Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Amazing Fantastic Incredible: A Marvelous Memoir Graphic Novel Review

Amazing Fantastic Incredible: A Marvelous Memoir by Stan Lee and Peter David, art by Colleen Doran. Touchstone Publishing, 2015. 

Thanks to the domination of Marvel's superheroes at the box office, Stan Lee has become a household name. More than that, thanks to his cameos in those movies, he's become a household face. The mustache, the salt and pepper hair, the dark glasses -- he's become an icon in his own right. And yet...most of us don't know much about him. Amazing Fantastic Incredible: A Marvelous Memoir is his attempt to let us get to know him. The guy behind the masks. Lee guided Marvel Comics through a revolution of sorts in the 1960s, helping create Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four, and the Hulk...along with updating older characters and making them relevant. Essentially he did this by making them human, by amplifying their angst, by making them whiners just like us. 

His memoir is (appropriately) in graphic novel format, allowing Lee to be the narrator of his own life story, with frequent breaks through the fourth wall (sometimes through the paper panels themselves) to address the reader. He's an observer of himself as a bookish kid growing up, of a young adult dating his soon-to-be wife, of his early collaborations, failures, and successes before becoming the Big Deal at Marvel. 
Lee's voice is unmistakable, with superlatives as subtle as a tsunami. That's part of his charm, somehow. Even though he's brash, he doesn't come across arrogant. He brags about the characters and the innovations he introduces, but isn't always the hero of his own story. He admits to some mistakes, and questions the fallout between him and Steve Ditko and Jack Kirby (co-creators of Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four, among others)...which comes across as disingenuous. But including those black marks at all is admirable. 

The book is an interesting look into the creative process of a guy who most kids know by name and by face, but don't know much about. That hook -- the movies they love and the heroes they believe in -- is enough to have them pick up the book The fast-paced race through the pages with both the words and the dynamic artwork is enough to keep them reading. 

In the classroom, I'd use Amazing Fantastic Incredible working with students on memoir projects. The idea of inserting themselves as an older, wiser narrator in their younger lives is a new one to me, and would be able to get them to more complex, more nuanced ideas than a straightforward retelling of childhood events. Lee makes these interjections and words to the reader (and sometimes his younger self) impossible to miss -- it's easy to use those pages as an example of how to do that in students' own writing. 

If students are interested in the origins of comic book characters, I always recommend Marc Tyler Nobleman's books Boys of Steel (about Jerry Siegel and Joe Schuster, creators of Superman) and Bill the Boy Wonder (about Bill Finger, the long-uncredited co-creator (but mostly, creator) of Batman). Both are great for elementary through high school, and get to the complicated topics of copyright and the rights of the artist versus a corporation while still being "about" superheroes. 




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Friday, October 7, 2016

Funko Pop! As Biography

Over the last ten years, the Funko toy company has taken the pop culture toy world by storm. Their flagship line is Funko Pop! ...vinyl big-headed dolls about six inches tall, with big black eyes, a tiny nose, and no mouth. The first time I saw them, I thought they were weird-looking. Then the more I saw them, the more I thought they were cute. Then I bought one. I think WALL-E from Pixar was my first. Then Kermit the Frog. Then some Sesame Street characters. I thought "I don't need to collect these," and then a friend started giving me Star Wars Funko Pops. As of this writing, I have about twenty-five of these little dolls figures, from Star Wars and Peanuts and Pixar and Muppets and DC Comics.

Whatever you're into, there's probably a Funko Pop! series dedicated to it. Harry Potter, Star Trek, Doctor Who, NFL, Golden Girls, NBA, NHL, Ghostbusters, Adventure Time, Indiana Jones...look, just go here and see for yourself. It's astounding how many there are. And at $10.00 (or less) a piece, they're incredibly easy to indulge in. It's kind of a problem.

With as ubiquitous as Funko Pop! has become, for me it was an easy enough jump from the action figure strategy I explain in Play Like a PIRATE to having students design Funko Pop! figures as simple biographies of characters they're learning about in class. Historic figures, great inventors, characters in novels -- anything in your curriculum that has a human in it would work. Or sometimes not human... In any case. Not as much research is required for the Funko Pop! figures as the other action figure strategy, and the Funko Pop! style is stylized and simplified enough that even young students can design characters they're proud of.

