Graphic Novel Review: They Changed the World (Edison-Tesla-Bell)

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What? Barely any Marconi?

I really enjoyed this nonfiction graphic novel — They Changed the World: Edison-Tesla-Bell — for the way it pulls together the stories of these three pioneering inventors as they worked to bring ideas to fruition that ultimately did change the world in so many ways. It’s amazing to think of how these men were working during a relatively common time period, and how their lives overlapped at times. (And how many women were also inventing but never written about in our history books? Just wondering)

The graphic novel by Campfire Press weaves in the biographies of Alexander Graham Bell, Nikola Tesla and Thomas Edison in ways that bring their hardships and success to … eh … light, as each pursued visions of electricity and more. Each man brimmed with ideas and each man took a different route to success, failure and then success again. Writer Lewis Helfand does a nice job of showing us “warts and all” of the men — their failings and their goodness (when Edison gives space in his laboratory to Tesla, a bitter rival and former employee who lost almost everything in a fire, it comes as a shock and shows Edison — famous for his business acumen —  in a new way.)

The artwork by Naresh Kumar (who does many of the Campfire books) captures the spirit of the times, when innovation and invention were in the air, and when many people were suddenly working on similar inventions in different parts of the world.

As I mentioned, Marconi gets only scant mention, even though his work on transmitting voice and data over wires (and wireless) was also underway around the same time. I guess three inventors was enough to write about. He gets mentioned during some legal proceedings over who invented what, and when, and who would get credit for the inventions.

I want to mention a nice bonus at the back of the book, too.  In the spirit of the “Make,” the graphic novel details how a kid can create their own version of a rudimentary telephone, with a glass, some water, a nail, batteries and string. I love the story ends with an invitation to make a telephone and maybe have kids begin their own path “to change the world.” Nicely done.

Peace (in the invention),
Kevin

On Teachers Teaching Teachers: Teaching with Heart


On Teachers Teaching Teachers last night, I had the fortunate opportunity to hang out with host Paul Allison and some teaching folks who contributed or edited the upcoming collection of short essays by educators connected to poetry. The book (Teaching with Heart) comes out in a few days, but it was a great experience to talk about how poetry informs us as teachers, and to share some of our writing.

You can view the chat room discussion, too.

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And a blurb from the publisher:

In Teaching with Heart: Poetry that Speaks to the Courage to Teach a diverse group of ninety teachers describe the complex of emotions and experiences of the teaching life – joy, outrage, heartbreak, hope, commitment and dedication. Each heartfelt commentary is paired with a cherished poem selected by the teacher. The contributors represent a broad array of educators: K-12 teachers, principals, superintendents, college professors, as well as many non-traditional teachers. They range from first year teachers to mid-career veterans to those who have retired after decades in the classroom.  They come from inner-city, suburban, charter and private schools.

Peace (in the sharing),
Kevin

 

Teaching with Heart: A Teaser Video

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I am one of a number of contributors to a new collection coming out this month in which educators write short essays about poems that are near and dear to their heart. Teaching with Heart: Poetry That Speaks to the Courage to Teach follows the path of two other collections that also engaged teachers in reflective inquiry and pointing to powerful poetry.

As part of the pre-publication push, I created a short Tellegami video about the poem that I chose, which was Taylor Mali’s famous “What Teachers Make” poetic response to a question posed to him at a dinner party. The poem is powerful on the page, but not nearly as powerful as watching Mali (who wrote the introduction to Teaching with Heart) perform his piece as a poetry slam in person.

Meanwhile, Paul Allison at the Teachers Teaching Teachers webcast is hosting a bunch of us teacher/writers this coming Wednesday night to talk about the book, about poetry, about teaching and, knowing Paul, probably a whole lot more. The webcast takes place at 9 p.m. on Wednesday night at EdTechTalk, and you can join in the chat, too.

What poems inspire you?

Peace (in the poem),
Kevin

 

Book Review: Rump

I can’t say that the fairy tale of Rumplestiltskin was ever a favorite. In fact, I remember being more than a bit scared of the story when I was little (which I know is the whole point of the Grimm brothers’ tradition of such stories). But I picked up Rump by Liesl Shurtliff as read-aloud with my son because so many folks were raving about it, and I am glad that I did.

