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Friday, February 27, 2015

Slightly More than the Top Ten Graphic Novels for Teaching English/Language Arts

Hale, S., D. Hale, et al. (2008). Rapunzel's Revenge. New York, Bloomsbury.
Hale, S; D, Hale, et al.  (2010) Calamity Jack New York:  Bloomsbury 

Shannon Hale (aided by her husband and an artist also named Hale, but not related) has done an amazing job of transplanting the tale of Rapunzel into a wild west sort of world.  Only instead of being a simpering captive waiting for a prince to save her, This Rapunzel escapes and uses her skill in using her braided hair as a lasso and a whip to bring justice and freedom to the land.  Aided by the trouble-making jack (of beanstalk fame), she overthrows her evil stepmother,
This excellent contains lots of intertextual references to classic literature.  Themes of self-reliance, independence, friendship, justice, and exploitation.  Excellent for fifth through seventh grade. The sequel, Calamity Jack is even better than the original in creating a world full of interesting, menacing, and loyal characters.  
  Halliday, Ayun; Hoppe, Paul (2013)  Peanut  New York:  Schwartz and Wade.

Peanut is a really fun book at first.  Then it is full of cringe moments for a while, then it has a satisfying ending.  Sadie is moving to a new school where no one will know her.  A chance meeting with a girl who has a peanut allergy gives Sadie the idea of ordering a med-alert bracelet and telling everyone she is extremely allergic to peanuts.  It works and soon she has a group of friends and even a wonderfully nerdy boyfriend.  Sooner or later, though, the truth will come out and you can tell when you are only a third of the way into the book that it is going to be ugly when it does.  By that point, though, you will genuinely like Sadie, and so you will have to ride it out with her.
     Hoppe's drawings are clear and direct and he really does a nice job of conveying emotion through facial expressions and body stances.  using red as a spot color also works in this book, causing scenes with Sadie in them to jump off the page.   
      Halliday's writing is clear and invites the reader into the lives of Sadie and her friends.  This would be a good book for middle school and/or high school -- particularly in that it deals with issues of how kids try to manage, change, or conceal who they really are. 
       Now, go buy this book (or check it out from your amazing library)

     Hinds, Gareth (2010) The Odyssey  Somerville, MA: Candlewick

A few years ago, Marvel comics came out with a graphic novel version of the Iliad.  Then there was the graphic novel 300 about the Spartans holding the pass at Thermopylae.  And I remember thinking when I first saw them how it made perfect sense for a comic version of these ancient Greek stories because they read like comic books anyway, with the gods and demigods as superheroes.  In each of those cases I found though, that it didn't quite work.  The Odyssey and the Iliad are not really comic book stories -- the fit isn't as perfect as I thought.
          Somehow, though, I had missed Gareth Hind's graphic novel version of the Odyssey that came out in 2010.  It is brilliant.  His artistic style is very different from O'Connor's stuff -- O'Connor is more confident and more vibrant -- Hinds seems muted and cautious by comparison -- but frankly, I don't care -- because Hinds nails The Odyssey perfectly. 
     But here is why I am excited -- this is The Odyssey.  He captures it.  First of all, he tells the story in the right order.  His images help us picture the action, but for the first several pages, the text still carries the bulk of the meaning.  By the end of the first chapter or so, you will be hooked.  The blinding of the Cyclops, the sirens, the book of the dead, and best of all, Odysseus gets his revenge on those freeloading suitors.  This is the kind of a graphic novels that will pique students' interest in reading the original.
     This one probably works best for middle school and high school.  There is some violence, but nothing extremely objectionable.
     I guess what I am trying to say is that I really liked it.  Get hold of it and read it. 

Larson, Hope  (2012) Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time: The Graphic Novel.  New York:  Farrar, Straus, and Giroux. 

When I heard that there was going to be a graphic novel version of A Wrinkle in Time, I was scared.  That book, like the Narnia series, Lord of the Rings, Xanth, and the Ender series are all books that are very important to me and I don't want to see them hurt.

When I heard the adaptation would be done by Hope Larson I calmed down a little bit, but I was still afraid.  I like Larson's work, but her style is a little bit too cartoony for my liking.  And then, about a month ago (I am not quite sure exactly -- this has been a busy summer) a copy arrived.  I was still scared when I opened the first page, but then I fell in, and I absolutely loved it. 

