Remember the Struggle: Read March

Last night, my wife and I watched the new David Letterman show on Netflix, as he talked to Barack Obama. It was a relief of sorts to know we did once, not that long ago, have a president who could articulate a thought and an idea or two. It was a love fest between Letterman and Obama, which was fine for us but would have been annoying to anyone who thought Obama didn’t do nearly enough.

There is a segment in which Letterman meets up with Congressman John Lewis, the legendary civil rights leader who became an influential politician, on the Selma Bridge, as the two men talk about race and America and politics. The walks and protests — now known as Bloody Sunday — across the bridge is a pivotal moment in US history.

It reminded me that re-reading the March graphic novel trilogy, which is co-authored by Lewis, might be in order, particularly as we celebrate the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr. today.

If you have not read March, you need to. It’s a powerful use of graphic storytelling, bringing to the surface the tension and the energy and the madness of the Civil Rights movement through the eyes of Lewis, who protested and ended up in jail dozens of times (included a few times as congressman) and whom Trump ridiculed at one point in a tweet for being all talk, no action. What an idiot.

Read March, and remember.

Peace (every day),
Kevin

 

Book Review: Footnotes (from the World’s Greatest Bookstores)

I could re-read this a few times, just because … I love the quirks of independent bookstores. Illustrator Bob Eckstein’s collection of stories and drawings/paintings of bookstores from around the world make Footnotes* From the World’s Greatest Bookstores a visual delight, made even better with short anecdotes of strange happenings and wonders from those places.

If you love stories, and if you love books, and if you love bookstores with an independent spirit, then Eckstein’s collection is for you. I got this one out of the library and am now eyeing the “14 Day” sticker on the cover with a bit of trepidation.

I joked to my wife, a librarian and book lover like me, that we could use this book to start planning our future retirement travels. I was only half-joking.

Peace (in the stacks),
Kevin

Book Review: Solo

This is the third Kwame Alexander book that I have read in the past year or so and I am enjoying the ways he (and here, his co-author Mary Rand Hess) use free verse poetry to explore a character’s inner life and inner story. This one — Solo — captured my attention for the music element, as the main character is both a songwriter and musician, and comes from a musical family.

Blade Morrison, 17, has just graduated high school, and he’s a mess. Not quite ready to move on but oh, so ready to move on. His father, a world-famous rock and roll star with all of the stereotypical problems of drugs and alcohol and need for the limelight, has a suffocating personality that vexes Blade. Blade’s mom, who died years earlier, is a memory that both haunts him and guides him.

Oh, and Blade’s girlfriend … well, things are complicated.

And then the complications becomes even more so when Blade learns that he is adopted and that his birth mother is in Africa, doing work in a village in Ghana. So begins the second part of Solo, as Blade comes to understand a bit about himself, his father, and the world at large as he travels to Africa to meet his birth mother.

The book uses scattered verse, sometimes relayed in short dialogue-drive stanzas and sometimes just as short phrases as Blade tries to navigate a difficult world. Music is always just a heartbeat away, however, and the weaving of song and poetry, and story, is a nice mesh done well by Alexander and Hess. We see into Blade’s heart as well as his mind.

This book would be a solid fit for high school students and some upper middle school students. It captures the world of confusion often facing so many teenagers as they take their first steps out in the world, away from the protective net of family. And above all, the story reminds us that love does indeed bind us together, and holds us together even when we least expect it.

Peace (sings the blues),
Kevin

PS — a bonus video as Kwame Alexander shares how he wrote Solo

Book Review: We Will Not Be Silent

Talk about a powerful story of resistance. This book by Russell Freedman — We Will Not Be Silent: The White Rose Student Resistance Movement That Defied Adolf Hitler — about the White Rose Resistance Movement in Nazi Germany, in which young people secretly organized a resistance movement against Hitler, is powerful on so many levels. It shows how courage and organization, as well as sacrifice, can change the minds of people, and give courage in the face of fear.

And it’s all a true story, too, documented with research by Freedman. There are images and letters and journals and context, all showing how the narrative of Germany during the war is often missing the stories of those common Germans who did what they could to resist Hitler and the rise of violent Nationalism and Fascism.

Here, the story focuses on a brother and sister, Hans and Sophie Scholl, who helped organize The White Rose to disseminate leaflets and information, with secret printings and clandestine meetings, and to counter the Nazi propaganda machine. The students who were part of The White Rose network began the resistance as high school-age and then continued into the University years as the World War unfolded.

And ultimately, both Hans and Sophie paid the cost of resistance with their lives, as they were caught with White Rose leaflets, brought before the ‘Hanging Judge,’ and quickly executed for their actions.

Their deaths brought a whole new level of energy to the resistance movement, however, and their story — the whole story of The White Rose Resistance — serves as a reminder that everyday citizens still have a chance to take a stand, even in places where the government has taken control with little regard to morality and ethics and common law.

Maybe the GOP leadership on Congress could use a historical reminder …

This book is geared more for high school students, given the content, but some middle school readers may find it interesting. It is a bit too intense for younger readers. Freedman does a nice job of turning non-fiction into a page-turning read.

Peace (in politics),
Kevin

PS — I found this video which dovetails nicely with the book

Graphic Novel(s) Reviews: Stonebreaker/Over the Wall

 

I am always happy to help out an independent graphic novelist, so after bumping into Peter Wartman in another social media space, I followed his link to his page for the Stonebreaker series. I’m glad I did, for the story Wartman tells here feels like just beginning of an epic tale, but it has much complexity to it and characters I am already rooting for. (And this particular series is a sequel to Over the Wall by Wartman.)

In one sitting, I dug into all three of the available Stonebreaker books (and I imagine at some point, Wartman might try to unite the stories into a single graphic novel) and ended curious, wanting more. That’s when you know a story has gripped you.

