What Are You Reading? January 19, 2015

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Timmy Failure

I am reading the third Timmy Failure book by Stephan Pastis, We Meet Again, with my 9 year old son. The books are a terrific series that are getting better over time.

The basic premiss is a simple one – Timmy is an odd kid who lives with his mom and his polar bear named Total with whom he runs the greatest, but as yet unknown, detective agency. The agency is called Total Failure Inc.

What makes these books so terrific is the Timmy’s absolute and unwavering confidence in his own abilities as a world class detective, even though he has never come close to solving an actual case. He is one of the most unreliable and completely self-deluded narrators I have seen in literature. And it is this strong and completely ridiculously wrong-headedness that makes Timmy so lovable.

After the second book, Now Look What You’ve Done, my son Alex characterized Timmy as “sort of sad but going on anyway, the best he can.”

The supporting characters include Timmy’s best friend Rollo Tookus who cares about grades, Molly Moskins who cares deeply about Timmy, and Corrina Corrina (AKA The Beast, The Wedgie, and World Wide Enemy of Da Goodness) who is Timmy’s arch nemesis. She is unaware of her status.

totalThe sketches used throughout the books add a sense of innocence to Timmy and highlight the weird, self deluded nature of the narrative.

Also, the pictures make me laugh. Some of the best pictures are illustrations that align with the text, such as images of Señor Burrito (who happens to be Molly’s girl-cat) as she sits at the table and puts her paws in Timmy’s tea while he interrogates Molly.  Senor B

Pastis doesn’t overuse these visuals, instead he drops them in sporadically but often enough so we learn to expect and relish the craziness that is the world of Timmy Failure.

I asked my son what he’d say to the author if he ever got a chance to talk to him. He responded, “Thank you for writing such an awesome series. I love how Timmy tries and fails so hard. Oh, and TACOS!!!”

That pretty much sums up the books nicely.

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In addition to the Timmy Failure series, I have been rereading some graphic novels in preparation for starting a new research project. I’m looking at the representation of women and girls in graphic novels, especially those that feature female protagonists. I’m developing an online form and database in an effort to crowd source data about these books.

One aspect I am looking at in regards to graphic novels is what is known as the Bechdel Test, named for Alison Bechdel author of Dykes to Watch Out For, Fun Home, and  Are you My Mother. In brief, the Bechdel Test simply highlights if women appear as functioning characters in movies and books. There are 3 elements – 1) Are there 2 NAMED female characters; 2) Do they speak to each other, 3) about something other than men?  That’s it.

I went back and looked at a few graphic novels I have in my “might use in class’ pile. Nonewere selected specifically for female protagonists but the results are interesting none the less:

1. Sidekicks by Dan Santat. Fails on the first part of the measurement. Although there are a few women who speak, none are named.

2. The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew. Passes all parts. There are multiple named women including Hua Chu (Hank’s mother), Red Center (Hank’s love interest), Red’s sister Green, and Mrs. Olson (Hua works for her). All of these women speak, some have conversations with each other about things other than men.

3. Bird and Squirrel by James Burks. Fails. Also fails in another important way … the misrepresentation of Native people and culture. Not only is there only one named female character, she is the “chief’s” daughter. The story centers around Bird and Squirrel landing in a snowy land filled with vaguely Inuit-type penguins who are, of course, in need of saving. The penguins wear face paint, carry spears, have a ‘medicine’ man who lives in a glowing green cave, sees visions and says things like “I listened to the wind”. In a word, this is an awful misrepresentation of some sort of unspecified native culture with a dash of White male missionary privilege tossed in for good measure.

 

 

 

 

What Are You Reading? December 29, 2014

Mon Reading Button PB to YA

I’ve been thinking about simplicity lately. The idea that an image can be simple but not easy has grabbed my attention.

The difference between simple and complex isn’t easy to understand. This is one reason why text leveling does not work for measuring the difficulty of a text. Text leveling measures what it is designed to measure – the length of words, sentences, and paragraphs; the commonality of words and punctuation used to construct the sentences. Text leveling programs measure these factors accurately, but what these measures miss is what I have begun referring to as the “cognitive-aesthetic” work that readers do when reading. That is why Hemingway ‘s  The Sun Also Rises has a lower Lexile score than Atwater’s Mr. Popper’s Penguins (read the New Republic’s article here) that means Hemingway’s language might be simpler but the story is not.

