Archive for CEO Reviews

El Deafo Review



Review by Chloe Anderson

Written and Illustrated by Cece Bell
Winner of the John Newberry Medal 

Pop Culture Classroom | El Deafo Review

SYNOPSIS 

El Deafo is perfect for new readers as a bridge between sight-word books and more complex stories. It tells the story of Cece Bell, who loses most of her hearing at the age of 4. New schools and making friends can be scary on its own, but it’s even more complicated when everyone sounds like they are speaking under water.

Ms. Bell has distilled her experience growing up with a hearing disability into a touching story about perseverance and the meaning of friendship. Aimed at younger kids, this graphic novel utilizes cute art and simple language to communicate its heartfelt point. 

Even if the reader does not have a disability, El Deafo offers a poignant window into what our friends in the deaf community experience every day, and raises important questions about how to be helpful and kind to people who are “different.”  

Themes: Growing up, New school, feeling alone, make believe, different kinds of friends, kindness 

REVIEW OF EL DEAFO

Kids are way smarter than we often give them credit for. Books written to young audiences often fall into the trap of being so simple as to bore kids right to sleep, or even worse, right into hating to read.  That’s why books like El Deafo are so important to include for new readers.   

Cece Bell channels her memories of young life into a story that is simple enough for young readers to identify with, and poignant enough for older readers to be fascinated with. Tracking life from when Cece got Meningitis at four years old all the way to sixth grade covers a lot of ground.

Pop Culture Classroom | El Deafo Review  

But the all-encompassing theme of the book is, “what do you do with adversity?” While the Meningitis took most of her hearing, Cece is still an imaginative little girl who loves sleepovers and learning just like her classmates. When she sees a bully on TV call another child “El Defo!” Cece can’t stop her giggles – it sounds so funny. And yet she reasons that she must be “deafo” too.

Pop Culture Classroom | El Deafo Review

And so, her super hero alter-ego of El Defo is born.  This alter ego enables her to think about challenges in an empowered way; for instance her hearing aid isn’t a handicap anymore, it’s like one of batman’s cool gadgets giving her super hearing.  This winsome attitude towards facing her disability is one that any child can easily identify with. Ms. Bell presents her characters in ways that are beautifully relatable thanks to their common desires for friendship, independence and belonging. 

Pop Culture Classroom | El Deafo Review

Despite her disability, the issues that Cece encounters throughout the comic are universal. She feels isolated when other students don’t include her.  She wants friends who see her for who she is. She struggles with the nervous butterflies of liking a cute boy. Cece’s emotional experience is like the experience that any child might encounter while growing up, changing schools and making friends.

Ms. Bell’s keen empathy with how young students see the world offers up small stories within El Deafo that make great touch stones for discussion for any student, either in class or at home.  

IN THE CLASROOM 

This text will be most useful for elementary aged students. 

  • Lessons on Feelings: As kids grow into new social settings, often they encounter new and powerful emotions.  Fear, excitement or anticipation can be hard to explain because they are so abstract, but kids know it when they see it, whether presented in a story or encountered in real life. Discuss how Cece is feeling in different scenarios. Ask kids if they have ever felt that way, or even if they have friends who might feel that way.
  • Learning to Work with Students with Disabilities:  This is a subject that many people often struggle to address. Kids often don’t know how to treat a student who learns or plays  And teachers must walk the line between accommodating the disability, and treating the student like the rest of their peers. El Deafo offers an insider’s perspective about how our actions help or hurt someone who experiences life with a disability. Discuss what Cece’s friends did that helped her and hurt her. Are her feelings different than anyone else’s? What are ways we can all be kind to each other? What can non-disabled people learn from girls like Cece?
  • Friends, Bullies and Social Skills: Sometimes friends are the best, sometimes they are the worst.Cece, as El Deafo, encounters both kinds of friends. But, with insightful parallels to real life, the conflicts are presented in such a way as to suggest empathy for all parties involved. When her friend Giny tries to accommodate Cece’s hearing loss by speaking too slowly and too loudly, Cece finds herself wondering if the rude loudness is because Ginny is trying to help.  Discuss what makes a good friend.  How can we learn to listen to our friends for how they would like to be treated? How can we learn to ask our friends to treat us respectfully? What makes a bully? What can we do about bullying behavior?

In addition to all the great discussion points, this graphic novel utilizes cute art and simple language to communicate its heartfelt point. Ms. Bell has illustrated the story herself, in a style that is reminiscent of art that her target audience might make themselves. Cece and her friends are portrayed as humanized bunnies which play out their stories against colorful back grounds which evoke the emotion of each scene. 