Like my action figure template (see sidebar), the Funko Pop! template has a front side and back side of the packaging. The front side has the main character in a large window. The back side has a space for a short biography of the character -- a summary of their life, their role in your curriculum, etc. There are also two smaller characters pictured on the back of the box, for two additional people who would play a role in that character's life, contemporaries of the character, people in a related field, etc.

Funko Pop! is one of the biggest toy lines around, and your students have seen them. Most of your kids probably have a few of them. You might have a few looking you with their creepy-cute dead eyes RIGHT NOW.  Find a way to take that appealing toy and make it work with kids. They'll love it.

The template for the Funko Pop! assignment is free, under my Action Figure Templates in the sidebar.

Some examples of student work: 








Just in case you thought I was kidding about the Golden Girls...





If you like this idea, check out a hundred more ways to use toys in the classroom in my book Play Like a Pirate: Engage Students with Toys, Games, and Comics -- available on Amazon and at Barnes & Noble. It's fun. It's funny. It will change your life. It will make me a few bucks. To go spend on more toys. It's the circle of life. And now that song is in your head. 







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Tuesday, October 4, 2016

'Through the Woods' Graphic Novel Review

"Through the Woods" Emily Carroll, 2014. 208 pages softcover graphic novel, Margaret K. McElderry Books.




Even though "Through the Woods" was published in 2014, it didn't come onto my radar until about a recently. This graphic novel by Emily Carroll is perfect for this time of year, as the horror stories wind their way through woods in fall and winter. Horror stories are hit and miss with me, either they're not scary enough or they're too gory, not leaving enough to the imagination. Carroll finds the perfect balance of suspense and blood in this volume, and I absolutely loved it.


Through the Woods pages"Through the Woods" is an anthology of seven short stories, with the first and last being a very short introduction and conclusion. All of the stories are set in the past, with only one (the longest) being set in the twentieth century. That said, the really terrifying stories seem to be timeless. Poe set most of his tales in the past, but still chill us today. "The Shining" was made in 1980, but still scares the hell out of me. Carroll's stories are similarly timeless. They're unnerving, they're disgusting, they're truly terrifying. But you know, with pictures and stuff.

A grisly mealCarroll's illustration style reminds me of Kate Beaton, with very two-dimensional figures inhabiting settings that tend towards the abstract. Most remarkable is her use of light and darkness, with many pages entirely black save a character being consumed by darkness. The word balloons are also used stylistically, with streams of words sighing from ghosts or screams being pulled from the living. They kind of remind of me political cartoons from the 1700s - 1800s, but that's probably my history teacher showing. It's different from what we usually see in comics and graphic novels. I dig it. 

Words chasing a woman

If you grew up reading "Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark," this will remind you of that. Even though these are short stories, they'll stick with you. Perfect in time for Halloween -- but do some pre-reading to see if they'd be appropriate for the age of students you teach. If you're already teaching something a little bit eerie, some Poe, some James, some Seuss, some Dahl, some urban legends, some folklore, some cryptozoology, this could liven up the mix. 



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Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Play-Doh on the First Day of School - An Alternative to "What Did I Do This Summer?"

Like most teachers, I have a love/hate relationship with the first day of school. I love getting back into my job/calling/mission. Teaching really completes me as a person. But then it's also like...I have a job again, and summer's over, and I can't go running , hike, watch Netflix all day.

Then there's always the question of what to do on that first day. At the secondary level many teachers feel obligated somehow to spend the class period reading every word in their disclosure, reading all the classroom rules, basically...making the students' first exposure to their class one of the most boring days they'll have all year in that class.

A lot of teachers have students write or present something about "What I did this summer"...which is better, but can also take up a lot of time. If I have 25 students, hearing or reading about all that they did running, hiking, Netflixing -- that eventually becomes nearly as boring as devoting the entire class period to your rules.

