Sunday, November 1, 2015

Exploring Hero's Journey Archetypes through Fandom

There’s nothing quite as satisfying as being able to incorporate the excitement over a major event in your fandom into high level learning tasks in my classroom. If you have ever read my blog or know me in person - you can probably guess what we used….

That’s right…. I have felt it. The Force is Awakening! My fifth grade reading group has been working on the Hero’s Journey this marking period. We watched the trailer and made predictions using the character archetypes we’ve learned.

We had already covered a lot of the standard archetypes from the Hero’s Journey framework, but I found a few more great ones on the Mythcreants site. I especially liked the addition of the “shapeshifter” category. We had talked about how sometimes characters change sides through the comparison of Warbeak from Redwall to Gollum in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, so they already understood the idea of this archetype.

The final, official trailer for The Force Awakens had just enough detail to make it possible for us to make predictions about the roles some of the characters would play in the story. I find it tantalizing that we know so little for sure… and my students were also hooked by the mystery.

We watched the trailer twice (though all of them had already watched it multiple times at home with their families). The first time we just watched it the whole way through. On our second viewing, we stopped so they could ask about specific character names as they made their predictions. I didn’t require that they put names to every single archetype - and they were allowed to use names more than once. I answered questions that I knew definitively (like character names) and acknowledged their confusion about plot points. I certainly spent a lot of time saying, “that’s one of the theories I have heard!” I refused to share any of my opinions until they had recorded their ideas.

So - what did my students think? (There are 8 kids in this group)

Finn - 3
Luke and Finn - 2 (they wrote both names)
Rey, Finn, or Luke - 1 (yes, this was his answer)
Rey - 1
blank - 1
Based just on the trailer, I can see students choosing Finn or Rey for this one. I was surprised, though, to see more kids include Luke as the hero (3)  than include Rey (2). Luke wasn’t even in the trailer! We did discuss that some people theorize that Luke is the man touching Artoo - so maybe that influenced their thinking.

Allies/ Companions
Poe, Leia, Rey, and Chewie - 1
Rey and “gloved guy” - 1
Rey, droids, and Poe - 1
Rey and Poe - 1
Rey and BB8 - 1
blank - 1
Chewie, Han, and Rey - 1
Finn - 1 (this was the person who selected Rey as the hero)
Since Poe didn’t appear very much in this trailer, I was a bit surprised that two people included him. It does make sense, though.

Leia - 1
blank - 3
“Man Finn and Rey saw in the reflection” (Han) - 1
Maz - 1
Han or “guy with gloved hand” - 1
Luke - 1
It wasn’t surprising that there were multiple “no guess” answers on this one. They had some trouble identifying the herald in the novel we read as well. I did mention that the voice at the beginning and the end has been identified as belonging to the woman playing Maz, but that we don’t yet know what she will look like. Clearly at least one of the students listened to me!

Han - 1
Poe - 1
Captain Phasma - 1
blank - 5
This was an archetype we didn’t discuss in our novel, so clearly they weren’t really sure about this one. I bet they will find matches for this one when they watch the movie!

Hux - 1
Finn or Poe - 1
blank - 6
I almost didn’t include this one on our list, because it’s another archetype that didn’t make the cut when we discussed our novel. It seemed appropriate, though, based on the description on the Mythcreant site. They describe it as a character that changes loyalties - and I thought seeing Finn in a stormtrooper helmet that he removes would trigger that thought for them.

Han - 3
“Gloved Guy” - 1
Poe - 1
Leia - 1
Rey or Leia - 1
I like that they definitely gravitated toward the “old school” characters for this archetype.

Han - 2
Gloved guy - 1
Maz - 1
Rey - 1
Someone was listening when Maz said “let it in”. That’s what made ME think she could fit the mentor role.

Kylo Ren or Hux - 2
Kylo Ren or Phasma - 2
blank - 1
Kylo Ren - 3
This category seems much clearer. They had keen eyes for that red broadsword lightsaber!

Once they were done, I let them see my picks. Here’s what I think, based solely on the trailer(s) and my wishful thinking.

