Review of Best Shot in the West: The Adventures of Nat Love

Written By: Patricia C McKissack and Frederick L McKissack Jr.
Illustrated by: Randy Duburke

REVIEW

Each era of American history has a distinct color and feel to it – from the black and white clad puritans, to the green camo of the boys in World War II, to the tie-died hippies marching for change. In the graphic novel Best Shot in the West (2012), writers Patricia and Fredrick McKissack and artist Randy Duburke give a new, unique take on the gritty world of post-Civil War America, a time commonly known as the Wild West. 

At its core, Best Shot in the West is the story of Nat Love – a former slave who becomes an unexpected cowboy. Starting with Nat’s life on a plantation, the graphic novel quickly transcends to a story of a man who not only traveled the vast expanse of the 50 states of America, but across several of iconic moments in American history.

The story begins when Nat is 11-years-old. The Civil War has ended and he and his family are free, but without prospects. Nat becomes the man of the house but has a taste for adventure, so after winning a bet and earning enough money, he bids his family good bye and set out to make his life in the Wild West.

Soon he finds himself an indispensable hand in a group of cowboys running cattle up and down the western prairies. His life is filled from with stampedes, nights under the stars, shoot outs and even a raid by the Pima Indians – who take Nat in rather than kill him because many of them too were of mixed race. Ultimately Nat settles in Denver, just in time to see another icon of American industry rise – the railroad.

Today, Nat Love is remembered by history as a daring cowboy, but sorting out reality from myth has been tricky for many historians. Best Shot in the West utilizes brief snapshots of his life – from growing up as a slave on a plantation, to becoming famed for his marksmanship, to being captured by Pima Indians – to transport the readers into his story.

The illustrations are strikingly reminiscent of old photos, battered by time. But the stories presented – through fact and historical fiction – tell of a young man determined not only to make a better life for himself but also to have the adventure of his life doing it. These pieces of history also provide a rich touchstone of personal context from which to look at slavery and wider race relations in America during the late 1800’s, the development of the west by pioneers, and the effect of industry on rural life.

But perhaps the most valuable aspect of Best Shot in the West is that it tells the story of an African American cowboy. The problem of visibility (or lack thereof) often creates a barrier for minority students in taking ownership of these pieces of American history as their own. By telling the stories of American people of color, this book provides a story that is accessible to students, and a protagonist that they can identify with whether they share his racial heritage or not.

THEMES

Cowboys, African Americans in the West, Growing up with financial hardship, Bravery in the face of danger, Believing in yourself.

IN THE CLASSROOM

The text is not full of terribly difficult words, so younger readers can easily digest the adventures of Nat Love, but the story structure itself is a little more complex. The book skips from moment to moment in Nat’s life, creating almost an anthology of stories…not all of which are in order.

This makes piecing together the various pieces of his life an interesting puzzle and will keep younger and older readers engaged. Here are some suggestions for use in your classroom:

  • HISTORY: Discuss the interplay between the various points of American history- How did the Civil War impact the development of the west? What would it be like to live from isolated life on a plantation to the full development of the railroad across the country? What kind of periods do you see yourself living through now and in the future? Discuss Colorado History – How did the culture of the “wild west” shape Colorado? How did the Railroads change Denver? How is Cowboy Culture still alive here?
  • LANGUAGE ARTS: Discuss the use of non-linear story telling. How does that choice benefit or detract from the story? Discuss representation of People of Color in American literature. How does this story compare to other classic portrayals like in Huckleberry Finn, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, or To Kill a Mockingbird?
  • ART: Discuss Color Theory – How does the author use black and white and color illustrations together? What is the impact? What does the progression of color throughout the comic tell you about the story?  

CONCLUSION

Woven throughout all the history in Best Shot in the West is a story that shines through of a young man living an incredible version of the American dream. He started a slave and became one of the most famous shots in the west – a celebrity of his time. He was never rich, but he made his aspirations come true, married someone he loved, and created a life that he was proud of when he could have sunk into apathy so easily.

It is this grit that can be used to spark discussions among students about their own aspiration, goals and the obstacles to reach them. By reading about Nat Love’s incredible journey in Best Shot in the West, they will hopefully be better able to see what stands in the way of these dreams, and how can those obstacles be overcome.

Solution Squad Review

 

By Hannah Jorgensen

REVIEW

As I read Solution Squad, I had a vivid flashback to little 5th grade Hannah sitting in a classroom learning math. I can clearly remember learning about prime numbers and factors out of the workbooks that we always had to use and which I loathed with all of my small being.

In fact, most of my elementary school math memories are not remembered fondly. Staring at a board looking at numbers that I couldn’t picture in the same way that a book allowed me to imagine things fatigued me. I simply never liked math, but reading Solution Squad makes me wonder if I might’ve liked it more had my teacher’s approach to teaching the subject been a little bit more fun.