I prefer to get a little bit of fun in the mix, while still serving the needs that we have as teachers. Truthfully, I do want my students to get some of my disclosure statement (and depending on your admin, you may be required to read every word of that document in that first week of school at some point), I want them to know my personal classroom rules...but I also want to start establishing classroom climate, and I want to start them on my content. My content is important, I love it, I want them to love it.

 One of the ways I engage students on the first day of school is with Play-Doh. I know a lot of teachers (even secondary teachers) use Play-Doh already, including Teach Like a PIRATE Captain Dave Burgess. A chapter in my own book Play Like a PIRATE: Engage Students with Toys, Games, and Comics is about Play-Doh. And you should buy it and read it. Buy ten copies even. One hundred. I won't even be mad.

Specifically for the first day of school, this is what I'd do with Play-Doh:

Have students seated in groups of four, and each with a chunk of Play-Doh. They don't need a full-sized can, just enough to work with. Seated in groups, they'll be watching what the other kids at their table are making, asking questions about it, being interested in their creations, much more than if you were having them all take turns reading their statements about what they did over the summer. It will be an ice-breaker for them, which you want as much as an ice-breaker for you.

The beauty of Play-Doh, besides the smell, texture, flavor, and color, is the quick and easy sculptability of it. You don't want them to spend thirty minutes on a beautiful creation, you want them to spend three minutes. Not just a single prompt, but ten. You want the sculpting prompts to be a mix of what you want them to get that first day in your class: some classroom rules, some content, some classroom climate, some get-to-know-you. Here are ten that I've used on the first day of school:


  • What were you doing one week ago today?
  • If you could have any animal as a pet, what would it be?
  • What was the best day of your summer?
  • What's one rule every student should follow?
  • What does leadership look like?
  • What's the most important invention of the last one hundred years?
  • If you were going to eat one food for every meal for a month, what would it be?
  • If you could have one super power, what would it be?
  • What's a right you have as an American?
  • What's one thing you would change about the United States?
That's it. Two or three minutes per question, they share at their tables, you have a few kids share their answers out to the whole class. I'm a history teacher, so a few of the questions start them thinking about rights, leadership, the current state of things in the United States. If I taught language arts, music, science, psychology, I'd put different prompts in there. It gives kids a chance to express themselves, it lets them get to know each other, and it helps ease the transition from their running a marathon Netflix summer to the classroom. 

If you're looking for more ideas about using Play-Doh, LEGO, Action Figures, Superheroes...a lot of other stuff in the classroom, check out Play Like a Pirate: Engage Students with Toys, Games, and Comics. It's at Barnes and Noble, it's at Amazon, it's Everywhere Fine Books Are Sold. But mostly Barnes and Noble and Amazon. 



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Monday, June 6, 2016

Little Green Army Men in the Classroom

Little Green Army Men

Toy soldiers have been around a long time. I'm guessing as long as there have been soldiers, there have been toy figures representing them. At least as far back as the Roman Empire, the Greeks, the Egyptians...heck, a Chinese emperor had an entire terra cotta army built and buried for him. That guys likes his toys as much as I do!  In any case, they've been around. They hit new heights as metal figures (pewter, lead, and tin, so don't chew on them, kids) in the nineteenth century, before becoming part of modern warfare in 1938, and transitioning to the plastic "Little Green Army Men" we know in the 1950s. 

They're not action figures, they're not painted and articulated, they're just little pieces of colored, molded plastic. Some companies have been using the same molds since the 1960s, so chances are good that you'll see exactly the same army dudes (and the dinosaurs and farm animals, which is what really triggered the memories) that you played with when you were a pup. Because they're so cheap, they're...crazy cheap. You can amass armies quickly and cheaply, which makes the Little Green Army Men perfect manipulatives for anything involving numbers. For a few more dollars, there are also army men that represent specific conflicts, like the Civil War or World War II. I also really like the Little Pink Army Men...I'm not sure if it's subversive or sending a statement or for Awareness, but they're...cool. 

