Sunday, July 29, 2012

Common Core Standards and Changes: What are they and what's the fuss?

With schools gearing up the 2012-2013 academic year, I decided to devote "C" week at ABCWednesday to curriculum issues and Common Core Standards.

If you're a home-schooling parent, a teacher, publisher, school librarian, or simply a parent involved in your kid's education, my bet is that you've heard of common core standards, and IF by some chance you haven' will...more and more as common core standards are the latest buzz effecting publishing and educational decisions across the country.

What are Common Core Standards?
The Common Core Standards are 'suggested' standards set for K-12 students. And, while not federally mandated,  they are the initiative of the National Governors Association Center and the Council of Chief State School Officers set up in 2008. These standards relay educational goals for in science, math, language arts, and social studies across the United States to:
"... ensure that all students, no matter where they live, are prepared for success in postsecondary education and the workforce....Common standards will provide a greater opportunity to share experiences and best practices within and across states that will improve our ability to best serve the needs of students." (... from the Common Core State Standards website)
Many politicians, parents, publishers, and educators approve of these standards as they help guide curriculum, making it easier to write and sell educational products across the country.  And, in theory, they should be guiding classroom readings, labs, and curricular goals so that, to borrow a phrase, no child gets left behind.  Its critics, however, fear that these standards will lead to more and more testing to make sure such standards are met, and may cause many school boards which may have recently spend a great deal of money investing in text books to have to reinvest again at a time when school boards are extremely strapped for cash.

To date, all states but Texas, Alaska, Virginia, Minnesota, and Nebraska have signed onto following the Core standards for math and English language arts; many in part in order to compete for the $5billion in Race to the Top funds from the U.S. Department of Education (which was won by 11 states, plus the District of Columbia and is now closed).

A Bird's Eye View of the Standards:
In theory, the Core authors want students to think more critically about what they're reading - be it in language arts, science, or history/social studies.  Furthermore, each content area subject has guidelines for curricular study, for speaking, listening, and reading as well as for writing.  Across the board, instead of just summarizing, teachers are directed to have students employ, evaluate, and compare multiple sources in multiple formats and to give more sourced evidence supporting their opinions. There is also an emphasis of having students (in language arts) read non-fiction equally or more than fiction.

Karen Springen, in Publisher's Weekly (July 18, 2012) notes that: noted in the standard's criteria for publishers, scientific and historical texts should receive the "same time and weight as literary text." By the 2014-15 academic year, the initiative calls for 50% informational text (including textbooks, essays, speeches, newspaper articles, and nonfiction trade books) in elementary school and 70% in high school - on average, across all curricula...David Coleman, a lead writer of the Core's English language arts plan. [notes that].."The celebration of nonfiction's role is not meant to be at the expense of fiction." The nonfiction-to-fiction ratio currently being taught in schools nationwide is unknown, but Coleman says the new split is based on the ration found in the National Assessment of Educational Progress test.
Springen then continues to note that many critics are skeptical, in part because as she states, "David Coleman has never taught English....[and] there's no research that shows informational reading will make kids ready for college. What's more, critics say no one has tested the initiative to see whether it works. Then, there is Appendix B- a huge source of  criticism as it provides
...what it calls 'exemplars' of language arts texts...[many of which] are outdated [a 1992 book about Mars, for example]... [or] out of print...Steve DelVecchio, a public librarian in Seattle and a former teacher and school librarian, edited Appendix B in 2009 and says that it is meant to show the types of materials that meet Core standards...[But] as it turns out, many educators are, in fact, treating Appendix B as a national reading list....
While many may be put-off by the 50-50 split of fiction/non-fiction, I have no problem with it as there some absolutely fantastic "non-fiction" books that read more like fiction than the "non-fiction" I grew up with.  AND, graphic novels can play a huge role in making the non-fiction come to life while addressing the goal that "teachers are directed to have students compare multiple sources in multiple formats and to give more sourced evidence supporting personal opinions." Furthermore, Appendix B notes that "visual elements are particularly important in texts for the youngest students and in many informational texts for readers of all ages."

So, for all concerned, or simply curious, here are some GREAT non-fiction reads that would be superb asserts to any home or school library:

