What Are You Reading? Monday March 31, 2014

Mon Reading Button PB to YAHere goes my list of reads for this week (or so). Happy to see loads of action on Jen’s  Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee and Ricki’s  Unleashing Readers!

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Owly coverOwly

Last week the students in the children’s literature class I teach turned in their mid-term projects. I love this time of the semester, because it is a great time to see what I have missed or to reread some fabulous things that these students discovered.

A student, we’ll call her Lauren (because that is her name) teaches second grade. She discovered the Owly series by Andy Runton and talked to the class about it with such enthusiasm I went to the library the next day and grabbed all of them. I’ve been re-reading them over the weekend and am once again struck by the richness of the stories.

This almost wordless series provides an emotional authenticity that few books achieve. Runton uses black and white inked drawings that invite the reader in to truly co-construct the meaning. The dialogue is presented using standard talking or idea bubbles but instead of words, the ideas and emotions are communicated with embedded images.

These deceptively simple books are packed, so take the time to read each panel, each page, and don’t be afraid to backtrack!

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Another student, Cheryl, found Annie Sullivan and the Trials of Helen Keller by Joseph Lambert.

Annie Sullivan anniesullivan-09

 

 

 

 

I looked at this graphic novel a while ago but never got around to reading it. I’ve got it again on my shelf and I am struck with the use of ASL (I can only assume it is American Sigh Language) as text. Again, the use of visual representations of what would traditionally be handled by words.

 

 

 

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And, then because I am just so freaking excited to see the next SAGA installment!!! SAGA by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples (illustrator), is not a graphic novel, instead it is a comics series published monthly that I read in the collected form. Saga_vol3-1

Full disclaimer and disclosure — I am NOT recommending the series for kids or school reading – at all. It is full of sex and nudity and aliens being very much not human, and blood and war and really weird aliens doing totally normal stuff like falling in love, and hating each other, and trusting, and having very bad days. It is also full of really weird stuff … like magic and planets that hatch space eating babies that shoot black stuff out of all three eyes out into space. There are rocket ships shaped like skulls, and like trees. There is loyalty and treachery, lust and kindness. The series surprises me each time I read it.

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Reading the series reminds me of watching Tele Novellas with my grandmother when I was young and had no idea about the world. That, and the Star Wars bar scenes or the scenes with Jaba the Hut (but with sex and way more blood).

 

 

Shakespeare Never Looked So Good

In which we continue with

A MONTH OF FABULOUS GRAPHIC NOVELS IN NO PARTICULAR ORDER!!!!!

(But, maybe it will be a year instead of a month).

I recently spoke to a class of preservice secondary teachers about YA literature, picturebooks and graphic novels. There were some great questions from the students, including finding resources such as Nerdy Book Club, Google Books, as well as the value of a great teen librarian. 

One student voiced  concern about “lightening” the curriculum by not including Shakespeare in the “original” form. I am not proud of what I said, “Actually, unless you are having the kids read off of wine stained sheets of parchment shared with syphilitic, illiterate actors in drag, then you aren’t sharing the original.” 

What I should have said is the basis for this blog post.

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After looking through dozens of graphic novel adaptations of Shakespeare’s plays, from No Fear Shakespeare to the Classics Comics editions, as well as a mistaken adventure into Kill Shakespeare territory. But, after thinking there was no way to adequately transform plays I found Gareth Hinds work. For me what makes Hamlet or Macbeth or Lear worth the experience has never been struggling through the olde English on the page. Instead, Shakespeare has always been about hearing the colorful and entrancing language pour forth and paint a picture of terror, retribution, and duplicity standing shoulder to shoulder with loyalty, fidelity, and love.

R and JHinds work gives me the same kind of aesthetic experience as seeing a great production on the stage or screen. His illustrations are full of life and passion and they reflect a diversity of character and perspective that other adaptations lack.

When I first saw his Romeo and Juliet adaptation I was pleasantly by the obvious play to multicultural experience. Romeo has dark skin and kinky hair and looks Black or African American. On the other hand, Juliet looks somewhat Indian.

