This week as contribution to graphic novel celebration,
I’d like to recommend Around the World . Three Remarkable Journeys by Matt Phelan. Not quite non fiction, but three biographical sketches. I’ll take it.
The book is essentially three separate vingettes, each one focusing on world traveler in the 19th century who sought adventure through different modes of transportation. The come link is the inspiration of Jules Verne’s novel Around the World In Eighty Days where the main character tries to travel the world in 80 days on a bet and just because. Thomas Stevens, Nellie Bly and Joshua Slocum were real people and it’s great to have a peek at their adventurous stories in this accessible way.
The illustrations are muted and the words are kept to a minimum, lending the graphic novel to a sense of an early “talkies” film without sound but with some dialogue printed on the screen. There are many imagines with no words and a couple with just words. It really seems to work here. Perhaps this is intentional since Phelan wrote another excellent graphic novel called Bluffton about the childhood of Buster Keaton. Either way, it has both a 19th century feel and a sense of mystery as well where the reader doesn’t know everything. In this case, it’s a good feeling and leaves the reader wanting to read more about each adventurer.
Good for grades 4 and up. Recommended for reluctant readers because the ideas here are plenty but the words are few.
I’m happy to join the celebration of graphic novels, especially since I’m finding it a form that can discuss interesting topics in complex ways and, happily, appeal to readers of many different strengths and interests. Instead of only focusing on non fiction (as per my usual), I’ve found this “based on true historical event” graphic novel that has much to offer in terms of American history and the frailities of human nature.
Gaijin by Matt Faulkner relates the travails of Koji, a biracial teenage boy living in San Francisco, sent to an internment camp shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Within the closed confines of the camp, Koji sees a society under pressure with resulting discrimination, bullying, and hatred. Seeing these people turn on each other offers great discussion possibilites about peer pressure , ethics, and morality of both individuals and society at large.
The graphic novel format makes it a relatively quick read. It could be a greast choice for a reader who is interested in war and history but might not be convinced to try an in depth history–yet.
Grades 5 and up.
Eleanor by Barbara Cooney
One of my favorite picture book biographies about one of my favorite people. Great introduction to Eleanor Roosevelt, specifically her childhood and growing into a confident, influential woman. This is a great mentor text for it’s fabulous opening paragraph and concise, powerful paragraphs. Such a better choice than the standard biography found more easily in the big stores.
Grades 3 and Up
Picture Book Biography
Used successfully with ESL adult learners, too.
Mesmerized. How Ben Franklin Solved a Mystery that Baffled all of France by Mara Rockliff
Mara Rockliff has an easy, enjoyable reading style which manages to include a good dose of history. I particularly like how this picture book biography of Ben Franklin focuses on his use of the scientific method. The author does a great service here by explaining what this is and how Ben actually used it. The story itself is also weird and thus naturally appealing.
Grumpy gripe: I find the constant changes in font very annoying. Many kids can’t read script and struggle to read with confidence when the words aren’t printed clearly. Stick with a basic font; the writing is strong enough to keep the readers interested and the illustrations are also terrific.
Grade 3 and up
Picture book biography
A good book about space is a must have for a kid’s shelf. Take it up a notch with a book about how we know what we know.
Seymour Simon is an established master of science writing for children.
In Earth. Our Planet in Space, he clearly explains what we know about earth as a planet, setting up the facts and the thrill of the exploration of earth’s place in the universe.
But how do we know what we know?
Dennis Brindell Frandin’s excellent biography, Nicolaus Copernicus. The Earth is a Planet, reminds us all that it takes curiosity and determination to reach new levels of understanding of our world.