Graphic novels for middle school and older:
  • Laika by Nick Abadzis (Grade 4+) is a graphic novel about Laika and her owners/care takers and relates the space race from the Soviet perspective. I highly recommend reading this and then reading Homer Hickham's October Sky (the story of the 1950's space race from an American boy's perspective).
  • Lewis and Clark by Nick Bertozzi (Grades 4+) a non-fiction graphic novel and visual/verbal gem recounting how the expedition was organized and the perils its members faced.
  • Northwest Passage by Scott Chantler (Grades 4+) a non-fiction graphic novel that relays this pivotal story in American history(with author annotation to help those novice visual readers AND provides additional reading suggestions and historical details.
  • Feynman by Jim Ottaviani and Leland Myrick (Grades 8+) graphic novel - relates Nobel winning physicist Richard Feynman's life from childhood, his work on the Manhattan Project, his exposure of the Challenger disaster, his work on quantum electrodynamics, and his antics in art and music.
  • Persepolis (Satrapi, M.) (Grade 10+) - graphic novel depicting the story of childhood in Iran (recommended for mature middle school - high school);
  • Malcolm X:  A Graphic Biography (Helfer, R.D.) - graphic novel - critiques the Civil Rights Movement and Malcolm X's life (recommended for high school);
  • The Silence of Our Friends by Mark Long, Jim Demonakos and Nate Powell (Grades 6+) - a true story about a white male reporter and his family living in Texas during the Civil Rights Movement who must make career and life choices while trying to do the 'right thing."
  • Marathon by Boaz Yakin & Joe Infurnari (Grades 7+) is the story of a Eucles, an Athenian messenger who in 49 ran over 300 miles to save Ancient Greece from being subjugated into the Persian Empire.  This marathon runner was the turning point in ancient history, and the foundation of the modern Olympic Games.  SUPER read - especially now.
  • Journey into Mohawk Country by George O'Connor (Grades  5+) tells the story of Harmen Meyndertsz van den Bogaert who at age 23, ventured into Mohawk territory with guides, maps and some food, trekking through freezing temperatures, to revive the struggling fur trade.
  • The United States Constitution: A Graphic Adaptation  by Jonathan Hennessey and Aaron McConnell (Grades 6+) is one of the BEST books I've ever read dealing with our Constitution. It describes the precipitating factors and events that led to our Nation's birth and clearly and succinctly details our Constitution's preamble and twenty-seven Amendments.
  • XOC: The Journey of a Great White by Matt Dembicki. Xoc (pronounced shock and believed to be a ancient Mayan word for shark) ALL AGES  follows the journey of a great white shark from the Farallon Islands off the coast of San Francisco to Hawaii and back.  The author uses exceptional prose, vocabulary and a great dollop of alliteration  as he describes the adult life of this female carnivorous giant.  Readers are not only exposed to etymology, vocabulary and literary devices, they learn about the lives of sharks, sea turtles, seals, dolphins, whales, ecology, pollution, the "Great pacific Garbage Patch"  and much more.
Prose books for middle school readers and older:
  • Farewell to Manzanar by Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston and James D. Houston (Grades 5+) prose text - a true story of a Japanese-American family sent to an internment camp near San Pedro California during World War II. This is a riveting, thought-provoking and heart-wrenching story of prejudice, hate, and fear. Remnants of the camp remain and are now a national park - well worth a visit after reading the book. 
  • October Sky by Homer Hickham tells the story of the 1950's space race from an American boy's perspective.
  • The Notorious Benedict Arnold: A True Story of Adventure, Heroism & Treachery by Steve Sheinkin  (Grades 5+) - the author tells this swashbuckling story of Benedict Arnold's life in chronological order with tension and excitement and includes several maps to help visualize this history and critical battles.
  • Into the Unknown: How Great Explorers Found Their Way by Land, Sea, and Air by Stewart Ross and illustrations by Stephen Biesty (Grades 3+) in engaging chapters with stunning art Ross and Biesty relay the brave adventures of Leif Eriksson, Marco Polo, Ferdinand Magellan, Captain Cook, Pytheas the Greek and more.
 Picture books:
  • How Much is A Million - by David M. Schwartz, illustrated by Steven Kellogg (Grades 1+) relays mind boggling images to show kids just how much a million is.
  • Island: A Story of the Galapagos by Jason Chin (Grade 2+) - a picture book whose words and illustrations beautifully depict the story of these islands and their inhabitants - from their birth six million years ago, to 1895 where little remains above water.
  • Barnum's Bones: How Barnum Brown Discovered the Most Famous Dinosaur in the World by Tracey Fern; illustrated by Boris Kulikov (Grades K+) - tells Barnum's story from childhood to his hunting for dinosaurs for the American Museum of Natural History, discovering one (a T-Rex)  in 1902 and how he dug and fit the bones together.
  • Bird Talk: What Birds are Saying and Why by Lita Judge (Grades 1-4) nicely fits in to science and natural history curricula and science discovery as it talks about the different ways birds communicate (song, dance and drum, cuddle, flight) and what they mean.
  • Life in the Ocean: The Story of Oceanographer Sylvia Earle by Claire A. Nivola (Grade K-3) is a short biography of Sylvia Earle, a pioneer and entrepreneur in her filed. The stunning watercolors and straightforward narrative highlight Earle's career and love for the ocean and its exploration.
 Sneak peaks at brand new or soon to be published books:
  • Lincoln's Last Days - by Bill O'Reilly (Grades 5+) which will be out in late August and is a graphic text  written in prose with maps, photos and illustrations. I have a post coming out very soon about this one! 
  • Zero the Hero by Tom Lichtenheld (Grades 1-5) is all about math, roman numerals, and the value of zero.
  • The Plant Hunters: True-Stories of Their Daring Adventures to the Far Corners of the Earth - by Anita Silvey - (Grades 3-7) depicts the risks (tigers, fever, murder and more) eighteenth and nineteenth century explorers and scientists faced in their search for new and unusual plants.
  • Citizen Scientists by Loree Griffin Burns (Grades 3-7) - graphic text - This 'activity' book is divided into seasonal sections, inviting readers to participate in actual science experiments.  The photos/illustrations, and the layout and graphics are inviting.  There is a field guide in each section as well as a resource section.
  • Paiute Princess by Deborah Kogan Ray (Grades 3+) - using original sources, the author tells of about the life of Sara Winnemucca (grand-daughter of Chief Truckee) and how American Indians of Nevada, the Paiute Kuyuidika-a band coped with the expanding railroad and ranchers squeezing the Paiutes' living space and ability to survive.
  • To the Mountaintop: My Journey Through the Civil Rights Movement by Charlayne Hunter-Gault (Grades 7+) about one of the first two students to successfully desegregate an all-white college in the South. In addition to her own story, she includes background history of court rulings pertinent to the story and each chapter begins with reproductions of partial pages from The New York Times to help tell the story.
  • Seahorses by Jennifer Keats Curtis, illustrations by Chad Wallace (Grades k-3) a beautifully illustrated book with wonderful facts about seahorses (being released this September)
  • From the Good Mountain: How Gutenberg Changed the World by James Rumford (Grades k-3) - this book tells the story of Gutenberg and his press, and how books are made/assembled  through stunning art, riddles, and questions and answers.
  • David Macaulay Readers (Grades 3+)
    • Castle: How it Works
    • Jet Plane: How it Works
    • Publishers say how toilets work will be next!!!!
In my opinion, the idea of standards is a good one and I support the idea of critical listening, speaking, reading and writing.  The problem is, that the most effective learning is when its personal and meaningful to students, and, what is meaningful changes based on backgrounds, personalities and cultural exposure and preferences. There is also the issue of testing, over testing, and districts teaching only for testing.  As noted in The Pirates of the Caribbean these standards should be more like guidelines. 