R and J is not one of my favorite plays and I don’t understand why we, as a society, have decided that high school freshmen need to read a play about a spoiled girl and a reckless boy selfishly destroying their families. But, for all of that, Hinds provided a new, much more colorful look at this tired teen trope. He stays with Shakespeare’s language and pacing of the story. R and J 8_9

What makes Hinds R and J so much better than any of the others out there is his ability to give the reader a sense of emotional agitation. It is as if by the ways he uses uneven paneling, vibrant colors, implied movement that I can feel the train wreck quality to the story. Hinds uses quick transitions, disjointed panels, and constantly shifting perspectives, as in the fight scene on page 8 and 9, to keep the reader tense and uncomfortable. Tybalt’s hatred of  Benvolios is seen clearly in panel 2/page 8. Note the sneer on his face, the tension in his muscles and the emerging red background.

In addition, Hinds gives us an overhead view of the entire fight, panel 1/page 9. See the guys running into the fray from the upper right and left corners? Although there is no actual movement, the implied motion is clear and cringe worthy. No good ever comes of a bunch of twits fighting in the street.

After reading R and J, I decided to seek out Shakespeare plays I actually enjoyed to see what Hinds did with them. Luckily for me he did my favorite of the tragedies, King Lear. There is nothing better than seeing the pridefKingLearul king taken down a peg or eight, while Kent’s (for reasons I have never understood) loyalty is proven over and over. Cordelia’s level headed thinking and behavior along side her sister’s scheming ways remind me of Grimm Brother’s Cinderella. Although, I must admit I have never really understood or cared about the Edmund subplot, it was good for a laugh now and again.

Hinds delivers on a great play and more so. But, because I knew the play much better than R and J, I realized the text is original to the play but it is abridged. His selection of what to keep and what to leave make perfect sense. The illustrations do much of the work, and so there is no need for characters to explain their motives, or actions. We can seelear_sample_p6-7 that Edmund is lying most of the time and why his brother Edgar takes on so many roles throughout the play.

In Lear Hinds uses fewer panels and instead relies on complex placement and character orientation to show the ways people are moving, both in space and in their loyalties. He often uses lightly colored paths to help the reader understand the order of events.

The changes in lettering, color schemes, and orientation make this a challenging book to read but it is well worth the time and effort.

Merchant_CoverAlthough Hinds changes his style dramatically, I thought after reading these two plays that I was ready for anything he was going to throw at me. And so I gladly picked up Merchant of Venice. But, I wasn’t ready … not at all.

Merchant is slate greys and dull blues with stylized pen and black ink. Each page looks like a piece of fine-point Scrimshaw or some sort of scratch art done on a computer.

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Oh, and did I mention it is set in what looks like the 1920s? No? Did I mention he adapted the language to modern English?  Yeah, cause Hinds is that kind of genius.

What are you reading Monday? March 17, 2014

Mon Reading Button PB to YA

Feeling like I’m on a roll here. For the second week in a row I am adding my list to Jen’s from Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee and Ricki from Unleashing Readers!

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GrasshopperI finished Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith. It is a wondrous read the is at once completely banal and full of everyday adolescent angst filled emotional subjects like love, sex, and identity, as well as end-of-the-world-threatening, megalomaniacal, out-of-control, mad science gone wrong. The narrator, Austin, presents these topics in the same tone. Or, should I say he alternates between  overly and underly (it’s a word) dramatic tone and neither ever seems quite appropriate. And yet, it is always right.

Austin may or may not be bisexual, or gay, or something. He loves his best friend Robbie (who is gay), who loves Austin and whom Austin might be IN love with but he’s not sure. Austin is sure that he is in love with his girlfriend Shann (who is not gay). The idea of Robbie and Shann kissing makes Austin horny – of course, life makes Austin 16 year old horny.

The book is filled with intertwining and complex relationships such as Austin’s boss – who is also Shann’s step-father and the brother of the megalomaniacal, out-of-control, mad scientist, who is dead but still makes a rather important appearance. There is a fair amount of history, and some geography and …  The important thing about this book is OH MY GOD JUST READ IT!!!!!!!

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In prep for my children’s lit class this week I am also re-reading 

manfish Manfish: A Story of Jacques Cousteau by Jennifer Berne, Éric Puybaret.Manfish-dream

The illustrations provide a sense of peace and beauty, as well as respect for the ocean.

But the true beauty of this biography is being able to follow Cousteau as a boy who was curious about film making and oceanography. This is a terrific example of an interesting, beautiful non-fiction pciturebook. 