Fifteen quick ideas: 

  • Math problems, especially for younger grades
  • Patterns 
  • Demographic charts (each figure represents X number of people)
  • Stop motion animation 
  • Recreate a setting from a novel
  • Build and populate a community
  • Storytelling of an individual vs a group (are we telling the story of a stereotype or an invididual?)
  • Recreating tableaux from famous paintings
  • Design their own "Little Green Army Man/Woman" representing someone not included in the classic poses
  • Stage dioramas of non-military events (I try not say "duh," but...duh)
  • Recreate famous war photos and paintings
  • Stage dioramas of non-military events  
  • Stage dioramas of military personnel helping a community
  • Classroom debate: do Little Green Army Men best represent the values of our nation? Your home state? Your community? 
  • If not, have students design toys that they feel are a better representation of their lives in 2016. (so many little figures taking selfies...) 

Alternatives to Little Green Army Men

When it comes down to it, I'm kind of a hippie. But a really lazy one. So I'm not going to protest or anything, but sometimes the imagery of war gets to be too much. And I'm saying that as a history teachers, who often tentpoles his curriculum around wars. But there are times I don't want to use Little Green Army Men. Maybe I have kids who are agitated by war and guns. Maybe my administration doesn't want me bringing tiny toy guns to school. The great news is, there are a lot of alternatives out there. 

The "Dollar Spot" near the front of Target stores often has bagged plastic figures for a dollar. They're not army guys, they're red and blue and green superheroes, and pink and purple and teal princesses and fairies, and ninjas--you get more variety than your standard army guys. 

If you go up in price a little bit, there are bags and canisters and tubes of pirates, zombies, (and still, in 2016) Cowboys & Indians. ...which I'm totally down with using as long they're placed in a historic context. Which is doable. Zombies too. All about the historic context. There are also monsters, and cavemen, and firefighters, and spacemen. Really, just look up TimMee Toys on Amazon, OR "Big Bucket of" and you'll be astounded at the variety that's out there. 

There are the classic dinosaurs, jungle, and farm animals. I love mixing in dinosaurs with any curriculum, honestly. If they're making a little diorama of the Constitutional Convention, and they throw in a T-Rex as Benjamin Franklin? That's an A+++++ my friend. I mean, he was the oldest member of the convention -- a dinosaur might not be too far off. 

There have been also some artful takes on Little Green Army Men. Some of my favorites include the Toy Boarders -- sets of 24 Skaters, Surfers, and Snowboarders for about $8.00. I can name some middle school boys by name (okay, I made one of them) who would do just about anything to be able to use those in a "legitimate" classroom setting. 



Last, but certainly not least,
are the Yoga Joes -- a set of eight soldiers in key yoga poses: Meditation, Downward-facing Dog, Cobra, Warrior One, Warrior Two (appropriate) -- you get the idea. They're fun, they're pricey, they were a gift at the right time from a friend, and they've made me double down on my commitment to yoga and to violence. Two birds, one stone. Namaste. 

For more ideas on using toys in the classroom, check out Play Like a Pirate: Engage Students with Toys, Games, and Comics -- available at Barnes & Noble and Amazon




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Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Graphic Novel Review: "A Wrinkle in Time"

A Wrinkle in Time: The Graphic Novel. Madeleine L'Engle, Hope Larson. Hardcover, 392 pages, Margaret Ferguson Books 2012. (7 out of 10)

Big confession: I've never read A Wrinkle in Time. So even though this graphic novel is an adaptation of the classic fantasy work by Madeleine L'Engle, I can't speak to how good it is at adapting that original novel. I'm just reviewing it on its own. I wasn't a big fantasy fan when I was a kid -- I didn't read the Narnia books until I was in college, and Lord of the Rings in my mid-twenties. I've tried to read A Wrinkle in Time, but became passionately indifferent about fifteen pages in. My goal in reading the graphic novel was as much to see what the story was as to check out the comic, which has rave reviews.