This post relates GREAT graphic novel reads, how they meet Common Core Standards, how they meet the National Council for Social Studies Teaching Standards, and how they can make learning math, science, social studies and language arts FUN!  Please check it out:

 Some Great Reading Links:
One final note before closing: Selecting graphic novels can be difficult as many of those mentioned above are not on book store shelves.  Most of the graphic novels above are from  First Second and ONI  who publish quality kids graphic novels and are the the first places I tend to check for great quality kids' reads. 

Please let me know what you think!  In the meantime, thanks for your visit, your support, and your comments.  Thanks for your visit and have a great week!

Sunday, July 22, 2012

B is for BATMAN!!

While reluctant to write about Batman this week given the tragedy of Aurora, Colorado, my hope is that this wonderful legend who has grown up with so many of us will not be tainted by the insane doings of a madman. But... Before beginning my "B" post for ABCWednesday I want to express my heartfelt sympathy for the victims of the Aurora tragedy and their families. I wish for all who were savagely touched by this catastrophe, a speedy healing of body, heart, and soul.

"...In Our darkest hour comes our greatest hope...."

In the original version, Batman (or Bruce Wayne - millionaire, playboy, industrialist and philanthropist) assumes his secret identity after witnessing his parents' murder as a child. andvows revenge on all criminals. He trains himself physically and intellectually for this life's mission, and while he has no super powers, he uses his wealth and ingenuity to develop strength and awesome  crime-fighting gadgets.

Batman was created in 1939 by artist Bob Kane and writer Bill Finger.  He first appeared in Detective Comics #27 in "The Case of the Chemical Syndicate" and is still appearing in graphic form in DC Comics. Batman was so popular that by 1940 he gained his own comic book title and line. In this line Batman fights the likes of the Joker, the Penguin, the Riddler, Two-Face, Poison Ivy and Catwoman. He is joined and aided by his cohort Robin, his butler Alfred Pennyworth, police commissioner Jim Gordon and occasionally by Batgirl.

In the mid-late 1960's Adam West portrayed Batman in a television series (and 1966 film) that in my humble opinion is still wonderfully entertaining and 'campy' (although many comic fans were put-off by its campiness).  In 1989 Batman turned darker and more life-like in a film starring Michael Keaton, (directed by Tum Burton was produced by Warner Bros). with a sequel in 1992.  In 1995, Batman was portrayed by Val Kilmer in Batman Forever and in 1997 George Clooney played Batman in Batman and Robin.  The latest Dark Knight  movies (first film appearing in 2005 and the last (third) movie opened up this weekend), directed by Christopher Nolan, starring Christian Bale- produced by Warner Bros. -  portraying an even darker Batman.