This book, a collection of several Solution Squad comics, one illustrated prose story, lesson plans and more, is creative in how it combines a classic superhero comic with mathematic principles. The heroes are living embodiments of various mathematical concepts, which makes learning the concepts they encounter fun and accessible to kids. Topics like prime numbers, train problems, the four steps of problem solving, and the coordinate system among others are exemplified through storylines that are engaging and fun to read.

The heroes are clever personifications of math concepts. Absolutia can raise or lower temperature, symbolizing positive and negative numbers, and absolute value being the energy spent no matter the direction. In one character, the comic effectively demonstrates what I remember being the frustrating and hard to understand concept of negative numbers.

It is more than just a character explaining the mathematical concept, but rather an active demonstration of it so that kids can effectively picture it. Kids have a way to picture absolute value and what it truly means, instead of teachers just saying its any number without it’s negative sign, and that being that. Instead of being told, kids get to see. And that is just one character. The book is filled with clever applications of math like this.

USING SOLUTION SQUAD IN THE CLASSROOM

  • MATH: These comics are great for use as a supplement in a math curriculum. While there aren’t enough issues to exclusively teach an entire math course through the comics, they are highly helpful for the topics that are covered, like prime numbers and basic algebra. The book comes with ready-made lesson plans to use in conjunction with the comics in a classroom.
  • INTERDISCIPLINARY APPROACH: Or, consider crossing over into other disciplines. The focus of the comics is of course math, but elements of storytelling and other literary conventions are present and worth analyzing as well. Comics are a great way to introduce kids to analyzing literature, and this comic is no different.
  • DIVERSITY: These comics are incredibly inclusive in their portrayals of different genders and races. One comic contains a moment where the team’s assumption of a villain’s gender causes them to be unable to solve the mystery until the assumption is challenged. This type of casual moment promoting inclusion and very literally challenging assumptions is important in the continued promotion of tolerance and acceptance in schools and in our lives in general. 

CONCLUSION

Young, small Hannah would’ve loved this book in a classroom. By combining visual elements with mathematic principles the book effectively makes learning math more fun and interesting than any workbook ever could, which could inspire children to not look at math as something boring but a whole other world worthy of interest.

Any math teacher looking to engage students in a new way and make math more enjoyable and easy to visualize should consider using Solution Squad as a tool in your STEM curriculum.

PCC Celebrates a Successful Round of Summer 2017 Workshops (Part 2)

Between June and August of 2017, PCC conducted over 100 hours of programming at 24 different libraries, schools and community centers across the Front Range.

Below are some of our favorite highlights (part 2) from our summer 2017 workshops. A tremendous thank you to the many students, PCC teachers, and sites that made these workshops a success! Read Part 1 by clicking here

YMCA of Metro Denver – Power Scholar Academies  

For the 3rd year in a row, PCC again partnered this summer with the YMCA of Metro Denver to offer programs at two of their Denver-based Power Scholar Academies, K-6 programs meant to boost students’ math and reading confidence while preventing them from falling behind their peers over the summer.

This year, PCC ran Game On!, its cutting-edge game design program, during YMCA programs at Wyatt Academy and Omar D. Blair Charter School, helping 2nd-5th grade students to develop vital critical thinking, literacy and problem solving skills in a collaborative environment.

Over 6 weeks, students were tasked with creating a complete and playable board game – including everything from a game materials to boards to instructions – giving them the chance to build self-confidence, creativity and connections to their peers in these fun, play-based workshops.

According to PCC instructor Shawn Bowman, in the Power Scholars workshops “we stressed the importance of writing as a process for game building and the role of designers in communicating rules and themes. These young scholars built a number of creative projects from a hilarious card game based on Just Dance to a multi-level board where angles and demons fight in the after-life.  Their enthusiasm for experimentation with concepts and different game play mechanics illustrated the many creative and analytic parts of our brain we engage when we build games. It was inspiring.”

A Wyatt Academy student tests out designs for her game board. During Game On!, students design and plan out every part of their game with the help of PCC instructors and resources.

A member of the YMCA plays a real-life game with Omar D. Blair students to help them discover ideas for their own games.

PCC instructor Robin Childs helps an Omar D. Blair student brainstorm how the materials will be used in her game.

Students at Omar D. Blair work on the design for their games. PCC provides boxes for students to keep their board game materials in, which students then decorate.

For the final steps of the Game On! program, students work together to playtest another student’s game and then provide constructive feedback to their peers.