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A-River-of-WordsI am also rereading A River of Words: The Story of William Carlos Williams by Jen Bryant. I used to say I was not a poetry person. I think that is not an accurate  description. I think I am a very picky poetry person. It can be a difficult genre for me to read, but then I will find someone who plays with words in a way I understand, who paints pictures and reveals new ways of seeing the world that I can share in. One such poet is Carlos WilliNYT2008102115061160Cams.

I want to love this book because it brings poetry into the hands of kids. I want to love this book because it is a stunning example of mixed-media illustrations. I want to love this book because it explains how this poet was also a doctor and how not giving up poetry helped him be a better doctor. But, it is a difficult book for me to read. Although the illustrator does offset the prose into beige text boxes, the actual poetry is often presenting as part of a tableau that confuses written text with illustrations. I can view these pages as pieces of art but the pleasure of reading is more often lost to me.

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The mixed-media creates a jumbled and confusing reading space for me that I find exhausting. I want this book to be truly multimodal so that I can hear the written prose and poetry while taking in the illustrations. Then, I could truly love this book.

What are you reading Monday, March 10, 2014

Mon Reading Button PB to YATrying to get back into the blog swing this week so I am adding my list to Jen’s from Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee and Ricki from Unleashing Readers.

To begin with I have been rereading George O’Connor’s  series about the Greek gods of mythology, The Olympians. I  wrote a teacher guide for First:Second on the series (I’ll link to that as well) and I wrote a blog post (Go here for that ….) featuring Hades.

Olympians-Poster-color-e1392443488972The basics about the whole series are — great color, exciting stories, seriously weird characters, and so much more variation that I expected. I terrific set for most classrooms, just be sure to read them before putting them on the shelf – there are references to sex, very short skirts on some of the men, and extra-marital affairs seem to be had by all. The vocabulary is no joke either! Also, terrific author’s notes about O’Connor’s research.

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Wimpy_Kid_7_Art

My partner and I have been reading Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Third Wheel with our younger son. I traveled a bit last week and so I missed out on the middle part. I’m not a big fan of the Wimpy Kid books for my own reading, I just don’t like or hate Greg enough to care what happens. I think the books are heavy handed and moralistic (not what I look for in a book). But, and this is important, both our sons have loved this series … and so I read the books and try to connect with my boys.

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I read Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell … Click here for that post … I started reading Fangirl after that on the recommendation of a student in my children’s literature class. Fangirl is a BIG book, and has lots of stuff going on, including twins going to college and making mistakes, roommates, roommates ex’s, new love, fanfiction, a book withing the book, and plagiarism. Did I mention it was really-really long?

I can imagine it being a great read for YAs who read big books about people having feelings but somehow it didn’t stick with me. I can’t put my finger on my issue, but I am pretty sure it was me and not Rainbow.

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JourneyJourney by Aaron Becker is so fantastic I keep going back to it. It is one of those wondrous, rich, complex wordless picturebooks that holds all the possibilities of the world inside the covers.

A girl begins the story by taking a large red crayon in hand and creating a door that begins the journey. The detailed pen and ink with watercolor drawings are breathtaking. Taking the time to read all the tiny bits and pieces, to see the questions and the connections across the story was and continues to be an engaging process.

This book is so deserving of the Caldecott honor! In addition Aaron Becker has a terrific web page that includes a documentary about the making of Journey (StoryBreathing), a book trailer, and links to his blog, and other cool things like signed prints (just in case anyone wants to send me things for my office walls).

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I am currently reading Andrew Smith’s Grasshopper Jungle thanks to my friend Kristin. The book is weirdly wonderful, just the kind of thing I love. The characters and story stay with me when I am not reading it. In fact I think I can hear it calling me from the other room. I’ll write more about it when I am done.

  Grasshopper

The Olympians – A Serious Series

George O’Connor is a history guy who has created a series the retells/recalls/reillustrates the Greek mythologies of The Olympians published by First:Second.

So far there are six in the series … Zeus, Athena, Hera, Hades, Poseidon, and Aphrodite. Each is a little different, depending on the stories O’Connor chooses to tell, and each relies on the others to fill out the complex and interrelated mythology.

