Graphic Novel Book Review


The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick 

I really loved this book; it was so different from anything I have ever read (including other graphic novels) and I completely enjoyed the experience of reading it. The book is quite thick, so upon first looking at it I was thinking “Oh boy, here we go.” I hate to admit it, but I expected I would end up skipping over most of the pictures. All of this changed when I started to read the book. The sequences of pictures telling a scene or part of the story were by far my favorite part of the book. Rather than skipping over them, I waited anxiously for when the next picture would come and carefully examined and appreciated each one. The pictures really did almost make it feel like I was watching a movie at the same time as I was reading the book. Unlike other graphic novels, these pictures were not set up in comic book form; each picture took up an entire two-page spread. 


The detail in the pictures made them appealing to look at, and they did a fabulous job of telling or showing parts of the story. I did not feel that any of the pictures were unnecessary or distracting. Many of them were not just pictures of what the text was saying, but they actually moved the story forward. The text/plot in the book was very intriguing and made me want to keep reading, but it was definitely very simple. I enjoyed reading it for this reason though, and I am sure many middle school students would feel the same way.

As far as using this book in a classroom, I am not really sure where it would fit in. It is a homage to the real filmmaker Georges Méliès and silent films, which could be really cool to bring into a classroom somehow. I definitely want to at least have one copy in my library to be able to recommend to students. It provides such a unique experience of reading that I think some students would really, really enjoy. Also, many middle school students like to read mysteries, which this book is. Overall, a great book. Would recommend it to anyone! 


Beer’s “Choosing Not to Read” article

This article was really interesting, especially after thinking about my own reading life when working on the reading autobiography earlier in the semester. I think in middle school and high school I fit somewhere in between the dormant reader and the uncommitted reader. Because of this, I could relate to a lot of what this article was saying about these kinds of readers. I am so glad that I am learning more and more about what shapes these readers and how to motivate them to read more; I wish I had a teacher who had been able to do that for me.

The descriptions and explanations of aesthetic vs. efferent reading make so much sense to me, and I think it would be really easy to pick up on which way a student is looking at a text. I want to make sure I allow students to have opportunities during school where they are reading aesthetically, simply for the pleasure of reading. If students can realize that this is a big role of reading (and not just scanning for information to be able to do well on a test), they will hopefully be able to get more excited about it. Generally, teachers tend to focus on the reading skills too much, and this can really hurt students. 

The other big take-away I got from this article is that different types of students/readers will have different motivations to read. One thing may really get one student excited about reading, whereas for another student it may push them away. This just shows how important it is for the teacher to know each student individually and figure out what will be best for him/her. For any student who is not an avid reader, it will take more time to help them start to love reading and feel comfortable with their responses to reading. As a teacher, I want to recognize that this is okay and I just need to continue working with that student. 




#1 – Dolores Huerta: A Hero to Migrant Workers by Sarah Warren 

This was a great picture book highlighting the role of Dolores Huerta in the struggle for fair treatment for migrant farm workers in the second half of the 20th century. The book does not give extremely specific details about her life or what she has done, but rather a broader picture of who she is as a person and what methods she used to accomplish what she wanted to accomplish. Nearly every page starts with describing Dolores in a different role (for example “Dolores is a warrior” or “Dolores is an organizer”), and then goes on to explain how this role defines a part of her stand against unfair treatment of migrant workers. The illustrations in the book are really wonderful – very bright, colorful, and realistic. I think they add a lot to the telling of the story. In the back of the book is a timeline telling more specific details about Dolores’ life and also a page of references to learn more about her. 

Before reading this book, I had never even heard of Dolores Huerta, so I’m sure many students have not either. Her story, however, is really important and I think this book could be a great way to help students recognize that the fight for a fair workplace still happens today, in many different settings and contexts. The book also does a good job of showing the progression of Dolores’ fight and the different steps she went through to make some changes happen. For some students, this may help them understand how processes like this occur. 


#2 – Harriet Tubman: Hero of the Underground Railroad by Lori Mortensen

This picture book was definitely good, but I am not completely blown away. It was fun to read about Harriet Tubman in a context other than a textbook, but I feel like it could have done a better job of explaining what she did and the significance of what she did. I do like how it outlined her entire life, including what she did after the Civil War ended. 

This book could certainly be a great way to introduce Harriet Tubman if students were focusing specifically on her in class. I think this biography could be a good one to read aloud to the whole class, then assign a group of students a certain section of the text and have them do their own research to learn more about what was discussed in their section. Each group could present their findings. This may be a good way to engage the students more in the information. 


#3 – John F. Kennedy by Marta Randall 

At first I was afraid this biography was going to be very boring and drag on, but it turned out to be really interesting and well-written. The book grabs the reader’s attention immediately with having the first chapter be about the assassination of JFK. It then goes on to describe his background and his movement up to presidency, eventually bringing it full circle at his death. Real photographs of JFK, his family, and others throughout the entire book help get the full effect and story of who JFK was and the events that surrounded him. Many of the pages also have quotes from JFK or others who were close to him commenting on different parts of his life and his role as president of the United States. 

The part I liked most about the book is that his biography is largely shaped around the bigger historic events that were happening at this time. JFK’s life and presidency are described in relation to how he handled all these different things going on in America and in the world at the time. So, not only would students learn about JFK from reading this book, but they would also learn a lot about the 1950s-60s. For example, the last three chapters are entitled Berlin and the Soviet Union, The Cuban Missile Crisis, and Civil Rights. I think students could really benefit from using this book either as a supplement or addition to the textbook. It seems easier to read than most textbooks and certainly has more fun and interesting photographs. 