Jefferson County Public Library – Comic Creation Workshops

 Thanks to the generous support of the Jefferson County Public Library (JeffCo) this summer, PCC was fortunate enough to offer comic creation workshops at 10 different JeffCo library sites up and down the Front Range!

During these 1-hour workshops, students were given a quick overview of the building blocks of a comic book, from character design through panel layout, followed by a drawing lesson. Over the summer, PCC was able to introduce and engage 150 students in comics at these 10 different libraries, both spurring their creativity and self-expression and giving them the basic tools and knowledge to develop more comics of their own at home!

PCC instructor Shawn Bowman, who taught many of the JeffCo comic workshops, explained that this was a “fantastic opportunity for us to spend time with young artists in the community, some in more remote locations where kids might not have the opportunity to interact with writers and artists as frequently. At some of the smaller workshops we were even able to cater the lesson around a specific skill or area where the kids wanted to work, like drawing lessons for monsters or techniques for mapping out a full comic storyline.”

A group of JeffCo students work together to build their comics!

A group of JeffCo students work together to build their comics!

PCC Instructor and comic book artist Dan Conner helps a JeffCo library workshop participant create his first comic.

 

Youth One Book, One Denver (YOBOD) 2017

 For its  3rd year, PCC partnered with the Youth One Book, One Denver (YOBOD), a summer reading program designed for 9- to 12-year-olds. During the 6-week program, students were offered fun activities and events related to the book Upside Down Magic in order to enhance their reading experience and combat learning loss.

PCC was proud to offer 4 unique workshops at sites throughout Metro Denver in support of YOBOD. Sites included the Sun Valley Youth Center, Johnson Boys & Girls Club, Colfax Elementary, and Heart & Hand Prep Academy.

These workshops focused on everything from designing creatures to creating a board games and comics based on Upside Down Magic, giving students the opportunity to deepen their reading experience and respond to book with their own creative projects.

Adam Kullberg, PCC’s Education Program Manager, says the “YOBOD workshops are a great opportunity PCC has every summer to engage at-risk students in reading and provide them pathways to success, whether it be in their schools or their communities or both, through pop culture. We love being part of the YOBOD program and hope to continue with it in summer 2018!”

A big thank you to the Denver Arts & Venues and Parks & Rec for making these workshops a reality and supporting early literacy development all across Colorado!

Students at Colfax Elementary play games based on Upside Down Magic in groups, giving them a chance to engage more deeply with the book and tackle some important themes and topics from it.

In our “Creature Design” workshop, students were given an art lesson and then given time to draw magical creatures from Upside Down Magic and ones they created themselves.

 

THANK YOU FOR ALL THESE WONDERFUL OPPORTUNITIES! 

Overall, we were thrilled with the outcome of our workshops this summer! It was such a rewarding experience to help students across Colorado improve their literacy, creativity, critical thinking and ability to express themselves.

As a reminder, it’s your support of Pop Culture Classroom and its annual program, Denver Comic Con, that allows us to continue offering these opportunities. So we want to especially to thank all our fans and attendees who have helped us connect with students, educators and organizations all across the state of Colorado – and beyond!

To learn more about workshops or request one at your school or site, please visit www.popcultureclassroom.org/workshops or reach out to us directly at info@popcultureclassroom.org.

We look forward to impacting more young lives with the power of pop culture!

 

PCC Celebrates a Successful Round of Summer 2017 Workshops! (Part 1)

This past summer, Pop Culture Classroom was hard at work developing and running pop-culture based workshops for diverse sites and students all throughout Colorado! These workshops are all part of PCC’s educational mission to inspire, engage and ignite students’ love of learning using the tools of pop culture – including comics, board games, cosplay and so much more!

Between June and August of 2017, PCC conducted over 100 hours of programming at 24 different libraries, schools and community centers across the Front Range.

These innovative workshops gave us the chance to work with almost 500 students over the summer. Students ranged from 2nd graders through high school seniors, and represented an incredible array of talents, interests and backgrounds.

Below are some of our favorite highlights from our summer 2017 workshops. A tremendous thank you to the many students, PCC teachers, and sites that made these workshops a success!

Greenwood Village – Art in the Park

Our summer started with lots of comics and clothe! As part of the Greenwood Village Art in the Park summer series, PCC offered two workshops – “Superhero Design” and “Cosplay 101” – for younger students 6-10. These workshops were a great way to give early childhood and elementary learners the chance to engage with pop culture and learn the ins & outs of comics and costume-making!

In the Cosplay 101 workshop, students created outfits for their superhero personas! Here, an Art in the Park volunteer shows off her DIY costume to a younger student.

Students drew and created backstories for a hero and villain in the Superhero Design workshop!

Even our instructors, Terra Necessary and Rebecca Silva, got in on the fun!

