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. 






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.