Hero - Rey  (holding my breath and crossing my fingers)
Allies/Companions - Finn and Poe
Herald - Maz
Trickster - BB8
Shapeshifter - Finn  (though I’m also wondering if Hux or Phasma may fit here)
Guardian - Han and Leia (pretty please!)
Mentor - Maz
Shadow/Villain - Kylo Ren

Can you feel it? Do you use exciting events in fandoms to spark student learning? I’d love to hear what you are doing in the comments!

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Fable Comics Blog Tour - Interview with Gregory Benton

I am thrilled to be part of the Fable Comics Blog Tour! This book is beautiful. It's filled with amazing adaptations of many of the fables your students already know and quite a few that will be new to them.

I spend a lot of time reading fables with my third graders, and I can't wait to introduce them to this anthology. I anticipate wonderful discussions about the rich vocabulary, delicious art, and time-honored "morals of the story". My older students already love the work of George O'Connor, and will be thrilled to discover some new short stories about Hermes in this volume.

Fable Comics
by Chris Duffy (Editor), James Kochalka (Contributor), Simone Lia(Contributor), Graham Chaffee (Contributor), Maris Wicks (Contributor),Vera Brosgol (Contributor), Keny Widjaja (Contributor), Corinne Mucha(Contributor) , Liniers (Contributor), Mark Newgarden (Contributor), Ulises Farinas (Contributor), Tom Gauld (Contributor), R.O. Blechman(Contributor), Graham Annable (Contributor), John Kerschbaum(Contributor), Braden Lamb (Contributor), Shelli Paroline (Contributor),Gregory Benton (Contributor), Roger Langridge (Contributor), George O'Connor (Contributor), Sophie Goldstein (Contributor), R. Sikoryak(Contributor), Jennifer L. Meyer (Goodreads Author) (Contributor), Eleanor Davis (Contributor), Jaime Hernández (Contributor), Israel Sanchez(Contributor), Charise Mericle Harper (Contributor)

Hardcover, 128 pages
Published September 22nd 2015 by First Second
ISBN 1626721076 (ISBN13: 9781626721074)

Today I bring you an interview with Gregory Benton. He adapted "The Hen and the Mountain Turtle".

1) How much choice did you get in selecting the fable you adapted for this anthology?

I chose my fable from a list of possibilities that Chris Duffy gave me (though I was free to pick any tale from anywhere that wasn't already in the works), and I loved The Hen & The Mountain Turtle.

2) If you've read the other fables in this book, which ones are your favorites and why?

I haven’t seen the whole book yet! Hopefully it’ll come in the mail soon.

3) What fables do you wish could have been included in this book? Are there any that you really wish you'd been able to adapt in addition to "The Hen and the Mountain Turtle"?

‘The Hen and the Mountain Turtle’ was my absolute favorite. That’s my top choice!

4) What changes did you make to the traditional version of the tale as you adapted it? Why did you make those changes?

It’s all about the expression. Turning a fable into a comic means creating the look of the setting and all the characters, and that’s an important part of what I spent time on.

5) What else might that mountain turtle want to teach us?

I loved The Hen & The Mountain Turtle. Maybe because I am becoming reflective in my middle-age. I don't think the turtle is trying to say anything more that what he states at the end of the fable, except for something along the lines of "GET OFF MY LAWN!".

6) Many of my students adore reading comics, and are starting to create their own. What sage bits of advice would you give to kids who want to make comics?

Read lots of comics! And start writing and drawing your first book now – it’s never too early to begin making comics.

More about Fable Comics:

From classics like "The Tortoise and the Hare" and "The Grasshopper and the Ants" to obscure gems like "The Frogs Who Desired a King," Fable Comics has something to offer every reader. Twenty-eight fables from different cultures and traditions are wonderfully adapted and illustrated in comics format by twenty-six different cartoonists. Edited by New York Times bestselling Fairy Tale Comics' Chris Duffy, this jacketed hardcover is a beautiful gift and an instant classic.

