It’s Monday … What are you reading?

From Teaching Mentor Texts

“It’s Monday! What are you Reading? is a meme hosted by Sheila at Book Journeys. It is a great way to recap what you read and/or reviewed the previous week and to plan out your reading and reviews for the upcoming week. It’s also a great chance to see what others are reading right now…you just might discover the next “must-read” book!

Kellee Moye, of Unleashing Readers, and I decided to give It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? a kidlit focus. If you read and review books in children’s literature – picture books, chapter books, middle grade novels, young adult novels, anything in the world of kidlit – join us! We love this meme and think you will, too. We encourage everyone who participates to visit at least three of the other kidlit book bloggers that link up and leave comments for them.”


I’m going to give this a shot. I read a lot of graphic novels but I also read everything from picturebooks to YA novels. This will give me a chance to talk, in brief, about those books as well.

Scaredy Squirrel prepares for Holloween by Mélanie Watt from Kids Can Press


I have long been a huge fan of Scaredy Squirrel. He is a total hypochondriac, pretty OCD, and generally anxious to a degree that makes me feel pretty good about myself. This Halloween edition is a mix of surprisingly helpful advice on things like carving pumpkins, and silly stuff like “The apple: A Scary Fruit”. I’m usually not a big fan of themed books, but this one is pretty funny.


If You Could be Mine by Sara Farizan from Algonguin Young Readers

IfYouCouldI have been searching for lesbian stories in YA novels for a while now. There are simply not enough out there so anytime I find one, I read it. I have been disappointed more times than not at the quality of writing, the flat characters, or the general sense of disgust at yet another doomed romance. It feels like no one wants lesbians to be happy. So, it was with great trepidation that I started If You Could be Mine.

It is all of those things I just complained about – a doomed lesbian teen romance. But, it is so much more. The characters are alive and breathing. The setting, modern Iran, reads less like a ravel log and more like the authors back yard that she is letting us see for awhile. And, although the romance is doomed, the characters are, amazingly, not.


FANGBONE! by Michael Rex from Putnam Juvenile

Michael Rex Fangbone 1

I’ll be blogging about this one soon. Let me just say … AWESOME!!! Full of silliness, honor, dodgeball, and gnarly big toes that must be kept safe. Enough said ….

Cardboard by Doug Tennapel

Cardboard Cover

One of the issues teachers face when trying to integrate graphic novels into the classroom is a lack of general knowledge about the medium. Some interesting research shows that teachers want to use these books but do not know enough about how to read comics in general or how to evaluate graphic novels in particular (see Thomas DeVere Wolsey’s blog).

Although I started this blog with SUMO, I must admit it is not a great book for novice graphic novel readers. On the other hand, Cardboard by Doug TenNapel is a great graphic novel to start your exploration of the media. TenNapel is the author of other works such as Ghostopolis and Power Up (you might see a resemblance between Mike, the father in Cardboard and Hugh the protagonist in Power Up).

What makes Cardboard a great  graphic novel for novice readers is something I call alignment. The words and images in graphic novels should support each other and push each other to make a greater whole than either one or the other is capable of on it’s own. When images and words are closely aligned, they support each other without pushing too many boundaries. When the alignment is irregular, disturbed, or even completely disconnected (in works such as V for Vendetta by Alan Moore and David Lloydor, or American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang) the works are more complex and difficult to read and understand. For some books,the complexity of story, words, and images makes for genius, but that may not be where you want to start.

One metaphor I have been playing with for understanding how words and pictures work together is that of constructing a house. You can think of the words as the framing of the room. What shape does it take? Are there lots of windows or just a few? Are the ceilings vaulted? The words  provide the structure for the story. Then there are the  images, which make up  the walls, floors, paint, carpet and furniture that give you a sense of what the room should be used for and for whom it was constructed. You can have the frame or the finishes, but you need both to have a room.

Cardboard uses a rich but straightforward palette of warm tans and browns that provide a kind of  comfort, even when people and cardboard monsters are at war – but I’m getting ahead of myself and the story.

Cardboard pagesMike is a construction worker who is out of work. He’s also a father, a very bad cook, and a widow. He has no job, no wife, no support of any kind but he does have a great kid, Cameron.

Cam_Close upThe novel begins on Cam’s birthday with Mike realizing he doesn’t have a dollar to his name for a present. He ends up buying a big cardboard box from roadside toy stand for 79 cents (yeah, people in stories actually stop at those stands). Turns out the big cardboard box is full of magic or alien technology or space voodoo and one thing leads to another – including the creation of a cardboard-come-to-life boxer named Bill, Cam’s arch nemesis, Marcus, stealing the technology to make more magic/alien/voodoo cardboard which of course leads to an evil cardboard King Marcus attempting to take over the world, or at least the neighborhood.

The story is fast paced with Good and Evil clearly demarcated with a sprinkling of personal redemption. Best of all everything, literally, works together to solve the problems that come alone (and alive) int eh story. The coherent narrative is a pleasurable experience with just enough creep-factor to keep it from edging into a  moralistic contrivance. TenNapel’s drawings are closely aligned with the words giving the reader a good story. The people looks like people, the rats look like rats, but when they combine, they look awesome!cardboard3TenNapel’s use of a connected color palette full of tans and browns, along with his consistent use of regular paneling that only breaks in times of high stress. There are  brilliant/gross touches throughout- such as when Marcus’s best friend Pink Eye defends himself by giving a one eyed cardboard monster an instantaneous and massively nasty case of conjunctivitis. There is references to body functions (including cardboard blood, a beating cardboard heart, and cardboard spit). All of this combines for a solid story where the images and the words support each other.