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Ages 8+ | The Secret Spiral of Swamp Kid

The Secret Spiral of Swamp Kid
Published by: DC Comics
Written by: Kirk Scroggs
Illustrated by: Kirk Scroggs
ISBN: 9781401290689
Ages: 8+

Review

Kirk Scroggs’ The Secret Spiral of Swam Kid is an extremely creative, hybrid title that educators need to give thoughtful pedagogical consideration. While graphic novels continue to gain literary momentum in the twenty-first century, Scroggs and DC Comics offer educators a story that perfectly blends traditional chapter book pedagogy with contemporary graphic novel pedagogy.

Russell Weinwright is not an average middle school student. In his notebook, which frames the story, he writes: “Yesterday I finally realized I am scum. To be specific, I am pond scum . . . . I’m just stating the facts - I am pond scum. Literally: 50% cellulose, 50% human” (p. 7). Russell’s notebook is crucial to understanding the story. In it, he writes about everything going on at school and at home. He even doodles because he wants to be a graphic novelist someday. He illustrates himself, his friends, and the entire storyline for readers who dare to enter. “Warning!” he writes on the back cover, “Unless you have express permission from Russelll Weinwright to access his notebook, do not read any further. Seriously, we mean it.” Although strong and to the point, his words are also alluring. Curious readers are bound to take a peak.

As readers begin to turn the pages of the notebook they find out about Russell’s goals and innermost thoughts. Despite being different, his notebook is full of humor and acceptance of himself. He even colorfully illustrates everything that happens. Well, that is, except for the accidental ketchup stains. That was an accident. Russell goals are simply to discover some of his true talents, avoid the creepy mad scientist stare of his suspicious science teacher, and to figure out where he came from and how he fits in.

Russell sees himself as much more than just pond scum. In his mind, he is just like any other student at Houma Bayou Middle School. Although his biological makeup presents a tree trunk arm (with a frog living inside), webbed toes, a carrot finger, and an algae “hair do,” his feelings are similar to those of any middle school student who is trying to figure out where they came from and how they fit into the world around them. Nicknamed “Swamp Kid” at school, Russell puts it all in his notebook and readers get the pleasure of meeting him as his true and growing self.

Language Arts Elements of Story

Plot: At Houma Bayou Middle School, Russell Weinwright (aka: “Swamp Kid”) writes and illustrates his thoughts and feelings about himself in a secret notebook.

Major Characters: Russell Weinwright (aka: Swamp Kid), Charlotte, Preston, Mr. Finneca, Russel’s Parents, Specimen Number Two, IT, Swamp Thing, Alligator, Nils Canebreak (aka: Mr. Muscles), P.E. Coach Sanchez, Old Pete, Ms. Moss, Arcane Inc. Men, Dr. Alec Holland, Ms. Mierko, Mort Frost / CEO Green Belt Frozen Veggies, Houma Heron, Principal Parker, Swamp Rat, Agent Half Measure / Sam

Major Settings: Houma Bayou Middle School, Louisiana, Russell’s Home, in the Woods, Swamp, Bus, Houma Art Museum, Mad Scientist Party, Dream Sequences, Ms. Moss’s Shakespeare Club, Bayou Middle School Football Field

Themes: Middle School Identity, Journaling and Doodling, Science (Plant Biology & Ecosystems), Adoptive Families, Growing Powers

Lesson Plan Recommendations Using the Common Core Standards

for Early & Middle Grade Readers

Production and Distribution of Writing:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.5.4

Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development and organization are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.

The number(s) referenced above corresponds to the number used by the Common Core Standards (www.corestandards.com)

Lesson Plan

In order to help students fully understand Russell’s notebook, educators can use a guided writing lesson plan format. A guided writing lesson plan will help students not only with reading comprehension, but also with the writing and production of their own self-reflective notebooks.

Before Writing: When starting to write, ask students to reflect on the task(s), purpose(s), and audience(s) Russell has in mind while writing in his notebook entitled The Secret Spiral of Swamp Kid (5 - 8 minutes). Keep all notes on the board.

Next, ask students to create a framework for writing a notebook similar to Russell’s. Further, and just like Russell, they need to create a title for their notebook and some back cover writing thoughts for anyone who might find and read their notebook. Their task will be to produce a notebook similar to Russell’s. Yet their goal is to respond with their own thoughts too.

During Writing: Ask students to identify at least five key plot points in the story. They will  need to organize and identify (using dates or numbers) their five key plot points chronologically in their notebooks.

Their notebooks, just like Russell’s notebook, should contain the following:

            - A notebook title

            - Some back cover warnings

            - A quick, descriptive title for each plot point, including page number(s)

            - An identification of the plot point through summarization and/or quotation(s)

            - One or more paragraphs of knowledge they learn about Russell from each plot point

            - Their own personal thoughts and feelings in response to what they learn from each

            - At least two doodles for each plot point, which can be in regard to the plot point itself,

              Russell’s status at that point, and/or their own reflections on that plot point

After Writing: Ask students to peer review each other’s notebooks. Peers should look for all of the aspects detailed above.



Dr. Katie Monnin is the author of eight books about teaching pop culture, comic books, and graphic novels in 21st century classrooms. Since 2010 she has written two monthly reviews and two corresponding lesson plans for her Diamond Bookshelf column: "Katie's Korner: Graphic Novel Reviews for Schools & Libraries." In 2018, Dr. Monnin founded "Why so serious? Productions," a consulting business that creates pedagogical materials for 21st century teachers, librarians, and publishers who want to teach pop culture. She served on the San Diego Comic Con jury in 2013, and she frequently travels the nation and the world to discuss teaching with pop culture in 21st century classrooms.