First pages of A Wrinkle in Time

The story follows Meg Murry on a mission to save her father, gone missing while doing some sort of sciencey top-secret work for the government. Meg comes across as a weepy, unlikable character, but chiefly unlikable because she doesn't like herself. That makes the character a tough sell for me, but she does get better. Her solace is in her little brother Charles Wallace, and to a lesser extent her mother, who spends more time grieving the loss of her husband. Meg, Charles Wallace, and Meg's new friend Calvin O'Keefe end up in the company of mystical beings: Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who, and Mrs. Which. These women help the children travel through tesseracts--"wrinkles" that pass through time and space. Like the TARDIS without a police box. They eventually find Mr. Murry, captive on a bizarre planet Camazotzheld. It's up to Meg, Charles Wallace, and Calvin to save him and save themselves. 

The characters grew on me throughout the book, as they found strength, became heroes, and learned more about the unique world they were discovering. I liked the mentoring of Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who, and Mrs. Which -- being there as teachers and guides until they couldn't help Meg anymore, and she had to go it on her own. It follows the template of the Hero's Journey, and does let Meg emerge as her own hero. I also liked seeing the explanations of the tesseracts and how the fifth and other dimensions would be incomprehensible to us, but can still be explained. Many of these same ideas have been revisited by Star Trek and other series, including the idea that the great geniuses of human history were somewhat more than just human geniuses. 

Explanation of dimensions

The artwork, in shades of black and blue, is simple enough to tell the story, and in a style that also grew on me in the course of reading. Charles Wallace is a little too moony eyed, a little too precious, but other characters like Aunt Beast and her people, and the visual interpretation of the noncorporeal characters was cool. It's just cinematic enough to tell a story, without falling into the trope of Making A Movie On The Page like many contemporary graphic novels. 

Aunt Beast helping Meg

In all, I came to enjoy the book, but I didn't love it. It's well done, and I'm curious to know what a fan of the original L'Engle work would think of the graphic novel. Adapting a classic work to a different format is always tricky; part of the reason the original becomes a classic is the language the author uses to tell it. A graphic novel omits most of that language, interpreting those words for us visually. Something's lost, something's gained. It would be interesting to see what a fan of both worlds thinks of A Wrinkle in Time: The Graphic Novel.
In the classroom, I'm always wary of adaptations. Partially because I'm such a fan of literature--I want my students to experience the real words of Shakespeare, Steinbeck, et al, not read a pared-down version or rely on a movie to get them the ideas. Use an adaptation in addition to the "real" text, not as a replacement for it. In this particular case, I can see using passages from the graphic novel to enhance parts of the book. Some of the panels I included above, explaining tesseracts, showing the artist's interpretation of Aunt Beast, I would share with students, but probably only after they've explored how they themselves would visualize such abstract and bizarre concepts. 




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Monday, May 2, 2016

Teacher Appreciation Week: #TeachMeYouDid

I love it when nerds come together to do something good. Andrew Slack, founder of the Harry Potter Alliance has turned millions of Potterheads into do-gooders, and now he's turned his eye toward Star Wars fans for Teacher Appreciation Week. It happens to coincide with "May the Fourth," which has become a kind of Star Wars holiday (but not Holiday Special)(thank the Force) for nerds worldwide. 



His basic idea is to take the passion of fandom and shape it into a force (or Force)(get it?) of good in the world. For Teacher Appreciation Week, he's got the #TeachMeYouDid Challenge. Based on the odd grammar (syntax?)(kinda talk) of Jedi Master Yoda, it's using the voice and image of Yoda as a master teacher to remind us of all the other teachers who have influenced our lives. Because without a doubt, your life has been influenced by them. 

The steps to accept the #TeachMeYouDid challenge are simple:

1. Find your own Jedi Master -- Think of someone of taught you, inspired you, awoke the Force within you.

2. Be creative -- Write a note, create a video, draw something, create something to thank them for what they did for you.

3. Spread this online -- Post this to Facebook or Twitter, Tumblr or Instagram or whatever social media you use, and include the hashtag #TeachMeYouDid. 

4. Share the love -- If you can, tag your teacher in the post to make sure they see it.

5. Invite them to the Light Side of the Force -- Finally, challenge your friends to join in.

Pretty easy. 

