Sunday, February 26, 2012


MakeBeliefsComix, the free on-line comic strip generator, introduced new comic characters with physical disabilities to reflect the diversity of users, including those with special needs. Among the 128 characters that students can now select in creating their comic strips are:

  • A boy and girl in wheelchairs
  • A soldier who lost an arm in war and wears a prosthesis
  • A blind person with a service animal
  • An older woman who uses a walker

Each character shows a variety of emotions: happy, sad, angry, thoughtful. Educational therapists increasingly use the online comic site for students with autism spectrum disorders to help them understand social concepts and to communicate.  There is a special needs section to help educators and parents.

Saturday, February 25, 2012


(EDITOR'S NOTE: I have this series available for any teachers or students who might want to read it.)

Capstone, a leading publisher of children’s books and digital products and services, is sponsoring a new writing contest for students in grades 3-7 inspired by its action-adventure, sci-fi book series Tony Hawk’s 900 Revolution. In the book series, a mysterious force shatters Tony Hawk’s skateboard and scatters the pieces across the globe just at the moment he finally captures the Holy Grail of skateboarding and lands the first-ever 900. A talented group of teens unite in a quest to bring the board – and its power – back together again.

The “Join the Revolution” contest invites students to share why they should be chosen as the next member of the Revolution team to find the remaining pieces of Tony Hawk’s shattered skateboard. Aspiring young authors are encouraged to create a unique and inspiring character who could be critical to the team’s success.

The top five entries will be posted on where students will be able to vote for their favorite character. The winning character will appear as part of the Revolution in a Tony Hawk’s 900 Revolution book. The winner will also receive a trip to Tony Hawk’s Stand Up for Skateparks 2012 event in Beverly Hills and a VIP pass to meet Tony Hawk in person.

“With an awesome prize like this, we anticipate truly imaginative and original characters from our student authors. Not only will the winning character appear in one of our books, but the winner will get to meet Tony Hawk in person. The competition could be fierce, but students will vote and ultimately decide who they want to read about,” said Ashley Andersen Zantop, Capstone Group Publisher and General Manager.

The top five entries will receive a Tony Hawk autographed book, and the top 50 entrants will receive two books from the series, one copy for themselves and one copy for their school library.

The “Join the Revolution” contest runs through March 31, 2012. For the official contest rules and entry form, visit  


By Kevin Hodgson
Staff Writer

In this extensive and intriguing collection of comics through the years, you suddenly realize how often comics were used to educate and influence the American public through rhetoric and persuasive writing by our government. In a 1942 pamphlet called “Pocket Guide to China” by the US military for soldiers stationed in Asia, the headline of “How to Spot a Jap” really jumps out at you. Or, it should. And that’s when you begin to realize the extent of comics being used to influence the minds of many.

In GOVERNMENT ISSUE, Richard Graham (with a foreword by Sid Jacobson) provides a first-hand look at comics through the years and also, luckily, he frames each section with a well-conceived analysis of the use of comics, both pros and cons. This collection is really a gold mine of documents from various sectors of our government, and while some of it is amusing, some of it is very serious. Comics were understood early on a way to reach the “common folk,” and no doubt, they have been effective. This collection pulls back the veil a bit and gives us a way to examine the way the views of a nation can be shaped, and manipulated.

Obviously, given the many comics and artists represented here, there is no one set style in this collection. But just having the comics in one place (although you can access them online, too) makes for a valuable resource for any collector of comics or historians digging into the ways that media is used to shape public opinion. It’s intriguing to note how artist such as Walt Disney and Will Eisner were often part of the efforts, and how famous characters from the main comic houses were put to use in informational pamphlets.

Format: Paperback
Pages: 304
Publisher: Abrams ComicArts
ISBN-13: 978-1419700781

Access to some of the comics in the collection can be found online.

The Common Core Curriculum, now being adopted by many states to align teaching standards, has a strong emphasis on rhetorical stance of language, argumentative and persuasive writing, the use of various media to represent information and the use of original sources. This is a book that does just about all that, and GOVERNMENT ISSUE would be of great value to any high school classroom that is doing research around historical themes, from our involvement in wars to the effects of drugs to how to prevent forest fires. This book is a treasure trove on many fronts when it comes to research on US policies and actions.