Informational Texts

#1 – Almost Astronauts: 13 Women Who Dared to Dream by Tanya Lee Stone 

I really liked this book. It detailed the story of the “Mercury 13” women, who basically attempted to become astronauts at the same time as the “Mercury 7,” a group of seven men who were the first team of the newly created NASA program. At first I thought this book was going to be all about NASA and the process of becoming an astronaut (which it was), but it was also largely framed around the struggle for women’s rights in the last half of the 20th century. Although the Mercury 13 were not successful in becoming astronauts, they paved the way for women in the space program and had a significant impact on the women’s rights movement as a whole. Jerrie Cobb, the first women to go through all the tests, etc. and fight for women’s rights to fly in space, has been noted as a hero in this area. 

I want to be a history teacher, and I definitely find this book appealing for my classroom. It highlights the prejudice that has been shown towards women and other “minority” groups. It uses the story of these 13 women to describe the larger context of women’s struggle to leave their “place in the kitchen” and be successful in careers commonly held by men. Many aspects of this part of history are brought up in this book with evidence and in a way that is easy to understand. Because it is about astronauts it may really be a cool way to get some students interested. Also, the pictures draw the reader in and make it more interesting. 

#2 – Anne Frank by Josephine Poole 

This picture book is definitely written more as a story than a traditional non-ficition text. Through Anne, it describes the growing hatred and persecution of Jews in Germany. It then describes Anne’s life hidden away in an annex of her father’s office building for over two years. To me, the main point of the book seemed to be to peak the reader’s interest in finding out more about Anne Frank and looking into reading her diary, the one that she wrote while in the annex. In terms of the actual story, I am not sure how much of it is totally accurate, but I do think this book could be a great way to introduce the Holocaust and a study of Anne Frank’s diary. 

#3 – Sojourner Truth by Frances E. Ruffin 

Didn’t like this one as much. This picture book was from a series called American Legends, and it was sort of dry and boring. The pictures did not add much to the text, and some of them even seemed random or like they didn’t belong. Also, the book had some words in bold and then had a glossary for them in the back, which is kind of cool and kind of weird. The bold words were sometimes distracting and made it feel more like a textbook. The book certainly could be used to teach about Sojourner Truth in a classroom, but I feel like there are probably better options out there. If I were to use it, it would probably be in a younger elementary school classroom. 

Poetry Picture Books


#1- Pieces: A Year in Poems & Quilts by Anna Grossnickle Hines 

As the title suggests, this book moves through the different seasons of a year, represented clearly through the poems and pictures. The poems are written in different forms, often expressing or relating to what the poem is discussing. For example, a poem about leaves falling has the words drifting back and forth across the page, rather than in a straight line. The pictures are reproduced copies of original handmade quilts, which is so cool! In the back of the book, Hines describes the the story behind the quilts and a little bit about the process of quilting. 

This book could be a fun way to introduce the seasons to a younger elementary school classroom. It would also, of course, be great to use for a poetry unit. As I mentioned earlier, several of the poems are structured in a way that is directly relating to the meaning. This book be could be used as an example to show students how the form of a poem can help express theme. I think the book could even be used in an art classroom – read it and then have students complete something similar. They do not have to quilt, but they could come up with different ways to visually represent the seasons and the changes that occur between each. 


#2 – The Brother’s War: Civil War Voices in Verse by J. Patrick Lewis 

Loved loved loved this book. It would be so great to use in a middle school history classroom. Each two-page spread of the book has a poem describing some aspect of the war and a picture that is actually a real photograph. Each photograph has a description and the name of who took it, if known. In addition, each page has about a paragraph giving more detailed historic information about whatever the poem was about. Most of the poems are about a specific event, battle, or person. However, the author takes these things and makes them more personal and emotional. Lewis recreates the voices of many different people who were involved in the war, and the poems help express what they may have been feeling or thinking. 

A great activity to do along with reading this book would be to have the students write their own poems in the voice of someone who would have been there during that time. This will require them to research and discover in order to make their poem as accurate as possible. The teacher could even assign students to all write a poem about the same event, but from several different viewpoints. This would be such an interesting way to see different effects and perspectives of one moment in time. 

Bronx Masquerade by Nikki Grimes


Bronx Masquerade was a great combination of short narratives and poems. It was an extremely quick read, and I would definitely recommend it to students and make it a part of my classroom. To me, the main message was that it is important to accept yourself for you who are and to accept others for who they are. In the story, a group of classmates learn so much about themselves and each other through writing, reading, and sharing poetry. They realize that although there are differences between them, there are also many similarities. They struggle with the same problems and all of them have a deeper side that no one else really noticed or realized before they shared their poetry. A boy named Tyrone comments on everyone’s poems and allows the reader to see how much he is learning about everyone and how much his thoughts/feelings change throughout the book. I think this book could be a great way to help students start to recognize the power of poetry and words and expressing themselves. I may even try to have some Open Mike Friday’s of my own when I become a teacher :).

Favorite poem from the book:

In case I forgot to tell you,
I’m allergic to boxes:
Black boxes, shoe boxes
New boxes, You boxes – 
Even cereal boxes
Boasting champions. 
(It’s all a lie.
I’ve peeked inside
And what I found
Were flakes.)
Make no mistake, 
I make no exceptions
For Cracker Jack
Or Christmas glitter. 
Haven’t you noticed?
I’m made of skeleton,
Muscle and skin. 
My body is the only box
I belong in. 
But you like your boxes
So keep them. 
Make them geek, wimp, bully. 
Mark them china doll, brainiac,
Or plain dumb jock. 
Choose whatever
Box you like, Mike.
Just don’t put me
In one, son.
Believe me,
I won’t fit.