Tuesday, September 28, 2010

ALA names most banned graphic novels

[via newsarama]

ALA names most banned graphic novels

Time to celebrate Banned Books Week, since the ALA (American Library Association) has put out the list of the most challenged graphic novels. Some were understandable, others, I’m scratching my head here. Example: Maus has been challenged as being “Anti-Ethnic”. I don’t get where that’s coming from since it teaches of the horrors of the Holocaust. Now, Sandman, I understand, it’s not age-appropriate, but why would that be in a school anyways? Or Watchmen, which was “unsuited to age group”? What age are we talking about here?

“Not every book is right for each reader, but we should have the right to think for ourselves and allow others to do the same,” said ALA President Roberta Stevens. “How can we live in a free society and develop our own opinions if our right to choose reading materials for ourselves and our families is taken away? We must remain diligent and protect our freedom to read.”

Again, I think it’s silly for other people (read: strangers) to decide what is suitable for other people to read. Other than the fact it’s cost people their librarian positions for making that decision, it’s just morally wrong.

So go out there and enjoy these fine, banned books.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Review -- "Batgirl: Batgirl Rising"

Batgirl: Batgirl Rising
Batgirl Vol. 1: Batgirl RisingBryan Q. Miller, Lee Garbett, Tim Levins, et. al.
DC Comics, 2010

Ever since I began using comics in the classroom, I've bemoaned the lack of strong, intelligent, un-objectified (if that's a word) female protagonists in the comics medium.  A few years ago, with DC's now-defunct Minx line, I was given a brief reprieve from my complaining.  Titles like The Plain Janes (and its sequel Janes in Love), Re-Gifters, Good as Lily, and the oft-overlooked The New York Four all featured women that the female readership could be proud of.  Now that those comics are gone, there's been scant few comics to fill the gap in the strong female protagonist department.  Enter Batgirl.

Batgirl is an important addition to a school comics library because it is not only respectful of women, but of all readers in general.  Telling the story of Stephanie Brown's first few adventures in the Batgirl costume, Batgirl Rising weaves together action movie elements, teenage drama, (elementary) philosophical debates, and years of Bat-continuity in one fun, easy-to-access package. 

After a bumpy start in which perspective is shifted too often and the action isn't terribly clear, the art services the story well in that it gives us (what I believe to be) accurate insight both into the seemingly-normal world of a college freshman as well as the danger that same freshman faces on the streets of Gotham.  Particularly, I am impressed by the artists' rendering of Stephanie's wardrobe; rather than wearing mini-skirts with a thong poking out of the top (yes, that's how many -- if not most -- comic book artists still draw women), Stephanie dresses how women actually dress.  Her proportions are modest and underplayed, which I believe is an important factor in any comic that enters the classroom.

The flaws I found in this collection (these seven 'chapters' were originally published as individual issues of the ongoing Batgirl title) were few.  The Bat-novice may not know, for instance, quite what many of the characters' backstories are; though this isn't essential to enjoying the plot, it might take away some of its richness.  There is a curse-word or two ("dammit" and "hell"), and there is quite a bit of violence.  But in all, this is a story of a young woman making the right choices, and with its blend of action, humor, and theme, I think that Batgirl: Batgirl Rising would make a great addition to a classroom or school library.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Review -- "Bone: Tall Tales"

Tall Tales (Bone Prequel)Jeff Smith -- creator of the epically fantastical, kid-friendly Bone series -- is back.  Well...sort of.  Tall Tales collects some previously published stories along with some new collaborations with Tom Sniegoski, providing some rounding-out of backstories only hinted at in the original Bone books.  Is it mandatory reading for Bone fans?  Can someone other than Smith (namely Sniegoski) carry the weight of such beloved characters?  Is the name "Big Johnson Bone" supposed to be funny?  Let's explore (some of) the answers...

First off, it should be restated that I used the first story arc of Bone (later collected as "Out From Boneville") in my seventh grade Language Arts classes for two years, with amazing results.  From a sheer engagement perspective, my students couldn't get enough of this universe.  Struggling and successful readers alike loved the humor, the adventure, and the danger that run throughout "Out From Boneville".  My school library quickly stocked the entire series and a prequel, and had difficulty keeping them on the shelves.  Though not written for children, there's something about the off-color humor combined with the fantastic setting (which, as evidenced by the popularity of series like Harry Potter, Artemis Fowl, et. al., is for some reason appealing to adolescents) that grabs young readers and leaves them wanting more.  With Tall Tales, these readers should find some, if not all, of those appealing factors.

Simply but beautifully illustrated by Smith, Tall Tales focuses on the ancestor of our heroes from the original series, one Big Johnson Bone.  Smiley Bone -- the fun-loving if daft Bone cousin -- and an orphaned Rat Creature named Barnaby tell a pack of young Bone Scouts about the adventures of the most famous Bone of all, Big Johnson Bone.  These adventures consist of typical Smith plot devices -- run-ins with cruel-yet-hapless Rat Creatures, help from friendly woodland creatures, and tons of action.  The larger, more intricate fantasy narrative that runs throughout the original series is abandoned here for more of an innocent romp, with mixed results.

Though so action-packed it was a really quick read, I found myself frequently looking to the back of the book to check how many pages were left.  This was especially the case during the Sniegoski-penned "The Lost Tale of Big Johnson Bone", which occupies more than half of this collection.  The same gags repeat themselves over and over, and the conclusion of the story is far too predictable.  Sniegoski does, I'll admit, continue Smith's admirable practice of not patronizing young readers.  The vocabulary used here is elevated, and includes some idioms particular to either days gone by or to the Bone world itself.  This could potentially alienate a struggling reader, but the nature of the comics medium -- as well as Smith's expert cartooning, particularly in his ability to accurately capture a wide range of facial expressions -- fills in the gaps in the reader's knowledge.  I was quite happy to see this practice carried over.

As far as appropriateness for the classroom, there is only a couple of instances of questionable language here (the word 'damn'), and I think that names like "Big Johnson Bone" and "The Cobbler Gobbler" will go over most students' heads.  Unfortunately, the narrative here is just too thematically thin to be appropriate for whole-class study.  Tall Tales would be a better fit in a classroom or school library, guaranteed to be checked out by students who can't get enough of the universe.