The graphic novel as learning tool

Meryl Jaffe is the rock star in the graphic novel as an educational tool genre. She’s been to New York Comic Con, promoting the gospel.

Worth A Thousand WordsAs you may know, I used to work at a comic book store called FantaCo on Central Avenue in Albany for 8.5 years, May 1980 to November 1988. It was the second-longest job I ever had.

During this period, Marvel put out something they called a graphic novel. It was a squarebound comic book of the X-Men, 81/2″ by 11″, with much nicer paper, and a price of $4.95, when regular comics were still under $1.

How the graphic novel has changed. I came across Meryl Jaffe through her participation in the ABC Wednesday meme. She has a blog Departing the Text, which is still interesting, although she has’t updated it in a few years. She wrote Using Content Area Graphic Texts for Learning: A Guide for Middle-Level Educators (2012), which is more readable that the title might suggest.

Meryl is the rock star in the graphic novel as an educational tool genre. She’s been to New York Comic Con, promoting the gospel. Yet she makes a confession in the preface of her new book, with Talia Hurwich, Worth a Thousand Words: Using Graphic Novels to Teach Visual and Verbal Literacy (2019).

“Until fairly recently, I didn’t think graphic novels were appropriate for my classroom or for my kids’ reading at home.” But her children, “as comfortable reading Neil Gaiman as Alexandre Dumas,” gave her I Kill Giants by Joe Kelly and J. M. Ken Nimura, and Meryl did a 180. BTW, Talia Hurwich is Meryl’s daughter.

Chapter 1 addresses the fears of using the graphic novel in the educational setting. Chapter 2 is the necessarily “scholarfied” stuff to sell the concept to the principal or school board. It uses the word “multimodal.” Several times.

After that, Worth A Thousand Words is a great read, very practical and hands-on. The book has sections on how to interpret the elements of graphic novels – narrative and thought balloons, e.g.

The authors show how to teach reading, but also how to do create instruction in writing, with students encouraged to create their own illustrative narratives. And it’s not just for prose, but social studies, science, even math. I realize that my creative daughter might be able to use the tools laid out therein.


A commercial: I will be reviewing March, Books One, Two, & Three, graphic novels by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell for the Friends of the Albany Public Library on April 16 at noon at 161 Washington Avenue. Not incidentally, the March books are cited in Worth A Thousand Words.

Oscar nominated short films for 2017: animated

I got the sense that Negative Space was a really personal story for the creator.

Negative Space

Presidents Day means that the family goes to the cinema, as usual to the Spectrum Theatre, its parking lot full. We saw the five Academy Award nominees in the category of Best Animated Short, plus three others.

Dear Basketball (USA, 6 minutes), narrator/writer Kobe Bryant describes achieving his dream and then needing to walk away. I liked the pencil drawings; the guy behind me clearly LOVED them. This has no chance of winning after Kobe’s sexual assault charges some years ago.

Garden Party (France, 7 minutes) – when the humans are away, the amphibians will play all over the house. the animation here was so realistic that one could be forgiven for thinking it was live action. The ending was a surprise, though the clues were there. If the best-looking film were the sole criterion, this would be the winner.

LOU (USA, 7 minutes) – a toy-stealing bully wrecks recess until he’s thwarted by a “Lost and Found” box. This opened for the Pixar movie Cars 3 in theaters, and is of the usual quality of the studio.

Negative Space (France, 5 minutes) – a boy is able to connect with his oft-away dad because dad taught him how to pack a suitcase. I got the sense that this was a really personal story for the creator. My pick to win.

Revolting Rhymes, Part One (UK, 30 minutes), Roald Dahl’s retellings of classic fairy tales (Snow White, Red Riding Hood, Three Pigs) with lots of twists. I enjoyed it a lot. I need to somehow see Part Two. Or does it really end like that?

As is usually the case, there were bonus shorts, ones that didn’t get nominated but were considered.

Weeds (USA, 3 minutes) – on the face of it, the story of a dandelion, stuck on the wrong side of the driveway, where there’s water on the other side. On another level – and my wife really picked up on this – it’s about the “struggle and distance someone may have to travel–against all odds–to find a better life.”

Lost Property Office (Australia, 10 minutes) – no one wants the stuff they’ve lost on the train. Will the powers that be want the guy in charge of tracking those items? The sepia monochrome gives the impression of a less than ideal ending, but it finishes with whimsy.