Pop Culture Classroom | El Deafo Review

Even if the reader does not have a disability, El Deafo offers a poignant window into what our friends in the deaf community experience every day, and raises important questions about how to be helpful and kind to all the people whom we encounter in our daily lives, no matter how “different” they may seem.


About Chloe Anderson:

Chloe is a Colorado filmmaker and educator. She has worked both as a producer and actor, and is an award-winning screen writer with a love of mentoring young creators. Chloe has spent 10 years as a private tutor specializing in language arts. Chloe also has over a decade of experience working with, and advocating for, non-profits that support the arts in education, and now she is delighted to be contributing to Pop Culture Classroom’s mission of empowerment through creativity.


MARCH Review

By Eric Kallenborn

Last August, I was privileged enough to hear Rep. John Lewis and Andrew Aydin, co-authors of the award-winning graphic novel trilogy March, speak at Evanston Public High School in Evanston, Illinois. It was there, about three months before the Presidential election that I understood, that no matter the outcome of the election, we, as a nation, were going to be alright.

Listening to these men speak was nothing short of amazing. As they explained obstacles they faced getting the book published, Rep. Lewis and Mr. Aydin also told the story of struggle, persistence, community, and choosing love: not surprising, as these are some of the most powerful themes in March. Heck, they’re powerful themes in life too.

ABOUT THE BOOKS

There is a reason that March, the story of Rep. John Lewis’ life and struggles through the Civil Rights Movement, has seen much critical acclaim recently. The book series, which consists of three volumes, delves into issues that many in this country would like to keep in the dark corners of American history. March shines a light into those dark corners, forcing us to face the horrors of segregation and racism while also celebrating the brave men and woman of the Civil Rights Movement.   

MARCH Review - Comic Education Outreach - Pop Culture ClassroomThe art of March’s illustrator, Nate Powell, is a perfect juxtaposition to the writing of Rep. Lewis and Mr. Aydin; much like in Art Spiegelman’s Maus, Powell’s choice of white, blacks, and grays for the color scheme forces the reader back in time and makes it easier to focus on the details of Lewis’ life and struggles.    

MARCH Review - Comic Education Outreach - Pop Culture Classroom

A recent winner of the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature, the March series is quickly becoming a must-read in most circles, literary or not. While violent and heavy, this book can and should be read by anyone over the age of twelve. And if you have that certain someone in your life that still might question the validity of comics or graphic novels as part of the social lexicon, slip them a copy of March, and see if you can change their mind.       

IN THE CLASSROOM

I’m not saying that you have to put March in your classroom library, but I’m sort of saying that you should put March in your classroom library. It’s an important book, and much like the comic book that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. used to spread the news about the Montgomery bus boycott, it’s an example of how graphic texts can shape our understanding ofhistory and help us better empathize with cultures and people beyond ourselves.

  • For the history lesson alone, March should find itself in schools across the nation.  Not only can this book be taught in the English classroom, but it has connections to many different Social Studies classrooms as well. For the most part, at least in my experience, we do a poor job in this country of teaching students about the Civil Rights Movement; March helps get much-needed information into the hands of students while also keeping them engaged.
  • The complexity of the images allows for deep analytical conversation. As you may hear me say many times in the future, one of the best things about this medium is that we are adding to an already rich English classroom vocabulary. On top of tone, mood, symbolism, diction, etc., we are adding terms like “panel,” “special effects lettering,” “graphic weight,” etc. The inclusion of these new classroom terms allows for more complex discussion at all levels and Nate Powell’s artistic decisions are a perfect inroad into those discussions.
  • As you might have already guessed, this book would be an amazing companion piece to a multitude of texts that you may use in your classroom, both fiction and non-fiction. This includes films as well.  What a cool project it would be to write a comparative analysis of March with the film Selma.

CONCLUSION

Sometimes to get an important message out to certain audiences, we need to change the way in which that message is created. Delivered by Rep. Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powel, March is further proof that changing the construction of a message can take that message to people and places that might have not received it otherwise.

This is especially important in a time when many of us, on both sides of the isle, are unsure and often weary of what is to come, and messages like the ones found in March may be what we need to fuel our passions for persistence, community, and choosing love.