Fable Comics is:
James Kochalka and ‘The Fox and the Grapes‘
Tom Gauld and ‘The Town Mouse and the Country Mouse’
George O’Connor and the ‘Hermes’ fables
Sophie Goldstein and ‘Leopard Drums Up Dinner’
Charise Harper and ‘The Belly and the Body Members’
R. Sikoryak and ‘Lion + Mouse’
Jennifer L. Meyer and ‘Fox and Crow’
Eleanor Davis and ‘The Old Man and Death’
Jaime Hernandez and ‘The Boy Who Cried Wolf’
Simone Lia and ‘The Crow and the Pitcher’
Graham Chaffee and ‘The Dog and His Reflection’
Maris Wicks and ‘The Dolphins, The Whales, and The Sprat’
Vera Brosgol and ‘The Hare and the Pig’
Kenny Widjaja and ‘The Demon, The Thief, and the Hermit’
Corinne Mucha and ‘The Elephant in Favor’
Liniers and ‘The Mouse Council’
Mark Newgarten and ‘Man and Wart’
Israel Sanchez and ‘The Milkmaid and Her Pail’
Ulises Farinas and ‘The Great Weasel War’
R.O. Blechman and ‘The Sun and the Wind’
Graham Annable and ‘The Hare and the Tortoise’
John Kerschbaum and ‘The Grasshopper and the Ants’
Braden Lamb and Shelli Paroline and ‘The Thief and the Watchdog’
Gregory Benton and ‘The Hen and the Mountain Turtle’
Roger Langridge and ‘Demades and His Fable

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Crenshaw - by Applegate Review and Giveaway!

by Katherine Applegate (Goodreads Author)
Hardcover, 256 pages
Expected publication: September 22nd 2015 by Feiwel & Friends
ISBN 1250043239 (ISBN13: 9781250043238)

Goodreads Blurb:
Jackson and his family have fallen on hard times. There's no more money for rent. And not much for food, either. His parents, his little sister, and their dog may have to live in their minivan. Again.

Crenshaw is a cat. He's large, he's outspoken, and he's imaginary. He has come back into Jackson's life to help him. But is an imaginary friend enough to save this family from losing everything?

Source: ARC from publisher

My Thoughts:

There is so much to love about this book. (Be sure to enter the giveaway for a copy down below!)

Crenshaw is timely, yet also timeless. So many kids are struggling in families who are just barely making ends meet. This is something that, unfortunately, is a very timely topic. Yet there are not so many "current day" references that this book won't also help kids in the future who face similar challenges and fears.

The writing is excellent. I loved the way Applegate describes everything. She has such poetry and fun in her writing and word choices. The rich language is perfect for my student population - upper elementary students with strong vocabulary.
     "Dad says his uncle was a charming curmudgeon, which I think means grumpy with some niceness thrown in." 

A frequent complaint about middle grade books is that we have to lose a parent - or have awful parents - to give the protagonist the space to grow. This is a fabulous example of a child who grows and learns AND has a loving set of parents, a realistic sibling bond, and a close friend. I loved the relationships in this book, and I think my students are also going to love them.

My favorite part about this book, though, is that imagination goes hand in hand with knowledge. Sometimes kids feel like if they are "fact kids" - science kids - they have to leave imagination behind. I love how both are blended into this sweet boy. The voice of Jackson rings true to what I know about my students. They are creative, and imaginative, and just a little bit worried that others will find them strange. They are going to giggle along with his odd sense of humor...

     "I like facts. Always have. True stuff. Two-plus-two-equals-four facts. Brussels-sprouts-taste-like-dirty-gym-socks facts.
     Okay, maybe that second one's just an opinion. And anyway, I've never eaten a dirty gym sock so I could be wrong."

How could you NOT love that kid?

Student Response:

So far my students have only seen the cover and heard me talk about the book. Still, I got immediate responses of "I want to read that!" and "I'm putting that one on my list!".

You need to put this one on your list. I know I'm going to make sure I have a few copies of Crenshaw in my classroom library!

Book Trailer:

Katherine Applegate is the author of the bestselling Animorphs series and the novels Home of the Brave and The One and Only Ivan, winner of the 2013 Newbery Medal. She lives with her husband, author Michael Grant, and their two children in Northern California.

You can read a post Katherine Applegate wrote for the Nerdy Book Club for Crenshaw's book birthday here!


(With thanks to the publisher, who offered to give away a copy of Crenshaw to someone from my blog)

Let's keep it simple, shall we? Just enter your name and email address in the form below. I'd love if you left a comment, but it's not required. 