African Community Center – Refugee Youth Workshops

One of the most exciting new opportunities this summer was PCC’s involvement with the African Community Center and their efforts to help refugees rebuild safe, sustainable lives in Denver.

This summer, PCC participated as a partner and program provider for ACC’s OnTRAC (Training Refugees Accessing College) youth program, which seeks to support refugees by offering college literacy lessons, while honoring their identities, experiences and strengths. PCC offered 2 summer workshops as part of this innovative program, with the goal of using Storytelling Through Comics, PCC’s comics creation program, as a way to help these refugee students improve their literacy skills and prepare for college applications.

In each workshop, refugee students were tasked with creating a comic or comic strip reflecting a journey or moment of personal growth, helping them visualize and develop compelling stories to serve as the foundations for their future college applications and scholarship essays.

According to ACC’s OnTRAC coordinator Yazan Fattaleh, “Pop Culture Classroom’s comic workshop helped our students understand their own stories, and how they can articulate them in more creative ways to increase their confidence. The PCC team did a great job connecting scholarship essays and comics for our students, most of whom had never seen a comic book before.” 

An OnTRAC student works to finish her final comic. Graphic novels like Persepolis, American Born Chinese and Ms. Marvel served as great models for their own stories of personal growth and transformation.

OnTRAC students work together to complete an in-class drawing activity meant to help them create and layout panels for their comic stories.

An OnTRAC student shows offer early designs of her comic character.

Participants in the OnTRAC workshop pose for a photo with PCC instructors Shawn Bowman and Erik Jacobson. Jacobson said he “loved meeting so many enthusiastic, polite, hardworking young men and women from so many different countries. Everyone had different strengths, yet they all produced something impressive by the end of the workshop.”

A few of the OnTRAC participants show off their final comics with PCC instructor Brack Lee.

 

To be continued…

Webcomics for the Classroom: Part 2 (Web Comic Hosting Sites)

For all but the most financially sound school districts, it can be a struggle to convince penny-pinching department chairs to make a heavy investment in a hard copy set of graphic novels or student-wide Comixology access.

Luckily, the internet can still surprise with its infinite array of resources of such high quality that they have no business being free. With nothing but a half-decent computer lab, your students can still explore comics by accessing web comic hosting websites.

Although this is by no means an exhaustive list, below are three web comic hosting websites that could provide you with worthy content for your classroom. These amazing hubs of creative expression let users browse through the passion projects of thousands of aspiring comic artists at no cost (with most offering a link for donations, of course.) Stories from every genre and of every length are posted page-by-page over months or years until a truly impressive library of works builds up for public consumption.

Now, only in our dreams would these free comic stories come with pre-made lesson plans. As an educator, you’ll need to comb through them to find the sort of works that would fit your class’ subject, objective, and maturity level. To make it easier for newcomers, though, I’ve picked out some exciting and age-appropriate up-and-coming webcomics from each site for you to check out.

Happy hunting! And be sure to check out Webcomic in the Classroom: Part 1 to learn about the other great webcomics out there.

 

FREE WEBCOMICS HOSTING SITES

 

1. Tapas

I credit my discovery of these resources to one of my students who first turned me on to Tapas. She invited me to read the beginning of her story and give a little feedback. One of the advantages of using websites like this is that grade-level material is easy to find because some of it is created by artists at grade-level!

As a website, Tapas is a little clunky. Clicking on links takes you counterintuitively to the last page of a work with no way to quickly jump back to the first. There is an iOS app that works more smoothly, but not every class has access to iPads! The best way to quickly lead students to a story would be to find the URL of the first page and hyperlink it for them.

Promising Comic: Heroes of Thantopolis

A boy wakes up with no memories of his previous life to find himself thrust into a war to protect Thantopolis, the city of the dead. I can definitely see this being used in a junior high or even elementary school English class.

 

2. Smack Jeeves

This website seems to be the most well-designed of the three listed here. It also seems to provide a very rare and powerful safe space for authors and artists with an LGBT perspective. Beyond that, a great deal of diverse characters seem to occupy this space. This might be my first choice to mine for material if I were working in an urban setting or if I want to expose my students to other cultures & viewpoints (and I always do!)

Promising Comic: Joseph and Yusra

While Marvel gets into trouble by calling into question the validity of diversity as a sales strategy, a contributor to Smack Jeeves named KawaiiYusra has paired up a Jewish boy with a Muslim girl as they flirt while fighting extradimensional beings with magical guitars and hammers. Yes. A thousand times Yes.

 

3. Comic Fury

Comic Fury offers something unique and immediately useful: it very helpfully tags each comic with a warning label for content like Violence or Sex. It let me zero in on appropriate material much more quickly than the other two. Beyond that the site has a retro, almost 90’s style that frequent childhood visitors to dial-up internet will appreciate.

