What Are You Reading? December 8, 2014

Mon Reading Button PB to YA

I just returned from a great Literacy Research Association (LRA) conference held on Marco Island, FL. Like many in my field I have few colleagues in my sub-sub-sub field (graphic novel reading) and LRA gives me a change to catch up on everything. It leaves me exhausted and invigorated.

So, I came into the office – it is something like 19 degrees outside and 87 degrees inside – ready to grade papers, talk to students, Ares-Cov-300rgband change my syllabus for next semester’s children’s and YA literature course to reflect the research I saw at LRA. But, before all that started, I found the latest in George O’Connor’s Olympians series in my mailbox!!!

 Like so many graphic novel readers I have loved this series since Zeus (Vol. 1) but truth be told Hades (Vol. 4) was by far my favorite and remains so today.

Ares: Bringer of War is another solid edition to the series. The color red runs throughout the book, beginning with the cover. In this book O’Connor does some interesting work delineating Ares and Athena early on. Athena (Vol. 2) is given a cool shade of blue-gray as her color and it reflects her appreciation for strategy as a way to enter into war with a clear and levelheaded strategy. She is not swayed by passion or emotion, or so she would have us believe.

Page 4

Ares on the other hand is the epitome of passion and madness of battle. The image of Ares and his sister Eris plunging into war provide a beautifully disturbing starting point for the story. The blue gray calm of the bottom left portion of the page is ravaged by Ares and Eris’s flaming chariot as it rips through the troops. The soldiers fear and confusion is apparent as their wide, white eyes that stand in shocked contrast to the rest of the page.

Ares: Bringer of War highlights the connections between the Olympian gods and the Trojan War. First as a comparison between Athena and Ares, then as a stage for the continued competition between Hara, Aphrodite and Athena (see Aphrodite: Goddess of Love). After all, it was the competition between these three which began the Trojan war in the first place!

And so it is with this volume that O’Connor provides us with another view of the gods and the whimsy they took with human life. The treatment O’Connor gives to Hara, Aphrodite and Athena is oneof the most interesting aspects of this book. Each one takes a champion in the war to represent their godly interests with no regard for the mortal himself. O’Connor provides a visual of the ways champions were mere puppets for the gods: Athena looming like a large shadow over Diomedes as she takes him into battle against Ares, and Hara feeding words of encouragement to her army through Stentor as she stands behind him.

Ares, like many of the gods of Olympus, lost a son in the battle for Troy, but unlike the other gods he truly grieves the loss. His grief becomes the catalyst for a short lived brawl between the gods, but the war rages on between the mortals well after the gods have lost interest.

 The lively images and playful treatment of some of the gods makes it a fun and exciting read. But as a retelling of the Iliad it lacks the coherence I have come to expect from O’Connor. Because he dips in and out of the traditional story, this volume might be confusing for readers who don’t know the Iliad, or the divisions between the the Greeks and the Trojans. Given the shortcomings of the text, I think this volume would be a great supplement Homer’s Iliad.

The battle of troy rages on even after the gods loose interest, except for Zeus and Ares. They remain to the bitter end. Ares understands his own nature, and in the end he realizes he is much like Zeus, his father. And this realization brings no relief to Ares or, as it turns out, to man.

Fabulous Graphic Novels Series

One of the first questions teachers ask me when I present my research on graphic novel readers actually reading graphic novels is what graphic novels are good to start with or appropriate for specific grades or types of readers. (Yes, I just wrote a single opening sentence using GN 3 times).

I always hesitate to provide a list because I do not know the students, or the content, or the school and so I feel like I would be giving my approval in a vacuum. On the other hand, I just finished presenting and listening to lots of super smart and dedicated teachers at the annual NCTE conference held here in Boston, MA. I came away with a better understanding of why teachers want the list. Teachers need a hand. They need materials vetted by experts who have a whole lot more time to dedicate to reading graphic novels so they can focus on the good books.

So, with the caveat that teachers need to read the books and decide what is best for their students, I give you ….


To kick off this month I am going to start with three of my favorite series; Lunch Lady, Squish and My Boyfriend is a Monster.


LLadyIt doesn’t get any better than the Lunch Lady series by Jarrett J. Krosoczka (Knopt Books for Young Readers).

There are nine books in the series thus far with more on the way, which is great news. Krosoczka uses a recurring cast of characters including Betty (Lunch Lady’s right hand woman and gadget maker), a trio of kids known as the Breakfast bunch, and the Lunch Lady herself to solve crimes, and bring baddies to justice using a wide variety of kitchen inspired, crime fighting gadgets (my favorite is Taco Vision, night vision goggles shaped like a hard shell taco that makes everyone’s head look like a taco shell).

Although a series, these can be read out of order and revisited often. Krosoczka uses the over the top yellow effectively throughout the books. The illustrations are cartoon-ish in representation of people with lots of slightly off centered angles to cue the reader that action is always around the corner. The panel transitions are expertly treated, especially in the chase scenes, where Krosoczka capitalizes on the incongruity of a Lunch Lady on a bright yellow Vespa chasing bad guys. In addition, Krosoczka’s tongue and cheek humor almost always lost on the characters but not on readers who are wise enough to know that a “spatu-copter” is never a good idea, bus drivers are always a little twisted, and anything that can go wrong will be put right by liberal application of gravy.


Squish coverAnother series that provides readers with puns and excitement is Jennifer and Matt Holm’s Squish (Randome House Books for Young Readers) graphic novels. They are the same team who created and continue to write the BabyMouse series.

I like both series and have introduced BabyMouse to many readers, but there is a special place in my reading heart for this amoeba. Squish is an everyman character – or more accurately, an every kid character. He eats too many twinkies, he reads comic books, goes to school and deals with life in the pond. There is a great balance between silliness and story. What I like most about these books is that the Holm’es don’t dummy down the language to make the texts more comfortable for young or struggling readers. There are some great vocabulary building words and concepts at work in the series that engaged readers will put in the effort to figure out, remember, and use in their everyday language.

The illustrations use bold black lines and bright green for defining characters and scenes. The paneling is fairly predictable with no great surprises. There are laugh out loud moments, especially when Peggy (a bit of a dim bulb) and Pod (a scientific genius) interact. What amazes me most about the illustrations is the complexity of emotions communicated by an amoeba’s facial expressions – given the fact that Squish doesn’t have a face.


For older readers, there is Graphic Universe’s My Boyfriend is a Monster series of graphic novels. Although billed as a series, they are more like a set of companions books, all dealing with young love between human girls and monster boyfriends.

All the books are authored and illustrated by different teams, but the general storylines are similar; a girl who doesn’t quite fit in becomes enamored with the new boy in town, who is brooding and mysterious. Love and weirdness ensues.

Although the stories are predictable they are still a delight to read. The use of fine line drawings, surprising use of full color pages, and completely over the top scary guys as villains makes these worth a read.