Monday, August 31, 2015

It's Monday - August 31st

Well, well, well.... I did a pretty lousy job of blogging this summer, didn't I? On the plus side, I *DID* read over the summer.

If you want to read more blogs - and end up with an even BIGGER TBR list.... go to and to read other posts.

I'm just going to toss a few collages onto the blog, and then I'll describe some of my favorites...

Well, this collage had some real winners! I'm not sure I can pick just a few...

Crenshaw - You WANT this book by Katherine Applegate; trust me.

I loved learning more about comics with Understanding Comics and Adventures in Graphica.

Speaking of comics - Nimona (YA) and The Underground Abductor were amazing.

X: A Novel made me want to learn even more about Malcolm X.

ECHO was beautiful. I loved how we got multiple perspectives on World War 2 and how the stories wove together.

Calpurnia Tate was fabulous! I think I liked book 2 even more than the first one (and I did love the first!) (ARC from publisher)

The Martian will be out as a movie soon. While it was definitely heavy on the science, there was a ton of humor that kept the story fun. This is an adult novel, but kids who love science and scifi from upper middle school will enjoy it.

Ashfall was great! I know a lot of people kept telling me to read it, but I ended up picking it up for my son to read. I read the first one, but he blasted through the whole series in a week.

***** My favorite of this lot, though?? FALLOUT by Gwenda Bond. This book was awesome! (I plan to do a full review). It's a look at Lois Lane as a high school student. It's adventurous, up-to-date, and had plenty of little "winks and nods" for those who like Superman tales.... but no prior knowledge of his story is really needed. Best of all, in my mind, is the fact that it's a YA that I can definitely allow upper elementary to read. (No major violence and really only mild crushes on the romance front).

Another excellent set of books. I listened to Beautiful Creatures - well narrated.

I loved Secrets of Selkie Bay (only a little biased due to the name connection...). It had an ambiguous ending that definitely appealed to me. (ARC from publisher)

School for Sidekicks rocked. Lots of twists and turns. I definitely need to make a book display of books that have superhero tie ins! (ARC from publisher)

Life in Outer Space was not what I was expecting - I grabbed it due to the scifi connection in the title. Instead, it was an excellent realistic fiction novel about geeks.... not that I know any of those.

Cleopatra in Space is a fabulous MG graphic novel series. This one had quite a cliffhanger ending, and I can't wait for book 3. I had to wait to read this one until the summer, because it was NEVER on my shelf at school!

Still with me? I can't blame you if you bailed already (this is a lot of books!) I promise to update more regularly this school year.

In this batch, there's some serious variety:

Wishful Drinking had some interesting spots. Overall, I'm not a huge memoir fan - but I couldn't resist hearing about Carrie Fisher's life.

Beyond Magenta was eye opening. I've heard critique from the trans* community about some aspects of this book, but as someone with almost no current knowledge I learned a lot.

Courage Has No Color was an audiobook from YASync this summer, but I've had it on my shelf and radar for a while. It was excellent as well.

Picture Books:
Red - FABULOUS way to introduce how painful labels can be (while many have said this fits with books like George and the transgender experience, it doesn't have to).

Interstellar Cinderella - If you know me, you know this hits all my buttons. This Cinderella is a mechanic and (spoiler alert) doesn't end up married to the prince. Bonus - the illustrations are AWESOME and the prince has dark skin.

How to Read a Story  - This is adorable. I love the illustrations and how the story celebrates creative reading of books. I bought this over the summer and will be gifting it to some little ones in my life.

Let me know in the comments if you want my thoughts on any of the others from my collages... I think this post is already long enough! I'll be doing a Must Read in 2015 update soon as well :)

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Batty About Shadowshaper Part One - by Daniel Older



If you missed it - we started by chatting about the cover of the book last week!

First Half discussion (pages 1-140)
Check out the other half of the discussion at The Brain Lair

Visit our Facebook page, comment here, or tweet us (@thebrainlair or @mariaselke with #BattyAboutBooks and/or #Shadowshaper) to join in the discussion!

I love the fact that we chose a book that is being praised for how it represents elements of American life that are so different from my own life story. Since we often talk about the need for diverse books to provide us both windows and mirrors, I’m going to frame at least some of my thoughts around those two ideas.