I would highly recommend GOVERNMENT ISSUE for any high school classroom, and maybe some middle school classrooms. There are a few comics (the “How to Spot a Jap” being the most prevalent) that would require direct instruction by teachers for middle school students. I am sure elementary students would enjoy GOVERNMENT ISSUE for the comic element, but the underlying themes might be a bit too much.


By Kevin Hodgson
Staff Writer

There may not be in the world an example of another genius so universal, so full of yearning for the infinite, so far ahead of his own century and the following centuries than Leonardo da Vinci.” – Hippolyte Taine, art critic and historian

The mystery of the stolen masterpiece, The Mona Lisa, underpins a wonderfully conceived graphic story of the life of the most famous Renaissance man whose art inventive mind continues to echo to this day. LEONARDO DA VINCI: THE RENAISSANCE MAN by Dan Danko is powerfully written, examining the ins and outs of the da Vinci as he moves from benefactor to benefactor, shifting his focus from designing new ways to engage in war to creating some of the powerful paintings to stand the test of time. Political intrigue and the plight of an artist, even a great one like da Vinci, is on full display here in the story that moves from the stolen painting (and its recovery) to the complicated life of da Vinci.

The illustrations by artist Lalit Rumar Sharma are beautifully done, particularly the oversized panels that show us glimpses of the da Vinci’s work and, even more, the blueprints and detailed sketches that depict such an active imagination and insightful eye.

Paperback: 72 pages
Publisher: Campfire
ISBN-13: 978-9380741208

The story of da Vinci is worth telling in just about any grade, particularly when we consider his influences on science, art and design. The vocabulary and the complexity of the storytelling here make LEONARDO DA VINCI: THE RENAISSANCE MAN a good addition to a high school library, particularly the art room shelves. However, science teachers could also easily pull bits from this story to showcase how an artist also influenced the way we see the human body and how his engineering principles continue to influence aviation and more.

I highly recommend this book, although it is more attuned for the high school or university classroom. There is nothing profane in here, but the dense text and rich vocabulary, and complex storyline of da Vinci’s life (which does not seem dumbed down here) might make it a difficult read for some middle school students and most elementary students.

Saturday, February 4, 2012


Our friends from MakeBeliefsComix have another holiday printable for students. Celebrate the day of love and compassion with their printable. You can do it two ways: old school or new school. 

Click here. Print the blank printable using the button at the bottom. Make copies and pass it out.

Click here. Students can then use computer technology to type directly into the Valentine's activity. Then they can print them off. 

Use it as a stand-alone project or deepen the knowledge by using the printable as a graphic organizer –– a first step –– in a much larger writing project. 


Some super comics titles are coming to libraries with a reinforced library binding or paper-over-board editions. Thanks to a licensing agreement between Capstone Press (an educational publisher) and DC Comics, the DC Comics comic book list is coming to libraries in a format that will withstand the student readership. 

Capstone will launch the books this fall, releasing 24 titles. 24 titles! Every single one of the titles comes from DC's all ages line, which means they are appropriate for the elementary classroom. Following are the comics on deck for first release:

  • TINY TITANS –– Join the world’s greatest super heroes as little kids! Tiny Titans is illustrated by the Eisner award-winning Art Baltazar, the same illustrator as our best-selling DC Super-Pets chapter books.
  • DC SUPERFRIENDS –– Super Friends is a great series for younger readers to meet the heroes of the DC Universe—Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, Flash and Aquaman are all here to save the day!
  • BATMAN: THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD –– Based on the popular animated series, BRAVE AND THE BOLD follows Batman as he chases down the most powerful villains in the DC Universe.
  • SUPERMAN ADVENTURES –– Based on the popular animated series, SUPERMAN ADVENTURES is a great series to introduce The Man of Steel to younger readers.
  • BATMAN ADVENTURES –– Also based on the hit animated series, BATMAN ADVENTURES has more stories from the world’s favorite crime fighter! 
  • YOUNG JUSTICE –– Offer more complex stories to older readers with  YOUNG JUSTICE. Sophisticated action and art follow four young superheroes learning how to work as a team.