Olympian fam treeAnd what an interrelated  mythology it is! Luckily O’Connor gives the reader this handy-dandy family tree at the beginning of every book. I refer to it often to check and see if I am creeped out by Hades in general, or specifically because he is kidnapping and wooing his niece!!!! And by wooing I mean sweeping down in his big chariot of death and taking Persephone to the underworld and telling her he is going to marry her because Zeus said he could.

The gods marry each other at an alarming rates. They also have affairs with each other, with other immortals, with mortals, and with various and sundry animals. They scheme and plot and generally act like middle school children with too much time and power.

Hades coverO’Connor uses color to evoke mood and set tone effectively throughout the series, but I think he is at his best in Hades. The tale O’Connor tells is also the story of hoe Persephone came to the underworld. I was familiar with the deal she strikes with Hades – she gets a set amount of time on earth in exchange for living with him as his wife/mistress/companion for the rest of the time. But this tells how that deal came about in the first place.

As it turns out Persephone is a surly teenager who pretty much looks like this when she talks to her mother, Demeter.

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The image (p. 14) of Persephone having a total hissy-fit at her mother while her friends look on is the perfect illustration of her world. Demeter is a concerned mom who made mistakes as a teen-god and wants to protect Persephone. (Demeter also happens to be the god in charge of all the things that grow and feed the piddly mortals on earth).

More important than the look of scorn from Demeter and general fed-upness from Persephone (I have a non-deity friend with a head strong daughter, and they look like this a lot) is the assault of perky color O’Connor uses to illustrate the world at this moment. The ground Demeter walks upon is a violent verdant landscape. The brush in the background is a rich thicket of dark green foliage. Even the clouds reflect a tinge of light green from Demeter’s handywork.

Hades 22Here, in contrast, O’Connor gives use Hades and Persephone just after he snatches her from that same field and goes to the underworld (p. 22). Hades is darkness and shadows that swaollow light and give back nothing. Notice Persephone’s blue dress is not little more than a muddy, slightly tinted purple color. The background of the panel is a rich darkness bounded by the bright white gutter that sharpens the contrast.

The stark color shift helps set up the tenor of the story. As Demeter searches for her lost daughter, the rich and plentiful earth suffers from her neglect. When we do see some color in Hades’ underworld it is because of Persephone. The earth is dimmer, becoming a shadow because of Persephone’s absence. The underworld is become less drab because of her presence. O’Connor uses color to tap into our visual sense and tell part of the story.

There are 6 books thus far in the series with more to come. My favorites are Hades, Zeus, and Athena, although Aphrodite is fabulous, and Hera is a whole new way of looking at the story of Hercules. Oh! And Poseidon gives more details about the extended family.

Forget it. I love them all.

What am I Reading Monday – February 10, 2014

Mon Reading Button PB to YA

The year started, the semester started and I think I finally have a handle on things. I’m starting this years blogging – yes it is February, don’t judge me – with a What Are You Reading.

The children’s and YA literature class I teach at Boston University School of Education is under way. I visited a bunch of new books to read with the class over the last months and now I am re-visiting books I included but need to reread for teaching. So, today I give you a mixed bag of old and new, graphic novels and print-dominant novels.

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Tangle

This complex story is perfect for challenging what “3rd grade reading level” means. It is solidly an elementary read and it is highly compelling, fun, dramatic, confusing, and wonderful.

One student of mine, upon rereading, said she was going back to make a family tree. Another student  reached her bus stop right before “a climactic moment” and exclaimed, “Noooooooo!!!” and I knew exactly what she meant.

The point I am making is that these women are successful, accomplished, dedicated readers who are challenged and enthralled with this book.

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 E and P

I finally got around to reading Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell. I felt like my heart was breaking from about page 50 onward. This book amazed me because the characters, including the minor ones, were well constructed and felt authentic.

This love story centers on Eleanor who is a classic weird new kid, and Park who is trying very hard to just fly under the radar. Neither asks for a relationship, but it builds almost despite them.

One of my favorite words when it comes to realistic fiction is verisimilitude which refers to the realness of the book. These characters, the plot, the setting, all of it were painfully present and real.

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photo 1How did I forget this series???? This series by the guy who illustrated the Harry Potter covers, Kazu Kibuishi, is a terrific thrill ride. The main character, Emily, along with her brother Navin and their mom have moved to the ancestral home. The family discovers all kinds of spooky, weirdness that only gets worse as mom is kidnapped by something with tentacles!

