Thursday, December 7, 2017

Illegal: current events as powerful story

Awards: named on Amazon list for best graphic novels of 2018

From the Publishers:
A powerfully moving graphic novel by New York Times bestselling author Eoin Colfer and the team behind the Artemis Fowl graphic novels that explores the current plight of undocumented immigrants.
Ebo is alone. His brother, Kwame, has disappeared, and Ebo knows it can only be to attempt the hazardous journey to Europe, and a better life—the same journey their sister set out on months ago.
But Ebo refuses to be left behind in Ghana. He sets out after Kwame and joins him on the quest to reach Europe. Ebo's epic journey takes him across the Sahara Desert to the dangerous streets of Tripoli, and finally out to the merciless sea. But with every step he holds on to his hope for a new life, and a reunion with his family.

My Thoughts:
The only think I know about Eoin Colfer is through his graphic novels of his series Artemis Fowl. I have used his graphic novels to push reluctant readers into his books, but I have not actually read his books. What I do know is that there is a mixed reaction to his graphic novels by readers that have read his books, mostly around the way that Giovanni Rigano depicts the title character and other familiar characters to readers of the series. 

For these fans, their disappointment is similar to my disappointment to movie versions of books. They cut out large pieces of plot that I think are important, or like Scarlet Letter with Demi Moore as Hester Prynne, the writers completely changed the ending and turned Hawthorne's moral tale into a romance with the lovers riding off into the sunset. I also find it frustrating when the casting is all off. I still have an issue with the casting of Peta from the Mockingjay series, but this is not a graphic novel based off a book. 

This is Eoin Colfer, Andrew Donkin and Giovanni Rigano using current events to tell a human story, an original story that is both fiction and truth. The decisions that they make to draw out the helicopter scene, the underwater scenes, the way they are almost creating a documentary and using time as a cliff hanger is powerful. It makes us wonder. Where is the end of the tunnel? Who is holding the light to guide us out? Why does the chasm between those who are living to survive and those who are living to thrive continue to get larger?

The trio does not offer solutions. But they do make noise. Add this to the list of graphic novels that have a political agenda to educate. Now as educators, how do we help our students to not just be educated or "woke" but do something with that understanding.  

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Writing Radar

Writing Radar is about Jack Gantos, the silly stories of his youth, the funny things that continue to happen to him and the way he is able to weave this ability to snoop out stories to become an author. I really was looking for another "on writing" book for my reading and writing across the curriculum or English language arts methods course for college, but this one is geared more for the young tween.

Gantos' familiar storytelling style from his fiction pieces like the Joey Pigza books continues in this how to guide. I am sure that budding tween writers will be hooked in by the shenanigans of the author. For me, since I was really looking for the "how to" aspects, there is a drawing of a fountain pen with the words "Writing Tips" scrawled throughout the book. There are also bold faced headings and chapters like "Story Maps" and "Key Words That Lead to Ideas for Action in a Story" that almost mindlessly guide the reader to and fro and amongst the author's meandering storyline.

As a tip guide, the tips are solid, straightforward, user friendly and developmentally appropriate for the tween audience. As a story, the author understands the developmental style that tweens like. I get it. They need to write, write, write, so any way to entertain them while they do it is fabulous. I also know that we lose them as readers and writers in the middle grades if as teachers we are not vigilant to what will keep them from grabbing a pen or a book for their own pleasure. At the college level it is easier to coach a writer through when they write too much and show too much voice than when their writing is sparse, generic and lifeless.

That being said, I can't use it in my secondary teacher education courses, but I can see a 4th, 5th or 6th grade teacher using this as mini lessons in writer's workshop with their students.

Monday, December 4, 2017

Manga Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

My thoughts:
This is a recreation of Mark Twain's Adventures of Huckleberry Finn in manga format. I think what initially was a bit jarring was the depiction of Huck. I understand that it is part of the manga genre, but drawing a young boy from the south in the androgynous manga style was a bit disconcerting. Perhaps as a reader I am too familiar with the work as well as the movies. However, once I put that aside, the writers of this manga classic do a good job of trying to make decisions to use some of the different dialects found in the original Twain novel. In other words, there is "Jim speak, " there is "Huck speak," and then there is narration which I think is understandable enough for the middle reader. 