** For those reading my blog who aren’t familiar with this framework**  Many think of diversity in literature giving us a window into lives that are different from our own (helping build connections, empathy, and understanding) and mirrors into aspects of our own lives that help us see value in who we are.

I grew up in an overwhelmingly white suburb just a short drive outside of Philadelphia. I attended a religious private school that was also mostly white and entirely Protestant. If you look at those two elements, there is much in Shadowshaper so far that is one huge window for me.
I grew up “in the projects” in the  predominantly black south side of Chicago. I went to a public school that has since been taken over by the government. The housing project, run by the Chicago Housing Authority, does not exist anymore. In this way, Shadowshaper is a window for me too. The ease that Sierra walks alone around her area, did not exist.

** City life. I never had to worry about my family being in trouble with the cops. I never had to stress about safety. I do love how none of these things are made into a big “deal” in the story so far - they just are part of her understood environment.
Yeah, I do have brothers who were in and out of jail. Safety was job 1. You never went anywhere alone. You didn’t stay out late - unless you were prepared. I would have loved to go to a teen club. We really didn’t have places to go that may have kept some people out of trouble.

** Extended family living in close proximity - I love seeing how Sierra and her family get along. Having her godfather and aunt and family friends be so close is refreshing, too.

** Cultural heritage. Again - watching Sierra in her home and family group just feels natural. I feel like it’s MY job to figure out anything I don’t know. Did I have to look up a few words (like guayabera)? Yep. That is my job as the reader, though, not the author’s (or narrator’s) job to assume that my reality is “normal”. Believe me; I’m still in the early stages of learning this! Check out this video from the author on “Why we don’t italicize Spanish”

I loved seeing the words in Spanish. Used my Google Translator app many times. I liked that I could hold it over the words and get an idea of what was being said. I’m so happy that he kept it that way because I’m sure that is more natural. This is a real window. Love it!

** Discomfort with her appearance. Below I talk about how I DO identify with some of her appearance concerns (since I know almost all teen girls go through this stage), but some of her discomfort gave me a quick glimpse into a life that is nothing like my own. Sierra reminisces about chatting with a boy online and describing herself as “the color of coffee with not enough milk”. She stops and can’t even believe she said that about herself…. “not enough”.
I’ve been working to educate myself and LISTEN to people as they tell me what things bother them …. to listen to what they see as microaggressions… and to remember that we are all a product of our racist and sexist cultures. I catch myself making sexist remarks, even though I consider myself a feminist. This little section of her life stood out to me a glimpse into how we absorb the toxic attitudes of our world and reminds me that we all have to stay vigilant.
This would be a mirror for me. Even now, I lament about my hair, sometimes wishing it was straighter. Or that I could invest in one foundation instead of always mixing and having to find places that sell more than one darker shade.. Back when I wore pantyhose it always irked me that nude meant off-pink while coffee was meant for my bare skin. Even now, we have to go to a different part of town to get some hair products. I order most of them. Target has gained fame because it has one narrow section, about 2 ft wide and 4 ft tall, with “ethnic hair” products.

In spite of being in an environment is drastically different from my childhood home (her city) and in a cultural milieu quite different from my own (Latina), and her incredible artistic talent (I can’t even draw a stick figure); Sierra feels so familiar to me.

She’s fighting to feel comfortable in her own skin. She’s struggling with the balance between dressing to look nice for others and finding her own style. She’s listening to the advice of others (letting her friend braid her hair for her date) but she’s also really longing to just love herself the way she is.

She’s not boy crazy. Sierra wants to be her own person, and she’s not sure that any of the guys she knows really fit into that equation. I love and identify with her attitude from my own teen years.
I know so many teens will be able to see themselves here! I hope this book finds many readers!

Not quite sold on….
The importance of the magic. I think the concept of shadowshaping is very intriguing and quite unlike anything I’ve read before. Since I have read a decent amount of books that include some (or a lot) of magic, I do appreciate unusual takes on magic systems. What I’m not really getting yet is why this particular magic is so vital to Sierra’s world. I’m hoping that the second half of the book helps me understand why this is so important.

These are a few of my favorite things…

The domino players.
This group of men makes me laugh, too. I love that they respect Sierra’s art and want to make her murals a part of their landscape. I love how they taunt and jab at each other.