Promising Comic: Abby Normal

Abby Normal, a Frankenstein-type zombie and a charming homage to Mel Brooks, tries to solve the mystery of her death with her sidekicks Petunia the Ghost and Benedict the talking-brain-in-a-jar. Although it’s macabre, the atmosphere is earnest and funny.

 

IN CONCLUSION

Web comics are an excellent, zero-budget way to start thinking visually. If things go well, then maybe it’s time to start exploring the ways that comics and graphic novels can bring new life to your teaching. And while these are a great start, keep in mind they don’t even scratch the surface of all the great webcomics out there.

And keep an eye out for Part 3 to get more examples and suggestions!

Review of Beowulf by Gareth Hinds

 

By Erik Kallenborn

For the past few years, I’ve been lucky enough to travel the country, speaking about the benefits of comics and graphic novels in the classroom, helping many teachers get started with the medium in their own classrooms along the way.

There are many roads that led to where the Comics Education Outreach is at this point in time, and a lot of our success comes from the partnership with Pop Culture Classroom; they saw and acknowledged our passion and were gracious enough to take us on as one of their many amazing programs. But I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention or give partial credit to Gareth Hinds’ version of Beowulf for our success as well.

Gareth Hinds’ amazing adaptation of the classic epic poem Beowulf has been a staple in my classroom for over five years, and my kids continue to find new aspects of the graphic novel to explore. My exploration of the relationship between reading time and assessment scoring even sparked a Chicago newspaper to cover a story about my usage of the graphic medium.

As teachers in a sea of sub-par classical adaptations, we have to find the gems. An adaptation of a long-taught classic that is engaging and relatable, Beowulf is a great translation and students dig it. The art and lack of text make this book work wonderfully in the classroom as an entryway into classic literature!

Using Beowulf In the Classroom

1.) Literary Analysis: While reading and discussing this title, students can engage in discussions on tone, mood, symbolism, pacing, plot, characterization, etc. If discussing character and author intent are your things, you need to teach this book; it has everything an English teacher needs.

2.) Art Analysis: The book is crafted in such a way that this title can also be an educator’s entryway into teaching the graphic novel medium. Along with the normal English classroom discussions going, you can layer discussions of color shift, graphic weight, panel layout, inference, etc. Add as much or as little as you like based on your conformability with comics and graphic novels. On his website, Hinds even provides sketches and a teacher’s guide as materials for classroom application.

 

3.) Engaging Different Types of Learners: Students can write about this title with as much familiarity and confidence as if they had read the classic epic poem. As someone that has used this book in an AP Literature class in which half of the students read the graphic novel, and half of the students read the adapted poem after which the graphic novel is created, I can say with certainty that, when the students write about the story, you will be hard-pressed to discover which student read which version.

 

4.) Text Pairing: If replacing the original text scares you or seems off-putting, pair them! Beowulf has the ability to be used as a paired text with the original version. Allow the images in the graphic novel to supplement the text and aid with understanding and comprehension. There are even some great essay prompts waiting to be created that will allow students to compare and contrast the text to the graphic novel, such as essays about characterization, Hinds’ edits, tone, and so on.

In Conclusion

If you are interested in learning more about the book and its classroom application, my fellow teacher Ronell Whitaker and I will be the Keynote speakers with Gareth Hinds at the closing of NCTE (National Council for Teachers of English) discussing our continued work with his books in our classrooms. It is a great honor to have been asked, and it will be an amazing opportunity to continue to speak about this fantastic book and its benefits to educators.

As you can see, there is a lot that any excited educator can do with this book. I implore you to check it out if you have not done so already. Let me know if you dig it, what you do with it, and how your kids like it. I wish you the best of luck and hope you see the success with this book in the classroom that I did!

 

Eric Kallenborn is a Chicago-based high school teacher and comic book aficionado. He can be contacted on social media @comics_teacher and over email at e.kallenborn@popcultureclassroom.org.


Denver Comic Con Education Wrap-Up (Part 2)

Educator’s Day 2017 Offers Exciting Opportunities for Teachers

Over the past four years, Educator’s Day has given over 1,000 teachers, librarians, administrators and other educators the opportunity to receive a free Friday pass to Denver Comic Con. The goal of Educator’s Day is to help these educators incorporate the power of pop culture in a classroom as a way to engage and inspire students.

In 2017, Denver Comic Con featured over 200 hours of panels and programs geared toward educators from all different backgrounds and grade levels. Panels ranged from using comic books in the classroom to LGBTQ issues to Drawing 101 workshops, and everything in between.

As Bruce MacIntosh says, the programs at DCC’17 were “well attended by both educators and students. We are encouraged to expand beyond this year’s 220 education focused panels for next year!”

