Thursday, January 31, 2013

The Cartoon History of the United States By Larry Gonick

Looking for history with comic relief? The Cartoon History of the United States is one of the most entertaining history books I’ve ever read.  The book delivers hundreds of years of history about the United States while keeping it all light with witty humor.  The drawings are simple, entertaining and accompanied by large quantities of text, allowing the book to deliver an ample amount of information disguised as a graphic novel. The caricatures are often entertaining and provide the much needed breaks between all the chunks of text.  It feels as if the book is flying through the years, providing just enough information about events to whet students’ appetites.

The Cartoon History of the United States would make an excellent place to start an inquiry project. This text could be used to introduce students to U.S History or as a companion to the course textbook.  Students who enjoy comedy, history and other non-fiction graphic novels might enjoy this selection. --Claudio Leon

Gonick, Larry. The Cartoon History of the United States. HarperCollins, 1991. Print.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Sneak preview: Kindness for Weakness by Shawn Goodman

Want to take a walk inside a secure detention center in New York state in the aughts?  Goodman captures the authentic details of the dynamics among staff and incarcerated youth to an uncanny degree.  Although Louis, the novel’s protagonist, is never sharply drawn enough to warrant the reader’s attachment, several supporting characters are, and in spite of the wan first fifty pages, once Louis gets on the bus heading upstate, the reader is undoubtedly along for the ride.  Students who have not yet experienced secure detention environments may appreciate the heads up or, perhaps, the history.  This novel could pair interestingly with Walter Dean Myers’ Monster or Lockdown, or the author’s previously published Something Like Hope. The text itself begs a reading of London’s classic, Call of the Wild.--Jessica Fenster-Sparber

Not yet published, due out May 2013 from Delacorte Press.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Other People’s Rejection Letters by Bill Shapiro

Whether your curiosity is driven by schadenfreude or sympathy, there is a lot of appeal in this substantial volume of collected rejection letters, notes, emails, and texts.  Rejection is a universal experience and there is something for everyone to connect to in Bill Shapiro’s well-curated tome.  These rejections run the gamut, from the official rejection of Mark David Chapman’s parole to the Museum of Modern Art’s letter rejecting a painting from Andy Warhol, with plenty of Dear John letters, notes between estranged parents and children, and good, old-fashioned thanks-but-no-thanks letters from prospective employers.  

Preserving most of the entries in their original state (facebook page, toilet paper, cell phone screen, note passed surreptitiously in class) makes Other People’s Rejection Letters a uniquely visually stimulating browse.  There are even a handful of rejection letters from galleries that have been fully-illustrated by the rejected artist!  

Any solid collection of written rejection will include a bit of colorful language and there is a tiny smattering of profanity sprinkled throughout.  What may be more interesting to teachers is the range of register, tone, and voice represented.  Many of these collected letters seem tailor-made to teach the idea of audience and purpose. --Regan Schwartz

Shapiro, B, ed. Other People’s Rejection Letters. New York: Clarkson Potter, 2010. Print.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Burned Alive: a Survivor of an “Honor Killing” Speaks Out by Souad

With a can of gasoline and a match, Souad’s brother-in-law changed her life forever. In this gripping memoir, Souad recounts her childhood in Palestine, where her father considered his daughters less valuable than farm animals, and the events that led to her horrific attempted murder, while pregnant, at the age of seventeen. After she and her unborn child miraculously survive the burning, thanks to some quick-acting village women, she is taken to a hospital where she receives little care as her family and hospital staff hope for her to die. Luckily, Jacqueline, a woman working for a Swiss humanitarian organization, hears about her story and takes pains to get Souad and her newborn son out of the country and into safety.

This memoir is consistently popular with students who are drawn to the incredible story of a young woman who finds herself in an all too common situation -- in love, pregnant, and then abandoned by the man. In Souad’s story, however, the consequences are far more extreme than what many free and independent women can fathom. This book has the potential to open our students’ eyes to the atrocities around the world, and to help them understand and appreciate their own freedoms a little better.

Souad never learned how to write; the result is a book that was dictated in a very simple, straightforward style, following her story from Palestine to Europe. Some parts may be challenging for struggling readers, but the overall text is very accessible, especially for students who have been hooked by the story and are willing to persevere through foreign concepts. --Anja Kennedy

Souad. Burned Alive: a Survivor of an “Honor Killing” Speaks Out. New York: Grand Central Publishing, 2004. Print.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Batman Hush story by Jeph Loeb

The world’s greatest detective is back, trying to solve one of the greatest mysteries of his life.  Who is Hush? How is he always one step ahead of the Caped Crusader? After rescuing a kidnapped boy and discovering Catwoman in the process of stealing the ransom money, Batman gives chase to the feline thief above and below the streets of Gotham City.  The chase leads them both to a larger mystery that will force the long time frenemies to join forces and investigate what connects all of Batman’s greatest villains to the mysterious figure named Hush.  With every one of his well-honed skills put to the test, Batman will prove why he’s the world’s greatest detective.  But as he gets closer to the truth the Caped Crusader will have to figure out how Jason Todd’s (Robin) death is connected to Hush.

Batman fans will not be disappointed by Batman: Hush.  Students will love seeing the Joker, Two-Face, the Penguin, Nightwing and plenty of other guest appearances in the book.  I would recommend this book to any comic book reader who likes their mysteries mixed with action. --Claudio Leon

Loeb, Joseph. Batman: Hush. New York, 2003. Print