Seminar Reflection

So for this reflection, I want to take the time to point out a few other resources that might be useful for using comics to engage school-age and teenage students in a variety of literacy skills.

Although I wasn’t able to read these books, they were recommended to me by a very intelligent and well-read professor who is also just so happens to have a lot of knowledge regarding comics…

Building Literacy Connections with Graphic Novels by James Bucky Carter (2007) published by the National Council of Teachers of English

Teaching Visual Literacy: Using Comic Books, Graphic Novels, Anime, Cartoons and More to Develop Comprehension and Critical Thinking Skills by Nancy Frey and Douglas Fisher (2008) published by Corwin

Graphic Novels in Your Media Center: A Definitive Guide by Allyson Lyga and Barry Lyga (2004) published by Libraries Unlimited

Reading with Pictures:  Comics that Make Kids Smarter edited by Josh Elder (2014) published by Andrews McMeel Publishing

The Graphic Novel Classroom: POWerful Teaching and Learning by Maureen Bakis (2014) published by Skyhorse Publishing.

The first part of this website from Scholastic about using Graphic Novels with Children & Teens is a very basic and underwhelming run-down of the typical reasons comics are justified as “worthy” of use with children. Things get a bit more interesting with the section “What are the benefits of studying graphic novels as a format.” This section is followed by a plethora of resources including links to websites about comics, considerations for teachers in studying the artwork and prompting book discussions, books and websites for teachers regarding the use of graphic novels in the classroom, and some recommended titles. Not surprisingly most of the professional resources and recommended titles are published by Scholastic.

And finally, some informational comics for kids about Information Literacy & Media Literacy.

The WIPO (World Intellectual Property Organization) publishes digital content including comics. Their publications are aimed at teaching 8-12 year olds intellectual property concepts including copyright. Although their comics are a bit didactic and “after-school special,” they’re clear in their explanation of intellectual property.

Orca Publishes a few graphic novels to teach young readers about social and global issues in their Graphic Guide Adventure series. Of relation to media literacy, they have published Media Meltdown (O’Donnell, L. 2009), about a group of kids who discover the influence that media and media stake-holders have over the dissemination of information and news.

And here are the online comic makers that I recommended:

Marvel Comic Maker Comic Creator

Make Beliefs Comix Creator

Toon Cartoon Maker

EDIT: I had a middle of the night revelation, and thought to include a fun game that might be played with kids, tweens, and teens. It’s called exquisite corpse. There are many variations that have been played so I want to share the version that I know best and is a fun way of supporting visual literacy skills.

To play you need at least 3 people (there really isn’t a limit to the number of players but 6 or so is probably the upper limit), paper, and a pen (or pencil, markers, anything to write with).

Alternating words and text, each player takes a turn adding the next type of component- if they’re reading text then they add an image, and if they’re looking at an image they’re going to add text. The first person starts off writing a sentence than includes at least one noun, verb, and adjective. The next player is charged with drawing what the sentence says. After folding the paper so that only their drawing is showing, they pass it to the next player who then studies the image and writes a sentence that they believe best describes what they’re viewing. After folding the paper so that only their sentence is showing, they pass it to the next person who draws what the sentence says. After drawing, they fold the paper so only their drawing is visible and pass it along to the next player. This continues until either each player has had a turn or there is no more space on the paper.

When you’re finished, unfold the paper so the entire progression of the story unfolds. It’s fun to see how each image and sentence was interpreted and represented for the next person! Was there a component that remained constant? Were adjectives (or verbs and nouns) interpreted and transmitted or did they transform? How did the text and images transform and where were the biggest turning points?

This game can be modified for younger children in that a single word (noun, verb, or adjective.. Though noun will be easiest) is used instead of a whole sentence. It can also be played with just drawings, where in each person takes a turn adding either head, torso, legs, and feet to a body, still hiding the previously added components from future players.

What a wonderful semester, thank you for being such great colleagues. I’m looking forward to working and seeing you all professionally. Thank you, thank you!