By giving educators the opportunity to attend DCC and select from the wide variety of educational panels offered, they learned about new and exciting ways to connect with students inside and outside of the classroom.

Illya Kowalchuk says Denver Comic Con “from year one, has always been about supporting and empowering educators….It’s also about giving them this unique space to share these amazing ideas and resources and tools that they can then bring back to their students and schools to show just how transformative pop culture-based education can be.”

2017 Kids’ Comics Contest Winners Meet with the Pros

Our annual Kids’ Comic Contest is PCC’s way of encouraging young artists to continue in their work and be inspired to pursue a career doing what they love.

In 2017, we selected 4 talented grand-prize winners from elementary through high school. As part of their prize for their outstanding art and creativity, the winners attended Denver Comic Con on Sunday to have a special lunch with talented professional comic artists Franco and Ty Templeton.

Congratulations to the winners for their wonderful artwork, and another thank you to the amazing artists for donating their time to chat! You can see the winners’ winning comic entries here.

The 2018 Kids’ Comics Contest submissions will open later this year, so stay tuned!

First-Ever Educator of the Year Award Winners Visit DCC!

Our first-ever Pop Culture Educator of the Year Award Winners attended Denver Comic Con this year! Awarded for the exceptional work they have put into bringing pop culture into their classrooms and communities, these four educators were recognized before and during DCC’17 for their ability to innovate, engage and inspire their students.

We are pleased to recognize and honor their hard work! To learn about each of the award-winners, you can read more here.

And if you have someone you’d like to nominate, don’t worry – submissions for the 2018 Educator of the Year Awards will open later this year!

From the Bottom of Our Heart, Thank You!

Our utmost thanks to all the fans, exhibitors, artists, creators, cosplayers, educators, families and so many others who made Denver Comic Con and our educational programming a success this year!

It’s your incredible support of this event that makes these opportunities and PCC’s year-round educational programming possible. Be sure to join us for Denver Comic Con 2018 for even more fun and inspiring programming!

Denver Comic Con 2017 Education Wrap-Up! (Part 1)

At this year’s Denver Comic Con, Pop Culture Classroom celebrated diversity, fun and education through a variety of exciting and unique programming. Our guests, volunteers, students, teachers and programmers created and participated in a fantastic line up of education-focused activities and programs all throughout the weekend.

Here are some of our favorite highlights from the educational programming at this year’s Denver Comic Con. Enjoy!

The Expanded Pop Culture Classroom Kids’ Lab Blasts into 2017

This year’s Pop Culture Classroom’s Kids’ Laboratory, our all-ages area on the show floor 100% dedicated to kids and teens, returned in 2017 with more space and activities than ever before!

As Director of Programming, Bruce MacIntosh explains, “The changes to the Kids Lab this year were a smashing success, as we added even more space to make it 10,000 square feet of events, panel and activities just for kids, including two large stages for guest speakers, the all-ages stage and the 8-Bit stage.”

Among the interactive activities this year were edible water bottles, pizza gardens and hand-made paper jewelry, helping engage kids with their community and the environment.

According to PCC Kids’ Lab Manager, Becky Franks-Cassidy, “This year, the focus of the Lab shifted to provide educational experiences that would empower tends and children to make a difference and think about how they can be super heroes in their own worlds…. And as always, almost all of our activities in the Lab fell under 2 letters of STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, Math).”

As a bonus, the 8-Bit Stage and the All-Ages Stage brought kids face-to-face with professional creators, artists and scholars throughout the weekend, including everyone from NASA scientists to celebrity voice actors, allowing youths to be inspired in a more intimate venue and learn about careers in the sciences and arts.

A big thank you to all the guests who spent time speaking to kids and encouraging the next generation of creators!

Experience the Comix Brings in Most Kids Ever – For Free!

Experience the CoMix (ETC), sponsored by Illegal Pete’s, is Pop Culture Classroom’s annual program that provides middle and high school students from local schools and community organizations the opportunity to experience a day at Denver Comic Con – and all for free! For DCC’17, we were able to offer ETC passes to more students than ever before, with over 300 students attending.

This groundbreaking program provided these students time to interact with artists, authors, and other creators, attend panels, and learn first-hand what a career in pop culture might be like.

Students are also tasked with completing a scavenger hunt during the day, fueling their curiosity and encouraging them to visit areas of DCC they might otherwise miss. As a bonus, those who completed this “hunt” were rewarded with 3-day passes to let the fun continue through the weekend!

PCC’s Education Program Manager, Adam Kullberg, says that the ETC program “provides students from all different backgrounds the chance to really learn about what makes Denver Comic Con unique, and to engage one-on-one with these amazing artists and creators from all over the world.”