The issue is NOT that the measures are wrong, it is that they are being used incorrectly. It is as if I asked for a vegetable peeler and got a hammer. The hammer is designed to do a job, and in the right hands it can do those jobs well. But take a hammer to a ripe mango and all you have is a big mess and that is what these measures are doing for classroom reading – making a giant mess.

And, when utilized on graphic novels, comics and even informational books with an abundance of images, things go very wrong, very quickly.

And so I have been thinking about cognitive-aesthetic comprehension. I began looking at books that express great emotions – an abstract and complex construct – with little detail and little or no color.

Happypigeon

depressed pigeonMo Willems is an expert on the use of muted colors, simple lines, and few details to convey great emotional range and depth in a character. How else can he take us from a happy-go-lucky Pigeon to a despondent Pigeon? Willems changes the “pupil” location, the neck, the tail, and the wings. We, the reader, read into these changes and interpret the emotional context of the character.

Andy RWorried_owlyunton shows us a depressed and worried Owly by manipulating similar aspects of the bird – especially the eyes. Using the same downcast pupils in large, white orbits he is cueing the reader to interpret worry or sadness or, even, depression.

But what about artists who don’t use these kinds of large, rounded eyes? How do they provide the reader with cues to the emotional life of a character?

Veil_persepolisMarjane Satrapi’s memoir Persepolis uses deceptively simple, solidly inked illustrations. Typical of the book is this illustration of Marjane and her friends as they are made to wear veils for the first time in their lives. Satrapi provides the reader with a view of the changing world these girls are experiencing during Iran’s religious revolution. She uses a few details to delineate girls from one another, including their eyes, a bit of hair on the forehead, and a single line for the mouth and yet we see a range of emotions from comfort or acceptance to worry and resignation.

Keaton_face_BlufftonIn Bluffton, Matt Phelan gives us a character who is known for his deadpan expression. Buster Keaton’s youthful face is shown with almost no expressive lines, slightly raised eyebrows, and like Satrapi’s young girls, a single line for a mouth. But, somehow I look at that face and wonder at the depth of character that is going on behind those eyes.

The lack of color is not the most striking aspect of these images – instead it is the abstractness that I actually forget about. Even without color and in only two dimensions, the human face is a complex set of lines and angles.

Dorothea Lange_Mother

Dorothea Lange’s photos capture the depth of human emotions without the use of color, as in her famous photo Migrant Mother, Nipomo, California. Although we have to work to comprehend the emotions the photo is a realistic depiction of a human face rendered into a two-dimensional image.

What amazes me, as a reader and a scholar, is the ways highly abstract faces emote such strong responses without the details that would make them realistic.

The Pigeons happiness and sadness is obvious. Keaton’s emotionless face gives away nothing and yet I interpret it as having much to reveal if only given a chance. This use of highly abstract images can create characters that we as readers work to understand. But, and this is the part I am still thinking about, why are we compelled to do that work? The work the reader undertakes – to interpret a simple set of lines into a meaning of emotion, thought, an personality – is not easy and in fact the work is often far from frivolous.

maus

From Art Spiegelman’s Maus

Harlem Hell Fighters

From Harlem Hellfighters by Max Brooks and Caanan White

What Are You Reading? December 15, 2014

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I’m catching up on my reading list and I finally got around to opening up Andi Watson’s Princess Decomposia and Count Spatula. it’s a fun black and white graphic novel with just a hint of romance. Watson is a comics author that is trying his hand at a longCover form graphic novel and he’s pulled off a brilliant balance between simple lines and illustrations and a charming story.

The book begins in the Underworld with Princess Decomposia dealing with her bedridden father (the king), his crazy neediness, all the kingdom’s business dealings, the responsibility of finding a new chef. She is crazy busy, trying to keep all the balls in the air, and stressed beyond her limits.

What I appreciate about Princess Decomposia (Dee to her friends) is that she is the quintessential caretaker to the entire underworld. As she walks from one end of the castle to the other she receives state papers, long letters, and updates about the political goings on. In addition, she spends her days negotiating with foreign dignitaries trying to balance her fathers wishes, the good of the kingdom, and peace.