Here is the first TV episode. It's 25 min. but even watching just a few minutes is fun.  Dig the styles, the music, the separate "Bruce" and "Dick" poles leading to the Batcave, the computers in the Batcave, the Bat-scope in the Batmobile, the Bat-Boomerang /grapple hook used to reach an apartment many floors up that folds for future use... and how after cutting window guards to enter the Riddler's apartment Batman advises Robin to "watch out for pedestrian safety" and hangs the grating on a Bat-hook he takes out of his pocket.  And there are the riddles they find by literally 'reading between the lines' of a document they receive from the Riddler.

This TV show is much like the comic book format in that each panel or frame has visual and verbal JEWELS waiting to be noticed - in addition to the story itself - or better - ENHANCING the story itself.  Furthermore, these shows are pure tongue-in-cheek entertainment - fun for the whole family and there are numerous ways to turn this into an educational project (at home or at school):
  • have the kids read the "ZONKs" "POWs" and ZOKs" with you;
  • discuss the use of similes "The Riddler contrives his plots like artichokes, you have to strip off spiny leaves to reach the heart..."   and tons of puns!!!
  • talk about the gadgets which were timely then but so out of date now
  • and, try to solve the Riddler's riddles, and make up some of your own..Here are three (of many) from this episode (CAUTION: the first is TERRIBLY corny and a pure pun]: 
  1. "Before you trip over your cape, Batman, riddle me this: There are are three men in a boat with four cigarettes but no matches, how do they manage to smoke?" 
  2. "What is it that no man wants to have yet no man wants to lose?"
  3. "When is the time of a clock like a whistle of a train?"
As Batman's character in the comic, TV and movies has been tweaked from simple detective/crime-fighter to campy entertaining crime-fighter to dark crime-fighter, so too have his gadgets. Batman's most awesome asset/gadget (in my opinion) is the Batmobile. There was an exhibit 2012 San Diego Comic-con sponsored by Warner Bros. displaying the various Bat-mobiles and it was a BLAST to see how these vehicles have morphed and grown over the years keeping pace with modern fantasy and technology.  Here are some SUPER photos of the BATMOBILES and their specs. That said, here is a brief, albeit incomplete, view of its transition ---- The first vehicle (not at the exhibit)  from the 1939 comic looked like this:
It was a simple red convertible with no special functions other than serving as a means for crime-fighting transportation. In the 1960's television show (and 1966 movie) the Batmobile was a spiffed-up 1955 Lincoln Futura painted a glossy black with fluorescent stripes. This vehicle was equipped with tons of "gadgets" including a: Bat Ray Projector, anti-theft (and fire) device, "Detect-a-scope, Batscope, Bat Eye Switch, Antenna Activator, Police Band Cut-in Switch, Emergency Automatic Tire Inflation Device, Batphone, a Bat-tering Ram (for knocking down reinforced doors), Bat Smoke Screen, Emergency Bat-turn Lever (releasing a parachute enabling quick turns), Batmobile Bat Computer (in the trunk), a remote Bat Computer Switch and even some Bat shark repellent.
The most recent vehicle by contrast, The Tumbler, as seen in The Dark Knight series, is a modified spiffed-up cross between an armored vehicle and a Lamborghini. It can accelerate from 0-60 in 5.6 seconds, has a 5.7 liter GM V8 engine with an additional 'jet engine' in the back fed by propane tanks.'s the camouflage version:
The Tumbler has a pair of autocannons mounted in the nose of the car between its front wheels.  In 'attack' mode, the driver's seat moves to the center of the car, and the driver is repositioned lying face down with his head in the center section between the wheels.  This way he has added protection from the multiple layers of armor plating AND this 'center' position enables easier maneuvering. Other 'gadgets' include a rocket launcher, a landing hook, integrated fire-extinguishing system, a stealth mode (which turns off the car's lights and cuts off its main engine, powering the car via an electric motor), explosive caltrops (rope mines released to explode behind the Batmobile and deter pursuing vehicles), heavy armor at the front of the car and both wheels can eject when the vehicle is damaged turning the wheels into Batpods (motorcycle-like vehicles).
Relating this post to my last one, Batman is a modern antihero who has no special superpowers, and instead fights crime and avenges the death of those close to him using gadgets developed by Wayne Enterprises. The power of Batman, is that even without superpowers, smart enterprising 'regular' guys can fight back injustice. And, while the Dark Knight movies are dark and not for all kids, the Batman figure and story (in addition to its life lessons) can provide wonderful learning opportunities:
  • The TV series has wonderful play on words- watch for puns and similes which abound, and solve the Riddler's wacky clues (all of which are play on words);
  • The comics provide great visual and verbal literacy sources for readers of all ages be they reluctant or gifted;
  • The "ZAPS" "POWS" and "ZOWIE"s provide wonderful reading opportunities and kids/students can create their own sound effects and onomatopoeia words for additional fun;
  • The comics, TV and movie gadgets can be wonderful springboards for your kids creating communicators and defensive or offensive gadgets of their own.
One final point worth mentioning - especially in the wake the the Aurora Colorado tragedy - Batman started out with a gun and got rid of it!  The New Yorker Magazine has an online article "Batman's Gun" (posted by Jill Lepore) in which Ms. Lepore notes that:
In a story published in October of 1939, Batman used a handgun to shoot a vampire...He used a gun again in the next episode to fire some shots at two evil henchmen...At the time, Detective Comics just hired a new editorial director...named Whiney Wllsworth...When Kane submitted his next story..."Ellsworth said to take the gun out," Kane remembered..Superheroes weren't soldiers or policemen. They were private citizens. Villains carried guns.
Maybe it's time to disarm Batman again, and most of Americans. Guns for hunting are one thing - while I don't hunt and never will, I understand why others want to.  I am not sure why everyone needs assault weapons and Kevlar vests....  Maybe its time for politicians to rethink gun control laws.
***** What do you think? What does Batman mean to you?  Please share you loves and insights in the comments. Have a great week and  thank you for your visit.
Answer to the Riddler's riddle:  
  1. "How did they manage to smoke?  They threw one cigarette overboard and made the boat a cigarette lighter"....again, wonderful puns.
  2. "A law suit"
  3. "When it's two to two" (Robin toots this and sounds like a train)
What does Batman mean to you?  Please share you loves and insights in the comments. Have a great week and  thank you for your visit.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Anti-Heroe's...Is it Time for Superman to Roll Over?

