Category Archives: graphic novel

Don Wood’s Into the Volcano

Wow. Don Wood’s Into the Volcano is one powerhouse of a graphic novel that you won’t want to miss. In fact, as far as missing goes, I almost missed my bus stop so engrossed was I in this totally wild adventure in and under and around an erupting volcano. The word gripping is completely apt for this (here comes another trite but accurate word) roller coaster of a read. Wood grabs you on the first page as brothers Duffy and Sumo are called out of their classroom to meet their father who immediately turns them over to a cousin they have never met before, the burly Come-And-Go. Before any of us can take a breath, the two boys (who appear to be between 8 and 12 years of age) are flying off to their just-learned-about mother’s home island of Kocalaha. Once there they and we are thrown into an extraordinary adventure involving questionable people (are they good or bad?), an erupting volcano, secrets (of every sort), life and death circumstances, heart-stopping moments (many of them!), and family ties. A truly brilliant work. It is due out in October; be sure to look out for it!


Filed under graphic novel

In the Classroom: Alice in Comic Land

There has been a lot of buzz of late about teaching with graphic novels. Having been a comic fan from way back (and I have my old Superman comics to prove it), I jumped on that bandwagon long ago. This fall, for example, I did a whole unit with Shaun Tan’s The Arrival. (Posts on my teaching this book to my 4th graders are here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here, this last being when Shaun Tan came to my classroom).

But this post is about kids making their own comics. For many years I’ve been been doing a unit called The Many Faces of Alice. It involves my reading aloud Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland while my students read along from my large collection of illustrated editions, a lot of discussion about the book, and then a project. Last summer I was introduced to Comic Life and so that is what we used this year for the project. The results are wonderful and I urge teachers with adequate technology and support to consider using it for projects of their own.

First of all, Comic Life is an easy-to-use program to make comics. I experimented with it last summer and decided that I was definitely going to use it for my Alice project this year. It was amazing. I’d been preparing the kids-technologywise all year for this. In particular, they were highly adapt at scanning and saving images. (A quick and easy way to use Comic Life is with photos, but I recommend using it with kid art — train them to scan the work in. As you will see when you look at their comics, they results are fantastic and well worth it.)

Since I think this would work well for other books, here is what I did:

1. After finishing our book study, I gave each child a copy of the book’s Table of Contents and asked them to number in order of preference their favorite chapters. I then paired the children up according to this. As always happens, kids somehow always get their first or second choices. I think this may be because Alice is so quirky that the different chapters all appeal to different kids.

2. We asked the children to come up with a list of ten scenes, a script, and a storyboard. Once those were okay they began their illustrations. These they scanned in and used to create their comics. What was very cool is that they were able to reuse these images in a variety of ways. They would draw an Alice, for example, and then print her out in various sizes, stick her on another background, and scan that image in. Along the way, my wonderful partner in crime, Ellen Nickles, did several lessons on Comic Life.

3. During the unit we asked the children to do a series of blog posts describing their process.

4. We premiered the comic at the annual Alice in Wonderland Tea Party! (Some wonderful costumes this year, by the way.)

What I find really wonderful is how perfect Carroll’s work was for this medium. The kids absolutely know comics and used the panels, speech bubbles, and more to great effect in their work. And of course, they played off Carroll is clever ways — parodying his parodies (see the tea party for a new take on “Twinkle Twinkle, Little Star”), adding in little bits (an earthquake, for example, in the trial scene), a wheelchair for poor Bill (created by a child who was in one earlier in the year), and so forth.

And so, in addition to using comics in the classroom, I urge teachers to consider having kids make them as well. It is great for sequencing, deepening understanding of a book, collaborating, creativity, and tons more. Below are the links that take you directly to each team’s comic. Enjoy!

1. Down the Rabbit-Hole
2/3. The Pool of Tears & A Caucus-Race and a Long Tale
4. The Rabbit Sends in a Little Bill
5. Advice from a Caterpillar
6. Pig and Pepper
7. A Mad Tea-Party
8. The Queen’s Croquet-Ground
9/10. The Mock Turtle’s Story & The Lobster Quadrille
11/12. Who Stole the Tarts? & Alice’s Evidence


Filed under Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, Children's Literature, graphic novel, In the Classroom, Lewis Carroll, Reading, Teaching

How Comics Helped Me Learn to Read

Comic-Con is on here in NYC and I may go later today so this seems like an apt subject.

I spent 2nd grade in Germany (as I’ve written before I’m the daughter of German-Jewish refugees and have spent a lot time there) while my father had a Fulbright and did research and lectures. I started the year in a city school and ended it in a village school. Now I realize that my experience was pretty similar to new immigrants to the United States. I knew almost no English when I started at the first school and, boy, did I learn it fast!

I also was learning to read in two languages —and didn’t much like it in either. One thing I did like was comic books. And my favorite one in German was Petzi.

Turns out Petzi (that plump bear in polka-dots) was originally a Danish comic strip character, Rasmus Klump, created by Carla and Vilhelm Hansen in 1951. (Most sites I found are not in English; this one is in German, for instance.) Boy, did I love the adventures Petzi had with friends like Pelle and Pingo. I could pretty much follow the stories through the pictures, rarely relying on the text below each box. I’ve scanned in a page from one of my old books, because those I’m finding online seem later and use speech bubbles.

There was something so straightforward about the Petzi stories. All of the books I have involve the pals building something to live in. I think I loved these as they were just like the houses I loved to make. I also loved playing with plush animals (little Steiff ones we bought with our pocket money at the Puppenkoenig toy store in Bonn).


Filed under comic, graphic novel

Comics in the Classroom

Superman Finds New Fans Among Reading Instructors – New York Times

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Filed under graphic novel, Reading, Teaching


Like many I was wowed by Marjane Satrapi’s remarkable graphic novel memoir Persepolis. The buzz on the animated version was impressive, but I was still dubious. Not any more though. I saw the movie today and it was extraordinary — had me in tears several times along the way. Satrapi has done an incredible job and I highly, highly, highly recommend it.

Here’s a trailer to give you a taste:


Filed under animation, graphic novel