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

 

A Paper Circuitry Collage of Student Work

Paper Circuit Student Poems Collage
I am going to write more about this later, but here is a collage of our pilot paper circuitry project from yesterday, in which we “illuminated” light-themed haiku poems. The lesson revolved around using copper tape as the circuit wires, with LED stickers situated beneath the poem and pictures to create a lit-up scene to go with the poems.

It was great, and engaging (more later)

Peace (in the light),
Kevin

Beginning with Paper Circuitry

Paper circuitry mentor text
I am very fortunate that I am able to do a small pilot project with my sixth graders using ‘Paper Circuitry‘ — a process that embeds circuits and LED lights into notebooks. The idea is to illuminate writing (literally) and also to pull together the concepts of the scientist/inventor notebook with the writing notebook in interesting ways.

This afternoon, with one of my classes, we are going to be working on illuminated haiku poetry. It began with the cold question around “what is a circuit” and asking them to draw it out (part of a pre-pilot questionnaire that I found helpful, too). Check out:
paper circuits preproject diagram
Thanks to my fifth grade colleagues, many of my sixth grade students had a pretty decent grasp of circuits going into this pilot. We’ve since done some mini-lessons around circuits as a way to keep the idea in their minds.

Then, last week, students wrote a bunch of haikus, with at least one having the theme of “light” somehow. This was intentional, of course. This week, they worked on creating a final version of the haiku, with folded paper. The front side is the poem (sort of like a greeting card format) and the inside will be their paper “circuit board” where we will use circuit tape (although I am amped — ahem — for the future of conductive pens where what you write becomes the “wire” of the circuit — so cool!).

Although I have done some paper circuitry in a workshop at the DML Conference with Jennifer and David, from NexMap (which works with a researcher out of MIT who is developing the process) and Paul from National Writing Project, I wanted to try a parallel circuit (instead of the simple circuit) because I know some students want multiple lights in their poem project.

And it worked! (After I watched some videos, learning from the Internet, of course). You can see my poem, inside and out, in the image above.

I’m also excited because our Western Massachusetts Writing Project is going to be participating in a Hack the Notebook day in July, using paper circuitry with teachers who will be in our Summer Institute, and some folks beyond, to play around with science and writing, and the connections between the two. I hope to document today’s work with students (and maybe get a few student projects as samples) as something to share in July.

I’m still trying to figure out how to display the poems in my classroom when they are done, because the battery makes the weight of each one a little tricky. But I have parents using my room for a meeting and it would be pretty nifty to have the illuminated poems all lit up with student works, right?

Peace (on paper),
Kevin

 

 

Book Review: The Best of McSweeney’s Internet Tendency

http://asburyandasbury.typepad.com/.a/6a010535893544970c017d428ba16e970c-800wi

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

 

Slice of Life: Twining Play and Literacies Together

WRITE a slice of life story on your own blog. SHARE a link to your post in the comments section. GIVE comments to at least three other SOLSC bloggers.

Last year, I introduced a whole new genre of novels: the Make Your Own Ending (or Interactive Fiction) concept. I now have a box full of those books where you come to a page as the reader/character, are faced with a decision, make a choice, and move on through a certain branch of the story. The students LOVE these books and many have not ever encountered them before (which seems odd to me, but there was a time when the publishers stopped publishing, and that seems to now have been reversed).

http://i.huffpost.com/gen/1187144/thumbs/o-CHOOSE-YOUR-OWN-ADVENTURE-MOVIES-facebook.jpgThe key is not just the reading, but the writing of these stories. Yesterday, I brought two of my classes into the freeware called Twine, which allows you to construct and build interactive fiction stories. They are now working on an archeological-themed project called “The Mystery of the Ruins” in which they will be writing and publishing their own stories.

Here is a story map from last year, in Twine (read the story, too):

http://farm9.staticflickr.com/8380/8645332164_6ed9894e8a.jpgThere was so much laughter and discovery yesterday as I told them “to play” with the software and not worry about the project. Just go on and make something. Make a story, build branches and see what works and what doesn’t work. Ask questions.

We don’t do this enough — give time to play with technology — but it remains a very crucial element in my classroom, and now, as we gear our way forward later week to actually writing the real story, they will have some understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of Twine. They will have some ownership of the process, and not be quite as hemmed in.

Or so I hope.

Peace (in the classroom),
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

Making a #CLMOOC Zine

CLMOOC Zine
Once again, my friend Chad Sansing has created a cool remixable project via Webmaker that I just had to check out and remix myself. Chad made a ‘zine template with Thimble, which you can adapt for your own area of interest, print out, fold up and hand out to friends.

How cool is that?

I went in and made a little zine for the Making Learning Connected MOOC, which launches into its second iteration this coming summer (Come sign up and join the fun!). If you hit the remix button on either Chad’s or my #CLMOOC zine project, there are all sorts of helper notes in the code that Chad has written than will walk you through the process of coding the page.

After making the #CLMOOC zine, I printed it out (this took a few trial and errors to get the setting right on the page — I went landscape, at 60 percent, with my Firefox browser), and folded it up, and then shot this short Vine piece of the zine.

Peace (in the zine),
Kevin