The behind-the-fairy-tale, fractured-fairy-tale novel tells the “true story” of Rumplestiltkin, who only knows part of his name (Rump) and whose destiny is yet to unfold. Rump lives on The Mountain, where the village works to mine gold for the Kingdom far away. His father died in a mining accident, and his mother died as he was being born (whispering his full, forgotten name in his ear), and Rump’s loving grandmother also passes away, kicking the story of how Rump finds his name and his destiny by going on an adventure. First, though, he has to determine how the magic that courses through him can be tamed, and it won’t be easy, particularly with the level of greed that is around him.

Rump’s travels is both sad and sweet, with plenty of humor, and just enough touchstones from traditional fairy tales to keep you involved in his quest and cheer when he finds the inner courage and understanding to finally fulfill his destiny and emerge with a self-confident power that can change the world, even if it is only one small person at a time.

The pacing made Rump a solid book for read-aloud, and although my son was reluctant at first, he was quickly hooked and is now bookmarking Shurtliff’s future book about Jack and the Beanstalk for us in the future.

Peace (in the story),
Kevin

Graphic Novel Review: The Dusk Society

(Note from Kevin: A few years ago, I was a reviewer for The Graphic Classroom. I really enjoyed the way we look at graphic novels with a lens towards the classroom. The site got taken over by another site, and then … I guess the owner of The Graphic Classroom stopped doing what he was doing. Which is fine. But I still had some reviews “sitting in the can” so I am finally digging them out to share out here.)


Story Summary: A boring town becomes the center of a fight between the forces of evil and the forces of good. No. We’re not talking Metropolis. We’re talking Pembleton, and the forces of good are a fledgling squad of teens known as The Dusk Society. The force of evil? A character named Pierceblood who wants to rip the fabric of dimensions in time and destroy the world so that he can start it anew in his own vision of paradise. This event is conveniently happening just in time for the night of Halloween. Along for the ride are Dr. Frankenstein and his monster; Count Dracula; and a few other faces from classic horror stories. I wish I could tell you more but the story gets sort of convoluted at times and the writing here is fair, at its best, and schlocky, at its worst. For one thing, I wish the four teenagers who become The Dusk Society were further developed by writers Sidney Williams and Mark Jones, but the writers seem to reach for every cliché in the comic book, to the detriment of the story. In the end, I didn’t really care if they defeated Pierceblood or not. That says a lot about a book from my reader’s perspective.

Art Review: The artwork here by illustrator Naresh Kumar matches writing, with the cover art being the scariest thing in the book, in my opinion. There wasn’t the usual crispness I associate with Campfire graphic novels. Even the Aswang, a mythical Asian creature, lacked punch needed for a horror story. Ironically, Pierceblood himself looks a little like a loony panhandler, not a powerful being about to take over the planet with his evil dominions.

More Information:
• Paperback: 88 pages
• Publisher: Campfire (June 7, 2011)
• Language: English
• ISBN-10: 9380028636
• ISBN-13: 978-9380028637

In the Classroom: There are probably some high school students who might get a kick out of the Goth-like elements of the book, and some kids may connect with the four teenagers who slowly realize their talents and come together as a team. Or maybe they will relate to getting stuck in detention together by a know-it-all teacher who sees their best qualities at last. I don’t see the book as a real teaching tool, however.

My Recommendation: There’s nothing too inappropriate in here, and maybe that is its short-falling: in order to avoid offending the targeted readership, the writers pulled their punches on what might have been a truly scary story.

Peace (in the book),
Kevin

 

Graphic Novel Review: Tall Tales (Great American Folktales)

(Note from Kevin: A few years ago, I was a reviewer for The Graphic Classroom. I really enjoyed the way we look at graphic novels with a lens towards the classroom. The site got taken over by another site, and then … I guess the owner of The Graphic Classroom stopped doing what he was doing. Which is fine. But I still had some reviews “sitting in the can” so I am finally digging them out to share out here.)