Pride of Baghdad Review

By Michael Gianfrancesco

Brian K. Vaughan’s and Niko Henrichon’s 2006 masterpiece Pride of Baghdad combines fact and fiction in a way that not only creates an impactful and poignant story, but also makes serious and complex themes accessible to just about any reader. This text has been in my regular classroom rotation for years and has remained relevant and powerful due to its universal motifs of war, family, loss, and (dare I say it) skewed perception of what it means to be proud.

OVERVIEW

Based very loosely on events surrounding the bombing of the Baghdad Zoo by American forces in 2003, the story follows four lions that hop the crumbling walls of their shattered enclosure and seek freedom in the burning remains of the city. Vaughn has made these animals semi-anthropomorphic (not to the degree of the characters’ human dimensions and animal faces in Spiegelman’s Maus, but only in that they can talk to each other and other animals) and given each a backstory and role to play in the book’s sad but all too inevitable conclusion.

What makes this novel all the more special is the beauty of the artwork itself. Hernichon masterfully recreates post-war Baghdad in all its shorn grandeur. Present are the famous landmarks including the sword clutching arch known sometimes as the Hands of Victory and the not-yet-razed statue of Saddam Hussein. The abandoned streets are presented awash in deep red and orange sepia tones that invoke the bloodied and burning remains of what was once a bustling Middle Eastern city.

The text pulls no punches in terms of its treatment of war and the atrocities therein. Within the first few pages, readers are treated to a faithful giraffe getting his head blown off in graphic detail. The book’s mature themes don’t end there, and this is where I would caution any educators to vet Pride of Baghdad carefully. There is a scene implying sexual assault of one of the females, a bloody battle between a bear and the male lion, and an ending that will not send you home happy. You know your student population, your district and building culture, and what constitutes “appropriate” in your classroom, so tread carefully.

USE IN THE CLASSROOM

  • You can pair Pride of Baghdad with Maus as both share similar themes about how war impacts the individual and the family and its gorgeous color and panoramic artwork are a stark and welcome contrast to Spiegelman’s thick lines, claustrophobic panels, and black and white presentation.
  • You could also toss this into a unit with novels The Things They Carried, Night, Diary of Anne Frank, or A Thousand Splendid Suns to scaffold similar themes of the horrors of war and loss.
  • There is an opportunity to bring Pride of Baghdad to a social studies classroom as the text offers an accurate artistic representation of war torn Iraq. Pulling news articles and primary sources on the conflict and discussing the real story of the war and the bombing in and around the zoo can help students with their visual understanding of the consequences of war.
  • The motifs of feminism and the nature of a patriarchal society are certainly at play here and can foster discussion in your class about the cultural nature of the lions as representative of various human cultures.
  • As mentioned above, there are mature themes and scenes that should be considered before committing the book to your students.

IN CONCLUSION

To sum it all up, Pride of Baghdad is a brutally honest and heart wrenching book with enough conflict and action to engage even the most skeptical reader. It offers no quarter in terms of expectations of survival when war has come to your front door. Its brutal honesty is complemented with real characters with whom even the most stoic of readers will find themselves connecting on an emotional level.

The United States Constitution: A Graphic Adaptation

 

Written by Johnathon Hennessey
Art by Aaron McConnell
Appropriate for Grades: Middle School and up

REVIEW

In interesting times such as these, the laws and traditions of the United States are finding themselves hotly debated on a daily basis. Coming of age in the 21st Century means that your students’ social feeds are filling with confusing political news, bold declarations by leaders, and loads of conflicting opinions. Questions emerge constantly about checks and balances, the limits of power, and the nature of our government. As teachers of social studies, it is incumbent upon us to help our students develop a clear understanding about the document that finds itself at the center of the struggle time and again: The Constitution.

At first glance, it may seem that breaking down a heavy primary source like the Constitution would be less appealing than the adaptations of novels and works of literature available to our friends in the English department. In actuality, Hennessey’s work divides into very intuitive chapters; it progresses just like the document itself with portions devoted to the Preamble, Articles, and Amendments respectfully. In addition, each section is accompanied by relevant details, illustrations (duh!) and entertaining stories!

Why This Graphic Novel is Awesome

Try this experiment: Call up friend and explain the 9th Amendment in detail to them. Unless your friend is a constitutional scholar or history teacher, it might look something like this:

Once you’re done holding them hostage, you might feel the pain and frustration that comes along with trying to teach the less “sexy” portions of the Constitution to students.

