Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Graphic Novels to Teach Math With!

Yang, Gene Luen; Holmes, Mike (2016) Secret Coders 2: Paths and Portals.  New York:  First Second.

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Opening Panels:

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            The Coders are back.  Hopper, Eni, and Josh now discover that Mr. Bee, the grumpy janitor from the first book, was once a teacher at the school, and he begins to teach them while at the same time, they begin to dig into some of the suspicious doings that the dean of the school (and his pet rugby team) seem involved in.  When the dean captures one of the janitor’s robots, and then the janitor himself, the secret coders need to decide if it is worth unleashing chaos to set the janitor free. 
            There is a lot of learning in this book, but Yang embeds the instruction into the stories so completely that many students won’t even notice they are learning coding, geometry, and even how to write letters in mandarin Chinese. Yang takes his time with both character development and plot development probably because he knows he will have many books in the series to develop these aspects more fully. 
            What makes this such a great book for a math classroom library is that the math stuff is solid, but deeply embedded in the experiences of the children.  This book goes a long way toward helping students see the answer to the perennial questions, “What are we going to use this stuff for?”
Holmes’s artistic style seems drawn from Saturday morning cartoons.  The characters are drawn in part like caricatures, but there is enough realism built in that a student can get lost in the world of the book.  If you teach math or coding, you need this book now. 

Yang, Gene Luen; Holmes, Mike (2017) Secret Coders 3: Secrets and Sequences.  New York: First Second.

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            This is what happens when I do more writing than review writing.  I end up with more wonderful Secret Coders Books to review.  In this one, Principal Dean kidnaps Hoppers Mom and the kids follow, eventually ending up in the lair of Dr. One Zero, a former pupil of their janitor-mentor, Mr. Bee.  Dr. One Zero imprisons them and steals their flying turtle to use its laser to draw out Mr. Bee from hiding and at the same time destroy their school. Along the way, the Coders have to learn use their newfound skills at writing ifelse statements to trick a robotic cat into destroying their cell door and program a flock of robotic birds to intercept Dr. One Zero’s craft and foil his plans.  Unfortunately, after rescuing Hoppers Mom, they return to school to find that Dr. One Zero has become the new principal of their school. 
            Math.  Geometrey.  Coding.  Problem-solving.  Fun.  Buy this.

Shiga, Jason (2017) Demon 2.  New York: First Second.

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            What does a story about a guy who, when he dies, possesses the body of the nearest person to him, have to do with teaching math?   When the main character, Jimmy Yee has a mission, to get revenge on the drunk driver that killed his family, and when he uses math to do it.  Jimmy is a former actuary who can cube two digit numbers in his head, and so evading the mysterious government agency that is after him, escaping capture, and getting to his goal is mostly a matter of logic and math.  Although the story is certainly grisly, it may be amazing way to teach the value of logic in problem-solving, if you can get past the carnage. 
            So here are the rules, which Jimmy Yee figures out as he goes (and so does the reader).  1.  Jimmy possesses the body of whomever is nearest to him when he dies.  2. The possessions do not ross species, so he cannot possess the bodies of animals. 3.  The possessions occurs somewhere between a speed of mach 10 and instantaneously.  4.  He does not gain or loses his own mental skills when he transfers.  He gains some physical skill if he possesses a bodybuilder, but not all.  5.  He possesses the body of whatever person’s head is closest to his own. 
            But when Jimmy breaks into prison to complete his mission, he finds out his daughter is still alive and has the same abilities that he does, and that both of them are surrounded by hundreds of agents.  Can Jimmy figure out a way to escape the trap?
            Jason Shinga draws the characters in this graphic novel with big, often round heads that are reminiscent of Charles Schultz’s peanuts characters.  This stylized drawing approach minimizes the reality of the story that Jimmy is racking up a pretty massive body count.  Shinga also uses the convention of drawing Jimmy’s face on whatever person he has possessed so that it is easy to keep track of when Jimmy makes the jump.
            In an age of violence, school shootings, and indifference to death and suffering, this book seems to be more a part of the problem than the solution.  The fact that Jimmy is being hunted by people who want to use his abilities for nefarious ends, and the fact that those people try to use his daughter to blackmail him, and the way that he uses logic to get out of trap after trap, makes this book one that may win you over.
            Given the violence and several occasional vulgarities, this book would be best for high school and the teacher should preview it before putting it in her or his classroom.


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  4. Really Jimmy's Story is so sad to read, but on the other side this blog is so nicely written.

  5. Really Jimmy's Story is so sad to read, but on the other side this blog is so nicely written.


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