The best thing about this first book is the realization that when you end it, there is another to pick up. There are 6 in all and each one is great.

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Boxers and Saints

I have read this set once so far. I began rereading last week and I am in awe. Also, I find myself in need of an historian! Stat!

I’m not sure if it belongs in YA-land, but I would love to see and hear from anyone who uses it to teach the Boxer rebellion. There are no simple heroes and villains. Instead there is a textured interplay between the protagonists and antagonists that, in the end, compelled me, as a reader, to return to page one.

Yang’s style is more sure handed in these books then in American Born Chinese. He uses muted tones for everyday life, with quiet backgrounds, and highly representational images of rural China. But, when the violence of war break out, so do his illustrations. The pallet changes to bright colors, frenzied overlapping lines and backgrounds that are vibrant and energized. I plan on writing a full post about these books soon.

2014 Releases: LGBTQ Young Adult Literature

Originally posted on wrapped up in books:
Queer characters and stories are underrepresented in YA fiction. Though many YA novels featuring LGBTQ characters and themes are award-winning, there are not enough being published, which makes it all the more important to recognize those books that are actually hitting shelves. I’ve always been interested in yound…

A few great original graphic novels

It is Christmas week so I decided to write the next installment of what I am calling

A MONTH OF FABULOUS GRAPHIC NOVELS IN NO PARTICULAR ORDER!!!!!

Series have many great qualities but sometimes a story simply stands alone.

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BlufftonI attended the NCTE (National Council of Teachers of English) conference held in Boston this year and I got the chance to meet and talk to Matt Phelan. It was especially poignant for me (and for him as well, I can only assume) because I used his first book, Storm in the Barn, for my dissertation. Storm is an award winning graphic novel set in the great dust bowl. There’s a boy, a drought, dust dementia, and allusions to Wizard of Oz, and the magic of abandoned buildings.

Phelan’s second book, set in the 1880s, Around the World, tells the story of three different travelers going around the world. There is excitement, sexism, funny looking bicycles, and pirates as these intrepid explorers circumnavigate the globe.

His new book, Bluffton, is by far my favorite. When I spoke to Matt (and yes, I’m calling him Matt now) about his books and my dissertation he said he feels like he finally knows what he’s doing.

There is not enough good words in the English language for me to talk about this book. I read it along with my eight your old son, Alex, who loves a good story. The novel is set in the turn of the century (beginning in 1908), and follows a young man who lives in Muskegan Michigan, works in his fathers general store, and lives a nice and regular life. The story begins when the train arrives with a load of Vaudevillian performers who stay at a nearby lake front community for some well earned relaxation. It takes a while to understand that we are reading the story of a young Buster Keaton. Buster’s  inventions are lovingly illustrated with such detail we see inklings of his film work.Audience

The illustrations are watercolor on a thick, buff colored paper. The pallet Matt selected provides the depth and gentility I imagine of the time, and at the same time expresses the vibrancy of kids running, jumping, and generally being crazy. At one point early on in our reading Alex requested some quiet time to  look at the pictures by himself, “They are like paintings in a museum.” He wanted time to look and see the details, the characters, and the setting before reading the words.

After about twenty minutes, I wanted to continue reading, so I checked back with him. He was engrossed in the book, looking at a few of the pages with no written words. He looked up and said, “These are like art. I’m glad he didn’t distract us with words”. We discussed when Matt selects full pages, panels, words or no words. We have since finished the book and have started watching Buster Keaton movies.

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Monster Monster on The Hill by Rob Harrell is set in the 1860s English countryside where the cities and towns are happily terrorized by monsters of all sorts. This wonderfully silly graphic novel is a fantasy-alternate reality story where the bucolic country-side town of Stoker-on-Avon is unlucky enough to have a sad-sack of a monster, Rayburn.

Rayburn is a depresses, despondent, and lack-luster monster that can’t be bothered to pillage Stoker-on-Avon any longer. The towns folks, in a last ditch effort to save face, hire a disgraced Dr.  Wilkie (who’s experiments have raised more havoc than Rayburn) to help their monster to pep-up. With the help of the local news boy, Timmy, the three set off on a road trip to visit Rayburn’s old monster school chums in hopes of regaining some of his ferocity.