I am not sure if the text is understandable to ELL (English language learners), but I think the combination of pictures and text, especially if readers are able to "read" the emotions coming from the characters in the stylized manga drawings, does a good job of helping to bridge to the original novel.

At 300+ pages, this is a hefty tome. It is not a one night read. In addition, there is a lot to read. That is not a bad thing. It is just something to think about when giving this to middle readers, and struggling middle readers. It could be used as a pre-read if teachers are actually wanting students to just get the gist of the plot before going into some closer discussion. However, in my opinion, the publishers created this to be a substitute for the original text rather than a hook or bridge into the original text. It is substantial, but as a former English teacher, I don't think it's enough. 

One of the major conversations happening right now is about the rise of "hate" speech that is blatantly racist, misogynistic, homophobic.  Pap's "govment" speech in Twain's chapter 6, recreated in a classroom, read aloud with all its spittle and compared to  the open rantings of Sheriff Clark of Selma, Alabama at the height of the protests for voting rights of African Americans in the 60's south and the current protests and speeches coming out of the south as well as our own "govment" in 2017 is the kind of dialogue that must happen in our classrooms. Twain's literature is the way in. His hook to engage the reader is the humor and irony, but the manga is missing the lessons we need to learn as Americans so that we can recognize not only how to move forward through education, but also be aware of when the histories in our literature as well as in our historical non fictions (like the three part graphic novels March by Senator John Lewis) point to the fact that we are standing still or moving backwards. 

Sunday, December 3, 2017

The Ghost of Gaudi

From the publisher:
Someone is committing barbarous murders throughout Barcelona, focusing on locations designed by renowned visionary architect Antoni Gaudi. The police have no clues, but a young woman is thrust into the investigation by a man resembling the late Gaudi himself, led to the scenes of the crimes before they even occur… could be a precognizant ghost?

My thoughts:
Yes, this is a  murder mystery and it is fascinating to use the graphic novel for this type of story. The art, by Jesus Alonso Iglesias is hauntingly beautiful. Yes, the murderer is positioning the dead bodies in different Gaudi buildings, but that is what is hauntingly beautiful. It does all the things that good graphic novel art does. It tells the story, it supports the story through tone and eye movement. It creates a complete package. 

In addition, this graphic novel is un American. I don't quite know what I mean by that, except that this book by El Torres, a Spanish comic, and another recent read by the Italian cartoonist Zerocalcare (Kobane Calling) are different in the way they approach story meshed with art. There seems to be a different lens to this storytelling that I can only describe as not typical of American works or even Japanese works. I like that about this book.

Finally, what this book did was introduce me to Antoni Gaudi, a Catalan architect, THE modernist Catalan architect whose building defy structure and embrace nature's organic flow. Barcelona is moving up to my number one must see place on my bucket list because even seeing his buildings on the internet make me ache as if I am missing out on something and I am at a loss because of my inability to truly SEE. 

The Castoffs, V2

From the publisher:
Charris, Trinh, and Ursa have managed to work together long enough to defeat the evil Priestess and her hive-mind robot army, the Surrogate. They journey back to the village of Clifton to reunite with their guild, but once there, they discover that the Priestess may not be defeated after all, and a much larger threat may be looming. A secret from Ursa's past threatens to break the fragile trust between the three mages, but they must overcome their differences and work together if they stand a chance of surviving the coming darkness.

My thoughts:
Normally, even if I am reading from volume 2, either the publisher description or a brief couple of pages in the beginning of the book lets me know what is going on in the book, but this is not the case for this book. The conflict seemed to be that whatever the main characters did was not really seen as positive by everyone. In addition, the main characters seem like they are apprentices and that is also not always looked at kindly within their own "school." And then the book was over and I was left with some looming graphic that hinted of some one or some thing still being in the picture. I read enough magic books that I should know what a mage is, but I had to look it up (magician or learned person). 

I think this is meant to attract the young tween reader, but the publishers need to know that the young reader does not always read things in order. It just depends what is at the library and what catches their eye. Therefore, each of the volumes needs to have enough in it to stand on its own. Unfortunately, this one does not. By the time I had a firm grasp of what was going on, I was two pages to the end of the book.