Story Summary: This collection of previously published graphic tall tales by Stone Arch Books brings together the humorous and sidesplitting stories of Paul Bunyan, Pecos Bill, John Henry and Johnny Appleseed under one roof. I won’t use hyperbole here to sell this collection. Suffice it to say that if you are a teacher with tall tales in your curriculum (you know how you are), then TALL TALES: GREAT AMERICAN FOLKTALES should be part of your collection. There’s plenty to love in these story, and the use of the graphic novel format is perfectly aligned because the pictures tell the story, and stretch the tales beyond imagination, just as one would expect. I sort of wish the collection had added a lesser-known story or two (maybe Sally Ann Thunder Ann or someone like that. Sally Ann often gets regulated to sidekick status with Davey Crockett). There is something unique and wonderful about the bizarre structure and exaggeration of the American tall tale, and this collection is yet another way for students to gain access to that rich folklore of storytelling.

Art Review: The illustrations in all four of these stories are wonderfully done. Some, like the Paul Bunyan story, are wacky and outrageous. Others, like the John Henry story, are muted, and allow the story to unfold in its own time. The weakest of the bunch of probably Johnny Appleseed, which sort of seems like the throwaway story of the collection (or maybe that is just my opinion of that tall tale, which never did much for me). There, the artwork is fairly plain, and after reading the other three pieces and viewing the art magic of the tall tales, one feels sort of let down by the Appleseed story.

More information:

• Paperback: 144 pages
• Publisher: Stone Arch Books (January 1, 2012)
• Language: English
• ISBN-10: 1434240681
• ISBN-13: 978-1434240682

In the Classroom: It’s no secret that American tall tales are a main element of curriculum at a certain grade (in some states, it is second grade; in others, third or fourth grade). TALL TALES: GREAT AMERICAN FOLKTALES is a great addition to other resources, and the use of graphic stories to tell the tales might make it more inviting to some students. And hopefully, the introduction of classic characters such as Paul Bunyan and Pecos Bill will open the door to investigation of lesser-known (but still very interesting) characters of tall tales, which staked their claim as classic oral storytelling around campfires before becoming serialized in newspapers, eventually coming into their own as books and short stories (and now, graphic novels).

My Recommendation: I highly recommend this tall tale collection for any classroom. While it might fit nicely in the elementary curriculum, I suspect that even middle and high school students would get a kick out of revisiting some old friends and their outlandish escapades in the wilds of American history.

Peace (with hyperbole and more),
Kevin

Graphic Novel Review: Mal and Chad (Food Fight)

(Note from Kevin: A few years ago, I was a reviewer for The Graphic Classroom. I really enjoyed the way we look at graphic novels with a lens towards the classroom. The site got taken over by another site, and then … I guess the owner of The Graphic Classroom stopped doing what he was doing. Which is fine. But I still had some reviews “sitting in the can” so I am finally digging them out to share out here.)

 

Story Summary: Stephen McCranie’s graphic novels about Mal and Chad (a boy and his dog) are a nice balance between solid storytelling, gentle humor, and the difficulties of being a smart kid in a typical world that still frowns on genius. Mal, the protagonist of McCranie’s series of books (FOOD FIGHT being the second in the series), is an overly intelligent boy who hides his smarts from his family and the world for fear of being further ostracized from kid culture than he already is. Chad, his dog, is his faithful, talking friend who gives advice to Mal. The books capture the two friends as they off on adventures. In MAL AND CHAD: FOOD FIGHT, the main story centers around a series of bad dreams that Chad is having, involving a lion on the loose, and Mal is determined to help Chad overcome his fears. So, he invents a device that allows him to enter Chad’s dreams to help his canine friend confront the lion, and his fear of cats. Unfortunately, things go awry, and the genius boy and his dog scramble to save the day. Secondary stories here involve Mal’s difficulties in making friends at school, but even that story arc is told gently, with humor and with respect for McCranie’s character, who often comes across with a bit of Calvin (from Calvin and Hobbes). That’s not a bad thing at all.

Art Review: One look at the boy, Mal, will reveal the influence of Japanese Manga art on McCranie and his vision of Mal. With bulging eyes and a large round face, Mal is very expressive. And Chad is cute, too, as a little white dog with a smile on his face. The black-and-white inside pages are filled with interesting uses of panels and perpectives, and when the lion appears, McCranie wisely uses the extended length of the frames to make the creature loom large in both Mal and Chad’s vision, but also ours, the reader.