The illustrations are bright and bold with plenty of action, including running, falling, real pillaging of Victorian cityscapes by Rayburn’s arch nemesis Murk, along with monster training help from Tentaculor (pictured at left), and sound effects aplenty. Harrell’s illustrations are not just visually loudMonster1, but they are also so finely detailed and rich the novel provides fodder for close, careful and repeated readings. Wilkie officeA variety of page layouts including full pages with loads of small, intricate  details, inset panels, and dialogue that moves the story forward.

I must admit to a bias on my part as a reader: I am a real font snob! I  hate fancy fonts that make reading more difficult. Fonts with high kerning rates which makes the letters too close together for me to read easily. Also, loads of swirly serifs, thick lines with small counters (the space within the letters), and all sorts of other horrors that you can read about here on How To Geek. But, my point here is that Harrell escapes the cheesy font-a-palooza of bad book design. Instead, he uses font changes to express emotions, actions, and sounds in the best possible way.

 

What Are You Reading Monday, December 2, 2013

Mon Reading Button PB to YA

I have a stack of books, actually several stacks, of books I collected at the recent National Council Teachers of English (NCTE) annual conference held in Boston. I have just started to scratch the service, so far here are some of my favorites. In addition, I am re-reading books to get ready from the spring semester of my  Children’s Literature course at Boston University.

PS be 11

 The follow up to One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia,  P.S. Be Eleven, sees the return of the Delphine and her sisters. So far, the voice is strong as it ever was. This book touches on issues any 12 year old would be hard pressed to handle; her uncle is  back from Vietnam, her dad is dating, and her mother who is still in Oakland, seems to have forgotten Delphine’s birthday.

 I read more historical fiction than I would like but Williams-Garcia’s strong prose is a true pleasure.

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 TangleA student recommended this book to me when it first came out (February 2013) and it took me a while to get around to reading it. Once I began, I was enraptured by the story, the strange combination of familiar setting and strange talents that everyone seemed to take for granted.

I’m not usually a fan of multiple perspectives but Lisa Graff handles the intricacies expertly. There is baking orphans, guys carrying suitcases, and weirdoes with bottles of magic.

Now I just have to figure out where to put it on my syllabus!

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RogueI saw the author, Gina Damico, speak at this years ALAN workshop. ALAN is a 2 day workshop that follows NCTE and is basically an orgy of books and authors talking about books. It is fabulous.

So, I heard Ms. Damico talk about death and laughter and I was hooked. All I could think was “how did I miss these”?????

Lex, a true wild child, is shipped off to live with her uncle Mort for a summer of hard work. Problem is, Mort is the Death. He takes Lex under is wing and teaches her the business of death.

Rogue is the third in the series. I started reading but decided I need to back-up and start from the beginning with Croak, then Scorch, and finally Rogue.

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Trumpet

I like to start the semester with a selection of Elephant and Piggie books. We spend some time looking at leveling scores for these books, reading leveled book series, and learning how text leveling works. In addition, I have students trace plots, character development, and dialogue using one leveled book and one Elephant & Piggie and we look across the book reading experience.

Re-reading these books always makes me laugh and that can only be a good thing on a Monday.

Fabulous Graphic Novels Series

One of the first questions teachers ask me when I present my research on graphic novel readers actually reading graphic novels is what graphic novels are good to start with or appropriate for specific grades or types of readers. (Yes, I just wrote a single opening sentence using GN 3 times).

I always hesitate to provide a list because I do not know the students, or the content, or the school and so I feel like I would be giving my approval in a vacuum. On the other hand, I just finished presenting and listening to lots of super smart and dedicated teachers at the annual NCTE conference held here in Boston, MA. I came away with a better understanding of why teachers want the list. Teachers need a hand. They need materials vetted by experts who have a whole lot more time to dedicate to reading graphic novels so they can focus on the good books.

So, with the caveat that teachers need to read the books and decide what is best for their students, I give you ….

A MONTH OF FABULOUS GRAPHIC NOVELS IN NO PARTICULAR ORDER!!!!!

To kick off this month I am going to start with three of my favorite series; Lunch Lady, Squish and My Boyfriend is a Monster.

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LLadyIt doesn’t get any better than the Lunch Lady series by Jarrett J. Krosoczka (Knopt Books for Young Readers).

