Graphic Memoir Review: Almost American Girl

Almost American Girl by Robin Ha [in Booklist] | BookDragon

Robin Ha’s memoir of moving to America from South Korea as a child, and not knowing a lick of English, is a testament to not just perseverance, but also, to each person finding some way forward. Ha’s graphic memoir — Almost American Girl — is part of the new and appreciated wave of new diverse voices in the field.

Ha’s single mother brought her unexpectedly to Alabama when Ha was a child, and she knew no English or much about American culture, and so, she struggled with loneliness and language, until years later, when Ha stumbled upon a group of other teens making comics and stories at a comic book store. This changed everything for her. These scenes reminded me of the groups of young people I used to see huddled around comics at our local comic store when my eldest son was younger and we visited the comic store regularly. The clusters of kids I noticed there are also what encouraged me to integrate comic making into my sixth grade classroom.

For Ha, the connection to art gave her anchor and friendship, and her story reminds us, as teachers, that we need to find and nurture the passions of our young people, and show patience and compassion to immigrant students making their way through the American landscape.

One element that surfaces early and remains is Ha’s love and frustration with her mother, whose a strong personality for the most part but then Ha begins to see her mother with more compassion and fragility.This emerges in the story slowly but powerfully.

The artwork here is fine, and I love that Ha was able to bring some of the comics and graphic arts she made as a kid into the story.

Peace (in the panel),

Slice of Life: Sometimes, A Tree Falls

(This is for the Slice of Life challenge, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We write on Tuesdays about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)

The hurricane on Sunday and into Monday was not as bad as it could have been here, but we still had strong winds and lots of rain.  The river down the street is raging. And, alas, a tree fell from a neighbor’s yard smack dab into our yard, right over our fence line.

Tree FallI know this happens. It’s nature. It’s part of life. It was a storm. It could have been a lot worse.

We’re lucky it didn’t hit the house and we’re lucky that I moved a glass-top table we usually have near that part of the yard for outdoor gatherings. No one was hurt. It’s still frustrating because it was a lovely tree, providing some nice shade on summer days, and now I am calling around, trying to find a tree service who can help remove it.

I guess if we learned one thing last year, it is to go with the flow, adjust as needed, and keep things moving forward. I’ll be on the phone today again, with tree companies, and chatting with my neighbor about her lost tree and my damaged fence.

Peace (rooted),



After the Storm: Poem

rain drops“rain drops” by Rex Roof is licensed under CC BY 2.0

 Shoe-barren feet sink
into summer grass
and ground, softened
by surge of storm,
exploring empty streets

We wander the remains
of the day’s fallen rains,
dancing our way
to each singing drain:
the weather, as rhythmic beat

Peace (after the storms),

The Story of Making an Odd Poem

Poetic Resistance

This (above) is where I ended up. How I got there began with the sharing of a morning poem in my email inbox from entitled “The Life of a Writer” by Jalynn Harris. I shared that poem inside a new platform for the National Writing Project, under a theme of teachers as poets.

My friend, Terry, read it and wrote about it, channeling both appreciation and resistance, and uncovering a sort of template in the poem itself that he worked to make visible through active reading. Read about Terry’s journey here. He called it a Defibrillation and Templatization. You can watch him deconstruct the poem and then rebuild it back.

Reading what Terry wrote, I went back to the original poem to read Harris’s explanation of her poem (which I had missed the first time through .. it’s tucked on the corner of the page). I realized that I also found another poem in there, in her writing of her poem. I used an online blackout poem maker.

Blackout poem

Then another friend, Tanya, in the NWP space, used Terry’s template from the poem to write her own poem. I just found her poem to be so interesting to read, as a sort of echo of the original, and I admired how that process of response brought out other layers of appreciation. Even as we were pushing back against the confines of unexpected templates and design confines, we were also using those same concepts to make something new.

That led to me writing a poem this morning, on the theme of a poem that would refuse to be confined by any template.

I am,
listening –
wordssing –
Here I am
listening –
consistentlytwisting –
Here I am,
still listening

But the text version didn’t do the trick for me.  It was too static. Stuck. And full of red squiggles shouting at me to fix it.

