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Winding Oak's Bookology Magazine

Tag Archives | superheroes

Classic Children’s Comics

by Vicki Palmquist

“No one I knew ever picked up Archie or Lulu or Dennis the Menace because it was Required Reading. We read comics because we wanted to see what was going to happen. We wanted to take that unexpected turn.” — Jon Scieszka

Toon Treasury of Classic Children's ComicsWhen I was in high school, I went on a hunt to find as many old comics as I could, learning about the history, the controversy, the artists, and the love affair that swooped up so many kids and showed them that good stories exist in many forms.

If you’d like to share classic comics with your kids or your students, you’re in luck. Art Spiegelman and Françoise Mouly, those folks behind Toon Books, sought out the fun, wacky, and adventuresome stories that will have them turning the pages for their next comics encounter. Spiegelman and Mouly aimed for funny and they found it—bullseye—in The Toon Treasury of Classic Children’s Comics (Abrams ComicArts, 2009).

You’ll find comics that may be familiar to you such as Little Lulu, Pogo, Dennis the Menace, Heckle and Jeckle, and the Little Archies (not the teenage version, but the young kids). You’ll read stories and find characters that I believe will be new to you as well.

Toon Treasury

I particularly enjoyed Gerald McBoing Boing in “Boing Boing” by Theodore Seuss Geisel and P.D. Eastman. The graphic line, the colors, the poetry, the story … I won’t ruin the ending but it’s comforting to know that there’s a place for everyone in this world.

In Melvin Monster “Mice Business” by John Stanley, a family of monsters has a mouse problem. This is theater of the absurd. Your children (and you) will howl over the antics of Mummy and Baddy and their son, Melvin.

Little Lulu Five BabiesIn Little Lulu “Five Little Babies” by John Stanley and Irving Tripp, the boys trick Lulu into looking foolish but she gets the best of them in a clever and ironic way.

Believe it or not, in Uncle Scrooge “Tralla La” by Carl Barks, this high-energy story lets us in on the secrets of capitalism and utopia.

Did you know that Walt Kelly of Pogo fame also did a series of comics called Fairy Tale Parade? “Prince Robin and the Dwarfs” is fast-paced, exciting, and funny … and also a ripping good yarn. I particularly enjoyed studying his Map of the Fairy Tale Lands.

I don’t know if you can say these are favorites when I’ve listed so many of them, but “Captain Marvel in the Land of Surrealism” by C.C. Beck and Pete Constanza is a true high point of the Treasury. When I started this article I was going to say that there are no superheroes in this collection but they included Captain Marvel in a story that will have you questioning reality. (And there’s a story about Supermouse, too.)

These six stories are just a fraction of what’s available in The Toon Treasury of Classic Children’s Comics. There’s at least one story that will tickle every reader’s funny bone and I’m willing to bet you’ll have a hard time keeping your own favorites to a list of six.

Map of the Fairy Tale Lands

How lucky kids are today to have such ready access to a book that collects the best of an era when comics were new and experimental and, in the case of this Treasury, appropriate for childhood.

As Mr. Spiegelman and Ms. Mouly write in their introduction, “But as parents we’ve desperately wanted to keep our kids safe on the ever-shrinking island of childhood, protected from the dangers of, say, Internet porn and the horrors of the nightly news, while still preparing them for the Real World. As evidenced in so many of our selected stories, adults can act very childishly, kids can be remarkably clear-eyed, and the battle between the rational and the irrational is more like a dance.”

I’m glad to have been invited to that dance. I’ll pull this tome (it’s 1-1/4” thick) down from the shelves when I need a book to lighten the mood. Thanks to my good friend Amy who knew this would be a cherished birthday present.


Lisa Bullard: My Superpower

When I do school visits, the students treat me like a superhero. The time with them is exhilarating, and it would take a much more hardened heart than mine to resist the curiosity and imagination these young people exhibit. But my classroom days also leave me bone-deep exhausted. One afternoon, midway through a weeklong residency, I lay down in my front yard when I arrived back home, too tired to tackle the Mount Everest that had replaced my front steps.

orange starThat’s one of the reasons I stand in awe of classroom teachers. The degree of patience and endurance that they require to show up day after day for an entire school year astounds me. I also have a secret theory that education majors are trained in super-human bladder control. For my part, I need to stay fully hydrated to survive school visit days—which means I develop an early awareness of the restroom layout for any school I visit. That’s how I got to be particularly friendly with one young writer who I’ll call Jake. In his particular school, there was a handy faculty restroom just off of the nurse’s office. Between classes I’d duck in, and more often than not find Jake sitting on the nurse’s bed.

“Hey, Mrs. Writer Lady,” he’d invariably greet me, and we’d exchange pleasantries and chat about the activities I had planned for his classroom that day.

After several more restroom visits, I became worried about Jake. The little guy seemed to spend a good part of his school day in the nurse’s office, and I imagined an array of chronic diseases that might be the culprit. I finally caught a rare moment where the nurse was present but Jake was not, and understanding that she couldn’t reveal confidential medical information, I told her of my concern for Jake’s health. She laughed, waving a hand.

gr_Zap“Jake’s not sick,” she said. “They just stash the sent-to-the-principal students in here when the principal is away.” In other words, Jake was That Kid: the one who spends a good part of his educational experience getting into trouble, disrupting other students, and being sent to the principal’s office. Yet this side of his nature was completely foreign to me—when I worked with his class, he was enthusiastic and engaged, cheerfully creating a highly imaginative piece about a polar bear who McGuyver-ed bubblegum to solve his story’s conflict.