There are nine books in the series thus far with more on the way, which is great news. Krosoczka uses a recurring cast of characters including Betty (Lunch Lady’s right hand woman and gadget maker), a trio of kids known as the Breakfast bunch, and the Lunch Lady herself to solve crimes, and bring baddies to justice using a wide variety of kitchen inspired, crime fighting gadgets (my favorite is Taco Vision, night vision goggles shaped like a hard shell taco that makes everyone’s head look like a taco shell).

Although a series, these can be read out of order and revisited often. Krosoczka uses the over the top yellow effectively throughout the books. The illustrations are cartoon-ish in representation of people with lots of slightly off centered angles to cue the reader that action is always around the corner. The panel transitions are expertly treated, especially in the chase scenes, where Krosoczka capitalizes on the incongruity of a Lunch Lady on a bright yellow Vespa chasing bad guys. In addition, Krosoczka’s tongue and cheek humor almost always lost on the characters but not on readers who are wise enough to know that a “spatu-copter” is never a good idea, bus drivers are always a little twisted, and anything that can go wrong will be put right by liberal application of gravy.

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Squish coverAnother series that provides readers with puns and excitement is Jennifer and Matt Holm’s Squish (Randome House Books for Young Readers) graphic novels. They are the same team who created and continue to write the BabyMouse series.

I like both series and have introduced BabyMouse to many readers, but there is a special place in my reading heart for this amoeba. Squish is an everyman character – or more accurately, an every kid character. He eats too many twinkies, he reads comic books, goes to school and deals with life in the pond. There is a great balance between silliness and story. What I like most about these books is that the Holm’es don’t dummy down the language to make the texts more comfortable for young or struggling readers. There are some great vocabulary building words and concepts at work in the series that engaged readers will put in the effort to figure out, remember, and use in their everyday language.

The illustrations use bold black lines and bright green for defining characters and scenes. The paneling is fairly predictable with no great surprises. There are laugh out loud moments, especially when Peggy (a bit of a dim bulb) and Pod (a scientific genius) interact. What amazes me most about the illustrations is the complexity of emotions communicated by an amoeba’s facial expressions – given the fact that Squish doesn’t have a face.

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For older readers, there is Graphic Universe’s My Boyfriend is a Monster series of graphic novels. Although billed as a series, they are more like a set of companions books, all dealing with young love between human girls and monster boyfriends.

All the books are authored and illustrated by different teams, but the general storylines are similar; a girl who doesn’t quite fit in becomes enamored with the new boy in town, who is brooding and mysterious. Love and weirdness ensues.

Although the stories are predictable they are still a delight to read. The use of fine line drawings, surprising use of full color pages, and completely over the top scary guys as villains makes these worth a read.

the quirky rican

todas las cosas

the dirigible plum

A Blog about Learning, Teaching, Writing, and Reading

The Official Blog of Gathering Books

YA? Why Not?

A Teen Librarian Writes About Teen Reads

wrapped up in books

reading, writing, librarying

Playing, With Research

It's Playing, Just With Research

Reading With Pictures

Baby Mouse to Meta Maus and all the graphica in between

What'cha Reading?

Comic News, Reviews, and Interviews

I'm Here. I'm Queer. What the Hell do I read?

Baby Mouse to Meta Maus and all the graphica in between

Graphic Novel Resources

Baby Mouse to Meta Maus and all the graphica in between

There's a Book for That

Where book love and primary classroom hilarity are shared

Children's Literature Crossroads

children's literature meets teaching, reading, talking, writing, and thinking

Nerdy Book Club

A community of readers

the quirky rican

todas las cosas

the dirigible plum

A Blog about Learning, Teaching, Writing, and Reading

The Official Blog of Gathering Books

YA? Why Not?

A Teen Librarian Writes About Teen Reads

wrapped up in books

reading, writing, librarying

Playing, With Research

It's Playing, Just With Research

Reading With Pictures

Baby Mouse to Meta Maus and all the graphica in between

What'cha Reading?

Comic News, Reviews, and Interviews

I'm Here. I'm Queer. What the Hell do I read?

Baby Mouse to Meta Maus and all the graphica in between

Graphic Novel Resources

Baby Mouse to Meta Maus and all the graphica in between

There's a Book for That

Where book love and primary classroom hilarity are shared

Children's Literature Crossroads

children's literature meets teaching, reading, talking, writing, and thinking

Nerdy Book Club

A community of readers

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