Kate Milford on This One Summer

Kate Milford, children’s author of The Lefthanded Fate, Greenhouse Glass, and several other middle grade titles, on why This One Summer winning a Caldecott Honor really, truly matters.

A very impassioned read that articulates very well why books that might make adults uncomfortable can be exactly what a particular child needs.  Most importantly, we shouldn’t be afraid to make available books that “speak” to the unique struggles that middle school aged kids often experience.

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Space Dumplins: An Analysis


[pgs. 100 & 101 of Space Dumplins by Craig Thompson]

As typical of Craig Thompson’s style, this page [page 101) doesn’t utilize traditional panels in that there is not gutter nor are panels enclosed by frames. Rather, the three panels layer one on top of each other, with the panels reading sequentially from top to bottom. The point of view of each panel shifts with each passing panel, first from an almost birds eye view encapsulating all of the characters and their environment, then a closer view of just the characters after they have moved inside of the vehicle they are about to pilot, and then finally, from the main character’s point of view. The absence of gutters and frames creates a fast-moving effect that heightens the adventurous tone of the page. While a gutter forces the reader to momentarily pause and consider just a single moment in time, this page blends the moments encapsulated on the page adding to a sense of excitement and quickening the pace of movement.

Spatial and temporal movement through the panels also creates a feeling of excitement and nervousness that is felt before a major trip or scary moment where an individual can almost get a sense of tunnel vision. The visuals move from a wider scene to that of the driver, which really contributes to the focus of the moment just as the character would be feeling it. The narrowing of the scene among panels, from full the inclusion of background, to just characters, to the point of view of the main character both creates a visually focused scene, helping to heighten anxiety and excitement and also allows the reader to be right in the midst of the action. It allows the reader to feel that excitement, focus, and take-charge attitude that the reader has seen developing in the main character, Violet. When compared to the previous page that follows a more traditional comic page set-up that blocks out the movement of time and space, the unframed panels creates more of a flurry of action and gets the reader “ready for take off.” Thompson utilizes full page, often unframed panels to convey quick action or fluid movement throughout the graphic novel. This is often done during moments of heightened action or suspense. However, the use of first person perspective is unique to this page and panel.

Additionally, this moment also represents Violet taking full control of her situation for the first time in the novel without the aid of other adults (though she did need help in rebuilding the vehicle she is operating). She is the one steering and controlling what is happening, not being controlled by the circumstances around her. In Violet’s own words, “I’ll take the controls!” (Thompson, C. p. 101). Additionally, the continuous focus on the characters, rather than the setting, highlight the importance of interpersonal relationships and the forging of bonds between characters.
The cartoon-ish style of the illustrations are welcoming to child readers, and allow for big explosions, big impacts, and goopy slim to remain distant from reality, which might turn some readers off. They add humor to a harrowing story. Additionally, the cartoon-ish style allows for all creatures both human and non-human to co-exist in a way that a reader accepts that they do co-exist. This is similar to other stories set in outer space, including E. Guibert’s Sardine in Outer Space series. Bright colors draw younger readers in and keep their attention throughout the admittedly long story; a cartoon style signals that humor is abound. Further, the juxtaposition between Thompson’s aesthetic in Blankets, though similar in page layout, really create a distinction based upon intended audience.
As a reader I’m intrigued by the first person point of view of the last panel on the page, I can’t recall another comic where this style is so blatantly used. The extreme shift in perspective is unique. The shift to behind the controls of an outer space vehicle is particularly exciting. As a librarian, it would be a really fun image for the promotion of the collection as a reader “ready to take off” into a new world (the world in a particular comic, Violet’s world, or the world of comics in general).

Personally, I chose this panel because I was really drawn into the fun, brave, yet sad and heartwarming, story that Thompson has presented. The unique point of view of the last panel, on the precipice of a big adventure, is just plain old exciting to me as a reader. Probably most importantly though, is that first person point of view panel!

