“Most people don't realize how important librarians are. I ran across a book recently which suggested that the peace and prosperity of a culture was solely related to how many librarians it contained. Possibly a slight overstatement. But a culture that doesn't value its librarians doesn't value ideas and without ideas, well, where are we?”
Neil Gaiman

Friday, December 28, 2012

Graphics As a Way to Increase Literacy

Groovy Graphics on the Rise

I am a huge supporter of graphic novels in the classroom.  In my opinion, a comic book, graphic novel, or picture book is no less of a book than a book without pictures.  They are all valid forms of literacy and beautiful art forms in and of themselves.  As we are growing to appreciate graphics, they continue to grow and diversify from those early comics.  I love the wonderful array that is beginning to appear.  Once comics were primarily about superheroes but now there are graphic stories in almost every genre and age group. 

I decided to go to ComicCon NY2012 to do a little browsing a see what I could find about the current graphic market.  Aside from the overpriced photo/autograph ops with film stars, there were some wonderful talks by authors at the event.  The authors didn’t charge for their autographs.  It was fun to see all of the costumed attendees.  I’m not sure I could stand an entire day of walking around dressed as Wonder Woman, although I do love dressing up for Halloween.  When Chuck Palahniuk spoke, he tossed out body parts into the audience.  Nothing like going home and saying, “Look!  I got one of Chuck’s legs!” 

What was I most impressed with at ComicCon from a librarian’s standpoint?  The diversity of the current graphic market represented– it has exploded over the past few years to include so many different types of stories and reading levels from pre-schoolers to adult.  There were an incredible number of up and coming young artists flooding the market who were exhibiting their work.  I am excited because new artists mean new books.  While graphic books can be digital, they are better when they are not digital.  They are part of my argument for the book not going away any time soon.  It is an art form. 

I loved Oni Press.  Oni Press has the pulse on new and fresh graphics that interest me as a school librarian.  I took several titles home and like all of them.  XOC by Matt Dembecki is a terrific book about a great white shark and a sea turtle cruising the ocean.  It is essentially a nature documentary in graphic novel form and is perfect for the biology classroom and any age library as a resource on sharks and the ocean.  It has a message about the environment from the animal perspective without over moralizing.  It also refers the reader to other resources.

 Ivy by Sarah Oleksyk is a story about a teen in a small town who is an artist.  She doesn’t get along with anyone and is dying to get away to someplace new.  She develops a long distance relationship with someone who seems to be her perfect match and gets a chance to find freedom.

 Play Ball by Nunzio Defilippis & Christina Weir, illustrated by Jackie Lewis, is an excellent story about a girl who wants to play baseball, not softball.  With encouragement from her parents, she tries out for the team and makes it.  Although she faces challenges, she sticks with it and gains support from friends and team members.  It is an inspiring story that will resonate with many young athletes.

Sidescrollers by Matt Loux was on the 2008 YALSA Top Ten Graphic Novel List.  It is a wonderful story, but it must be read in context and it is meant for older teens.  It has language and a potential date rape situation.  The story is about three boys who hang out together and play video games who find out that their friend is going to be a victim of date rape and decide to stand up to the school bully.  It is hilarious and the hijinks re not unlike real high school boys. 

 The book has been subject to controversy because of its language and sexual content.    School libraries often face questions about appropriateness of material.  Librarians rate material for young adults on a scale.  This particular book does have language and sexual content, but it is within context.   Having taught in a high school, the language is no different than the language I hear in the hallways.  The sexual content is a situation which, unfortunately, is all too real.  What is great about the book is the reaction of these wonderful boys who stand up to a bully in defense of their friend.  That is model behavior and should be lauded.

Finally, from Oni, I love the Crogan series by Chris Schweizer.   I read Crogan’s Loyalty & Crogan’s Vengeance.  These terrific books take a fresh look at history for middle readers.  They pose questions about perspective.  Crogan’s Loyalty places two brothers on opposite sides of the revolutionary war at the same table in a conversation.  In Crogan’s Vengeance Crogan has a to decide whether to stay with a captain with a grudge or take to the high seas as a pirate.  Middle school readers would benefit greatly from this series.

 Scholastic has the award-winning talent of Raina Telgemeier.  Her book Smile was highly lauded and is the true story of her own trials and tribulations through dental drama from middle school through high school.  She injures her front teeth in an accident after a fall and has to undergo surgery, braces, and other dental procedures to fix her teeth over the years.  What she discovers in the meantime is that looks aren’t everything and that she has outgrown her friends.  Drama is the story of Callie, a middle school student who loves the theater but can’t sing.  She decides to join the stage crew as a set designer and makes some surprising friendships.