Here is why:  Hope Larson totally gets this book.  The adaptation is true to the spirit of the original story.  All the stuff that matters so deeply to me is here:  Charles Wallace's wonderful oddness; the mystery of the old ladies; the delightfully automatic growth of Meg and Calvin's relationship; the movement of the story and the argument against sameness and conformity that was so important to me as a child; and finally, the importance of faith and the distinctions between working for light and working for darkness with the listing of religious figures lining up behind the light.   

And the truth is that I got a little choked up (in a profoundly manly way) around pages 350 to 360 when Meg's father says goodbye to her, before she faces It.

Oh, that's right.  Some of you don't know what the story is about.  Okay, brief synopsis: Meg's father was working on a top secret government project when he disappeared.  Meg and her brother Charles Wallace and their new friend Calvin are recruited by some rather odd old ladies to travel across the dimensions to rescue their father from a horrendous evil that enslaves entire societies.  Along the way they meet people who help them, but in the end it is the tree of them that must challenge the mind that is behind it all.

The graphic novel retains every element of the plot, but does more than that too.  When I recently reread Wrinkle in Time in the original text-only version, I was struck by how sparse the description was.  It is hard for even a highly imaginative young reader to picture the characters, the settings, and especially the other worlds in this novel.  Hope Larson helps me to see it -- and though her picture don't always match up with mine -- they don't jar with mine either.  Like I said, Larsen gets this book.

So if you loved Wrinkle in Time as a child, and are trying to figure out how to get a  fourth grader or older kid hooked on L'Engle's work, check out this adaptation.  It is a thick one at 392 pages -- but it reads fast.  Good stuff!  

O'Connor, George (2015) Ares, Bringer of War   New York:  First Second 
O’Connor, George (2010)  Athena:  Grey-eved Goddess.  New York:  First Second.
O’Connor, George (2012) Hades: God of the Dead.  New York:  First Second. 
O’Connor, George  (2011)  Hera: The Goddess in her Glory  
O’Connor, George (2013) Poseidon: Earth Shaker  New York:  First Second. 
O’Connor, George  (2011)  Zues: King of the Gods  New York:  First Second

What sets George O'Connor's Olympians series apart from other versions of the story of the Greek gods is that O'Connor is really, really smart.  He does an excellent job of building the story with the intersection of the words and the images.  If you read the lines above, you can see how good he is at building things with words.  He is also an excellent story, and perhaps even more important, he knows how to set up pages and page-turns in such a way that he squeezes every bit of potential out of the graphic novel format. 
O'Connor finds a way to sneak some other material into each story.  His book about Hera manages to also relate the twelve labor's of Heracles.  Ares relates  the story of the Iliad.   He also plays aroung with point-of-view (Poseidon relates his own story, for example) in ways that could be useful for a creative writing class.
Though there is some violence, generally there is nothing objectionable here. 
know some third and fourth graders who will doubtless tackle it, but it seems to me it is more appropriate for middle school and beyond.  This will really grab some of your students.  It is especially easy to build on the Rick Riordan Percy Jackson books (and vice versa.) 
Phelan, Matt (2013)  Bluffton:  My Summers with Buster.  Somerville, MA:  Candlewick

Opening line:  "Life in Muskegon, Michigan was quiet.  Ordinary." 
Henry Harrison thinks there isn't much remarkable about his town, but when a group of vaudeville performers begin summering at some cottages near where Henry lives, his life becomes much more interesting.  He meets Buster, a young gifted vaudeville performer who can juggle and do magic tricks, but is best at pratfalls.  Henry wants to learn, but Buster would rather play baseball and rig pranks, and act like an ordinary kid.  When both of them take a liking to Sally, things get particularly interesting.  This is a heart-warming tale with enough twists and turns to it to make it worthy of reading in a middle school literature class.  The final twist is the best, though.  I was so lost in the book that I didn't see it coming.
The illustrations are wonderful watercolors, and it is clear that Phelan knows how to get the most out of his panel lay-outs. He gets remarkable nuance out of his facial expressions and often relies on the images much more than the words (there are several wordless stretches of three or four pages in the book). 
Third graders could probably follow through the book and make sense of it. Fifth and up will pick up some of the subtler shades of meaning that the younger kids will miss (which will also make the book more interesting to them.)  I think many high school readers would enjoy it as well.  This is a good one. 
Talbot, B. (1995). The Tale of One Bad Rat. Milwaukie, Oregon, Dark Horse Books.
This is an excellent book, but it may be one that parents could object to, even though the story is handled very sensitively.  Helen is a teenaged girl who has been sexually abused by her father.  She runs away and ends up in London.  (As a parent, my protective instincts were kicking in as I was reading this part of the sotry, and I was concerned that she would be further used and abused.)  She falls in with a group of rebellious teenagers who are squatting in an abandoned building.  They prove to be a genuinely caring community though.  Helen eventually ends up working for a couple that runs a restaurant in the Lake District.  Here, with a surrogate family of sorts, she begins to comes to terms with what she has been through. 
      The title and the artwork are reminiscent of the Beatrix Potter stories and there is great beauty in this book.  There are also some scenes of horrible ugliness (though those scenes are not sexually graphic -- but they do show, for example, her father's leering face.)
     This would be a powerful book to share with high school upperclassmen.  I would encourage you to read it first though, to see what sort of response your students (and/or their parents) would make of it.
Telgemeier, Raina (2010)  Smile.  New York:  Scholastic.  
Raina is due to get braces when she falls and knocks out to of her teeth.  This GN, though, is less about her orthodontic adventures and more about how she matures from middle school into high school and eventually ditches her friends (who seem to ridicule her a lot) for a new set of friends she can feel more comfortable around.
     With an excellent story and excellent art, this book could get kids talking.  Might be a good choice for a book club or for in-class book groups.  The characters are mostly female, and so this one might be a hard sell for boys. 
Yang, Gene Luen (2013) Boxers and Saints  New York:  First Second

