Written by: Jane Yolen
Illustrated by: Mike Cavallaro
Publisher: First Second
Format: Softcover, 160 pages, Partial Color, $15.99
Lesson plan by Dr. Katie Monnin
Aliera Carstairs is a dashing and debonair young fencer who knows she can outwit, out-maneuver, and out-score all of her opponents. Following and believing in her coach's advice – "It's always about protecting the heart, Aliera. You must always protect your heart" – Aliera is so good she not only defeats girls her own age, but also boys, even boys much older than herself. In fact, as the school paper points out, she is headed to national competition.
Even on the weekends, when she spends time role-playing with her cousin Caroline (who suffers from severe rheumatoid arthritis and is wheelchair-bound), Aliera concentrates on the defensive art of fencing. While Caroline is most obviously a Queen sitting on her throne, Aliera is the captain of the guard, defender of the queen.
But is Aliera able to protect her heart when she's not wielding her weapon and wearing a fencing mask? When new-kid Avery Castle – a quintessential prince charming – is assigned to be Aliera's new lab partner, her defensive skills are not only tested, but also challenged. Can Aliera still be a captain of the guard, a defender of the queen and a defender of her own heart?
Young adults and their teachers will just have to read this graphic novel to find out! Yolen's finesse for writing brilliant fantasy stories for young adults, and Cavallaro's gift for moving the reader's eye from one visually aesthetic panel to the next, will certainly keep the reader engaged, the teacher enthralled, and provide pedagogical opportunities aplenty.
English Language Arts Elements of Story
Plot: Aliera Carstairs is a gifted, young fencer whose defensive skills are truly tested when Avery Castle shows up at school as her new lab partner
Setting: Aliera’s home, NY subways, fencing school, science class, Aliera’s cousin’s house, Grand Central Station
Characters: Aliera Carstairs, Avery Castle, Caroline, fencing coach and fencing opponents
Themes: Defense, Offense, Friendship, Transitions, Confidence, Fantasy
Traditional Literature Pairing Suggestions: The Awakening by Kate Chopin, Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift, Aesop’s Fables, Fairy Tales by the Brothers Grimm, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court by Mark Twain, Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
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.
Suggested Reading Strategies:
*Monnin, K. (2010). Teaching 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.