Wednesday, July 8, 2009

All Ages Graphic Novels

A few elementary teachers (grades k-3) have recently requested a list of "kid-friendly" graphic novels to add to their classroom libraries. Below I've highlighted three books (or two books and one series) that I know are used at this age level with some success. That said, I also have these books on the shelves of my high school classroom because like all great children's lit., they're great stories for any age!

* A note to the faithful readers: Please add any of your own suggestions to the "comment" section below!


Robot Dreams by Sara Varon

Varon's story of a dog who builds his own friend (a robot) contains a powerful, almost completely wordless narrative dealing with friendship, loss, and love. What I enjoy most about this graphic novel is that it works on so many levels, and can be analyzed by both elementary and high school students with great interest.

The Wolves in the Walls by Neil Gaiman and Dave Mckean
While this book can be a bit scary for those that spook easy, Wolves is really a story about family and the strength (and smarts) of children. You'll probably find this text in the "picture book" section of your local bookseller as opposed to the graphic novel shelf, but Mckean's beautiful sequntial images truly makes Wolves a real highlight of early-childhood graphic novels.

Captain Underpants (series) by Dav Pilkey

This hilarious series is the story of two enterprising elementary comic book creators, their principal, and the most unlikely hero of them all...Captain Underpants! I've met many teachers and young students alike who profess great love for this clothing-challenged avenger.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Teachers Talking Comics

Today I visited the 2009 Maine Writing Project at the University of Maine in Orono. The MWP is an affiliate of the National Writing Project. MWP is dedicated to the improvement of teaching and learning across the curriculum at all grade levels.

I was invited by friends and colleagues to speak about professional development presentations and their natural progressions. I talked for an hour about my graduate studies involving comics and how that led me to hosting academic workshops and starting my beloved blog.

I couldn't ask for a better group to present to than the thirteen teachers who were present for this workshop. These folks give me hope for not only the future of our medium (as a teaching tool), but also for the future generations who will be lucky to have these progressive educators as teachers.

During the demo a few questions arose which I thought I would pass on to you, O' Kindly Reader(s). Let me know what you think by posting a response below...

QUESTION #1- Do you think comics have a place in canonical literature? If "yes," what would that place be?

QUESTION #2- Is there a particular type of student who would benefit more from graphic novels than traditional text?

QUESTION #3- Should teachers focus on building a library of graphic novel adaptations (of classical work)? Should they attain original-to-the-medium material? Or should there be a marriage of both on the classroom bookshelf?

-I know my answers. What do you think?

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Comics in College???

Do you have a student who wants to pursue a career in the comic book world? Well, did you know that there are actual college programs dedicated to the almighty comic book? Here are some of the most notable programs in this field (with links provided):

-A relatively new program, Emerson's certificate program is truly indisciplinary in nature, spending equal time focusing on both the visual and word-based narratives.

The Center for Cartoon Studies
-Don't be fooled by the name- this is the "Artist's Artist" school. The curriculum traverses the vast landscape of sequential art, and the graduates have produced some of the most powerful autobiographical (and semi-autobiographical ) graphic novels in the past few years.

The Joe Kubert School
-This is the granddaddy of all academic studies in this particular field. Founded in 1976 by Joe Kubert (one of my personal heroes), The Joe Kubert School of Cartoon and Graphic Art is dedicated to aspiring cartoonists who are dedicated to becoming professionals in cartooning, comic book, and the general field of commercial art.

Liberty vs. Security

"Those Who Sacrifice Liberty For Security Deserve Neither."

While Benjamin Franklin spoke these words well over two hundred years ago, this quote has gained new relevance in our post 9/11 world.

I've had an informal boy's book club up and running for some time now (which is not limited to just comics...though they are a favorite), and not too long ago I threw out this quote for my students to mentally chew on. Though I'm not that much older than my current kiddos, my adolescent years were over before America's "War on Terror" began. As we talked about this quote I noticed that my students' perspective on civil liberties varied greatly. As per my normal style, I quickly produced a graphic novel from my "free read" shelf that held both allegorical and thematic ties to the conversation at hand. That graphic novel was Marvel Comics' "Civil War."

In this teacher's humble opinion, "Civil War" is a powerful allegory for the modern American landscape we citizens navigate today. Surprisingly, when we see our favorite brightly-colored superheroes internally struggle with that same concept of liberty vs. security it reads like a punch to the gut. For example, how does Captain America, our country's fighting spirit personified, respond to government mandates for heroes? -The answer makes for some of the most exciting, heart-wrenching, and thought-provoking mainstream comic book reading of the past few years.

If you're a history or English teacher looking to spice things up with a timely debate, consider sharing this exciting book with your students.