Comic Book Review: Best Apocalypse Ever (The Underfold)

Most comic collections are just that: collections of some of the better comics from a series as chosen by the writer. This collection of The Underfold webcomic entitled Best Apocalypse Ever is sort of like that, with one outstanding difference. Brian Russell brings us right to the start of his comic — right back to the days when he began writing subversive yet funny comics in the underside of folded paper at his job serving coffee at a church. I know, sounds strange, right?

But if you want to see the genesis of an idea for a comic slowly taking shape, and then transforming over time, this collection — with various written narrative insights by Russell — is the real deal. Which is not say The Underfold isn’t one of the oddest, wackiest comics I have come across in some time (compliment). Between the talking eyeball, the tentacles-instead-of-hands, the breaking of the wall with the reader, and the paper-bag-over-the-face character, The Underfold is an odd assortment of imagination.

From the standpoint of a writer, though, I loved Russell’s ongoing commentary in Best Apocalypse Ever about where his comic started and where it ended up going, and the decisions (sometimes last-minute decisions) that shaped the various narrative and artistic arcs of The Underfold. I felt like we were in a room, drinking beers, and he was giving me an inside look at his creative process, sometimes slipping me a joke on the underside of a napkin.

Peace (in the process),


What We’re Reading Right Now …

Books 2011
We’ve moved into a choice, independent book unit and yesterday, we went around the room in each of my four classes and shared out what we are now reading (I was just finishing up Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life by James Patterson). Since I want many titles in our classroom as possibilities for other readers, I made a list of all of the various books (there was a few common texts: 39 Clues, The Hunger Games, various books from the Percy Jackson series, etc.) and created this Wordle.

I recognized a lot of the titles, but not all. That always makes me curious and sparks some good discussions with students.

Peace (in the tomes),


Book Review: The Son of Neptune

The Son of Neptune

Rick Riordan continues to mine the rich mythology of the Greek and (now) Roman empires for his various Percy Jackson series as The Son of Neptune, book two of The Heroes of Olympus series. brings back the hero from the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series (spawned by The Lightning Thief). The setting is mostly a Roman camp for demigods, with the backdrop of a Prophecy of Seven that will bring Gods and Demigods together to save the world (later in the series, apparently).

I enjoyed The Son of Neptune as a read-aloud with my seven-year-old son and as in the first book — The Lost Hero — we appreciated the sense of adventure, humor and camaraderie of the three main characters that Riordan focuses in on: Jackson, who has lost his memory but is slowly gaining it back; Frank, the son of Mars with an ancient bloodline and a power he only discovers at the end of the book; and Hazel, the daughter of Pluto, who has come back from the dead and doesn’t care to go back.

Riordan doesn’t really break any new ground here. If you like the Percy Jackson books, you’ll like this one. (In an interesting twist, I was reading Son of Neptune aloud to my son while reading The Lightning Thief as a novel with some of my sixth graders.) If the first books were not your cup of tea, then don’t bother.

My son didn’t mind the rehashing some plot ideas (three friends get Quest, work under deadline, save the world), but I found it a bit old after a while. The strength of the book is the development of the characters, though. Percy is older, a bit more wiser, and we’re not quite in his head as much as we were in the first series. He’s a bit more mysterious, as he grapples to understand his present, his past and his unfolding future. Frank and Hazel’s stories, and their simmering friendship, give a nice depth to their characters, too — my son and I talked a lot about what might happen to these two, and if they would survive.

There are some nice modern touches to the narrative, too. After they succeed on their quest to free Thanatos (the god of death), the god pulls out his iPad to see who is “on the list” for returning to the Underworld (one part of the plot is that the dead don’t stay dead because Thanatos has been held captive by a giant.) I had this amusing visual image of Death with a device. And, thanks to chapter numbers in Roman Numerals, my son now can decipher Roman numbers. Thanks, Mr. Riordan!

My son and I are looking forward to the third book, due next year. I’ll bet you have a few students who would like this book in your class library (or school library).

Peace (in the myth),


Book Review: Dying to Meet You/Over My Dead Body

(My intent was to run this review on Halloween, but the storm had other ideas for my digital connections. A few days late …)

A few years ago, I stumbled into Kate Klise’s wonderful Regarding the Fountain, and loved it so much I bought a set for my sixth grade classroom. It’s a story told in artifacts, which seems to be Klise’s forte, and I loved how its humor and inference and character development intertwined in such an interesting way. Needless to say, my students have loved the book, which is very different from what they are traditionally taught.

I received two other Klise books from a recent book order — Dying to Meet You and Over My Dead Body — and again, Klise tells a story in a most un-traditional way. Letters, notes, sketch drawings, newspaper articles, and other forms of writing are the narrative text of this story of a haunted house, a young boy who has been abandoned by his parents and a writer with writer’s block who moves in. As in Regarding the Fountain, the character’s names are a hoot: Ignatius B. Grumply (IB Grumply), Seymour Hope, Olive C. Spence, Dick Tater, M. Balm, etc.

While I didn’t find the story quite as strong as Regarding the Fountain, these two books in the 43 Old Cemetery Road series (I see a third book is out, too) are nice companions to the Klise archives. Last year, I had a few students who could not get enough of Klise after we read Regarding the Fountain, and one of them recommended Dying to Meet You to me, and then she went and wrote her own book in Klise’s style. It’s hard to argue with that kind of motivation.

Peace (in the artifacts),



Book Review: The Bridge to Neverland

For years now, I have been reading aloud the Peter and the Starcatchers series with my sons. As the older son grew out of it, the next one would find his place next to me on the couch to listen, and now, it is on to the third son. (Of course, the older boys hover around the edges of the read aloud, furtively taking in the stories). The series is a fresh, fun take on Peter Pan, but told with humor and action by Dave Barry (yep, that Dave Barry) and Ridley Pearson.

I won’t go into the entire series here (there are main novels and a few off-shoot novels), but there is plenty of magic, adventure, interesting villains and heroes, and all of the echoes from the old Peter Pan books that allow you to connect these storylines with the old. And for read-aloud, they are among the funnest to share with an audience (even an audience of one).

Not long ago, my youngest son and I finished reading the latest in the series — The Bridge to Neverland — which transports the story from the early days of the story (which had been faithfully set in England around the turn of the century) to modern-day America. Here, a brother and a sister unwittingly discover the magical substance “starstuff,” are chased by the evil shapeshifting Ombra (who forms as a cloud of ravens in one of the strangest imagery I have seen), and use an invention of Albert Einstein to jump across parallel universes in order to call on Peter Pan to save the day.

OK, so that sounds plenty strange as I write it. But it works.

The Bridge to Neverland is interesting, although I did not find it quite as deep or as engaging as the rest of the series, in my opinion. It seems to try a bit too hard to bring the story forward into the modern day. And, since the book is published by Disney’s Hyperion, the use of Disney World as a narrative device, while interesting, seemed a bit too self-serving at various times. (And again, my sons and I talked about when and if the series will become a movie, which seems inevitable if Disney is bankrolling your books around a Peter Pan story, right?)

This year, I have an extremely strong reader in my class and I have turned her on to The Starcatchers books. She is devouring the series (which is no easy task, if you ever see the size of these books). It makes me happy to have put a story into someone’s hands that I have so enjoyed. You will enjoy them with your kids, too. Trust me. Find a place on your couch for a story to be told.

Peace (in the magic),