“Our ultimate hope for ETC is that the students return home with this realization that they really can take their hobbies, their talents and their natural creativity and turn them into something powerful that helps change their schools and communities for the better.”

PCC Announces All-New Excellence in Graphic Literature Awards

Announced at a special ceremony during DCC’17, the Excellence in Graphic Literature Awards will launch in 2018 and aims to celebrate the best in fiction and non-fiction graphic novels, honoring the creators, publishers and educators using graphic literature to ignite a love of learning in classrooms worldwide.

“More than four years ago, we set out to establish a new class of awards that recognizes the best in graphic novel publishing, but that also supports and encourages the increasing use of graphic novels in the educational market,” says Illya Kowalchuk, director of education for Pop Culture Classroom.

“To do that, one of our biggest goals is to create a program that ultimately benefits educators, librarians and retailers, by shining a spotlight on the use of graphic literature to inspire students at every reading level,” adds Kowalchuk. “We are honored to have some of the greatest minds in the public library and school library systems contributing as advisors and judges, along with academic educators, K-12 specialists, and industry luminaries.”

Award categories for the inaugural year are planned to include Book of the Year, Best in Educational Comics, Best New Voice, Innovator Award, Diversity Award and more!

To be continued…

American Born Chinese, Review

 

By Michael Gianfrancesco

 

REVIEW

The brainchild and signature book of author/artist Gene Yang, the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, the graphic novel American Born Chinese has won its share of awards. For students and educators alike, the novel offers a wonderful story that touches on many common themes, motifs and content areas while providing students opportunities to engage in critical analysis and self-examination within your classroom.

The novel contains three stories that begin separately, intertwine throughout the book, and eventually converge at the end, bringing all the themes together into a single resolution.

The first story introduced is that of the Monkey King of Chinese legend and his quest for respect and humility.

The second is about a young boy named Jin Wang and his struggle to be accepted as one of few Asian students in a primarily white school.

And the third is a pseudo sitcom featuring Danny and his (offensive) Chinese stereotype of a cousin Chin-Kee.

Without giving too much away, American Born Chinese finds its way to a compromise for all the characters and offers surprising twists, particularly in terms of how the three stories unite into one in the last chapter. Each story has its own compelling characters, a focus on the ups and downs of culture traditions, and a need to forge a path that includes, but is not dominated by, familial heritage.

The characters learn that, while we are at least partially defined by our cultural traditions and upbringing, it just one component of who we are. Likewise, we cannot ignore our heritage, no matter how much we wish we could. The characters are forced to find a balance between their personal desires to be like everyone else and their Chinese ancestries, or, in the case of the Monkey King, his species.

The book is colorfully illustrated and draws on religious and spiritual iconography, particularly when following the Monkey King’s story. Though sometimes jarring, the transitions between each individual tale are well crafted and readers will find themselves moving quickly from one page to the next.

IN THE CLASSROOM

Educators will want to pace their students to ensure that they are spending as much time analyzing the artwork and the subtleties of what Yang is “showing” as they are on reading what he is “telling.” Some potential uses in the classroom include:

  • Talk about the themes of heritage and culture. Have your students create minicomics or short stories that explode a cultural moment in their lives. Have them share them with the class and create a sort of “international week” out of the unit.
  • The theme of identity is very strong in this novel. In particular, the book talks about changing the way you look in order to either set yourself apart or to hide within a sea of identical faces. This could be a part of a sociology unit where the class discusses what happens when you cannot hide how you look (unlike the characters in the novel who literally change their physical appearances) and must face the potential discrimination on the basis of the way you look.
  • The character of Chin-Kee is an offensive stereotype of someone of Chinese descent. This can spawn conversation about parody and the nature of exposing ignorance through the use of a stereotyped character or situation. Have them debate the appropriateness of Chin-Kee and discuss how and why this character exists in the novel and what Yang is trying to say through his presence.
  • Have students research the Chinese Gods featured in the novel or, alternately, you can assign other ancient mythological deities (Norse, Roman, Greek, Egyptian) and have students create a story or comic featuring characters derived from those sources and include how they might interact with modern humans.
  • Pair this text with YA novels like the Percy Jackson series that utilize ancient gods in a similar manner. Have students compare/contrast the authors’ choices in each work.

IN CONCLUSION

American Born Chinese is a relevant and poignant story about personal understanding that does not pull its punches when it comes to taking on racist concepts levied against those of Asian descent. The novel exposes these stereotypes and forces the reader to confront their own conscious or unconscious prejudices, while at the same time offering an empathetic view for anyone who might feel that their culture has made them a target.