 Another beautiful book I found at ComicCon was The Stuff of Legend by Mike Raicht & Brian Smith, illustrated by Charles Wilson.  The story is set in 1944 as WWII is breaking out in Europe.  In a little boy’s room in Brooklyn, the Boogeyman snatches him away  and takes him to the realm of The Dark.  His toys assemble and stage a rescue led by a toy soldier known as the Colonel.  The book was originally published as separate volumes but can now be purchased as one hardbound book.  It is beautifully illustrated and the story is appropriate for upper middle school through adult.

I’ve also found some fresh graphics on NetGalley.  My two favorites recently were Diana Thung’s August Moon and Jane Yolen’s new book in the Foiled series.  Diana Thung’s August Moon conjures up images of totaro stories from Japan in her classic good versus evil story where the children save the day against the evil Mr. Monkey.  The art is fun and whimsical with mostly black & white drawings.  Those who enjoy less traditional stories like The Cat Returns, Totaro, and Castle in the Sky will probably like this story.

 Curses! Foiled Again by Jane Yolen & Mike Cavallaro is the second book in the Foiled series.  It continues the adventures of the young fencer Aliera who finds herself tied to the faerie realm and under the protection of the high school’s heart throb.  Like Foiled, Curses! Is beautifully illustrated with a nail biting storyline that will keep teens interested from the first page to the last.  Yolen has written a story that combines fantasy, non-stop action, romance without making you want to vomit, and a sense of humor all written in an intelligent and fun graphic format.  It’s perfect for teens looking for a relaxing break from the academic grind.

I previously reviewed Picture the Dead by Adele Griffin and Lisa Brown and still think it is one of the most beautiful and creative graphics done in recent years, although they didn’t get nearly the attention I think they deserved.  The story is about a young woman who marries a soldier and he goes off to war.  His ghost is seen in a portrait of the family taken at local photo studio.  Is it real?

Graphics have become so popular that YALSA and ALA actually have separate reading lists for recommended graphics.  Two that I like for middle and high school readers that came out recently are Ichiro by Ryan Inazana and Chopsticks by Jessica Anthony & Rodrigo Corral.  Ichiro is the story of a teen living in New York with his Japanese mother after losing his American father to a war.  He goes to Japan to visit his grandfather and is out walking the streets where he finds himself abducted by a monster.  In a twist on the fall down the rabbit hole into Wonderland, he wakes up in the realm of gods and immortality.  The artwork is incredible and the storyline is thoughtful and original.  Completely different and yet equally compelling, Chopsticks is a story told through photos, memorabilia, artwork, text messages, YouTube links, notes, postcards, and brief written passages.  It tells the story of a young piano prodigy pushed to her limits and a troubled young boy her age who moves in next door.  It’s a mystery and an adventure with a surprise ending.

Elementary readers fell in love with graphics because of the comedic talents of Mr. Jeff Kinney and his wonderful cast of characters with whom so many kids can identify.  He has just released a 4th book in the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series - The Third Wheel!  So far, Jeff’s books show no sign of losing popularity, so keep on writing them Jeff!  They are flying off the elementary school shelves!  Readers of Jeff Kinney also tend to like Big Nate by Lincoln Pierce.

 A new book I found on NetGalley, Snorkeling With Sea-Bots is a graphic for the pre-school reader.  It is simple, cute, and funny.  Right on target for the audience!  Jess Bradley’s illustrations are adorable.  What little one wouldn’t love to find a magic button on the bottom of the ocean floor one day while snorkeling?  There is even a little inside joke for mom and dad with names like Rip and Eddy for the robots.  A trip at the beach may never be the same again.

 These are all just a sampling of what is available in the growing graphic arena.  I hope it inspires you to explore graphics if you haven’t yet or if you are already a fan, to try some of the new titles coming out.  Encourage your teachers and libraries to stock up on graphics as a way to keep as many kids reading for pleasure as possible.  Pleasure reading is directly correlated to literacy.  The more kids reading for pleasure, the higher the literacy rate!

Oni Press

By Sarah Oleksyk

Play Ball
By Nunzio Defilippis & Christina Weir illus. by Jackie Lewis

By Matt Loux

Crogan’s Loyalty, Crogan’s Vengeance
By Chris Schweizer

By Matt Dembecki

By Raina Telgemeimer

The Stuff of Legend
By Mike Raicht & Brian Smith  illus. by Charles Wilson

August Moon
By Diana Thung

Curses! Foiled Again
By Jane Yolen & Mike Cavallaro

Picture the Dead
By Adele Griffin and Lisa Brown

By Ryan Inazana

By Jessica Anthony & Rodrigo Corral

Diary of a Wimpy Kid
By Jeff Kinney

Big Nate
By Lincoln Pierce

Snorkeling With Sea-Bots
By Amy J. Lemke  Illus. By Jess Bradley

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