On top of her more than stressful duties she must hire a new chef. She finally settles on one, Count Spatula. His first action, before even getting the job, was to take careDecomposia of the princess which is something no one else in the castle thinks to do. She has been running around all day, hasn’t eaten and feels lightheaded. He not only rushes to her side, he also pulls tea and muffins from his chefs hat and gets the job. But more importantly, he begins a friendship with the princess.

The illustrations are lighthearted and simple but that is not to say they are simplistic. Instead, Watson takes care to use very few lines to communicate emotion and humor. Although the counts face is not much more than a heart shape with a few lines, he is able to convey a full range of emotions. The other characters are less simply drawn but no less expressive.

Count Spatula is a good guy, even for a vampire, who loves sweets and has a flair for the dramatic. At one point he concocts a set of dessert that rains delicious lemon curd into the guests. His meals are a success, maybe too much of a success for the kind to be happy.

The king is taking an extended, hypochondriac-induced vacation from his royal duties but he is more than happy to direct the court from his bed. And Dee (princess Decomposia) is stuck trying to be both a ruler and a servant to her father. Eventually, with the thoughful council of Count Spatula she begins to delegate and gain some control over her life and her sanity. But, that isn’t what the king wants … he wants to have his cake, and eat it too.

The king decides the count has to go and so he sends her away for a day in the above world. When Dee decides to take the count with her, it leads to a terrible confrontation between the king (who not sick but is rather lazy and selfish) and the princess.

In the end, Dee is in charge of the kingdom and Count Spatula is in charge of the kitchen, but more importantly they are in charge of supporting and loving each other. This is a great story for emergent readers, readers are are just beginning to read graphic novels, and romantics alike.

Count1

What Are You Reading? December 8, 2014

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I just returned from a great Literacy Research Association (LRA) conference held on Marco Island, FL. Like many in my field I have few colleagues in my sub-sub-sub field (graphic novel reading) and LRA gives me a change to catch up on everything. It leaves me exhausted and invigorated.

So, I came into the office – it is something like 19 degrees outside and 87 degrees inside – ready to grade papers, talk to students, Ares-Cov-300rgband change my syllabus for next semester’s children’s and YA literature course to reflect the research I saw at LRA. But, before all that started, I found the latest in George O’Connor’s Olympians series in my mailbox!!!

 Like so many graphic novel readers I have loved this series since Zeus (Vol. 1) but truth be told Hades (Vol. 4) was by far my favorite and remains so today.

Ares: Bringer of War is another solid edition to the series. The color red runs throughout the book, beginning with the cover. In this book O’Connor does some interesting work delineating Ares and Athena early on. Athena (Vol. 2) is given a cool shade of blue-gray as her color and it reflects her appreciation for strategy as a way to enter into war with a clear and levelheaded strategy. She is not swayed by passion or emotion, or so she would have us believe.

Page 4

Ares on the other hand is the epitome of passion and madness of battle. The image of Ares and his sister Eris plunging into war provide a beautifully disturbing starting point for the story. The blue gray calm of the bottom left portion of the page is ravaged by Ares and Eris’s flaming chariot as it rips through the troops. The soldiers fear and confusion is apparent as their wide, white eyes that stand in shocked contrast to the rest of the page.

Ares: Bringer of War highlights the connections between the Olympian gods and the Trojan War. First as a comparison between Athena and Ares, then as a stage for the continued competition between Hara, Aphrodite and Athena (see Aphrodite: Goddess of Love). After all, it was the competition between these three which began the Trojan war in the first place!

And so it is with this volume that O’Connor provides us with another view of the gods and the whimsy they took with human life. The treatment O’Connor gives to Hara, Aphrodite and Athena is oneof the most interesting aspects of this book. Each one takes a champion in the war to represent their godly interests with no regard for the mortal himself. O’Connor provides a visual of the ways champions were mere puppets for the gods: Athena looming like a large shadow over Diomedes as she takes him into battle against Ares, and Hara feeding words of encouragement to her army through Stentor as she stands behind him.

Ares, like many of the gods of Olympus, lost a son in the battle for Troy, but unlike the other gods he truly grieves the loss. His grief becomes the catalyst for a short lived brawl between the gods, but the war rages on between the mortals well after the gods have lost interest.

 The lively images and playful treatment of some of the gods makes it a fun and exciting read. But as a retelling of the Iliad it lacks the coherence I have come to expect from O’Connor. Because he dips in and out of the traditional story, this volume might be confusing for readers who don’t know the Iliad, or the divisions between the the Greeks and the Trojans. Given the shortcomings of the text, I think this volume would be a great supplement Homer’s Iliad.

