A Page from a Student Comic

Homer Figg comic
I’m writing more about a project in which my class constructed a graphic novel version of a novel we are just finishing reading. This page really blew me away with the sense of artwork. So, I am sharing it out, with little context. (More to come later …)

Peace (in the frame),
Kevin

PS — Bonus points if you can figure out the book …

Graphic Novel Review: Steve Jobs (Co-Founder of Apple)

(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: Not to be confused with the recent bestselling biography of Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson, this comic book version of the Life of Jobs by Bluewater Comics is like a whirlwind overview of the innovator’s highs (with some token nods to the lows). STEVE JOBS aims to present Steve Jobs’s life in an accessible format, and give this comic book’s length, there is a lot about Jobs that is not told. Mostly, STEVE JOBS celebrates Steve Jobs. We don’t get much of the ways in which he treated his employees and the people around him, but we do get a good sense of the ways that Jobs changed the way we look at and interact with technology. You get the impression that Bluewater rushed this comic biography into production to ride on the coattails of Isaacson’s book, and Jobs’s passing. (I found a few proofreading errors)

Art Review: There’s nothing special about the art here, to be honest. It’s fair, but not innovative. I suppose, as a reviewer, one would hope that a comic about someone obsessed with design would be more beautiful to read. It isn’t. I did like the layered text and images behind the main scenes, particularly towards the end when we encounter a sort of “highlights reel” of his life. The art there gave the book a bit of a mash-up feel.

In the Classroom: I am sure there are plenty of students in our classrooms who want to know more about Steve Jobs and who would be put off by Isaacson’s definitive biography, given its hefty size. There are other biographies floating around, too, and this comic by Bluewater might be a nice companion piece for students interested in the ways that Jobs and Apple have transformed personal computing.

More Information:

Paperback: 32 pages
Publisher: Bluewater Productions (January 10, 2012)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1450756727
ISBN-13: 978-1450756723

My Recommendation: I would recommend STEVE JOBS: CO-FOUNDER OF APPLE for its use in current events and biography of the moment, but not necessarily for the art of the comic. The writing could be stronger, and the illustrations, more interesting. But I suspect students with an interest in “all things Apple” won’t really care about those points.

Peace (in innovation),
Kevin

Graphic Novel Review: Legends of Zita the Spacegirl

(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: Don’t tell my wife, but I am somewhat smitten with Zita, the spacegirl. You will be, too. In LEGENDS OF ZITA THE SPACEGIRL, writer/illustrator Ben Hatke brings us into the second adventures of the young Zita, who is fearless, brave and kind, too. And she can save the world! What’s not to like? LEGENDS OF ZITA THE SPACEGIRL picks up where the first book (Zita the Spacegirl) left off (and even provides a nice in-book play that retells that first adventure), and here, Zita is seeking to return home to Earth. Which is not easy, particularly when the galaxies are full of nutty aliens and strange accidents, and more than a few oddball obstacles standing in Zita’s way. There’s even echoes of The Prince and the Pauper here, as a robot stand-in for Zita almost completely takes over her life. Still, Zita is nothing if not determined, and resourceful, and the adventures in this story unfold at a quick pace for the intrepid heroine. And a bit of foreshadowing at the end by Hatke leaves no doubt that this is not the end of the story for Zita. That’s a good thing.

Art Review: Colorful illustrations are a hallmark in the Zita stories, and this second book does not disappoint. What I also love most are the very strange aliens characters that pepper most pages. They’re cute, but often dangerous, and yet, Zita rarely blinks in the face of it all. And speaking of Zita, Hatke has really created a smart-looking heroine whose expressions and movements are all emblematic of a great protagonist that you feel compelled to cheer for (see, I told you I was smitten).

More Information:

• Reading level: Ages 8 and up
• Paperback: 224 pages
• Publisher: First Second (September 4, 2012)
• Language: English
• ISBN-10: 1596434473
• ISBN-13: 978-1596434479
In the Classroom: There may not be any overt connections to teaching with Zita the Spacegirl, but the fact that Hatke has created a strong female protagonist in a science-fiction graphic novel is something worth celebrating, and relishing, and this fact alone should open up some space on classroom shelves for readers of both genders.

My Recommendation: I highly recommend LEGENDS OF ZITA THE SPACEGIRL for the rich storytelling, colorful illustrations, and science-fiction setting. It’s a book told with humor and adventure and it is sure to engage boy and girls readers in elementary and middle school classrooms. There is no profanity or anything objectionable in either of the Zita stories (unless you have something against Star Heart scavenger aliens, and well, who doesn’t?).

Peace (in space and beyond),
Kevin

Picture Book Review: A Home Run for Bunny

A Home Run For Bunny

In our house, it is baseball all the time these days. All three boys play ball, and the Red Sox are always on the radio (even during the dark stretches of the losing streak that finally ended yesterday). My youngest son’s book club is reading A Home Run for Bunny, by Richard Anderson.

This story, set in 1934, tells the tale of Bunny Taliaferro, an African-American athletic standout from nearby Springfield, whose American Legion team went south to play in a national tournament, only to be confronted head-on by racism. Bunny was the only black athlete on the Springfield team, and in the tournament, and his presence sparked confrontations everywhere, from the hotel that did not want him to sleep on their beds, to the practice field where people threw garbage at him, and more.

In the end, the entire team decided to go home rather than play in the tournament, after Bunny was told he would be not be allowed on the field with the white teams. It’s a powerful moment when Bunny’s teammates, although confident they could win this tournament and move to the next level, take a stand and pack up to leave in order to support their black teammate rather than play without him.