Though it may seem simple in nature, Gene Yang’s expertly crafted graphic novel takes on these complicated themes masterfully and offers a thought provoking narrative which will certainly offer you and your students plenty to talk about.

 

All images (c) Gene Luen Yang.

Comics and Reluctant Learners: Dispelling the Myths

 

By Michael Gianfrancesco

 

I have been doing this whole “teaching with comics” thing for nearly 15 years and I am fortunate enough to have the opportunity to work with teachers all over the country. During panels and workshops, I find that I often hear (or overhear) a specific remark: “I love these books. They’re great for my reluctant readers.”

When I hear teachers say things like this, or that comics are only for the “kids who don’t like to read,” I feel they’re buying into a common myth: that reluctant readers are the only ones who can benefit from comics. While it’s true that comics and graphic novels do work well with reluctant readers, that’s precisely because they work well with nearly all readers. Rather than relegated to only the most struggling students, comics can be useful – even invaluable – for elementary all the way up to College Preparatory or even Advanced Placement classes, offering up countless opportunities for teachers and administrators to better engage their students.

For my part, I use comics with all my students who vary in gender, age, and academic performance – from reluctant to engaged and everything in between. Of course, curation is key here. Should you decided to take on the challenge and joy of teaching with comics in your classroom, it is important to understand what titles you have to choose from and the complexity level of these texts – particularly if you are not familiar with them – as some of them are every bit as complex as their chapter-based counterparts. For example, while I’d avoid handing a difficult book like Maus or Persepolis to a student who struggles with reading, I would also be hesitant to hand an elementary-level Smile to an 11th or 12th grade honors or college prep group.

See, that’s the rub! With the diverse range of comics available today, it’s hard to know exactly what works best for your students – especially if you’re new to comics. To help, I have taken the liberty of listing some great examples below, along with a few of the themes that the texts take on to help you decide how to work them into your curriculum:

 

Elementary/Middle School Level:

Anya’s Ghost by Vera Brosgol

 
An emotional coming of age story about trust, betrayal and acceptance of fate.

Ghostopolis by Doug TenNapel

 
A fantasy epic which explores the concepts of responsibility, reaching one’s potential, and understanding what family is really all about.

The Eternal Smile or American Born Chinese by Gene Yang

 
Three short stories which shatter the concepts of identity, reality, and the ability to be satisfied with our lives.

The Secret Science Alliance and the Copycat Crook  by Eleanor Davis

 
Illustrates the importance of critical thinking, teamwork and understanding of natural laws to solve practical problems.

Astronaut Academy (Series) by Dave Roman


Lots of short attention span stories that tie together into a larger narrative that explores emotion, science and self-awareness.

The Human Body Theatre by Maris Wicks


All of the systems of the human body join readers on stage in a comical and scientifically accurate exploration of anatomy.

Smile or Sisters by Raina Telgemeier

 
True stories of the author’s life which explore family, friendship, growth and the challenges of passing from one stage of life to another.

Awkward by Svetlana Chmakova


Trying to connect to others and maintain some sort of identity amongst peers is the biggest challenge the characters face here.

Nimona by Noelle Stevenson

 
The story of a long-standing rivalry between a hero and a villain that blurs the line of what is bad and what is good.

 

High School Level:

Maus by Art Speigelman

 
The true story of a couple who survived Auschwitz told through the eyes of the son of the survivors. Pain, loss, survival and redemption are just a few of the themes explored.

Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

 
Satrapi’s real life experiences growing up in Iran and Europe during and after the Islamic revolution in the 80’s.

Superman: American Alien by Max Landis


Superman is an iconic character, and there are many stories that have been told about him, but none like the ones in this book. Each tale conjuring a different emotion than the last, this book offers amazing new perspectives of the Man of Steel.

Batman: Year One by Frank Miller


Batman’s initial successes and failures as a costumed hero are fraught with pain, persistence and an unquenched desire for justice.

I Kill Giants by Joe Kelly

 
The role of an outsider is never an easy one. This story takes the concept of the other and multiplies it exponentially.

Ghost World by Daniel Clowes


Identity and the path to the future are not always evident.

Pride of Baghdad by Brian K. Vaughan


War harms everyone, even the animals in a zoo hit during a bombing run.

V for Vendetta by Alan Moore

 
Dystopia, anarchy, revolution and the danger of unchecked authority.

The texts above are just a start. If you decide to start with your struggling readers by passing some comics into their hands, just keep in mind that this is where you should be beginning, not ending, your intervention. When you are comfortable with their effectiveness and your ability to implement them successfully, you can take the next step and bring these texts to your other, higher achieving students!

It may take some time but, in my experience, it usually does not take long to discover those books that will make your reading-loving students eager to explore and be challenged by new types of texts, topics, and content.