The battle of troy rages on even after the gods loose interest, except for Zeus and Ares. They remain to the bitter end. Ares understands his own nature, and in the end he realizes he is much like Zeus, his father. And this realization brings no relief to Ares or, as it turns out, to man.

What Are You Reading? July 14, 2014

Mon Reading Button PB to YA

 

Adding my voice to Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee and Ricki’s  Unleashing Readers on their great Monday-reading-palooza.

I’m getting a lot of reading in these days – NOT teaching, along with prepping for a courses next Fall and Spring make for a well balanced reading load right now.

This post is a) really late but still counts as MONDAY, and b) shorter than usual. I hope you forgive both issues.

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Squish cover

Squish#5: GAME ON! by Jennifer Holm and Matt Holm

I’m not going to lie. I love the Squish series. I’m not crazy about Baby Mouse – I just never connected with her problems or the stories or the supporting characters. I know loads of readers who adore both Baby Mouse and Squish, so I know it is possible, but it is simply not for me.

Squish is an amoeba, he loves Twinkies, comic books – especially Super Amoeba, and has trouble in school with the cool kids. He’s an Everyman character, as long as everyman is a single celled organism. He’s got two best friends, Peggy who is all about smiles and rainbows and happiness, and Pod who is more serious.

In this book Squish’s gets hooked on a video game called Mitosis! He overdoes it, gets bad grades, doesn’t sleep enough, becomes obsessed (which is bad). The funny thing about Squish #5 is although the message is preachy (keep all things fun in balance with responsibilities) it doesn’t read as simply or didactic. Instead it shows the trouble caused by obsessive game play OVER all everything else, like reading comics or interacting with friends and family.

The illustrations are bright and bely a complexity that might get past the novice reader of comics and graphic novels. The Holms use a slime green color to illustrate Squish’s real life, and a simple gray scaled color palette to illustrate when we are reading comics or playing Mitosis! along with Squish. This clear color distinction is not the only way the authors help organize the story for readers. In addition, the panels used for Squish’s real life are dark and bold but irregular, showing a fluidity to his reality. This fluidity translates into other parts of the illustrations, like his hat which changes to mirror Squish’s mood and focus. The panels have lots of quick transitions that utilize overlapping panels that not only help guide the readers attention, but also communicate the mood of the story. On the other hand, the Super Amoeba comics are presenting in grays with rectangular and regularly spaced panels with light lines and regular gutters and are, really, much less visually interesting.

GAME ON! might be my new favorite on the series.

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And now for something completely different.

yummyCover

Yummy: The Last Days of a Southside Shorty by G. Neri and Randy Duburke

This award winning graphic novel is a fabulous biography that tells the story of Robert Sandifer, AKA Yummy, who was at the heart of Chicago’s notorious gang violence epidemic in the 1990s. The book is told from the point of view of a fictionalized character Roger, who’s older brother is in the same gang as Yummy.

Robert (Yummy) Sandifer was 11 when he accidentally shot a young girl. He was aiming for a suspected rival gang member but shot Shavon Dean instead.

It is a hard book to read. From the brilliant use of subtle shading in the cover, to the black and white illustrations, to the stark everyday struggle and horror of Yummy’s life. All of it is just hard to read, but harder still to see.

This is a rare book that should be used to underscore the systemic ills of our day. The problems that lead to a vacuum of humanity in which gangs fill the void. Yummy tells the tale of one young man by putting him and his action into context with the world around him.

 

 

 

Yet Another Reason to Love Gene Luen Yang

Do you have a list of artists that no matter what they do, you are in? I have a few …

P¡nk. She can sing a phonebook, a dictionary, and random encyclopedia entries and I’d go to iTunes and buy the entire album (do we still call them that?) Here are a few reasons I am a huge fan –  her Grammy performance of Glitter in the Air and her tribute to The Wizard of Oz at the Oscars

MAGRITTE-THIS-IS-NOT-A-PIPE-1928-29-553x386

Anything painted by Rene Magritte makes my head hurt in the most wonderful ways. I think the fact that Scoot McCloud used Magritte’s work to explain representations of iconic images helped me better understand some of the layered complexity of graphic novels and comics.