The San Diego Comi-con 2012 is over and it was an awesome event and my panel "Transforming Graphic Novel Readers into Graphic Novel Writers" was a blast! Leading kids/adult graphic novelists Jenni and Matt Holm (Babymouse  and Squish),  Jimmy Gownley (Amelia) and Joe Kelly (I Kill Giants, Superman vs. The Elite, Ultimate Spider-Man, and many more) all spoke about tools and skills they needed to successfully publish their works and gave suggestions for aspiring graphic novelists. Educators Katie Monnin, PhD., and James Bucky Carter, PhD., related how education can help. What sticks out most is that:
  • Written work is rarely successful the first draft, or even the first try.  NEVER get discouraged.  Just stay open to constructive criticism and constant editing;
  • Structure is really important in writing graphic novels.  Writers/illustrators must structure the story, the panels, the pages, and they must structure their working time and day;
  • Panelists agreed that developing 'real' characters was the trick to successful work and readers must be able to relate to them;
  • While writing the story is important, equally important is being able to 'lay out the story' so art, text and panels flow smoothly.
  • Classroom attention should be directed not only to literacy building (both visual and verbal literacy), but to teaching executive functions such as structure and organization, attention to detail, and the encouragement of creativity and creative alternatives.
We also discussed the changing role of 'hero' in popular culture, and how the anti-hero is growing in importance and popularity. The big question which was posed by Joe Kelly years ago and developed in his new film, Superman vs. The Elite:   
  •  Is Superman out of date? Has his role of super-hero been replaced by awesome but ego-centric, crime-fighting anti-heroes?
  • Why is it that we frequently ask about  Superman's place in our culture today, but Spidey, Batman ("The Dark Knight"), XMen, and so many other superheroes' 'potency' in our world of fantasy and fiction are rarely questioned?
According to
In fiction, an antihero[1] (sometimes antiheroine as the feminine) is generally considered to be a protagonist whose character is an "everyman" type of character, in contrast to the larger-than-life qualities of an archetypal hero. The term dates to 1714,[2] although literary criticism identifies the term in earlier literature...[3]
Unlike traditional heroes, antiheroes are not as fabulous as the traditional ones. They may be corrupt, oppressive, etc., or may merely have no unusual qualities whatsoever (the common definition). They are not villains but not necessarily heroes. They may do bad things but are not evil. They may fight villains, but not for the reason of justice, or if it is for the cause of justice will take an "ends justify the means" stance. Their actions are motivated by their own personal desires, such as revenge. 

In my teaching (and as a parent) I have found that kids do like heroes.  They like heroes such as Harry Potter .... but, they also enjoy villains.

But by age 12, I think something happens, young adults today, in my experience, actually are drifting more towards the anti-heroes.  The Twilight characters, Hunger Games, are full of anti-heroes. Furthermore we love Spidy and Batman who are vigilates - who take punishing crime into their own hands and have no qualms about murdering 'the bad guys' without trial by jury. For further thought and discussion, please leave your opinions in the comments and go watch Joe Kelly's Superman vs. The Elite which addresses this question with grace and humor, action and reflection.

Joe Kelly's Superman vs. The Elite, which came out last month and is available on Blue Ray  and streaming on the web. It puts the question of hero vs. anti-hero out in the open for full question and evaluation. He empowers Superman to wrestle with his goody-two-shoes image and enables him to rise as a more modern but true-to-self hero.