Woo hoo!  I have been waiting for these two books for a long time.  Boxers and its companion book, Saints are amazing.  Both are amazing intertwined stories that tell stories about two people on opposites sides of the Boxer conflict. 
Boxers tells the story of Little Bao, who has watched in anger time and time again as soldiers, empowered by foreign missionaries, have stolen from and harmed members of the local villages as they despoil the countryside.  Little Bao discovers that he can channel the power of a forgotten ancestor, the first emperor of China.  Soon Bao surrounds himself with trustworthy friends and others who have lost loved ones to the military bullying.  Bao trains his followers to protect the weak, to be kind to women, widows, and children, and to obey a set of moral principles.  Unfortunately, the first emperor keeps coming to Bao in dreams and encouraging him to go on the offensive, to attack the foreigners and the Christians, and to take back his country. 
            At the same time, in Saints, Four-Girl has displeased her father and is cruelly kicked out of the home she has been growing up in.  She eventually finds refuge in the house of a missionary who takes care of her and educates her.  As Fourth-Girl learns more about the Catholic church, she begins to have dreams/visitations from Joan of Arc who tells her how to lead a holy crusade. 
These two stories are, of course, on a collision course and the conclusion is already known to anyone who really understands the futility of war. 
The colorful art is gorgeous, the chance to learn something about the Boxer rebellion is exciting, and the characters are such that most readers will find themselves rooting for both sides.  If you teach middle school or high school history or English, you should check this one out.

Hatke, Ben (2014) The Return of Zita the Spacegirl  New York:  First Second.

Zita the Spacegirl is back, and this third book in the series may be the best yet.  This one has all the excitement, surprise, humor, and thoughtfulness of the original Zita the Spacegirl and once again, author/illustrator Ben Hatke shows his mastery of panel plotting.
     But you don't care about all that.  You want to know if it is a good story and if your third graders or sixth graders or middle school students will like it.  The answer to all of the above is yes. 
     In this book, Zita has been apprehended and is being tried and help on trumped up charges on a prison world.  Her old friends, Mouse, Piper, One, Strong-Strong and the rest are far away (though they have heard her distress call) and so she must rely on help from her cellmates Ragpile and Femur and from the mysterious Ghost.  Escaping her cell is relatively easy, but escaping the planet, and freeing all those trapped with her is a bit more daunting.  But here is the thing -- the story is funny and exuberant and filled with tension and has surprising turns and a completely satisfying and triumphant ending.    
     You'll be swept up in the story and so you won't notice, but Hatke's sense of timing and choices in moving from panel to panel are masterful -- and in fact, this is why you can get lost in the story. 
     The other thing I love about this book is that there is actually quite a lot to talk about with students here.  There are some really interesting themes here including what it means to be morally responsible for your own actions, when civil disobedience is appropriate, what freedom means, and the values of friendship and cooperation.  There is also a nice little romantic subplot to boot.
     Look, if you like graphic novels, or good stories for middle grades and middle school kids, if you like to laugh or get caught up in a book, or if you like Zita's previous adventures, go get this.  It is excellent. 







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