There are others, but in general, what attracts me to artists is a sense of fun, commitment, and flexibility. There is a change over time that you see when artists express their own growth and learning through their performances.

Gene Luen Yang is a graphic novelist that is in the same category. His range in storytelling is amazing. From American Born Chinese in which a young boy, Jin Wang, deals with his own identity, subtle and not so subtle racism, romance, and a crazy cousin. Oh, and toss in is a dose of the Monkey King folk tales on the side just for good measure. I think what makes ABC so wonderful to teach with is the Chin Kee character. He is the best and more excoriating presentation of all of the Asian stereotypes rolled into one disturbing and guilt inducing character. I have had students cry after discussing Chin Kee and all the horror Yang shows the reader by putting it all out there and making it very hard to turn away.

Then, when I thought I had a solid handle on the kind of artist Gene Yang is, he went and created Boxers and Saints. I remain in awe of the historical work that must have gone into this two book set as well as the way he develops the protagonists, Bao in Boxers and Four-Girl in Saints. My friend and colleague Sterg Botzakis wrote a great review over at Graphic Novel Resources.

shadowHeroCover

Yang’s newest novel with Sonny Liew, The Shadow Hero is a million miles away from either ABC or Boxers and Saints and yet it is completely his work.

This book is a solidly middle-grade book with loads of fun, excitement, and dashing heroes, including a few cameos by a SuperMan like character that influences the story early on. Set in 1930s Chinatown – I can’t help but read it as San Francisco – the novel tells the origin story of a little known comic book super hero called The Green Turtle. The Green Turtle was originally written by Chu Hing as a short run comic book but it never caught on like other superheroes of the time.

What makes The Shadow Hero such a rich graphic novel is the complexity of the characters lives. Hank Chu, the protagonist, is a young man growing with immigrant parents. Both Hank’s parents are from China but have very different back stories, as well as different expectations of America. Because of their differences, Hank grows up with a loving but distance and slightly disappointed mother, and a loving and grounded father. Hank dreams of taking over his dad’s shop when he grows up, but his mother has other aspirations.

Sh FamilyHank’s relationship with his mom is … complicated. And that is the element that keeps this books moving forward in interesting ways. All the characters have well rounded back stories that gave me a sense of real life struggle and joy. Oh, that and the painfully bad martial arts training montages, the tricky protection clauses. and the eventual butt-kickery-ness of the hero. All of that.

Sonny Liew’s artwork is at once classic pulp comics with loads of motion and action, and a rather dull color pallets that resist bright white gutters that we have become used to with the high quality paper and printing available today.

SH_Inside_3One comic convention that Liew uses with striking effectiveness are recessed panel groupings. He frames the action as a larger panel with several internal panels showing details and shifts in point of view, while still keeping the larger context in view for the reader.

The effect this has on my own reading is that I am focused on the intimate and furious action as Hank’s mom sews a superhero costume, loosing herself in the task while I, as the reader, am still aware that time is passing.

The Shadow Hero is an immigrant story, a superhero origin story, and a story about the lengths a young man will go to in order to become a hero in his own eyes. I enjoyed reading and re-reading this novel and plan on sharing it widely.

 

What Are You Reading? July 7, 2014

Mon Reading Button PB to YA

Adding my voice to Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee and Ricki’s  Unleashing Readers on their great Monday-reading-palooza.

I’ve been catching up on reading that I put off during the teaching year. That means I am reading lots of children’s and young adult books, but it also means I am reading books for me … just me … BWA-HAHAHAHAHA!!!! I revisited Augusten Burroughs DRY, which feels like visiting an old friend who got me through some rough patches. I am also reading exciting academic works such as  Eliza Dresang’s Radical Change: Books for Youth in a Digital Age which is  helping me understand reading graphic novels is new ways.

In addition to the reading, summer for academics means it is the season to write. I’m working on revising articles that I hope will be in press soon, as well as a chapter based on work I started on this blog, as well as new articles based on projects that are slow but fruitful, such as looking at representations across Lambda and Stonewall award winning LGBTQ YA books.

But, enough about me. Lets talk books!