To whet your taste buds, here's a super interview with Joe Kelly - a truly AWESOME superhero in my humble opinion - who claims his work is dark, while I find it wonderfully empowering and uplifting:
And, a trailer...
As a leaning optimist, I'd like to think Superman and true-blooded "good" heroes are not dead.  And, while some flaws are essential to make them real, I believe that not only is there a place for these role models, there is a vital need for them.  I find so many of us floundering in lives of  cynicism, frustrated with our leaders, with politics and economics and need the larger-than-life fluffy role models to aspire to.... That's my take...what's yours?
Both the interview and the film are well worth the visits and views and I'd love to hear what you think about them and the changing role of today's super-heroes.  Please leave your views and takes on this subject (and tell us who your favorite heroes/anti-heroes are) in the comments.
Thanks for the visit, please come again!

Thanks for

Monday, July 9, 2012


The 2012 San Diego International Comic-con takes place this coming weekend, and I will be moderating a panel of AWESOME educators -Katie Monnin and Bucky Carter and graphic novelists - John Hogan (Graphic Novel Reporter), Joe Kelly (I Kill Giants), Jimmy Gowenly (the Amelia books) Matt and Jennifer Holm (the BabyMouse and Squish books).  Our panel  "Transforming Super-Powered Comic Book Readers into Comic Book Writers" will be on Saturday, 7/14/12 at  5:30p.m. - 6:30p.m., Room: 26AB IF you're there, please come say hello to me.

While I will be posting more about the convention and my panel later, in the spirit of great comics and graphic novels, I dedicate ABC Wednesday "Z" week to  these super awesome fun onomatopoeic Z words: Zap, Zing, Zonk, and Zowie!!!

According to Wikipedia:
onomatopœia (About this sound pronunciation (US) , from the Greek ὀνοματοποιία;[1] ὄνομα for "name"[2] and ποιέω for "I make",[3] adjectival form: "onomatopoeic" or "onomatopoetic") is a word that imitates or suggests the source of the sound that it describes.
Comic strips and comic books made extensive use of onomatopoeia. Popular culture historian Tim DeForest noted the impact of writer-artist Roy Crane (1901–1977), the creator of Captain Easy and Buz Sawyer:
It was Crane who pioneered the use of onomatopoeic sound effects in comics, adding "bam," "pow" and "wham" to what had previously been an almost entirely visual vocabulary. Crane had fun with this, tossing in an occasional "ker-splash" or "lickety-wop" along with what would become the more standard effects. Words as well as images became vehicles for carrying along his increasingly fast-paced storylines.[4]
Aside from using onomatopoeic words when writing because it is simply loads of fun, advertising and marketing experts use it as a mnemonic to help customers and potential clients remember their particular product.  Rice Krispies is one example of a product with an onomatopoeic name, and Alka-Seltzer employed their "Plop, plop, fizz, fizz OH what a relief it is" jingle.

It's even been promoted in song - the chorus of John Prine's song Onomatopoeia is one great example as is Todd Rundgren's Onomatopoeia.
In 1963 Roy Lichtenstein used Whaam! as an early example of pop art and in 2002, DC Comics introduced a villain named Onomatopoeia, an athlete, martial artist and weapons expert who speaks sounds imitating the noises around him and is an enemy of Green Arrow and Batman. Did you ever wonder though about when these words were first used - and how? Let's look at a few...Zingers:


Destroy or obliterate: "zap the enemy's artillery".

A sudden effect or event that makes a dramatic impact, esp. a sudden burst of energy or sound
Zap as far as I can tell, is the most used and integrated "Z" onomatopoeic word. There are ZAP electric vehicles, ZAP! comics, Zap skimboards, games, cleaners, photographic tools, and music. According to Wikipedia "A zap is an onomatopoetic word for a discharge of electricity or an electric shock." Regarding its origin, notes that it was used as a sound effect in 1929 and as a verb in 1942 as a comic strip word in Buck Rogers in the Twenty-Fifth Century. 


Expressing astonishment or admiration.
According to Zowie was first known to be used in 1902 as an onomatopoeic sound used it imitate a speeding vehicle. I remember it in Batman many years later. Zowie was the Riddler's henchman in Batman: The Animated Series. He was sent by the Riddler to steal goods but was defeated by the caped crusader! It is also the name of aNew Zealand singer-songwriter and drummer, and the name of a fashion accessories company.



  1. Hit or strike.
  2. Fall or cause to fall suddenly and heavily asleep or lose consciousness: "I always just zonk out"
Zonk has also been somewhat integrated into our culture.  There are "zonks" in the popular TV show Let's Make a Deal, it is a dice game, and the name of a production company. According to it was first used 1950 as an onomatopoeic term to mean "hit hard."



Energy, enthusiasm, or liveliness.

Move swiftly: "an arrow zinging through the air".
Zing is now the name of a cutting machine, the name of an ultralight aircraft, and a technology company that makes collaborative team learning and meeting systems. Random House Dictionary dates its origin to 1910-1925 as 'imitative' and according to Online Etymology Dictionary, zing was used in 1911 to mean 'high pitched sound,' and in 1918 as slang for 'energy, zest.'


In preparing this post, I realize how powerful pop culture and word play are, how widely comics books and the graphic arts have influenced and continue to influence our world, how word play is not only fun but it can be quite lucrative, and simply how much fun words can be and how easy it is to get lost in their world.  These are all important lessons to share with our kids - especially the reluctant readers and learners.

