The thought of using a comic in the classroom fifteen years ago was almost unheard of. Batman and Superman? Used to teach kids about history? Pshaw, I say! Pshaw! In recent years, as readers have been exposed to works like John Lewis’s March trilogy, educators have taken a second look and realized, maybe there’s more to comics than just superheroes. And maybe, just maybe, they do fit into the classroom. One such person is Josh Elder, who in 2009 founded the nonprofit Reading With Pictures, out of which this book was born. Reading With Pictures was first published with a Kickstarter and later kept in print by Andrews McNeel Publishing.
In this book, Elder and his colleagues have united some of the best creative talents to produce over a dozen short stories that can be used in the classroom for a variety of subjects. Highlights include “The Power of Print” by Katie Cook and “The Black Brigade” by Chris Schweizer, as well as a foreword by Printz and Eisner Award winning author Gene Luen Yang (American Born Chinese) and a downloadable Teacher’s Guide that includes lesson plans for each story, how to use them, and best classroom practices.
This is one of those rare books that I would consider groundbreaking in its area. Not that there aren’t other books that talk about graphic novels in the classroom before this one, but this one is one of the first to use comics as a means of actually showing and telling the stories. As well as the fact that they recruited acclaimed artists and storytellers that are known for making comics that can be used in the classroom or have had other educational impact. Lastly, it is also the first (or one of the first as far as I can find) to be distributed by a major publishing house. As such, it an important stepping stone towards the future of using comics in education.
The book is well put together with a great deal of thought gone into who to recruit to write the stories. While some comics are better than others, I think it was absolutely brilliant to ask Chris Schweizer (Crogan’s Adventures) to create a story for the history section and it is certainly one of my favorites in the book. Josh Elder also has done a great job of dividing the comics into different sections—mathematics, history, literature, and so on—so that educators can get a feel for what types of stories might work for their lesson plans. There are also multiple stories in each section to give different ideas and angles. My one criticism here is that I wish there was a page separating each story, as they start to run together which can make it hard in some places to differentiate between two comics, especially to a neophyte reader.
As I mentioned above, this book was originally produced via Kickstarter and has subsequently been kept in print and published by Andrews McNell Publishing, allowing it to have a wider audience. However, another issue that bugs me a bit is that they included a page of advertising in the book for other AMP kids books. While the books aren’t bad, I would have preferred seeing it worked into the book somehow, such as a comic using those characters or just an explanation of how those books meet the criteria that the book has been discussing.
- Elementary and middle schools, because the comics used are geared in that direction and explanation.
- College programs that have a strong emphasis on teacher education.
- Public libraries, because this book may spark an interest with parents and help them better understand why their children like graphic novels and why some of them are used in schools.
Reading with Pictures: Comics That Make Kids Smarter
by Editor: Josh Elder
Andrews McNeel Publishing, 2015