Sunday, May 19, 2013

Astronaut Academy

Dave Roman's Astronaut Academy
Inspired by Commander Chris Hadfield's tweets and posts (including his rendition of David Bowie's Space Oddity), here is a treat for kids of all ages by Dave Roman and First Second Books. While it takes place in space,  isn't about space or science but it is a lot of fun and worth the read.

Dave Roman's Astronaut Academy began as a webcomic before First Second Books expanded and transformed it into two books. The first, introduces the characters' backgrounds, friendships, arch rivals, and passions. It also vaguely introduces a student "threat" hiding within the school that somehow feeds off of human emotion. In Book 2, the pace picks up as we meet the monster who disguises itself as different people to steal hearts. [In Dave Roman's world, people have multiple hearts to survive physical and emotional threats, and at the same time empowers them to express their love to others by giving them one of their many hearts. Parents give hearts to kids, friends give each other hearts, etc. Just one example of his use of language and metaphor.]

Both books are filled with wisdom, humor, word-play and puns, dinosaur car races and the exciting sport of Fireball.

BOOK ONE - ASTRONAUT ACADEMY: ZERO GRAVITY  (First Second Books, 2011) introduces the school through their "Official Promotional Guide" and once at the Academy, we learn about the various students - their passions, friendships,  secrets and motivations, and in many cases, their rivalries. So for example, Hakata Soy just wants to forget his past and fit in. Marcos Stamatis has a broken heart and wants to impress a girl from his Rocket Science class. Hakata Soy's roommate,Tak Offsky, eats, lives and breathes Fireball.  Maribele Mellonbelly the richest kid ever (whom everyone wants to befriend), is still lonely and finding ways to unseat her "arch rival" Miyumi San, who wants to learn everything she can.

Below are two pages to show you the feel and genius of this book.

In the first image, we see a page from the school's  "Official Promotional Guide." On this page, we're introduced to three of their very talented staff.

The second image illustrates how Roman introduces just one of his many characters.
      From Astronaut Elementary by Dave  Roman, Courtesy First Second Books (2011

      Cybert is a robot that was built for destruction but prefers to play card games.
      Sample page from  Astronaut Elementary by Dave Roman Courtesy of First Second Books (2011)

    There are a lot of characters in this story, and the genius of Dave Roman and Astronaut Academy  is that he introduces their stories and voices in an organized manner.  Mini-chapters are introduced with the name of the character 'talking,' along with a brief snippet about the character, and each has his or her own unique look and manner. So for example in the page above we see that this chapter will be told from Cybert the cyborg's perspective, and that Cybert is somewhat 'confused' and has "no idea what I'm doing at Astronaut Academy."  

    When discussing how he set up the characters, Roman commented (in an interview with
    I try to think about archetypes I might be playing to or against. For example, Hakata Soy is introduced as a  mysterious hero with a troubled past, so he wears a high collared jacket and has wild hair, sort of like a sci-fi James Dean...
    Aside from the brilliant way we meet the characters, here are some of my favorite examples of Roman's word-play, humor, and 'words of wisdom':
    • The "fabric of time" is a worn-torn garment;
    • One of the characters notes, "A few years ago on the far planet of Hoppiton I lived hoppily with my family..."
    • Another character talks about how he got a "crush" on a girl - after literally being crushed by her;
    • The Guidance Chancellor B or Bee advises a renegade cyborg whose only goal (at that time) is  destroying Hakata Soy that, "You could spend your WHOLE LIFE searching for an exclusive chase card...and no matter how many booster packs you buy, never find the one you seek. Diversify your interests. Don't let one card game consume your ambitions."
    • Mr. Taketo Sky is one of the Astronaut Academy teachers and Tak Offsky is a student;
    • Students are told by Mr. Taketo Sky to "...start ADDING two and two together by solving these QUESTIONABLE EQUATIONS.
    For more 'goodies' please see:

    Teaching suggestions for Astronaut Academy: Zero Gravity:
    •  Addressing Common Core State Standards (CCSS) this book is full of advanced vocabulary, and tells the story verbally and visually, addressing multi-modal teaching.
    • This book is full of wordplay, acronyms, puns and metaphors.  Have your students go on a scavenger hunt through the book looking for examples. (CCSS: Vocabulary Acquisition and Use, Conventions of Standard English, Range of Reading and Level of Text Complexity)
    • The book opens with a new student arriving late in the semester.  This is a great way to start a new term, reading this aloud to help students feel more comfortable in their new class.
    • This book is about stereotyping, rivalry and friendship - important learning points for all kids.
    • Since students are continuously meeting new students as the characters are introduced, you can have them work in groups constructing character maps of each one (CCSS: Vocabulary Acquisition and Use, Craft and Structure, Key Ideas and Details, Comprehension and Collaboration, Presentation of Knowledge and Ideas.)  Then meet as a whole, comparing and contrasting character traits.