Achoo! (France, 7 minutes) – The tiny Chinese dragon, suffering from a cold, seems outmatched by two others, who are cocky and a bit mean. Can our bumbling hero put on the best show using his incendiary powers?

Oscar-nominated short films: Live action

The first, third, and fifth movies all were based on true stories and suggested the possibility of violence.

All the short films my wife and I saw at the Spectrum in February 2018 were quite good. Dekalb Elementary (USA – 20 minutes) involved a 2013 school shooting incident in Atlanta, GA. It was really intense, but the lead female’s role was remarkable.

The Silent Child (UK – 20 minutes) is about a profoundly deaf four-year-old girl, whose busy middle class family care for her. But she lives in a world of silence until a caring social worker teaches her how to communicate. The arc of this story was very touching, and a bit heartbreaking.

My Nephew Emmett (USA – 19 minutes) is set in 1955 and based on the true story of a Mississippi preacher who tries to protect his 14-year-old nephew. I knew almost immediately, though my wife did not, what this story was all about, which I suppose lessened the impact only slightly.

In The Eleven O’Clock (Australia – 13 minutes), the delusional patient of a psychiatrist believes he is actually the psychiatrist, and they end up analyzing each other. As the only comedy, and a cleverly funny one at that, it broke up the tension in the theater somewhat.

Watu Wote – All of Us (Germany/Kenya – 23 minutes). “For almost a decade Kenya has been targeted by terrorist attacks of the Al-Shabaab. An atmosphere of anxiety and mistrust between Muslims and Christians is growing. Until in December 2015, Muslim bus passengers showed that solidarity can prevail.”

The first, third, and fifth movies all were based on true stories and suggested the possibility of violence. DeKalb was probably my favorite among these, but I suspect Wote Watu will win the Oscar because it’s so timely.

As a teacher of English as a New Language, my wife really related to The Silent Child, knowing children often need advocates when they are “different.”

The one thing I hated in the presentation is that, during the closing credits, they had videos of the filmmakers hearing that they’ve been nominated for Academy Awards. It really ruined the mood, especially the stirring end music of Wote Watu. Now if they’d run the clips AFTER each the credits, it would have been better, serving as a brief respite before another heavy topic.

Nevertheless, a very good crop of films.

The 50 greatest films of the 21st Century

This is one of those well-regarded films that, for some reason, left me cold

Crouching-Tiger-Hidden-Dragon-2000-coverThe BBC surveyed 177 film critics “from every continent except Antarctica. “For the purposes of this poll we have decided that a list of the greatest films of the 21st Century should include the year 2000” because the year “was a landmark in global cinema.”

Though I started this blog in 2005, and reviewed many of the films I’ve seen over the years, I wasn’t as detailed in the beginning. Still my reviews will be the items that are hyperlinked. The movies I saw, the number will be italicized. A few movies I am not familiar with I’ve designated DK (don’t know).

I know that sometimes a movie doesn’t work for me – or you – for reasons not in the film. There are at least three films on this list that most people I know love, and they just didn’t work for me, in the theater, on that day. Very few films on this list did I see first on video; actually only one.

50. The Assassin (Hou Hsiao-hsien, 2015) -DK
49. Goodbye to Language (Jean-Luc Godard, 2014) – DK
48. Brooklyn (John Crowley, 2015) Continue reading “The 50 greatest films of the 21st Century”

The 21st century’s 100 greatest films, part 1

Until I read my own review, I had forgotten how much I liked this film

Requiem for a DreamThe BBC surveyed 177 film critics “from every continent except Antarctica. “For the purposes of this poll we have decided that a list” of the 21st century’s 100 greatest films “should include the year 2000” because the year “was a landmark in global cinema.”

Though I started this blog in 2005, and reviewed many of the films I’ve seen over the years, I wasn’t as detailed in the beginning. Still my reviews will be the items that are hyperlinked. A few movies I am not familiar with I’ve designated DK (don’t know)

Yes there are three films at 100

100. Toni Erdmann (Maren Ade, 2016) – DK
100. Requiem for a Dream (Darren Aronofsky, 2000) – saw this in a not-very-crowded theater; at least half of the audience had seen the before. It was astonishing, druggy psychological drama with Jared Leto and Jennifer Connelly. I thought the star, Ellen Burstyn Continue reading “The 21st century’s 100 greatest films, part 1”