Stonebreaker is set in an ancient city that has been destroyed by a Demon God (whose origins we learn here but not much else, but is probably covered in the earlier book, Over the Wall). The city is now mostly abandoned by people, except for folks like our hero, Anya, whose friendship with another Demon (a librarian who is friendly with Anya but who has past memories are just arriving) seems to be central to the larger story narrative. Anya’s brother has a backstory, too, in which he also went into the city, but lost his memory in some encounter with another demon.

There’s a lot of mystery here in Stonebreaker, and Warton is sprinkling hints of where the story is going. The reader has to immerse themselves in the world, and make some inferential leaps about characters. I don’t mind that, particularly with graphic novels like this, but it may be confusing a bit for some other readers not accustomed to diving right in to an imagined world.

I also later ordered and then read Over the Wall, the prequel story that sets Stonebreaker in motion by introducing the characters, and setting, and storyline.

It’s admittedly odd to read the second story first before the first story, and I found myself enjoying Stonebreaker a lot more than Over the Wall, which itself is a fine bit of storytelling. I just happen to think Stonebreaker is a richer experience, perhaps the results of Wharton’s sense of the story and world expanding as he continues to create.

The Stonebreaker series (so far) and Over the Wall are perfectly appropriate for elementary and middle school (and high school) readers.

Peace (on the page),
Kevin

Graphic Novel Review: Dogs (from Predator to Protector)

The latest in a series of Science Comics coming out of First Second Publishing will surely catch kids’ attention. It’s about dogs. Artist/writer Andy Hirsch’s Dogs: From Predator to Protector is a lively romp through the canine world, told with humor and gusto and jam-packed with science.

In fact, there is so much scientific information — told engagingly and with a nice mix of comic images and writing — that I wonder about the audience of this book. The text complexity pushes it into upper middle school/high school, I would think, as we learn about behavioral science, mapping of genetics, breeding for traits, the history of humans to animals (and vice versa), and more.

It’s all very interesting, but deep and dense. Luckily, the mascot of the book — a dog off chasing his ball as a portal into time — is cute, and engaging, and very dog-like in his mannerisms.

I suspect many kids will pick up the book because of its cover, and hopefully, they will stay to learn more about the complex canines in our midst. This book is another example of how the graphic story/comic format can engage learners and impart informational text, in a fun way.

Peace (woof),
Kevin

 

Book Review: Everything I Need to Know I Learned in The Twilight Zone

Rod Serling Quote

I understood the gimmick behind this book but I could not resist it. Mark Dawidzkiak’s Everything I Need to Know I Learned In The Twilight Zone is a fabulous read, with references to a myriad of stories that unfolded in Rod Serling’s Twilight Zone. I won’t pretend I got all of the references to all of the episodes, but there were enough to jar my memory banks to the crafty stories of Serling’s show.

Broken up into 50 lessons — from Always Keep Your Heart Open to the Magic that Comes Your Way to Don’t Live in the Past to Imagine a Better World to Angels Are All Around You and more —  this book explores the strange terrain of the television show by reminding us of how stories can expose the truth of our lives.

Reading the book had me digging out my old box set of DVDs of The Twilight Zone, to find reference points. It’s pretty amazing how Sterling’s production and his and many other writers’ stories still stand up over the decades. That is probably the result of the stories themselves, and the twists and themes that emerged on the small screen.

Dawidzkiak is a media critic, whose beat has often been television. You can sense the love he has for Sterling’s art, and how these narratives can be grouped around important themes, or lessons that we best learn (or suffer the consequences, as often happens in the twisty ending of the show). Dawidzkiak remind us that Sterling sought to bring to the surface the good of people, yet was never afraid to punish those whose choices damaged the world, those around them, or themselves.

Reading Everything I Need to Know I Learned In The Twilight Zone is sure to draw you back into the Zone. That’s not a bad place to be, as long as your heart is true.

Peace (twists and all),
Kevin

 

Students Engaging in Reading with #BookSnaps

BookSnaps from Students

I wrote the other day about my plan to try out BookSnaps with my sixth graders. BookSnaps are images of reading books, with “stickers” and short text annotations. While the original idea is to use Snapchat, we used Google Draw, and it worked out just fine.

BookSnaps from Students

My aim was to talk about annotations, with text and images. I also wanted to show them Google Draw, another app within their Google accounts that can be tapped for various projects.

BookSnaps from Students

I walked them the process. We ended up using PhotoBooth to take the pictures (while I was going to use an extension created by Alice Keeler, I realized that our students don’t actually log into the Chrome Browser but instead, log into Google itself.) It turns out our librarian had already shown them how to use PhotoBooth, so that was … a snap.

BookSnaps from Students

Next, I talked about what could be in the texts, which were call-out shapes within Google. I explained that annotations make thinking visible, so they could

  • Ask questions of the text
  • Make predications
  • Find connections with other books
  • Pull out phrases or words that seem interesting

BookSnaps from Students

One friend suggested creating a Google Draw template with call-outs and stickers in the margins of the drawing field, which is a good idea, but I went with a blank Draw slate, and let them build from there. It took longer but I think it gave each BookSnap its own flavor.

BookSnaps from Students

And the ‘stickers’ were merely Google Images, related to the text on the page. I did some mini-lessons around cropping (which some used and some apparently didn’t), and the fading tool, so that they could better manipulate the image within the design of the page.

BookSnaps from Students

Overall, the BookSnap project was a success, and kids were very engaged in the activity. I have now shared all of the folders of BookSnaps with all students across four classrooms, so they can peek in and see what their friends and fellow readers are reading, and maybe get inspired to pick up a new book.

BookSnaps from Students

Peace (and stickers),
Kevin