Comics in the Classroom – What’s in Your Library?
Fortunately, or unfortunately I’m moving classrooms so I’m having to reorganize and sadly clean out not only my stuff but also whatever the previous occupant of this classroom decided to leave… I’m sure it’s all really important, but c’mon… Mimeograph books?!?!
This ordeal has given me the perfect opportunity to take a look at what is in my current comic library, what holes I need to fill, and what, due to my grade level, I may want to keep at home. I thought I’d share what my basic library contains, and what I’m going to add to it as time permits. I teach third grade, I have taught all the way up to fifth and all the way down to first.
When I first started teaching I heard an author talk about his time as a graduate assistant in an introductory literature class. While all the other classes had reading lists of the classics he had things like “The Princess Bride” (before the movie). His reasoning was this- he was supposed to teach certain skills to help students tackle a text, any text. If the student couldn’t understand what they were reading, how could you really master the skill? You spent most of your time translating what the author meant or deciphering olde English. I use comics and graphic novels in the same way. If my goal is to get students to understand character traits then why not talk about the cousins in “Bone” then when we are reading a more challenging text, circle round to those traits we already mastered, “Isn’t this character like Phoney Bone?”. Although when you get to the end Bone is definitely a deep story.
As you look at creating your classroom comic book library please understand your mileage may differ… you know your class, the families, and your community. Make sure to read every book you put out there and be comfortable enough with the content in case someone throws a fit over it. Not all comics are created equal. Make sure to check out a Parent’s Guide to the Best Kids Comics and get on the Diamond Bookshelf mailing list to see what’s new. Diamond is the major comics distributor for the the US so if they talk about it, your local comic shop can get it. Also check out Reading with Pictures and join their community to see what else people suggest for your specific grade level.
If you are using reading programs like Accelerated Reader check to see what quizzes are available for various titles. It’s always a nice check to see if the kids are actually reading.
Bone by Jeff Smith I started with the Scholastic editions when they first came out and soon realized that my students could not wait until the next book came out. I passed along my complete Bone (in one 1300 volume) to a few students and finally had to buy another copy. The students enjoyed carrying around this massive tome and didn’t mine that it wasn’t in color.
Amelia Rules by Jimmy Gownley I started off with these as individual issues and then picked up the trades. Life as a kid with a strong female character dealing with issues that kids can relate to.
The Dreamland Chronicles by Christian Scott Sava When I first started looking at webcomics I stumbled upon this one. The story of a guy who returns to “Dreamland” where kids go when they sleep in order to save the realm and help his friends. Currently available in print (seven volumes) but on hiatus as the creator works on a film.
Tiny Titans by Art Balthazar and Franco Yes, it’s mainstream, but Tiny Titans, now back in print as a monthly title is just fun. Each issue has small individual stories that tie together using characters from the DC Universe. The artwork is a joy and a great inspiration for kids.
Leave it to Chance by James Robinson & Paul Smith (Sadly out of print) this is the story of the mystic protector of Devil’s Echo. Chance Falconer wants to follow in her father’s footsteps, but he won’t allow it so being a “strong female character” she goes ahead and does it anyway. The first arc (Shaman’s Rain) can be a little hard for the kids to get into initially, but once they do they are hooked.
Mouse Guard by David Petersen “Mice with Swords” Fantasy Tale about the mice who keep order in the realm. Beautifully illustrated, David Petersen is available on Ustream to watch his process. better for upper elementary, I’ve had former students hunt me down to get the most recent story. Mouse Guard is the story, Legends of the Guard is an anthology in which other creators tell a tale from the same universe.
Owly by Andy Runton Wordless comics great for younger audiences tells the story of Owly, Wormy and their friends in the forest. What I like about it is by being wordless you can have kids of any age, tell you the story.
Individual Graphic Novel Titles:
Smile by Raina Telgemeier Bio-comic that kids can get into, when I brought this into my 4th grade class it vanished for weeks being passed from kid to kid until almost the whole class had read it.
Monthly Comics I’ll be Adding:
New Comic Book Day is Wednesday so teach your class some patience by picking up individual issues that they have to wait and remember what was going on.
Tiny Titans – back after a hiatus, this playful kids version of the DC Universe has multiple short stories that are tied together by a central theme each issue.
Scribblenauts Unmasked – When DC released a version of Scribblenauts (a great video game you should check out players are confronted with a puzzle that they must solve by creating things using a magic notepad. You write “hammer” and a hammer appears) a companion/extension comic was created in which the characters from Scribblenauts help save the DC Universe.
Princess Ugg – I’m always a little leery suggesting a comic when only one issue is out but I lie this premise and the idea of a strong female character. This comic is telling the story of a barabarian princess heading off to princess school… and hijinks ensue.
Herobear and the Kid – one of my favorites that took forever to get the issues out… Drawn in “rough animation” style so kids who draw can see the underlying work it tells the story of Tyler who moves into his grandfather’s house upon his grandfather’s death. He has the typical problems of a kid in a new school plus all his grandfather gave him was a broken pocket watch and s stuffed bear… a stuffed bear that happens to turn into Herobear! It is back after a long hiatus and is being published in 5 issue arcs so hopefully it won’t require you to wait a year between issues.
Trade or Graphic Novel Titles I’ll be Adding to my third grade classroom:
Drama & Sisters by Raina Telgemeier
Amulet (Series) by Kazu Kibuishi
Lunch Lady (Series)
Baby Mouse (Series)
You’ll notice I have left off a lot of mainstream DC & Marvel titles. Basically, these tend to talk down to kids, and are in many cases not very good for the kids- which is why so many adults think of comics as the candy of books. There are some great stories out there, but in my journey through comic book shops, most things produced by major publishers are junk food. Your mileage may vary… check out a few titles and see what you think. The first trade for the second volume of Ultimate Spider-Man – introducing Mile Morales) is very well done and and really engaging to upper elementary/middle school kids. There are hundreds of titles out there and I know I’m missing some great ones, so please feel free to share your suggestions in the comments.
When I was a first starting out I used to go by the rule that if it was approved by the Comics Code Authority that meant the comic was basically similar in content to what the kids would see on prime time television. The Code was established as a watchdog agency censoring the content of comics so they were appropriate after a number of hearings dealing with some of the horror comics in the 50’s. There are books written on the subject, so I’m just giving you a very brief overview. The code went away pretty recently and comic publishers now rate comics as Mature, Teen, or Everyone – All Ages kind of like what they do with video games. They are self regulated, so a Teen comic may be OK for your elementary classroom, you need to decide. You know your students, families and community better than anyone else.
I just remember when a friend handed me a long box (around 200 comics) as a donation for my school. I started handing them out to teachers seeing that they all were approved by the code… a few days later I was called into the principal’s office- she had a stack of comics and I found out that the comic code had failed me… It seems that Batman & Detective Comics were a little more mature- the surveillance scene in a strip club was tastefully done, but inappropriate. So make sure, like anything else you put in your classroom you have read it and approve of the content.
So go out talk to the folks at your local comic shop and read some comics!
Next time: Ideas for Integrating Comics into your Classroom.