Cast Away on the Letter A: A Philemon Adventure
Written and Illustrated by: Fred
Translated into English by: Richard Kutner
Publisher: TOON Books
Format: Hardcover, 8 x 10, 48 pages, Full Color, $16.95
Each time I write a column it tends to be a lonesome activity. I read a graphic novel. I write a review. I design a lesson plan. And although I receive emails from teachers and librarians who use the reviews and lessons, I am still at essence usually alone with my own thoughts when I initially sit down to write. This review, however, is different. Very, different! Unfamiliar with the work of Fréd (who is more familiarly known overseas and by his French readers in particular as Frédéric Othon Aristidès) I am excited to delve into this newly met creator and one of his most globally-familiar characters, Philemon.
Perhaps it is a coincidence that my last review of a Toon Book praised its editors for introducing early and young adult readers to international comic and graphic novel storytellers. But only perhaps. Cast Away on the Letter A: A Philemon Adventure is yet another brilliant example of Toon Books' ability and goal to bring early American readers into a more global conversation about reading and writing with comics and graphic novels.
Back to that solitary writer idea and this month's column: Cast Away on the Letter A was NOT a solitary column-writing experience. As if destined to understand a word I did not know, "Philemon," which I looked up in the dictionary and found no definition for, I ran into a dear friend and colleague who said: "Yeah, that's a Biblical reference." Since I was off to teach after she shared this seed of insight I immediately went to teach my class, which I knew had a few students with significant Biblical backgrounds. Fortunately, all of these students showed up early to class; UNF has exceptional students! Long story short, however: Along with their own insights each student called a family member who strengthened our growing understanding garnered from the title of this early reader comic.
Despite these colorful insights, Dr. Monnin, can you go back to the story in this early reader comic book and tell us about what it is about?
No, I don't think so, I would reply.
Cast Away on the Letter A: A Philemon Adventure is a comic book that deserves its own interpretation and its own accolades. All I can say is that it is a must-read early reader comic book for readers in grade levels 3+. The rest I leave up to you. Conversations are guaranteed to generate and grow. Readers of all ages will be thrilled to explore new ideas and new worlds not only with Philemon himself, but also with all of the image and textual vocabulary they encounter.
Elements of Story
Plot: Philemon falls into his father's well during the mid twentieth century. He does not land on solid-footed or watered grounding, however. He finds himself in a fantastical world comparable to that of Alice's Alice in Wonderland and that of Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz.
Major Characters: Philemon, Hector, Anatole, Mr. Bartholomew, Friday, Shark, unicorns, sailors from ship in the Bottle or "castaways," Daniel DeFoe
Major Settings: France 1960s, wishing wells, Atlantic Ocean, beach, island, shipwreck lights, Bottle Trees, Bartholomew's hut, bottle ship, labyrinth
Themes: Identity, Family, Tradition and Change, Realism and Fantasy, Individualism and Teamwork, Adventure
Recommended Literary Pairings: Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland, L. Frank Baum's The Wizard of Oz, J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series, E.B. White's Charlotte's Web, C.S. Lewis' The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, J.M. Barrie's Peter Pan, Madeline L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time
Recommended Common Core Standards in Reading Grades K – 5
Key Ideas and Details
1. Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.
2. Determine central ideas or themes of a text and analyze their development; summarize the key supporting details and ideas.
3. Analyze how and why individuals, events, and ideas develop and interact over the course of a text.
Directions: Because this early reader comic is so loaded with multiple levels of interpretation I would recommend that educators guide student learning with an open-ended literacy strategy: a simple K (Know), W (Wonder), L (Learn) Chart. With a Know-Wonder-Learn chart instructors and students can begin discussing this early reader comic by honoring all of their ideas and understandings regarding this multi-layered, literary-level text.
What do you K(K)now, (W)onder, and (Learn)
About Cast Away on the Letter A: A Philemon Adventure
When we look at/think about the title, what do we (K)NOW?
When we read the early reader comic what do we (W)onder?
After reading the early reader comic what do we (L)EARN?
Further, throughout their reading experience students can take notes / record thoughts on the following KWL graphic organizer. Instructors should stop at chosen, predetermined stopping points and ask students to keep thinking and rethinking what they want to add to or change on their KWL charts.
Dr. Katie Monnin is an Associate Professor of Literacy at the University of North Florida. Besides the joy that comes with reading comic books and graphic novels, Dr. Monnin enjoys a Peter Pan-ish life of researching and writing her own books about teaching comics, graphic novels, and cartoons: Teaching Graphic Novels (2010), Teaching Early Reader Comics and Graphic Novels (2011), Using Content-Area Graphic Texts for Learning (2012), Teaching Reading Comprehension with Graphic Texts (2013), and Get Animated! Teaching 21st Century Early Reader and Young Adult Cartoons in Language Arts (2013); Teaching New Literacies in Elementary Language Arts (in press, 2014). When she is not writing (or sitting around wondering how she ended up making an awesome career out of studying comics and graphic novels), Dr. Monnin spends her time with her two wiener dogs, Sam and Max.