I'm going to be doing this every day this week. It may just be a few tweets, a few posts, I may do something more elaborate for some. I have so many teachers who have helped make me the man I am today. I don't know if I'll be able to find many in this online realm, but I'll try.  (I know, "do or do not, blah blah")


If you take up the challenge, let us know what you did, and remember to use the hashtag #TeachMeYouDid. There are some great examples of what people have already done on the #TeachMeYouDid website -- check it out for inspiration and ideas. 




Thursday, April 21, 2016

Graphic Novel Review: Nathan Hale's Hazardous Tales: The Underground Abductor

Underground Abductor book coverNathan Hale's Hazardous Tales: The Underground Abductor (9 out of 10) Graphic Novel, 128 pages, Hardcover. 2015, Amulet Books. 
My 8th grade son was put on the spot by his history teacher yesterday. She had him put on an apron and a scarf, and told him he was Harriet Tubman. They were just getting into her story, and I don't know if the teacher was putting him on the spot or not (she knows me, and knows he could handle it), but he was able to answer every question she threw at him. And it was all because of a graphic novel he read last year.  
The Underground Abductor is the story of Harriet Tubman of course, and is the first in this series of graphic novels that's a biography of a single person. It's a break in the formula that Hale has established, but is still able to use one woman's story as an exemplar of what's happening in the wider story of American History. In this case, slavery and the abolitionist movement in the antebellum South. 
The premise is the same as the other books in this series: American patriot/spy Nathan Hale is at the gallows, about to be executed by a Hangman and British Provost. As he's about to die, he's able to magically see all of American History, and entertains the Hangman and Provost with the tales, Sheherazade-style. At the beginning of this story, the Provost (stuffy, very British) says essentially "all of these stories are about how America is so great, so special, the best country ever..." which Hale admits to, but does say that the country has made many mistakes, and that slavery is one of the worst. 

Hale (the author) lays out the history of slavery quickly, getting us up to the 1830s, when Harriet Tubman was a young girl. Back then she was "Araminta Ross," and she keeps that name for the half of the book before she escapes to freedom. Her story gives us a good look at what the institution of slavery was like in the south at the time...in a word, terrible. Hale is able to do this in a way that honors the pain and condemns the horrors of slavery, but is still appropriate for the target audience of 5th - 8th graders. I wouldn't say it's sanitized; he gets into the fugitive slave laws, and punishments including hobbling. He describes and shows the beating of Araminta and other slaves, and there are passages that are a hard read because of that. Throughout, Hale's cartoony style of illustration is able to convey the humanity of these people, but soften some of the harder edges of history. 



In the middle of telling Harriet Tubman's story, Hale takes two small detours to tell other stories that fit into the same time period and subject: the Nat Turner Rebellion and the story of Frederick Douglass. He's able to tell both succinctly, and their inclusion gives us a broader view of what was happening outside of Tubman's relatively small world. 
With the announcement that Harriet Tubman would be replacing Andrew Jackson on the twenty dollar bill, it's fitting that we (and our students) brush up on who she is and her remarkable accomplishments. The Underground Abductor is a fine way to do that. 


Thursday, March 31, 2016

Best of Classroom Graphic Novels, via #TLAP Twitter Chat 3/21/2016

Way back on March 21st we had a great time in the #TLAP (Teach Like a Pirate) Twitter chat talking about graphic novels and comic books in the classroom. In the course of that hour, the teachers mentioned nearly 100 different titles that they either already use in their classes, or that they'd like to find ways to use. So I figured I'd put together a list of what they came up with. And then spring break happened. You know how it is. So here's the list alphabetically; it's not ordered in terms of grade or content, but if it's in bold it's an adaptation of an existing book, if it's in italics, it's part of a series. Here's the list:

