality and does an amazing job illustrating adolescent. 

Raina also uses splash pages, a comic page that is almost entirely taken up by a single image or panel, to either emphasize important parts to the story, or as chapter breaks. For example, on page 11, after knocking out her front teeth, Raina’s mother has to dial the dentist. All you see is her mother dialing with her phone book open to an after-hours dentist. It fits perfectly, especially after the quick pace of the previous accident. The reader needs to slow down in order to fully understand the seriousness of what just happened.

I also really liked Raina’s technique of tinting the pages when she is having a dream. Students can get very confused when an author jumps to an earlier memory, or quickly changes the setting.  Different comic artist do different things for illustrating this, but I like how simple, yet effective Raina’s strategy is. As a class, when we are reading other novels that are not comic in form, it helps to have this vocabulary to refer to. “Remember when Rainia tinted her pages to show a flashback?  That is what is happing here.  How can we tell?  What clues is the author using to help us know the setting has changed? What is this author’s tint?  How can you tell?”

SMILE is a great memoir, told in a wonderful narrative fashion. I use SMILE as an anchor text to teach questioning. Asking questions while reading, although a seemingly simple task often gets overlooked in reading instruction. Or, if it is a focus, the questions tend to be surface (or thin) questions that do not lead the reader to discover new information or gain new knowledge. Good questioning propels readers through a particular text. When readers think about questions, they understand what they read and it pushes them to think further. I want to teach students to pose questions that extend their understanding, making them active readers. SMILE is a great text for this task.

Raina’s use of panel and page breaks gives readers ample opportunities to monitor their comprehension by asking questions. If a teacher wants to introduce this concept, he/she could simply have SMILE displayed using a document camera, or even as a read aloud, while the teacher models stopping, thinking, and reacting to the text. 

When a reader has a question during reading, I have them jot it down on a sticky note.  These questions may or may not be answered by continued reading; however, it is a good habit to form.

I want to model being aware when I do find an answer to one of my questions.  I usually have students mark their original sticky note with an “A” to indicate that the question has been answered.

As Raina suffers through each dentist examination, there are many opportunities for students to not only ask questions to gain information, but to keep their questions in their mind as they read, searching for information that extends their learning. 

I use Chapter 4 to make a strategies chart for questions, answers, and strategies for answering questions.  As I read, I model for students that when I arrive at an answer to an earlier question, I have used a variety of strategies, such as skimming, inferring, sharing and discussing, and further research.  Here are some of the questions my class generated from Chapters 1-4:

What is a root canal?
Drilling a hole in your tooth to the root canal. Removes infection and patches it up.
Do some research
Do they ever get a second opinion?
I don’t think so.
Read on to find the information
Why does Raina dream of losing a tooth?
She is getting her teeth pulled.  It is another traumatic event.
Why is smiling so important in middle school?
“When you smile at people, they smile back.”
Middle school is a very social place.
Used clues from the text and our thinking to infer.

SMILE gives students a chance to ask bigger questions that expand their thinking.  My class learned so much about dentistry, root canals, and dentures! Throughout SMILE, students sometimes become confused about some of these more complicated ideas in the story (i.e. root canals and middle school cliques).  Stopping and asking these questions leads to more thoughtful learning and further research. 

Finally, Raina Telgemeier put out a great book trailer for SMILE.  I love book trailers as a way to insert a little technology to spruce up any final novel study project. 

Author & Illustrator: Raina Telgemeier
Format: Paperback
Pages: 214
Color: Full Color
Publisher: Graphix, an imprint of Scholastic
ISBN-13: 978-0-545-13206-0

There is nothing inappropriate about SMILE. This story, although dealing with adolescent, does so with tact and humor. You may get some giggles when Raina plays “spin the bottle” or daydreams about kissing a boy, but that’s about it. In my experience, students are so excited to be reading a graphic novel in “Reading class” that it makes those little things non-issues.

I would highly recommend this book for any upper elementary and middle school classroom (grades 3-8).  Although not all third-graders will be able to decode the entire text, and some eighth-graders will find SMILE too elementary, either way, it is a great addition to any classroom library.