More Information

• Reading level: Ages 8 and up
• Paperback: 224 pages
• Publisher: Philomel; Original edition (January 19, 2012)
• Language: English
• ISBN-10: 0399256571
• ISBN-13: 978-0399256578

In the Classroom: MAL AND CHAD: FOOD FIGHT is a thoroughly enjoyable story, and McCranie successfully weaves in the main plot with minor storylines that bring out the full character of Mal to the reader, even if they have not read the first MAL AND CHAD book. From a teaching standpoint, the influence of Manga on the art of the graphic novel might be worth pointing out. But from the standpoint of talking about kids who are different, Mal is a perfect example of a kid who feels left out the social circles and is trying desperately (and humorously, at times) to connect in with his peers. This storyline might open up some interesting dialogue in the classroom.

My Review: I really enjoyed MAL AND CHAD: FOOD FIGHT and look forward to reading more of Stephen McCranie’s work in this series. This collection of MAL AND CHAD books is perfectly attuned to the upper elementary school audience, with no violence or profanity to worry about. I highly recommend MAL AND CHAD: FOOD FIGHT for the classroom or school library.

Peace (with yer dog),
Kevin

 

Book Review: The Best of McSweeney’s Internet Tendency

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Good lord.

If you want to laugh at some of the more absurd humor writing to be found on the Internet, then visit McSweeney’s Internet Tendency. Or you could buy this book: The Best of McSweeney’s Internet Tendency. Why spend money on a book when the content is free online? Because books rock, that’s why. Books are the ereaders of the present. Plus, writers go hungry all the time. Feed the writers.

Can you tell McSweeney’s has affected my writing voice? Because it has, and that lighthearted snarkiness (which sometimes becomes heavy-handed ridicule) is what makes the pieces collected in this collection such as collector’s edition.

With pieces focused on types of font (told from the prickly perspective of an angry Comic Sans), to how to become a better writer (which would not likely include writing a blog post about this book, to be frank, if my name was Frank, which it isn’t), to the absurdity of being hailed a conquering hero for plugging in a wireless router (don’t ask), to more Shakespeare references than you can shake a stick at (although, to be frank again — and I’m still not — the collection goes a little heavy on ol’ Will but I guess dead writers have it coming to them), to the ongoing debate about the plausibility of the Death Star trash compactor in Star Wars (who knew there was so much to say about it? Not me.), this book is a barrel of laughs … in the shape of a paper-bound square that, unlike a barrel, would not hold much tasty wine for the reader.

Still …

There’s more … much more …. but if I told you more, I’d have to open the book up again … and I’m not doing that. At least, not yet.
🙂

Peace (on the pages),
Kevin

 

Graphic Novel Review: Tales of Sand

(Note from Kevin: A few years ago, I was a reviewer for The Graphic Classroom. I really enjoyed the way we look at graphic novels with a lens towards the classroom. The site got taken over by another site, and then … I guess the owner of The Graphic Classroom stopped doing what he was doing. Which is fine. But I still had some reviews “sitting in the can” so I am finally digging them out to share out here.)

Story Summary: Surreal is the only way to really describe TALE OF SAND, which is a graphic novel based on a “lost” screenplay by Jim Henson, of Muppet fame, and his writing partner, Jerry Hujl. The screenplay was found collecting dust in the Henson archives and was given over to the very talented graphic novelist Ramon K. Perez, whose vivid illustrations tell the tale of a stranger known only as “Mac” set in motion on an adventure in the American southwest. I can’t even begin to do the story tangents justice here, except to say that the narrative shifts from scene to scene, from danger to danger, just like particles of sand blowing in the wind of chance and imagination. (Think Rod Serling and the Twilight Zone, and you will be in the right ballpark.) There are hints of old Westerns, and rampaging football players, Arabs in the desert, the continuing image of an unused cigarette, bombs and guns, and elaborate champagne dinners, and so many oddball twists that it seems clear to me that only a graphic novel could capture that kind of energy of story. (And it is even clearer why Hollywood kept turning down the screenplay.) In fact, once you buy into the surreal nature of the story, TALE OF SAND becomes magical, unpredictable and thoroughly enjoyable.