American Born Chinese
Amulet
Anne Frank: Authorized Graphic Biography
Artemis Fowl
Asterix
Avengers: No More Bullying
Babymouse
Beowulf
Big Nate
Blankets
Blazing Combat
Bone
Boxcar Children
Capstone Science Series
Captain Marvel
Captain Underpants
Cartoon Guide to Communication
Cartoon Guide to the Environment
Cartoon History of the Universe
Climate Changed
Death Jr.
Diary of a Wimpy Kid
Dork Diaries
Dreamland Chronicles
Edward Scissorhands
El Deafo
Essex County
Gear School
Geronimo Stilton
Gotham Academy
Gotham Central
Graphic Myths and Legends
Harlem Hellfighters
Heroes: 9/11 (Marvel Comics)
Hyperbole and a Half
I Kill Giants
I’m Not a Plastic Bag
Ivy and Bean
Les Miserables
Lions, Tigers, and Bears
Los Tejanos and the Lost Cause
Lumberjanes
Lunch Lady
March
Maus
Max Axiom
Mouseguard
Ms Marvel
My Friend Dahmer
Naruto
Nat Turner
Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales
No Fear Shakespeare
Owly
Persepolis
Pride of Baghdad
Primates
Rapunzel’s Revenge
Rollergirl
Romeo and Juliet: The War
Runaways
September 11, 2001 (DC Comics)
Stitches
The Arrival
The Babysitter Club
The Gettysburg Address: A Graphic Adaptation
The Girl Who Owned a City
The Hobbit
The Invention of Hugo Cabret
The Lightning Thief
The United States Constitution: A Graphic Adaptation
The Vietnam War
The Wizard of Oz
Thieves and Kings
Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire
Trinity: The Story of the Atomic Bomb
V for Vendetta
Watchmen
Woman Rebel: The Margaret Sanger Story
Yummy: The Last Days of a Southside Shorty

 All told, a very good, diverse list from teachers who are already interested in teaching using comic books and graphic novels. If you have other recommendations, let me know; I'm always looking for great resources to share with teachers and parents.







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Tuesday, March 22, 2016

#TLAP Chat Recap March 21: Who Are Teachers' Superheroes?

Monday March 21st I was invited to host the Teach Like a Pirate (#tlap) chat on Twitter. The topic was Comic Books and Graphic Novels in the Classroom. We started the chat with introductions, and with the introductions, I asked for the teachers' favorite superheroes.

Partially because of the topic of the chat of course, but I also wanted to get teachers feeling nostalgic about the heroes they grew up with. My personal favorite superhero is Aquaman--not because he's the strongest or has the best powers or toys or secret lair or villains--but because of the connection I've had for him ever since I was a kid watching Super Friends. He's cool. That's it.

I wanted to see how individual heroes would fare, but also wanted to see if Marvel Comics' impressive lineup of movies would influence peoples' choices, and if, as I suspected, Batman would win out. Because...he's Batman. These were the results of 56 responses, with the number of votes each hero received:


Wonder Woman 11
Batman 8
Aquaman 3
Black Panther 3
Captain America 3
Green Lantern 3
Iron Man 3
Storm 3
Underdog 3
The Flash 2
She-Ra 2
Superman 2
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2
Bionic Woman
Daredevil
Deadpool
Elastigirl
Gambit
Ghostbusters
Hawkeye
Quailman
Shadowcat
Super Grover
Thor
The Tick
Wolverine
X-Men

Yeah. Wonder Woman beat Batman. And Superman. And Captain America. And Iron Man. And...everyone else. I'm a big Wonder Woman fan myself (it's the character I'm looking most forward to seeing in Batman V Superman)(and really, she's my hope for the DC Cinematic Universe in general), so I was pleased to see her come out on top. 



The breakdown by company:

30 votes for DC Comics Characters
23 votes for Marvel Comics Characters
13 votes for other heroes

I loved seeing a few old friends in the mix: Underdog, the Bionic Woman, Super Grover...they were unexpected answers, but I loved them. 

Are there heroes who didn't make the list who should have? Why would a group of teachers pick these heroes as their favorites? Is it something about us, something about the heroes, or just a random assortment of characters? In any case, it was a good start to a fantastic chat. 