Guibert, E. & Sfar, J. (2006). Sardine in outer space 2. New York, NY: First Second

Thompson, C. (2003). Blankets: A graphic novel. Marietta, GA: Top Shelf.

Thompson, C. (2015) Space dumplins. New York, NY: Graphix.

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Sardine in Outer Space: For kids. And maybe their parents.. though maybe not.

Which would be the most appropriate way of introducing this book to the reader I have in mind?
The reader I have in mind for Sardine in Outer Space by Guibert is a fan of other visual media, particularly those that involve visual puns (some of which might fly over their head). They might enjoy grossing out or one-upping or out-smarting the adults in their lives, and they definitely aren’t afraid of a little potty humor. I would recommend this series to those who enjoy Spongebob Squarepants or will grow to like Futurama.
I would introduce this book by book talking using some of the dry humor and humorous language directly from the comic. I would entice readers by saying this is NOT a book that their parents would enjoy, in fact, they might not agree that kids should read a book about an adult space pirate should team up with a group of kids in order to outsmart and take down a weapons-loving villian. Parents might not approve of kids calling adults (or anyone for that matter!) “dirty bedpans” nor would they probably approve of kids eating fly turds (by accident!). BUT like Sardine and company, Sardine readers also know that adults aren’t always right. Sometimes kids come out on top when they work together to take down evil villians and their sidekicks. They also know that when reading and crime fighting are done in good spirits and in the pursuit of what’s right (having a good time and foiling the bad guy’s plans) the results are a wonderfully good time. I would introduce readers to this collection of comics, which don’t need to be read in order (I read volume 2 without any knowledge from volume 1) and stand on their own, by having them read comic vignette in the book. Those that will enjoy Sardine in Outer Space will find Supermuscleman’s brain washing machine (which we find out through the images is a literal washing machine) hilarious, though will be more delighted by humorously devious the plan to destroy it. Busy, brightly colored, and highly detailed illustrations add slap-stick comedy and visual appeal to the light- hearted take on destruction, deceit, the triumph of good over evil (when evil and good might not look exactly as you imagine they would).
Guibert, E. & Sfar, J. (2006). Sardine in outer space 2. New York, NY: First Second.

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Protect the books! (And comics, movies, ideas, paintings, sculptures, etc…)

“Protect the children!” seems to be the decry of all people who challenge materials in libraries and schools, regardless of format. Children’s innocence and understanding of the world around them seem to need protecting, whether it’s from sexuality, religion, or politics. Enter: bans or challenges to books and comics. From the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund’s resources on case study’s of challenged books, the majority of challenged books revolve around one or two individual’s opinions that a certain book is “unsuitable” for children to view. While schools operate from a slightly different stance on their relationship to children, public libraries decidedly don’t operate en loco parentis- meaning that librarians do not assume the responsibility for children in the absence of their parents. The importance of this lies in libraries ability to offer various materials without judgement to the suitability to individual children. This is not to say that any public library is actually in the practice of offering obscene materials to children- in fact it’s incredibly insulting to suggest that any children’s or youth librarian would purposefully recommend materials that aren’t suitable to the age, interests, reading abilities, or maturity of a particular child (though perhaps we should be more vocal about the training librarians require). Rather, all public librarians are bound by professional ethics to on principle defend the choice and option of all patrons to retain their right to intellectual freedom: the ability to choose for themselves the information that they consume, which assumes that individuals actually have accessible information. To this end, individual parents have the right to censor the information that their children have access to- but do not retain that right for anybody else, including children or adults. As a letter from the CBLDF and the National Coalition Against Censorship so appropriately quotes the supreme court: “the level of discourse reaching a mailbox simply cannot be limited to that which would be suitable for a sandbox.” Should libraries limit materials to those which are only suitable for the sensibilities of the youngest children, every public library would by default become a children’s library. Then we’d really see an uproar about the “seedy people” that libraries attract.