The creepy  
As we see more and more of the shadowshaper magic, I’m enjoying the overall creepy level of the darker variety. Any power can be corrupted - and the combined shadows are so scary! “Another mouth appeared along the creature’s shoulder; this one blubbered and gnashed…” (page 103)

The dialogue.
Oh yeah… this is probably my FAVORITE part of the style of this story so far. It can be really hard to capture the cadence of language. I’ve found myself stopping and re-reading a section aloud so I can really hear the characters. It doesn’t feel forced - it just feels like I can hear them.

I’m glad we chopped this book into just two parts. I’m ready to dive back in and find out what happens!

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Batty About Books reads Shadowshaper by Older Cover Appeal

It's been a while since Batty About Books hit the trail. Last year seemed so crazy - so hectic - that we really didn't get a chance to read anything together.

What would it take to get us moving? What kind of book would push us to get the band back together again? Well... take a LOOK at this one.

by Daniel José Older (Goodreads Author)
Hardcover, 304 pages
Published June 30th 2015 by Arthur A. Levine Books (first published January 1st 2015)
ISBN 0545591619 (ISBN13: 9780545591614)

(Join us on our blogs  (Kathy is at The Brain Lair) , on Facebook, or Tweet/IG with #BattyAboutBooks and/or #Shadowshaper. We'll post brief thoughts and quotes from the text during the week.)

I'll admit, I had heard about this book before seeing the cover. There were rumbles about this being an intriguing storyline. When I saw the cover, though, I was hooked.


+ The first thing that strikes me is the strength in that face. So often I feel like a young woman on a cover (be it a book or magazine) is posing to capture the gaze of the person observing. This lady isn't looking at me. She's looking at something beyond me... something I can't see. That's fascinating, isn't it?

- ? Of course, I then have to mention the fact that the lighting appears to have washed out her skin tone. Is her skin truly this pale, or does the artistic nature of the cover strive to make her appear lighter than she is? That could be a strike against the cover, once I read on and find a description of her appearance.

+ The colors are striking! The rainbow swirls that surround and accent her face add to the mystery about this character. It fits so well with the tag line that starts with art.

+ The tagline itself pulls me. I love how the "Paint a mural" part feels like such an odd pairing with the second and third lines: "Start a battle. Change the world." The odd juxtaposition of art and war immediately pulls at my curiosity.

+ I love the skyline shown at the bottom. We get a sense of the setting as well as the main character through that little detail. I like that they chose to make the silhouettes of the buildings in brown instead of black. It makes it a little less obvious and keeps the focus on the young woman's face and pose instead.

- I don't think the spine would attract my attention enough to get me to pull it off a shelf. Here's hoping it gets stored face out in book stores and libraries!

+ The color swirls continue the artistic look of the front. I also love that the blurbs are placed on a purple background. I'm curious about the red details toward the bottom. Are they hands? 

I know I am ready to dive into the book! We'd love to have you read along and chime in with your thoughts here, on our FB page, or even on Twitter/IG! (You can use #BattyAboutBooks and/or #Shadowshaper)

We will post our discussion on the first 140 pages (20 chapters) on Saturday, August 1st. We plan to finish the book the following week. It's relatively short, and we don't want to lose the flow, but you can read at your own pace.

We'll also post brief thoughts and/or quotes along the way. See you then!

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Must Read in 2015 Second Quarter Update

Time for my quarterly "Must Read in 2015" update!

I put 39 books on my list for this year.

Full List for the Year
First Quarter Update  (Read 12 of the 39)

This quarter went fairly well, though I slowed down more than a little due to my current obsession with amigurumi.

Some AMAZING books on this list, my friends. 

Nonfiction - Adventures in Graphica was filled with fabulous information on teaching comprehension using graphic novels and comics.

Middle Grade - The Dungeoneers is amazing! Fun, fast paced, and adventurous.

Young Adult - Okay, so mostly I read YA for this challenge this past quarter. Glory O'Brien and Aristotle and Dante were the stand out titles. Afterworlds was a intriguing style - weaving the story of a person WRITING a novel in with the actual novel itself. The Body Electric was a fascinating science fiction tale. 

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