Zita the Spacegirl
By: Ben Hatke
Publisher: First Second
I met Ben Hatke and his wife last fall at the New York City Comic Con. I immediately liked them both. And here's why I begin this review with that statement: Ben Hatke and his wife are the real deal! Here's a virtual introduction: Ben and his wife have four daughters and, when you talk to them, you cannot help but be mesmerized by their energy and passion for life, children, and story. That said, here's my prediction for Zita the Spacegirl; Zita, her adventures, her friends, her foes, and her writer (and his family) are all going to find themselves a very secure place in the annals of young adult literature. Prediction put bluntly: Zita the Spacegirl will turn out to be a very popular and well-known series that stands the test of time.
The first time the reader meets Zita she has run away with her friend Joseph's notebook. But in the midst of this playful opportunity for Zita (Joseph, hesitant and careful, doesn't quite see it the same way), she stumbles upon what she thinks is a meteoroid crater. Zita – curious and confident – jumps into the crater and picks up what is certainly NOT a meteoroid. It's actually a metallic-looking remote control, with a huge red button! And, as you may predict, while Joseph is leery of this new found object and its tempting big red button, Zita really, really, really wants to push that button. In fact, Hatke's illustrations are so well executed that he needs virtually no words to show you just how curious and inevitable Zita's pushing of that button will be. As his illustrations gently lead you by the hand and deeper into the story, Zita does indeed push that big red button.
The button pushed . . . a portal to another dimension opens up and sucks Joseph into its vortex. Before Zita can even comprehend what she has done, the portal closes just as quickly as it had opened. Joseph is gone.
Feeling responsible and alone Zita runs away from her new problem and into the woods. After all, she can't bring Joseph back, right?
"Wait," Hatke's illustrations suggest, "this is the curious and confident Zita!" Her realization cleverly drawn and progressively shown on her facial and bodily expressions, Zita goes back to the remote and most certainly pushes that great big red button again. Zita jumps into the portal and her (and the reader’s) adventures have just begun. She's going to find Joseph, and she's going to save him.
Along the way, Zita will meet a lot of new people, creatures, monsters, robots, and aliens (after all, she is now in another dimension!). Some of these friends will be true, some will not, and others will certainly not even qualify as friends at all. You and your students will just have to pick up this new graphic novel to find out. Oh, and by the way, look for Piper; he's my favorite character, and strikingly looks a lot Hatke himself.
English Language Arts Elements of Story
Plot: The courageous and confident Zita has gone a bit too far on the opening pages of this new graphic novel. After finding what she and her friend Joseph think is a meteoroid crater, her curiosity gets the better of her and she jumps down into the crater to pick up the meteoroid. But it's not a meteor; it’s a remote of some kind with an alluring and large, big red button. Like any adventurous soul, and despite Joseph's cautions, Zita pushes the button. And when she does she sees a portal to another dimension open up and suck Joseph into it. The portal closes, and Zita is left alone. What will she do? Run and get help? Use her courage and confidence to save Joseph herself?
Setting: Earth, Off World, the Rusted Wastes, Scriptorian Castle
Major Characters: Zita, Joseph, Strong-strong, Piper, Pizzicato/Mouse, Screed, the Scriptorians, One, Randy, Five, Eight, Dungeon-Keeper, Topper
Themes: Action-Adventure, Friendship, Loyalty, Courage, Responsibility
Literary Pairing Suggestions: Amulet series by Kazu Kibuishi, Bone series by Jeff Smith, The Lord of the Rings or The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien, Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling, Jane Yolen’s The Devil’s Arithmetic, The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton, The Looking Glass Wars by Frank Beddor, Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, Walk Two Moons or The Castle Corona by Sharon Creech
Some Teaching Recommendations For Middle School Teachers and Librarians
Suggested Alignment to the IRA /NCTE Standard(s):*
- standard #s correspond to the numbers used by IRA/NCTE
1. Students read a wide range of print and nonprint texts to build an understanding of texts, of themselves, and of the cultures of the United States and the world; to acquire new information; to respond to the needs and demands of society and the workplace; and for personal fulfillment. Among these texts are fiction and nonfiction, classic and contemporary works.
2. Students read a wide range of literature from many periods in many genres to build an understanding of the many dimensions (e.g., philosophical, ethical, aesthetic) of human experience.
5. Students employ a wide range of strategies as they write and use different writing process elements appropriately to communicate with different audiences for a variety of purposes.
11. Students participate as knowledgeable, reflective, creative, and critical members of a variety of literacy communities.
12. Students use spoken, written, and visual language to accomplish their own purposes (e.g., for learning, enjoyment, persuasion, and the exchange of information).
Recommended Grade Levels: Middle school
Suggested Guided Writing Lesson Plan:
For this guided writing lesson plan, teachers and librarians will want to have the following materials: lined and/or blank paper, pens, pencils, crayons, and markers. They may also want to perform a quick google search for "blank comic book pages." After March 31, 2011, teachers can find blank comic/graphic novel handouts (entitled "iCreate Comics and Graphic Novels") in Teaching Early Reader Comics and Graphic Novels (2011).
Because Zita the Spacegirl lends itself so well to a follow-up series, I suggest that teachers and librarians encourage students to keep a two-column list in their notebooks.
These two columns can be labeled: "Zita the Spacegirl" and "Predictions for Zita the Spacegirl."
As students read the text, or as you choose to assign the text for homework, ask students to stop at the end of each chapter and fill out their two columns; further, if students want to, encourage them to draw row lines in order to differentiate their ideas from chapter-to-chapter. When students have finished reading and have completed all chapters and their notebook columns and rows, ask them to reflect on the graphic novel and their predictions for the next Zita graphic novel.
After students reflect on Hatke's Zita the Spacegirl, and thought about their own prediction ideas for a follow up graphic novel about Zita, pass out the blank comic book pages. With these blank comic book pages in hand, ask students to use both print-text literacies and image literacies to write out their own, prediction stories about what they think will most likely happen to Zita in an upcoming graphic novel.
As students write and draw their prediction stories teachers and librarians can move around the room and conference with them, especially making sure that students are basing their ideas / predictions in evidence from Hatke’s Zita the Spacegirl.
After students have had enough time to write and draw their prediction stories, ask them to share their ideas with the entire class.
Monnin, K. (2011). Teaching early reader comics and graphic novels. Gainesville, FL: Maupin House.
*NCTE/IRA. (1996). Standards for the English Language Arts. Urbana, IL: NCTE.
Katie Monnin, PhD, is an assistant professor of literacy at the University of North Florida and author of Teaching Graphic Novels: Practical Strategies for the Secondary ELA Classroom (2010) from Maupin House. To learn more about Teaching Graphic Novels or Katie Monnin, please go to this link: http://www.maupinhouse.com/monnin.php.