One might say (as I do) that the children don’t, in fact, need protecting- at least not from the ideas found in any comic or book. Much as some students in Chicago Public Schools pointed out, the violence depicted in Persepolis isn’t anymore graphic than some of the images that these students have seen in their neighborhoods or textbooks. Rather, one might argue (as I do) that access to a book such as Persepolis has the ability to humanize certain situations, to show some young people that they aren’t living their world in isolation- their experiences might be mirrored elsewhere, and that reactions to difficult situations might be expressed in a beautiful and artistic way. Young people don’t need protecting from the world, rather a means to understand it more fully. Books and comics just so happen to be a great way to provide context for that understanding.

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Digesting Squish

  1. Are there other books by the same author, or by other authors, which relate to this one and which the readers have already read or perhaps ought to read before reading this one? And are there books that follow on from this one? Are there any other media that might complement or expand the reading experience?

Squish #1 will certainly appeal to readers of Matthew and Jennifer Holms’ Baby Mouse and Kroscka’s Lunch Lady series. Although neither deal with the quasi-scientific subject matter that Squish’s amoeba and protozoa cast of characters introduce young readers to, the funny, everyday mishaps in the school environment that combine just a touch of the fantastic will certainly be familiar. Captain Underpants readers might also be drawn to these series, though might prefer the faster pacing of Babymouse and Lunch Lady. This trio of series offer a couple dozen titles for early- middle grade/late elementary comics readers drawn to quick reads, humor, and ordinary characters who aspire to be a bit more extraordinary. Squish itself is the first in a series of seven.

I was really drawn to the idea of single celled organisms engulfing each other as their way of “eating” (a process known as phagocytosis) so I would recommend some videos that demonstrate the process. This video is, albeit short, shakey, and not super high quality, demonstrates this process well (and I can just imagine all of the giggles that would ensue as the paramecium jiggles around rapidly). This cartoon is a simple illustrated explanation of the process. I would also recommend this BrainPOP page about protists, though access requires a login and password, so access is definitely limited. Amoebas and other single-celled organisms eating process can be compared to human’s digestive process. For this comparison I would recommend A Tour of Your Digestive System by Molly Koplin (information about the human digestive system presented in comic format) and The Quest to Digest by Mary K. Corcoran. An exploration of these differences might make for an interesting, STEM-related program.


Holm, J. & Holm, M. (2011). Squish: Super amoeba. New York: Random House.




One Piece

What does this book ask of readers if they are to enjoy what it offers?

“Why? Why can’t he swim?” My fiancé asked, laughing hysterically. This, I believe, is a perfect response to a synopsis of Eiichiro Oda’s One Piece, though probably one more typical of readers more willing to accept the hilarity and implausibility of manga. In volumes one and two we meet Luffy who, despite being unable to swim, has aspired to be a pirate since boyhood. After eating the fruit of the gum gum tree as a boy, Luffy permanently became unable to swim though developed the ability to stretch and appears to be relatively indestructible to force. On his quest to become king of the pirates and for “one piece,” a legendary buried treasure, he collects (so far) a crew of unlikely, and somewhat unwilling, mates: a notorious pirate hunter, a thief who steals from pirates.

From the violence, to the larger-than-life, yet emotionally real characters, readers must abandon reality and immerse oneself in the world of One Piece. A humorous and light- hearted approach is needed to accept the plot turns and unlike combinations, often seemingly in opposition to themselves (for instance, the feared clown pirate who has taken over a fishing town and whose first mate is a man who tames tigers and styles his hair into tiger ears). The reader can’t fight the book, but must “go along for the ride.” It doesn’t make sense, but that’s the pleasure in it. It’s outlandish, but has just enough semblance to humanity in the human emotions that drive each character to not take the leap into ridiculous and unreadable. Although the read might be a bit slow at times, and at 80 volumes, this is an epic journey that becomes more interesting as the characters develop more, at least in volumes 1 & 2.

Oda, E. (2014). One piece: Volume 1, romance dawn. San Francisco: CA: VIZ Media.

Oda, E. (2013). One Piece: Volume 2, Buggy the Clown. San Francisco, CA: WIZ Media.