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How-to-train-your-dragon-the-dragon-book

I have to admit a shameful secret – I had never read any of the How to Train Your Dragon by Cressida Cowell books. None. Not one. After seeing the second movie ***** SPOILER ALERT ***** and once again being amazed and impressed with the darkness and loss the movies have as part of the over all ethos I wanted to go back to the source material. In both movies something bad happens … Hiccup looses a limb in #1, and a parent in #2. This kind of emotional hardship isn’t seen in most movies today and my sons appreciate movies that don’t talk down to them and pretend life is nothing but rainbows and sparkles of goodness. But, maybe that’s just our family. ***** END SPOILER ALERT *****

I read this with my nine year old son and we were both surprised – in a good way – with the differences between the book and the movie. We discussed the departures from the book, especially the characters – we especially missed the twins and their outrageous craziness but liked the expanded adversarial relationship between Hiccup and Snotlout. When talking about Astrid, my son put it best, “Yeah, she’s cool and all but really? Do we need kissing? We’re kids!”.

The best part of the book? Toothless talks! Well, technically, all dragons talk and Hiccup is able to interpret them for us. Getting the view of the world from the dragon’s perspective was a terrific reading experience. Understanding dragons from thier own point of view allowed for a much more complex story and made Toothless’es act of bravery MORE impressive. He’s a droll little lazy dragon who takes bribes and doesn’t do anything he doesn’t want to do. In addition, the more than giant dragon called The Green Death is terrific and scary all at the same time.

We are planning on reading the rest of the books as the summer rolls on.

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blog-annie-cover

Annie_update

In celebration of a long lived life, I re-read Nancy Garden’s 1982 Annie on My Mind.Ms. Garden (May 15, 1938 – June 23, 2014) was a trail blazer if there ever was one. I’d like to say her book, written in a series of flashbacks by a college freshman at MIT was the beginning of a new era in YA literature featuring healthy, mutually loving relationships between lesbians, but it was not. It still stands out as the exception, rather than the rule and is a book I recommend to teachers, parents and readers alike.

The book cover has been changed over the years. The original featured a rather dower set of girls on the Staten Island ferry to the current one with a romantic photo of two girls looking at the rings that exchanged as Christmas gifts. But, what is most important is what happens inside the book or, perhaps, what does NOT happen. No one dies, goes insane, gets electroshock or sent to a camp for reprogramming. It isn’t that the romance progresses without a hitch, rather it is that the problems are surmountable, the issues are real, and the solutions are within reach if the girls are brave.

As for the test of time – the book holds up because the story is good and the characters are real.

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Plat_Frog

Thank you Jarrett J. Krosoczka for writing Platypus Police Squad: The Frog Who Croaked. I am a huge fan of his Lunch Lady series (see previous post) so I was excited to download the audiobook and start in on it. The story is complex with lots of twists and turns and reads like a great version of noir mystery. Read by Johnny Heller, the audio book  reminds me of Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep but without all the drugs, sex and blood  and with more illegal fish.

In this piece of kids noir detective Rick Zengo is the new kid in the squad and Corey O’Malley is the old vet who needs to show him the ropes. They have some  trouble messing as a team but that quickly gets dealt with as they have bigger fish to fry. Yes, they happen to be platypuses, but don’t let their bills fool you, this is a hard hitting, action packed detective story. Although it isn’t as awesomely goofy as Lunch Lady, it still has loads of puns and lots of word play. This is a more serious book that requires the reader to track the story and remember loads of small details that become more important as the story progresses.

A great read aloud for some classes. I also highly recommend the audiobook.

 

 

What Are You Reading? June 9, 2014

Mon Reading Button PB to YA

I’ve been enjoying the end of the semester bustle of Boston University and the beginning of the summer away from BU.

Happy to add my voice to Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee and Ricki’s  Unleashing Readers!

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Scorch Rogue

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I finally had time to finish Gina Damico’s Croak trilogy. I heard the author talk about the series back in December and I felt intrigued. I started the series with Rogue (the last) and enjoyed it but felt a bit lost. I picked up the other two and re-read them all.

Lex is having trouble with adolescence.  She’s aggressive and out of control, getting into fights and breaking noses and other bones. Her twin sister has no such tendencies and her parents don’t understand where the violence comes from. But Mort, Lex’s uncle, understands all too well. He understands because he was the same, in so many ways, he was the same.

Mort is an agent of Death, he is a cloaked grim reaper and he is now in charge of Lex’s summer vacation. It is a great series, Croak building to Scorch which answers many questions and introduces new characters and issues.  Finally, Rogue answering all the questions that can be answered and leaves the ones that can’t be. The beauty in the series is that it isn’t all nice and happy. People die, Lex makes mistakes, people forgive her. Mort never gives anyone all the information, least of all the reader. There are heroes and villains and lots of running around barely getting out in time to get into even more of a mess.