Monday, March 21, 2016

Graphic Novel Review: Primates: The Fearless Science of Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, and Biruté Galdikas


Primates Book Cover

"Primates: The Fearless Science of Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, and Birute Galdikas" Jim Ottaviani & Maris Wicks. Graphic Novel, 140 pages. 2013, First Second Books (8/10)
Primates is a book I saw on lists for a year before I actually picked it up. I've become a fan of Jim Ottaviani's non-fiction graphic novels over the last few years, and this is another in that same genre. His books are mostly biographies of scientists: Feynman, Bohr, Turing, an anthology of female scientists; also scientific advancements, like the Space Race and paleontology. He manages to blend the biographies of the scientists with their achievements, finding partners in illustrators who can bring life to both the human and the scientific parts of the equation. 

Jane Goodall's CampThis book follows the lives of Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, and Birute Galdikas, three women whose lives and careers crossed the path of Louis Leakey, famed anthropologist, who aids them on their paths to being the preeminent researchers of primates--apes. I had heard of Goodall (still alive and active in her field and advocacy for primate studies) and Fossey (subject of the book and film Gorillas in the Mist), but didn't know Galdikas at all. The three women conducted "fearless" science in the pursuit of their subjects, sacrificing personal lives and comfort to follow their passion. 
The book breaks easily into three sections, each following the course of a scientist and the creatures they studied (and lived with). Goodall with chimpanzees, Fossey mountain gorillas, and Galdikas orangutans. I gotta say, apes kinda freak me out. I had a run-in with a chimp at a birthday party once, and ended up convinced that he was going to climb me and pull out my yellow hair and eat it like a banana. That isn't what happened, but ever since...I know I'm supposed to like them and think they're clever or whatever, but they give me the willies. This book may have helped heal some of that damage.
Birute Galdikas and OrangutansLouis Leakey promoted the causes of these researchers, even though they didn't have as much education or training as others in their field. Ottaviani implies that some of his interest was because they were attractive young women, and he was a notable philanderer. He also makes clear Leakey's real reasons: that apes were less aggressive toward females than males, and the women were likely to get closer and earn the trust of their subjects. Their relative lack of education and training also cleared any preconceived notions that the scientists would have; they had the skills and were able to observe the apes, but also did "unscientific" things like assigning the animals names instead of numbers. The relationship and feeling they developed for their subjects is evident in the passion they ended up having for their science -- moving beyond a career and into a mission. 
Wicks' style is cartoony, but in a way that makes the complex jungles and animals less distracting from the stories than a more realistic depiction might have been. We bond quickly with the people in the book, and maybe even more quickly with the animals. This is aided by the artwork. In order to tell three different biographies, Ottaviani and Wicks find a short of visual shorthand that moves the stories along quickly. Instead of explaining the lush jungles and family groupings and the foreign sounds of Africa and Indonesia, we're able to see it.  
Dian Fossey and gorillasPrimates is appropriate for readers as young as middle grades. They'll like the artwork, but they'll also latch onto the stories of these brave women. If you've seen Gorillas in the Mist, you know that Fossey "meets a bad end" after going up against the Rwandan government and poachers--and that's all that Ottaviani gives us about her. We don't find out how she's been killed, or even that she's been killed. It keeps the book feeling safe, but still implies there's more to her story, giving it a sad note, but not a devastating one. 
If you're a fan of biographies, or science, or (shudder) apes, this is a graphic novel worth your time. Ottaviani's always a solid choice, but this is one of his more entertaining, engaging books.
In the classroom, I can see splitting the book into the stories of the three primatologists, and having students compare their life stories, their research methods, and their findings. All three women have extensive primary sources, letters, journals, and photographs that students could use to explore the "real lives" of these women beyond the brief biographies that Ottaviani is able to provide in this format. Students could also do their own study of gorillas, orangutans, and chimpanzees, finding video on YouTube and completing their own observations, watching for behavior as Goodall, Fossey, and Galdikas did. Finally, students could collaborate on a mapping activity, looking at the three different habitats, and researching the temperature, rainfall, and other characteristics that are necessary for great apes to live.