So in closing, here are some great ways to make learning and words fun:
  • Look at word origins and how the way the use them has changed over time;
  • Make up your own fun onomatopoeic words
  • Draw words to reflect their meaning
  • See how many sentence strings you can generate using onomatopoeia
Personally, 'splat' is one of my favorite onomatopoeic words (but this post I focused on "Z"). Please share your opinions or your favorite onomatopoeic words in the comments and have a great week. In the meantime, enjoy this music video, compliments of Zowie!!!

Sunday, July 1, 2012

YOUNG ADULT SUMMER READING: Lots of Choices and Places to Look

While some books may be more equal than others in terms of summer reading benefits, they can be found in all kinds of places and formats. And, while I personally side towards non-fiction or historical fiction, my hair stood on end a bit when reading an op-ed in Sunday's New York Times.

In the New York Times (June 24th) Sunday Review section, there was an opinion piece by Claire Needell Hollander, an English teacher at a public middle school in Manhattan: "Some Books are More Equal Than Others."

In this article, Ms. Hollander states that:
For least experienced readers [my note: how she defines this group is unclear], who attain knowledge every time they read...this age group is fast acquiring verbal knowledge (an increase in word recognition) and world knowledge (an increase in understanding about the world around them), even when they're reading comic books or relatively simple narratives. For newly fluent readers, usually 8, or 9, any reading is indeed good reading.
But for the middle school and high school, reading selection does matter. Students attain more knowledge of both kinds reading Stephen Crane's "Red Badge of Courage" than they do reading the "Hunger Games" series. When the protagonist of "red Badge" reflects on his pride n having "donned blue," it requires both verbal and world knowledge to comprehend that he is proud of having enlisted as a Union soldier.
I propose focusing on accessible nonfiction guaranteed to increase world and vocabulary knowledge...These nonfiction books provoke students to desire an expanded world knowledge, to consider the flawed moral decision making of the past and the imperiled morality of the future...
While I agree that nonfiction selections ARE great summer options and DO typically offer a wealth of knowledge, not all kids or adults enjoy or embrace this type of read. So, while beneficial, parents have to weigh the value of nonfiction only with the struggle to get the book open.  Furthermore, I also agree that not all books are created equal in terms of vocabulary and 'world knowledge'. BUT many non-fiction books lack the inclusion of metaphor and allegory and by sticking to only the classics and nonfiction as Ms. Hollander suggests, dismissing 'comic books' and other 'hot' cultural tomes, young readers can miss a great deal - on so many levels. Here are just a few items it take issue with:

ISSUE #1: There are INCREDIBLE graphic novels requiring a great deal of critical thinking and world knowledge while inviting readers of all likes and ages to ACTIVELY participate in a great read. There are ALWAYS moral decisions, many are non-fiction gems, and ALL require critical thinking and reasoning as readers navigate verbal and non-verbal messages.

Some summer reading graphic novel recommendations:
  •  Laika by Nick Abadzis (Grade 4+)  is about Laika the first sentient being (a dog) sent into space by the Russians in 1957, and a story of the space race. It is all about character and political trade-offs.
  • Resistance (and the sequel "Defiance") by Carla Jablonski and Leland Purvis - (Grade 5+)  historical fiction about friends growing up in World War II occupied France who must decide how they want to survive: resist, remain 'indifferent', or befriend their German occupiers.
  • The Silence of Our Friends by Mark Long, Jim Demonakos and Nate Powell (Grades 6+) - a true story about a white male reporter and his family living in Texas during the Civil Rights Movement who must make career and life choices while trying to do the 'right thing."
  • City of Spies by Susan Kim and Laurence Klaven  (Grades 3+) - historical fiction - depicts life in New York City in the summer of 1942, and Evelyn and Tony who uncover a German spy ring after seeing newsreels asking citizens to help in the war effort.
  • Americus by MK Reed and Jonathan Hill (Grades 6+) is about a book-loving boy from Americus, a small town in Oklahoma whose mother leads the town in a book-banning frenzy.  This story deals head on with book-banning and adolescence in a sensitive, honest manner and is full of ethical dilemmas.
  • Feynman by Jim Ottaviani and Leland Myrick (Grades 8+) visually and verbally relates Nobel winning physicist Richard Feynman's life from childhood, to his work on the Manhattan Project, his exposure of the Challenger disaster, to his work on quantum electrodynamics, and his antics in art and music.  Plenty of vocabulary and world knowledge here!
  • American Born Chinese  by Gene Luen Yang (Grades 5+) is all about Chinese, American, and Chinese-American cultures, clashes, and issues faced by the only Chinese-American Student in a school who desperately wants to fit in.
  • Northwest Passage by Scott Chantler (Grades 4+) non-fiction -provides a wonderful account of this pivotal story in American history (with author annotation to help those novice visual readers AND provides additional reading suggestions and historical details).
  • Lewis & Clark by Nick Bertozzi (Grades 4+) another non-fiction visual/verbal gem recounting how the expedition was organized and the perils its members faced.
  • Tribes: The Dog Years by Michael Geszel, Peter Spinetta and Inaki MIranda (Grades 10+ for some violence and mature content) is a brilliantly illustrated story about life on Earth's future after a medical lab's research goes terribly wrong.  This book deals with scientific research and ethical issues (and is a great read with Mary Shelley's "Frankenstein" as both make powerful statements about the responsibilities of medical research.)  Again, lots of world knowledge and flawed characters to spur interest and imagination.
  • The United States Constitution: A Graphic Adaptation  by Jonathan Hennessey and Aaron McConnell (Grades 6+) is one of the BEST books I've ever read dealing with our Constitution - for kids AND adults. It describes the precipitating factors and events that led to our Nation's birth and clearly and succinctly details our Constitution's preamble and twenty-seven Amendments. It portrays the story of our history with incredible power, depth, and insight.
  • Baby's in Black: Astrid Kirchherr, Stuart Sutcliffe, and the Beatles by Arne Bellstorf (Grades 6+) is the true story of the early Beatles (pre-Ringo) and their life in Germany before Ed Sullivan and their rise to fame. It is a wonderful look at Europe and 1960's pop culture and the significant cultural 'happenings' and salons that shaped our modern culture today.
ISSUE #2: While I am reluctant to recommend "The Hunger Games" to many young adult readers as I find the topic incredibly mature, there is tremendous amount of "world knowledge" necessary to truly appreciate this work.  It is a dystopian novel - one must understand what that means.  Furthermore, it is based on the concept of Ancient Greek games - sounds pretty worldly to me, and trust me, there is a lot of "flawed moral decision making" in these books to learn from.