Capstone is already planning new books for next fall. This will include more original BATMAN and SUPERMAN stories including two new chapter book series: DARK KNIGHT and MAN OF STEEL.


By Adrian Neibauer
Staff Writer

Can you really teach any topic or subject using graphic novels?  Absolutely!  LEWIS & CLARK is a perfect example of a high-quality graphic novel that is a wonderful accompaniment to any classroom unit on exploration and the West. Using a thorough bibliography of scholarly recountings of Lewis and Clark’s journey to find a water route to the Pacific Ocean, Nick Bertozzi successfully weaves history and story to create a captivating historical narrative.

In 1804, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark embarked on one of the most famous journeys in American history. LEWIS & CLARK is historical graphic novel that tells their amazing adventure from St. Louis through the Louisiana and Oregon Territories, finally ending two years later at the Pacific Ocean. 

Nick Bertozzi’s style is vastly different from other mainstream graphic novels published by First Second. When reading, you can’t help but feel as though you are reading a modernized Tintin adventure by HergĂ©. It is not surprising then that Bertozzi admits to both HergĂ© and Jack Kirby as childhood inspiration for his self-taught artistic talents. 

LEWIS & CLARK is such a uniquely illustrated graphic novel. Completely in black and white, Bertozzi uses clever page layouts and light versus dark to show movement over time. 

 The sheer size of his book, 8.5 by 11 inches, allows Bertozzi to play around with splash pages and two-page layouts. Oftentimes, he has pages with no panel borders, which gives the reader a real sense of the chaos and danger of this expedition. 

This page shows how Bertozzi plays with movement throughout the panels. Notice how the mosquito flits outside each panel finally being slapped at the end of the page.

I particularly love how Bertozzi's panels become decorative when focusing on the Native Americans. It gives their lives a sense of beauty that is often lost when discussing Manifest Destiny.

I would definitely include LEWIS & CLARK in my stack of textbooks to teach the American West.  Since this story is historical fiction, I would make sure my students have background knowledge of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark before using Bertozzi’s graphic novel. Although there is one very subtle reference to having sex with a Native American, there is no reason why any fifth through eighth grade teacher cannot use this graphic novel in their classroom. 

Teachers can use LEWIS & CLARK to teach a variety of reading strategies, but I feel the best use of this book comes from the story and its characters. Bertozzi chooses to focus his narrative on Meriwether Lewis. He is a patriotic visionary, who is unforgiving and demanding throughout his journey. He eventually goes insane and commits suicide at the end of the novel. Although many students might find these character traits to be negative (and quite disturbing), it is exactly these features that propel Lewis and Clark toward the Pacific Ocean despite innumerable difficulties.  Lewis offers teacher and students a great example in character study and the fall of a hero.

LEWIS & CLARK touches on issues of slavery and diplomacy as the American “Corp of Discovery” travel westward. In specifically discussing Native Americans, Bertozzi does a wonderful job giving each tribe and each character a purposeful history. For example, Sacagawea is depicted as cunning and intelligent despite her forced escort to Lewis and Clark. So many times, textbooks depict all Native Americans and merely savages.  Bertozzi writes the Native Americans as intelligently dealing with the French, British, and Americans differently based on what they have learned in the past. Bertozzi even writes the dialogue with unusual detail giving the reader what the Native American hears based on the language differences.  All of these things can be discussion and mini-projects in a history classroom.

Author & Illustrator: Nick Bertozzi
Format: Paperback
Pages: 137
Color: Black and White
Publisher: First Second
ISBN: 978-1-59643-450-9

I highly recommend LEWIS & CLARK for any history classroom grades 5 and up.  There is one subtle reference to having sex with a Native American, and Lewis does commit suicide at the end of the book. The sexual reference is so subtle, however, that I feel most students would miss it altogether.  The suicide is also subtle, but cleverly illustrated for effect.