So, here’s what I did to get the poem to twist its shape:

  • Wrote it and exported it as PDF (to get rid of the squiggles)
  • Screenshot-ed the poem, to make into image file
  • Used LunaPic to first bend the poem and then to filter it in a way to add outlines (symbolic of the template)

That’s what’s up top there. And that’s how I got there. Lord only knows what the original poet, Jalynn Harris, would think of all of this. I hope she’d be honored that her poem about writing sparked writing.


Peace (pushing twisting pulling),


Book Review: Wink

I had seen Wink, by Rob Harrell, in a few lists of “best of” book lists from last year and finally got a chance to read it during our class Independent Reading time at the end of the year, and I admit: I really enjoyed it.

Harrell, a comic strip/graphic novelists, uses his own childhood story of a rare eye cancer to inject his main middle-school-student character, Ross, with authenticity, as Ross goes through the same ordeal. The book is prose but has lots of funny doodles and a running Ross-created comic called BatPig that is hilarious and insightful, capturing the anxiety of Ross as he goes through treatment.

Stories of young people and cancer are, of course, serious business, and can often get stuck under a dark narrative cloud. There are dramatic moments here, as Ross struggles with difficult questions of why this cancer happening to him, of how his friends are either coming in close or drifting apart, and how it is affecting his family. His mother died earlier of cancer, too, and his father, during one of the more powerful scenes, tells Ross how he, the father, barely held it together after she died.

Ross is also the victim of some cruel social media posts by classmates, as he and his cancer is turned into memes that spread like wildfire and make him feel powerless. Only his best friend, Abby, holds him together until a dramatic confrontation with the meme-generating students during a lunch.

And then there’s the rock and roll. Ross decided he wants to learn to play guitar, which leads to a Talent Show, in which all of Ross’ anger and frustration at the world is let loose in an amped-up punk rock performance with Abby and another friend that startles everyone in the audience (he even destroys an old guitar on the stage in class Hendrix fashion). In music, Ross finds release.

This book is appropriate for upper elementary and middle school students, for sure.

Peace (on stage),

Slice of Life: Noticing The Moments As Poems

(This is for the Slice of Life challenge, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We write on Tuesdays about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)

Summer ain’t over yet but it’s getting there … so I am trying to quiet my mind a bit before the frantic start of a new school year, using my daily morning poetry to notice moments. It’s sort of like some zen incantation, how writing words as poems of moments of stillness gives the head a chance to pause.

Four Moments

Two small finch
balanced on stems,
nibbling seeds,
their hollow bones
in perfect sync
with summer flower,
fluttering, bending,
but holding steady,
swaying in the breeze

The dragonfly
alights to the edge
of the boat,
lands and waits,
as I draw in paddles
to let us float,
its wings a-hover,
a stillness moment
of quiet wonder

They climb the tree
that is a castle
that becomes a cloud
that moves a mountain
that starts a story
that becomes a poem
that looks its way out
on the wider world
where we are only wandering by,

In the aftermath
of the receding,
with the world
painted in brushes
of broken limbs
and damaged parts,
the evening sky
casts us a glow
in pink, amber, blue –
an act of forgiving
while still giving
the storm its due

Peace (sharing it with you),

Book Review: The 99 % Invisible City

The subtitle to Roman Mars and Kurt Kohlstedt’s The 99 % Invisible City says a lot about what to expect from within its pages: “A Field Guide to the Hidden World of Everyday Design.”

Inspired by their 99 % Invisible podcast, the authors here explore a menagerie of ideas about urban spaces that are intriguing, interesting and make you want to open your eyes and really see the world as you wander your nearest city (including the one you might live in). The use of “design” as a lens is really helpful, too.

I appreciated the scope of the short pieces here and how they are grouped under general themes like “Conspicuous” and “Architecture” and “Urbanism” and then broken further into ideas like “Identity” and “Liminal” and “Interventions.” Taken together, the book lives up to its claim of helping us notice the things we either take for granted or fail to notice because they are so visible.

So, we learn about fire escapes, and traffic signals, grassroots gardening and viral signage, sidewalk markings and emergency exits. Seriously, the topics are wide-reaching and yet, ordinary on the surface — only to be revealed as interestingly complex just below.

You won’t see the city streets the same way again, and that’s a good thing.

Peace (watching our step),