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Maus

Although I  review, read, recommend, and think about graphic novels most of the time now, I only began reading the medium a few years ago.

I read Spiegelman’s Maus early on in my exploration of the medium. I didn’t like it. I felt he made fun of the Holocaust. I mean, cats and mice? Is there a more tired metaphor? The insertion of his mother’s suicide seemed so random and, self aggrandizing.

The horror of more than six-million murders played out in black and white, simple animal drawings. The books received a Pulitzer and I didn’t understand what all the huff was all about. Simply said, I didn’t understand.

I have, in the few short years since beginning my study, read and reread Maus. Each time the reading takes longer. Each time I read fewer pages at a time. I spend more time thinking about it. Each time I read these books I understand more, but still, I don’t understand the horror at all.

RoseAnother series that I read every once in a while is Jeff Smith’s Bone. I’m not a big fan, although I understand why it is popular. The series is fun, silly and sometimes exciting. My favorite is The Great Cow Race, probably because Grandma is such a interesting character, and that is the thing. I’ve never been very interested in Bone or his cousins. Instead, I have wanted more than the small backward glances Smith provides to how Grandma, a queen, became an old lady running a race with cows.

Rose gives all those details. The book is definitely a part of the Bone series with the same bright colors, the same  strange mix of characters that are realistic representations and highly unlikely fantasies. People, dragons, and rat men are all present. There is a hint of the origin story of the Lord of the Locust – which will be the next book I read.

What are you reading? Monday, April 28

Mon Reading Button PB to YA

Here goes my list of reads for the past few weeks. Happy to see loads of action on Jen’s  Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee and Ricki’s  Unleashing Readers!

 It is the end of Spring semester here at Boston University, which means that my reading hours are being used for other things. It also means, my writing hours are geared toward research articles and grading.

But, just like the chick-a-dees and blue jays that are hopping around my trees and urging Spring to come, take off its coat, and stay for a while, I got a box of book that I recently ordered in the mail. So, I’m looking. I’m skimming. I’m treating myself to a read now and again and here is what I have.

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Yossel Yossel: April 19, 1943 by Joe Kubert (2003)

This one is going to take me a while to finish. I can take it in small pieces, but as a whole it is an overpowering book.

Yossel is an historical account of WWII, the Warsaw Ghetto, and the life of one boy who drew. Kubert uses a heavily, pencil or coal sketch style on paper that appears to be newsprint but feels much heavier.

The images are sketches, with the dividing lines left intact, reminding me that it is a person who drew the portraits. The voice is of a young boy seeing a world filled with Nazi horror, and becoming numb to the horror.

 

————-

La Perdida

La Perdida by Jessica Abel (2006)

Another black and white graphic novel, very autobiographical. The story focuses on a young American women who decides to live in Mexico City. It details her relationships, her acquisition of language, as well as the culture she comes to understand.

The illustration style is sometimes heavy handed, suffering from too much cross-hatching to show shadows and depth. Like many autobiographies Abel uses an abundance of written text instead of trusting the illustrations to carry more of the story.

So far, I’m not a huge fan, but the story is compelling.

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Mermaid and the shoeThe Mermaid and the Shoe by K.G. Campbell

Although not a graphic novel, I  needed something to lighten the mood a bit. The cover is very wistful and sort of drab, using a dark watercolor pallet with one bright spot (the red shoe).

I suspected the story was going to be yet another Disney-fictation of Hans Christian Andersen’s mermaid tale.

I was wonderfully wrong.

This is a beautiful story that sneaks up on you in the veil of “Yeah, I’ve seen this a thousand times before”. Instead, it is the story of Minnow, who discovers the power of asking AND finding the answers to her own questions.

 

 

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!

——–

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.

396317-saga

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).

 

 

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There's a Book for That

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

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Booktoss

Baby Mouse to Meta Maus and all the graphica in between

the quirky rican

todas las cosas

the dirigible plum

A Blog about Learning, Teaching, Writing, and Reading

YA? Why Not?

A Teen Librarian Writes About Teen Reads

wrapped up in books

reading, writing, librarying

It's Playing, Just With Research

An Academic's Sojourn Through Communication

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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