A statue of Bunny Taliaferro now stands in one of Springfield’s parks, and the governor honored him and his teammates in a recent ceremony, noting the racism that Bunny endured during this time as an athlete and the sacrifice that his team made in choosing friendship over winning. The story is written in a removed first-person narrative, allowing the reader to see the story unfold from one of the teammates, and this is effective.

Times may have changed, even if racism is still an issue, but it is important for us to remember that even before Jackie Robinson and other pioneers who broke the race barrier, there were people like Bunny Taliaferro suffering the sting and scorn of a country still driven by hatred of skin and culture. By focusing on the team’s response to such racism, writer Richard Anderson reminds us of the goodness of people, too.

Peace (please),
Kevin

 

App Review: Adobe Voice for Digital Stories

I have to admit: the new digital storytelling app from Adobe, called Voice, is such a breeze to use that I wonder why other apps are not set up. With a clean design, clear steps and access to Creative Commons images and infographic symbols and my own pictures, Adobe Voice really raises the bar for how you can tell a story on a mobile device. I’ve been toying around with it for a few days.

Here, for example, is a book trailer that I did yesterday as my son and I finished reading Scat:

Here is one from the other day, as a promo for Making Learning Connected MOOC:

Both stories took me about 10 minutes each to make and to publish. I did not hit a single hurdle in either story. Clear commands on what to do — record your voice, add an image, choose a theme, pick a song — are easily accessible. You have to have an Adobe account to publish your story to the Web. And the story, as far as I can tell, can’t be saved natively to your mobile device, nor shared directly into YouTube or other video sharing sites. That’s too bad, but I suspect Adobe made this app free (yep, free) so that people would have to come under the Adobe umbrella.

If you are interested in Digital Storytelling, I suggest you check out Adobe Voice. For ease and design, I have not yet come across anything similar, and I can live with the drawbacks that I listed above if the trade-off is in design.

Peace (in the voice),
Kevin

Graphic Novel Review: Escape to Gold Mountain

(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.)

http://www.arsenalpulp.com/titleimages/book%20covers/9781551524764_Escape.jpg

Story Summary: After reading ESCAPE TO GOLD MOUNTAIN, David H. T. Wong’s account of 100 years of Chinese immigration to North America, I came away from the story feeling disgusted with so many things. First and foremost, I was struck by the level of discrimination and racism that the Chinese have encountered over the years as they left their home to try to build a better life, only to encounter violent racism and political hurdles in the United States and Canada. This is the rhetorical argument that Wong makes in ESCAPE TO GOLD MOUNTAIN as he traces a family’s descendants over the years as the lure of Gold Mountain (which is what the Chinese families called North America) looms large for poor families in China. However, I was also unsettled by the way Wong demonizes just about every white person we meet in the story, except for the periodic politician calling unsuccessfully for compassion in the face of stiff immigration policies aimed at the Chinese. Still, from the building of railroads through the labor of Chinese workers suffering under horrible conditions to the creation of Chinatown slums to the outright violence in some places against defenseless Chinese families, the story told here should ignite indignation in all of us. ESCAPE TO GOLD MOUNTAIN ends with a note of apology, from the governments of both America and Canada for the ways that Chinese immigrants were treated in the 1800s and early 1900s. Wong’s graphic story of the Chinese coming to North America opens a page in the history books that all too often gets forgotten because it puts countries in a bad light. Wong’s story reminds all of us that we need to learn from this history, and find a way to create a better future free from discrimination and racism that lines so much of the past.

Art Review: I can’t say I am a big fan of the art here in this book. The simple line drawings lack the kind of complexity and uniqueness in art that would really bring the stories of the family alive to the reader. All too often, the drawings lack depth and clarity, which unfortunately takes away from the reader’s connection to the characters that Wong is highlighting. In graphic stories like this one, the art is what first grabs a students’ attention, almost always, and I’m not quite sure how this book accomplishes that. Which is not to say that Wong is not an artist of talent. It’s just that, in my opinion, too many of the pages here don’t have the kind of vitality and detail that will keep the attention of a young reader.

More Information:

• Reading level: Ages 12 and up
• Paperback: 256 pages
• Publisher: Arsenal Pulp Press (October 30, 2012)
• Language: English
• ISBN-10: 1551524767
• ISBN-13: 978-1551524764

In the Classroom: Certainly, for any unit around immigration and racism (particularly institutional racism and government policies around immigration), ESCAPE TO GOLD MOUNTAIN has a lot of potential value and would add nicely to textbook stories about the Chinese coming to North America for a better life and about immigration itself. As I was reading the book, I could not help but draw some parallels between what I know about other immigration waves from other countries in other time periods, including the more modern immigration debates that seem to center on Hispanic immigrants. History repeats itself, in some ways. But the Chinese endured more overt violence and hurdles than one can even fathom, and still they remain central to the American Dream of a better life. Wong’s story is an important one that needs to be remembered, and not repeated.

My Recommendation: I would recommend ESCAPE TO GOLD MOUNTAIN for an upper level high school or university class as a companion text for studies around immigration and racism. There are scenes of violence, and death, in this graphic novel, as Wong does not hold back his punches in telling the story.

Peace (in the book),
Kevin

 

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

https://d2na0fb6srbte6.cloudfront.net/read/imageapi/coverforissue/239124/comic/300/new
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.

http://tiffanypoirier.files.wordpress.com/2013/12/slide117.jpg?w=940&h=705

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

teachingwithheartcover

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