    BOOK TWO - ASTRONAUT ACADEMY: RE-ENTRY (First Second, 2013) begins as the students return to school after semester break and find security is "beared-up" because the monster feeding on their emotions is now a serious threat. With their kids' safety at jeopardy (many have 'heart attacks' as they are tricked to give one of their hearts to the heart-eating monster), the school goes into lockdown mode searching for robots and later banning love. The action centers on an epic Fireball championship and the mysterious heart-stealing monster. After ineffective teacher/parent interventions, students learn that they must rely on themselves. There are space ninjas, dinosaur cars, security 'bears' and the story is told through inspiring images, and page design, with puns and wordplay galore to relieve the stress and tension.
    • Here is a "Re-Entry Book Trailer""
    • Here are some sample pages, courtesy of First Second Books 
    • And, for readers who grew up with Where's Waldo and love searches and scavenger hunts, Dave Roman in the same interview, mentioned above tells us that:
    "Here's a (possibly incomplete) list if anyone wants to go on a pop culture scavenger hunt through "Astronaut Academy: Re-Entry!" Some of the other things possibly referenced include "My Neighbor Totoro," "THX 1138," My Chemical Romance, Harry and the Potters, All Girl Summer Fun Band, The Knitting Factory, "Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure," "Doctor Who," "A Wrinkle in Time," "Back to the Future," "The Girl Who Leapt Through Time," "The Halloween Tree," "Sweeney Todd," "Star Wars," "Mystery Science Theater 3000," "The Aquabats," "Digimon," "The Ewok Movie," "Santa Claus is Coming to Town," "The Black Hole," "The Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown," Sega Saturn games, "Dark Side of the Moon," "Pinocchio," "Sailor Moon," Kiss, "Avatar: The Last Airbender," "Gatchaman," Cobra Commander, Tales of Ribaldry, Pom Poko, "Transformers," "Say Anything," "Voltron," "The Fly," MC Hammer, Depeche Mode, "Sonic The Hedgehog," Bum Equipment, Ub Iwerks, Bumper Boy, Monticello, "The Secret of Nimh," ShamWow, Team Rocket, "Super Mario World" and "Flight of the Navigator."
    Students traveling to school after semester break. Courtesy of Dave Roman and First Second Books, 2013
    In addition to these goodies, Roman continues to include wordplay, wisdom and fun. Here are some examples:
    • Thalia Thistle, ace Fireball player has an aversion to acronyms and in one instance, two 'security bears' try to figure out what "BFF" means;
    • A wounded student is taken to Dr. Nursen;
    • One of the 'security bears' announces that he "hates to be the bear of bad news... "
    • A student notes that after a science-project gone awry by his scientist parents, they became less-visible, ""My parents' visits were increasingly short and trans-parent"
    • Another character who finds he cannot compete on the Fireball team becomes interested and words and spelling bees saying, "...something about the way they were constructed always intrigued me. I liked the way they looked and sounded."
    • Words of wisdom: "I know Dad is worried about my safety...but life involves scrapes and bruises, especially if I want to play the game..."
    Here is a page from Astronaut Academy: Re-Entry:
    Courtesy: Dave Roman and First Second Books

    Teaching suggestions for Astronaut Academy: Re-Entry:
    • Have students go on a scavenger hunt for acronyms, puns and word-play.  Have them create their own that might easily fit into the book and story as well. (CCSS: Vocabulary Acquisition and Use, Conventions of Standard English, Range of Reading and Level of Text Complexity)
    • Discuss the themes of this book: teamwork, forgiveness, rivalry. Map their development.  (CCSS: Key Ideas and Details, Integration of knowledge and Ideas, Comprehension and Collaboration)
    • Compare the different style of story-telling in the two books (CCSS: Conventions of Standard English, Craft and Structure, Key Ideas and Details, Integration of Knowledge and Ideas, Range of Reading and Level of Text Complexity, Text Types and Purposes, Presentation of Knwoledge and Ideas.)
    • Meeting CCSS, have students practice different forms of writing, creating "Rules of Play" for Fireball.  You may want them to brainstorm on ways the game can be played in school/ recess.  They can also write/review the game as it is being played. (CCSS: Vocabulary Acquisition and Use, Conventions of Standard English, Craft and Structure, Key Ideas and Details, Text Types and Purposes, Presentation of Knowledge and Ideas.)

    These books are wonderful entertainment for kids of ALL ages.  I hope you take a closer look yourselves. For more from Dave Roman, check his website: 
    For more teaching ideas please go to:

    In the meantime, thank you for your visit, and please leave your reactions, reviews, and creative ideas in the comments.


    1. I've never would have known there were graphic novels with space being the!

      Thanks for linking up for WW :)

    2. This is fantastic. I am going to look for these books for my daughter summer reading. She is into graphic novels so great way to integrate the two together and thanks for linking up WW