Art Review: Perez is a master of surreal imagery, and the oversized nature of TALE OF SAND provides him with a large canvas from which to work. There are overlapping images, colorful splashes contrasted with pencil sketches, multiple storylines unfolding in adjacent frames, and yet through all that craziness, Perez keeps the reader completely focused on the travails of Mac, with his square jaw that echoes of Clark Kent and eyes betraying confusion over his predicament of being caught up in something outside of his control. Perez immerses the reader in the story with the visuals, and if you stay with it, the artwork becomes the main narrative device. (I particularly loved how the savage football players talked in x’s and o’s, like a football play handbook).

More Information:

• Reading level: Ages 8 and up
• Hardcover: 152 pages
• Publisher: Archaia Entertainment; 1 edition (January 31, 2012)
• Language: English
• ISBN-10: 1936393093
• ISBN-13: 978-1936393091

In the Classroom: This book might have value for upper high school students, or university students, around the ways that surrealism can be used in narrative writing, and how art connects to story. Also, for those with an interest in Jim Henson, the introduction and ending of TALE OF SAND provides inside information about Henson’s work and the development of this story. Those small pieces of writing gives the book some historical weight, particularly now with the pop cultural resurgence of The Muppets.

My Review: I was fascinated by TALE OF SAND and completely dove into the surrealistic nature of the story. I RECOMMEND this book for upper level HIGH SCHOOL students, but teachers should know there is one scene that shows the naked chest of a woman near the end of the story. I don’t think middle school readers would follow the narrative with any interest, given its surreal format.

Peace (with Henson),
Kevin

Comics Collection Review: Zits (Sunday Brunch)

(Note from Kevin: A few years ago, I was a reviewer for The Graphic Classroom. I really enjoyed the way we look at graphic novels with a lens towards the classroom. The site got taken over by another site, and then … I guess the owner of The Graphic Classroom stopped doing what he was doing. Which is fine. But I still had some reviews “sitting in the can” so I am finally digging them out to share out here.)

Story Summary: With all of our focus on graphic novels, it is easy to lose track of the power of the daily comic strip. The connections between art and words and character coupled with the confines of just a few panels is something magical when done right (and painful when done wrong). SUNDAY BRUNCH: THE BEST OF ZITS SUNDAYS by the partnership of Jerry Scott and Jim Borgman is a massive collection of comic strips featuring a the growing teenager, Jeremy, and his two befuddled parents, Walt and Connie, as they weave their ways around life. The comics have perfect pitch (at least, to me, as a parent of a teenager) but what sets this collection apart from some others are the guest narratives of other comic strip writers and artists as they talk about their own inspirations. These short narratives are interspersed throughout the book by comic strip colleagues, and the personal writing provide a wonderful lens into how comics played a part in nurturing writers and illustrators. It’s interesting to see how subversive comic strips were for so many of them – tales of flashlights under covers abound. Add to that the little annotated notes that Scott and Borgman put beneath most of these comics to explain where the ideas for the jokes and art came from, and you have an insider’s view into the world of newspaper comic creations. And you can laugh while you learn.

Art Review: What sets the comic strip Zits apart from most of its brethren is the art, and I was really fascinated by the explanations for some of the experiments that Borgman (the primary illustrator, although the book gives some nice insights into the partnership between the two collaborators) provides as he works all sorts of echoes of modern art into a comic strip. There’s also some nice commentary on the impact of the shrinking comics sections on artists, and what that has meant to how an illustration perceives their canvas.

More Information:

• Paperback: 256 pages
• Publisher: Andrews McMeel Publishing; Original edition (November 1, 2011)
• Language: English
• ISBN-10: 1449407978
• ISBN-13: 978-1449407971

In the Classroom: I have lots of comic collections in my classroom. Calvin & Hobbes remains a hit. When we talk about having variety of reading materials, we should consider comic collections as another way to draw kids (particularly, boys) into reading. SUNDAY BRUNCH: THE BEST OF ZITS SUNDAYS is a great collection that would fit nicely in the bookshelves of a middle or high school classroom. From a teaching perspective, the narratives around the impact of comics on writers and readers might open up doors of discussion around the kinds of reading and writing that your students do outside of school. What are they reading that we never see? It’s worth finding out.

My Recommendation: I highly recommend SUNDAY BRUNCH: THE BEST OF ZITS SUNDAYS for middle and high school classrooms, and for the teacher with teenagers in their lives – either sitting there in that desk or lounging around at home.

Peace (in the frames),
Kevin