Some prose novels that are non-fiction, fictional history, or pure fantasy recommendations:
  • The Giver by Lois Lowry (Grades 6+)  about a dystopian society that has eliminated pain and suffering, at the cost of it's "giver." As any story of a dystopian society is a mature read, this is a very powerful book full of 'flawed moral decision making' and lots to learn from and lots to think about.
  • The Absolutely True Story of a Part Time Indian by Sherman Alexie (Grades 4+) about a bright motivated young Indian who must decide about 'commuting' to a better all-white school off the reservation and face ridicule (by whites he must befriend, and his local friends he must leave), or remain with his friends who are heading know-where fast. Lots of world knowledge and cultural perspectives for the reading.
  • Johnny Tremain by Esther Forbes (Grades 5+) is a fictional history of Johnny Tremain a budding silversmith apprentice in Colonial Boston who suffers a debilitating accident and when his dreams are shattered, finds himself working for the Sons of Liberty.  GREAT history and a fun read.
  • Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse (Grade 4+) - an incredible read - takes place in Oklahoma's 1930's Dust Bowl. The story is told completely in verse and is an absolute gem about Billy Jo, an incredibly strong young woman who faces life's hardships with as much grace and courage her pre-teen years can give her.
  • Frankenstein by Mary Shelley (Grades 7+) a super story that is still so pertinent to our lives today as we continue to debate the ethical issues and responsibilities of "scientific" research.
  • The Book Thief by Markus Zusak (Grades 9+) is historical fiction set during World War II Germany and is  the story of Liesel Meminger, a foster girl living outside of Munich.
  • So Far From the Bamboo Grove by Yoko Kawashima Watkins (Grades 5+) -semi-autobiographical - takes place during the last days of World War II as Yoko and her family flea from their home in Nanam, North Korea and end up, eventually in the United States.  Plenty of history, adventure,  self-doubt and world knowledge here.
  • Farewell to Manzanar by Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston and James D. Houston (Grades 5+) a true story of a Japanese-American family sent to an internment camp near San Pedro California during World War II. This is a riveting, thought-provoking and heart-wrenching story of prejudice, hate, and fear. Remnants of the camp remain and are now a national park - well worth a visit after reading the book.
ISSUE #3: ALL Readers gain insights and knowledge EVERY TIME THEY READ.  They gain:
  • greater word recognition
  • increased facility using and recognizing vocabulary
  • they learn about types of characters, behaviors and consequences of various behaviors
  • they learn strategies for reading, for reading comprehension, and they learn about character and social interactions
  • readers learn to compare worlds, and strategies for effectively and ineffectively dealing with their worlds
And I fully agree with Ms. Hollander when she notes that:
  1. "I cannot always anticipate what a book will say to a reader."
  2. "Summer assignments should be about why we need to learn and why we need to talk about what we think."
And finally, in response to an age-old issue Ms. Hollander raises about how to select a book ...
Reading literature should be intentional. The problem with much summer reading is that the intention is unclear.  Increasingly, students are asked to choose their own summer reading from Web sites like ReadKiddoread...but how will the seventh grader determine which one to pick? are a few suggestions:

Thanks again for your visit and consideration.  What do you think - Are all summer reading books created equal?  What are your favorites?  Please leave your thoughts in the comments.