To combat this, The United States Constitution: A Graphic Adaptation takes that amendment and explains it clearly in just 2 1/2 illustrated pages. Among the relevant details of the Amendment, no less than SIX supreme court cases are referenced with cool nonchalance. There’s also the clarifying use of a superhero of the author’s design called The Penumbra. Immediately, The Penumbra provides a concrete retrieval cue in the minds of students that will make this otherwise painful moment of learning into a highlight!

Mr. Hennessey’s graphic novel gives this same treatment to every part of the Constitution, with an almost frenetic shift in imagery between each section to help keep students interested.

Use In the Classroom

When teaching, I’ve found that Social Studies comics tend to be most useful when divided into smaller pieces. I personally would never have students read this dense and intimidating graphic novel from start to finish. Be forewarned: This is NOT a beginner’s book; it’s better suited to being read a few pages at a time followed by an opportunity to digest and discuss.

Hennessey’s book goes in the same order as the Constitution itself, providing context and clarification. He took care to plan out clear markers and stopping points so that readers will definitively know when the topic is shifting. Use this to your advantage. Small, 20 minute reading activities over the course of a semester will work well here.

Some portions might also work well as full-class projects. In one team-taught classroom, we enjoyed success in organizing a jigsaw of the Bill of Rights. We assigned very small groups of students to analyze the pages of one specific amendment. This is followed by a creation of their OWN illustration accompanied by a short explanation for their classmates. I’ve tried this activity using other methods (e.g., guided internet research), but Hennessey’s book has generally proven to be the fastest, most easily accessible resource for students and teachers alike.

In Conclusion

Through this graphic novel, Jonathon Hennessey has created a new, unique, and exciting way for students to engage with the Constitution – a text that has and will continue to affect all of our lives for decades to come. Please support him by buying all of his excellent books like I did!


[1] http://www.educationworld.com/a_curr/strategy/strategy036.shtml

Lumberjanes, Volume 1: Beware the Kitten Holy

Written by Noelle Stevenson & Grace Ellis
Art by Brooke Allen
Appropriate for Grades: 3rd grade and up

REVIEW

Full disclosure: When I was growing up, I was obsessed with all things related to summer camp. I loved Meatballs, and Salute Your Shorts, and sadly, even Ernest Goes to Camp. I lived for s’mores and spooky stories told around a campfire. The thing is…I’ve never been to camp in my life. I grew up in Chicago, and my family had very little money. The closest I came to camp was the free day camp at the local park (here, “day camp” is code for run around in the sun until you get tired and dehydrated). So when I saw the cover of Lumberjanes I was already on board.

So what is Lumberjanes? It is the story of five best friends spending the summer together at Miss Qiunzella Thiskwin Penniquiqul Thistle Crumpet’s Camp for Hardcore Lady Types, the home of the Lumberjanes Scouts. As the summer goes on, they learn there’s more to the camp than meets the eye. The girls endure magical quests, mystical creatures, and a mysterious Bear Lady, all while celebrating friendship to the max and girl power! The creators describe the book as “Baby Sitters Club meets Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Scooby Doo Goes to Camp.” It’s supernatural, mystery and adventure all wrapped in a ready-for-Cartoon-Network package.

Lumberjanes really shines because of it’s humor and characters. Each of the mains are people the reader can root for and care about by the end of the book. Young and older readers alike will definitely gravitate to Ripley, the wild and hyperactive girl with an endearing innocence and kick-butt attitude that make it hard to not fall in love with her. That may be what makes this title standout the most: the emphasis on the friendship and love these friends have for one another. By the end of the book, readers feel like these girls are their friends, too!

IN THE CLASSROOM

  • Lumberjanes really handles character well, so one idea is to explore archetypes through the main characters and antagonists. Students could identify the ways the characters fit and break the archetypal character patterns, and then characterize themselves by connecting their own character traits to those of one of the main characters.
  • There’s a bit of mythology in this first volume as well, so students could explore the hero’s journey through Lumberjanes and connect it with texts from other cultural myths.
  • At the secondary level, students and teachers could examine feminist themes in the book, and explore the significance of the relationships between the young women in the book.
  • Throughout the series, women of historic importance are constantly getting shout-outs. It’s a great opportunity to pause the action and go look these women up, and talk about what their contributions were and why they are important to recognize.

Overall, Lumberjanes is a great book, that features a predominately female cast, and was created by an all-female creative team. The work they are doing is full of fun and adventure, and the characters will appeal to all genders, but this book does a great job of representation for all kinds of girls, from a wide range of experiences and backgrounds.