Astronaut Academy: Zero Gravity

Astronaut Academy: Zero GravityAstronaut Academy: Zero Gravity
Written and illustrated by:
Dave Roman
First Second
Softcover, 6 x 8.5, 192 pages, Black and White, $9.99

As a former middle school and high school English Language Arts teacher who just so happens to have many similar minded librarian friends, I am constantly looking for high quality stories that will reach out to every student in the room. Dave Roman's new Astronaut Academy is just such a story!

Roman's Astronaut Academy is a tour-de-force of craftsmanship. Told through the various lenses of the school principal of Astronaut Academy, a new, mysteriously shy student, and a number of current and uniquely interesting students who don't always see eye-to-eye, Roman took a risky venture in the craftsmanship of this story. The plot, setting, conflict, and resolution -- all the important elements of story -- could've been lost in the midst of a structure that focuses on so many unique characters and their own point of views. But in Astronaut Academy none of these elements of story are either missing or hurting. In fact, every critical element of story is thoroughly alive and well, and, as a result of his risky yet successful craftsmanship, Roman has pushed, recreated, and offered graphic novel readers an entirely new subgenre. Roman's Astronaut Academy, in other words, is a stand-alone gem in the graphic novel world, a must read for every reader out there who feels passionately about the graphic novel format and its potential to tell 21st century literary-level stories.

Centered on a former space hero who is trying to keep a low profile at his new school, Hakata Soy is the central character that ties the plot together. While the most intimidating, rich and popular girl in school seems to be scheming behind his back, his best friend is mysteriously missing in action, and his new roommate can only think of his athletic prowess at the schools favorite sport, fireball. And, if that's not enough, there's a doppelganger robot wandering the halls of Astronaut Academy with an identity crises. Should he destroy Hakata Soy? Or is his programming overriding a sensitive side that really just wants to make friends?

English Language Arts Elements of Story

Plot: Hakata Soy is a former space hero who just wants to go to school like any other average kid. The problem, however, is that he is not just any other normal kid, and he is not at just any other school. He's a student at Astronaut Academy and is about to meet a bunch of new friends and foes.

Setting: Astronaut Academy

Characters: Hakata Soy, Principal of Astronaut Academy, Mrs. Bunn, Mr. Namagucci, Senor Panda, Doug Hiro, Mr. Taketo Sky, Miyumi San, Maribelle Mellonbelly, Gotcha Birds, Metador, Billy Lee, Marcos Stamatis, Gadget Thompson, Tak Offsky, Cybert, Mrs. Cupcake, Guidance Chancellor Bee, Scab Wellington, Monique, Martin, and Tomcat of Team Feety Pajamas, Malik Mehendale, Calico Hopps, Miyumi's grandfather

Themes: Identity, Friendship, Relationships, School Community, Conflict and Resolution, Storytelling/Craft

Traditional Literature Pairing Suggestions: Jeff Smith's Bone series, Kazu Kibuishi's Amulet series, Mark Twain's The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, William Golding's Lord of the Flies, Walter Dean Myers' Monster, Laurie Halse Anderson's Speak, Sharon Draper's Tears of a Tiger, Charles Dickens' Great Expectations

Some Teaching Recommendations For Middle School & High School English Language Arts

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.

3. Students apply a wide range of strategies to comprehend, interpret, evaluate and appreciate texts.

4. 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.

Suggested Guided Reading Lesson Plan:

• Before Reading

To begin, draw a circle on the board. Inside of that circle write the word "plot." Next, as a beginning reading strategy, ask students to read the first 5 pages of Astronaut Academy. When they are done with those five pages, ask students: "What do you think the plot of Astronaut Academy may be?" Record their ideas in the circle.

• During Reading

While students read Astronaut Academy (up to about page 27), ask them to keep reviewing their earlier ideas on the plot. By the time they get to page 27, ask students to settle upon one, summative plot idea. If need be, erase the plot ideas that simply did not seem to work out, leaving only the main plot idea within the circle.

You will also want to ask students, restarting with pages 1 -- 5 (which focus on the Principal of Astronaut Academy) and continuing onwards, to "draw a line out from the main plot idea. Each line you draw will represent one of the characters. Thus, at the end of the line draw a large circle and write each new character's name. Also, within that character's circle, list their characteristics.

Since readers are continuously meeting new characters throughout Astronaut Academy, they can read the entire graphic novel with this character and plot based reading strategy in mind.

• After Reading

After students are done reading Astronaut Academy, ask them to draw lines from one character to another, "connecting and listing the connections that characters share." In other words, students might draw a line between Hakata Soy and Miyumi San, and on that line, write the word "friends."

When students are finished drawing lines and listing descriptive relationships, ask them to meet with a peer and discuss their thoughts and ideas about the story. After this meeting, and finally, ask students to "Write one paragraph that describes what you think is the most important relationship in Astronaut Academy. You may want to keep in mind that Astronaut Academy: Zero Gravity is the first in a series of Astronaut Academy graphic novels by Dave Roman."

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.