Jake was my first hands-on evidence of something I’ve observed time and again during my classroom visits: stories can have the power to reach That Kid in a way that few other things can. I’ve now had many teachers seek me out after class to tell me about That Kid in their classroom: how, to the teacher’s great surprise, That Kid was able to focus, to behave, to show enthusiasm, for my story-writing activity in a way That Kid seldom can for other classroom activities. Stories certainly aren’t the magic fix for every struggling kid, but I now believe strongly that they can sometimes work wonders for That Kid.

blue starMost superheroes need a superpower: mine is stories. I work really hard to make my school visits fun (hence the need for all that hydration!). But the truth is, I’m not an entertainer by nature—I’m a writer who spends most of my work days alone with imaginary characters and a cat. So the credit for the ability to reach some of those hardest-to-reach kids should rightfully go to the power of story rather than to me. That means that any classroom that allows time for pleasure reading and creative writing can tap into that power, too.

You just need to stock up on good books, sharp pencils, and not-empty-for-long notebooks, and Kapow! Zap! Boom! It will be superhero time in your classroom (or living room) before you know it.



Bookstorm: The Shadow Hero


In this Bookstorm™:

Shadow HeroShadow Hero

written by Gene Luen Yang
illustrated by Sonny Liew
First Second, 2014

As we become a culture adapted to screens, visuals, and moving pictures, we grow more accustomed to the storytelling form of the graphic novel. For some, their comfort with this combination of visuals and text telling a story satisfies a craving to “see” the story while they’re reading. For others, the lack of descriptive detail and measured, linear momentum through the story feels like a barrier to understanding. With the variety of graphic novels available and the inventive ways in which they’re assembled, we encourage you to keep trying. Find a story that intrigues you and persevere … we believe you’ll grow accustomed to this form. In time, you’ll add graphic novels to the depth of offerings you eagerly recommend to students, patrons, and friends.

We selected Shadow Hero for our featured book this month because the superhero has been present in comics since the early 1900s and current films and television have reawakened an interest among children that we believe can easily transport them into reading. Yang and Liew have given a back story to a superhero, The Green Turtle, originally created by talented comic book artist (and fine artist) Chu Fook Hing in the 1940s. There’s plenty of action, humor, mystery, and suspense in this new book … all the right ingredients for the best reading.

In each Bookstorm™, we offer a bibliography of books that have close ties to the the featured book. For Shadow Hero, you’ll find books for a variety of tastes, interests, and reading abilities. Shadow Hero will be comfortably read by ages 10 through adult. We’ve included picture books, novels, and nonfiction for the plethora of purposes you might have.

Graphic Novels About Superheroes. With the popularity of The Avengers and X-Men, Iron Man and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., there are a number of graphic novels about superheroes available for different ages. Some have mature content. Many are accessible for younger readers. Whether or not they’re wearing capes, superheroes are appealing because of the possibilities.

Graphic Novels About Mythology. The Green Turtle is a part of Chinese mythology. We hear a lot about Greek and Roman mythology, but there are compelling myths around the world. Graphic novels make those traditions and stories available to readers who might have trouble with straight text.

Fiction about Superheroes. Longer texts, without illustrations, often hold as much attraction for comic book readers if the stories are engaging. And there are picture books that are just right for the readers who are too young for graphic novels but have the interest.

Comic Books, Nonfiction. Whether it’s learning how two boys came to invent Superman, the superhero from Krypton, or examining infographics and statistics, or listening to a podcast with Gene Luen Yang on public radio about his inspiration, The Green Turtle, there’s a lot of research and learning to be done with superheroes.

Drawing. For those kinetic and visual learners, telling a story through drawing, populating a page with characterization and setting and voice is a way to use comic book art for developing writing skills.

Chinese History. There are many, many books, some of them quite scholarly, about Chinese history. We’ve selected just two, both of which are also visual histories.

Chinese Art. China is such a large country, with a civilization that is thousands of years old, that these books organize the information in order to present the diversity of arts in a way that makes sense.

Chinese Immigration. There are fine books about the immigration of Chinese and Asian Pacific people to America, the Golden Mountain. We’ve selected a few, from picture books to novels to memoir. 

Chinese Food. Readers learn a great deal about different cultures from the food they eat, their traditions for preparing food, and the ways they share it with their community. We’ve found cookbooks for both learning and eating, for adults and for children.

Chinese Geography. It always helps to have a good map to reinforce the visual knowledge of a country. You’ll find suggestions for maps, downloads, photos, and facts about this large country in Asia.

Techniques for using each book:



My New Hero

I am a fan of superhero comics. After reading about talking ducks, precocious teens at Riverdale High, and an equally precocious rich kid, I wanted something with a real story, not a situation. I wasn’t allowed to buy comic books, so I had to rely on the kindness of cousins. Whatever I could scrounge up […]