Katie's Korner: Graphic Novel Reviews for Schools and Libraries

Skullkickers Vol. 1Skullkickers: 1000 Opas and a Dead Body
Written by: Jim Zub
Illustrated by: Edwin Huang and Misty Coats
Publisher: Image Comics
Format: Softcover, 6.5 x 10, 144 pages, Full Color, $9.99
ISBN: 978-1-60706-366-7

What I like most about Skullkickers: 1000 Opas and a Dead Body is its ability to blend various stylistic techniques that invite comic book, anime, and graphic novel readers of all persuasions to its pages. Cleverly borrowing the best aspects of each of these literary formats (while still conforming them to its own unique style), the writers and artists of Skullkickers reach out to today's young adult and high school readers in various ways. Already popular with young adult and high school readers the storyline contains elements of action-packed excitement, comedic relief, and slightly intriguing rough and tumble violence.

With a diverse array of stylistic-interests already piqued, teachers, librarians, and parents can further motivate their young adult and/or high school readers to pick up this gem of a graphic novel by sharing other alluring and tempting qualities found in the story. Caught up in an assassination plot the two main characters in Skullkickers are mercenaries determined to finish their task. Just as determined to stop the would-be assassins, however, are some even more engaging characters and aspects of the story. Werewolves, skeletons, and black magic keep the action high, the reader guessing, and the story captivating. Total page-turner.

English Language Arts Elements of Story

Plot: Two mercenaries are troubled in their assassination plot by other characters, obstacles and various aspects of the story

Themes: Good and Evil, Right and Wrong, Problem-solving, Planning-Plotting-Execution, Truth and Justice

Traditional and Contemporary Literary Pairing Suggestions: Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns, J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit and/or The Lord of the Rings, George Orwell's Animal Farm, William Golding's Lord of the Flies, Mary Shelley's Frankenstein   

Some Teaching Recommendations For Young Adult and High School Readers

Common Core Standards for Reading (grades 6 – 12):

Craft and Structure
4. Interpret words and phrases as they are used in a text, including determining technical, connotative, and figurative meanings, and analyze how specific word choices shape meaning or tone.
5. Analyze the structure of texts, including how specific sentences, paragraphs, and larger portions of the text (e.g., a section, chapter, scene, or stanza) relate to each other and the whole.
6. Assess how point of view or purpose shapes the content and style of a text.*

Lesson Idea for Young Adult and High School Readers:

Directions: In the T-chart below identify the two main points of view (one on each side) in Skullkickers (one to represent the mercenaries and one to represent the werewolves, skeletons, and black magic).  

After identifying the two main points of view list the context clues (both words and images) from the story that helped you to interpret each group's point of view. Feel free to draw, quote, list page numbers, or paraphrase your responses. When you are done with the T-chart engage in a whole class discussion about the two points of view and the various elements of the story that led you to identify and explain them correctly. 




Tommysaurus RexTommysaurus Rex
Written and illustrated by: Doug TenNapel
Publisher: Scholastic
Format: Softcover, 6 x 9, 144 pages, Full Color, $10.99

This is a hard review for me to write, for two reasons. Both reasons, ironically, also add up to make it one of the best graphic novels I have ever reviewed for Diamond.  

First, it's always been hard for me to identify myself with a specific religious domination. Yes, I believe in God, and, yes, I believe that there is something or someone spiritual and powerful that helps each of us navigate the smooth and the wavy waters we encounter in life – if only we believe and trust. And for that reason I felt suspicious of this graphic novel. Why had it fallen in my hands right now? Was someone or something trying to get my attention?

Here's the second reason: My best friend, the coolest miniature dachshund you'll ever meet, is aging quickly and rapidly. I am not ready to lose her.  

With my best friend snuggled up against me I sat down to read Doug TenNapel's latest graphic novel Tommysaurus Rex. I did not read the back cover first; Doug's work is always up my alley. But this time Doug's story went above and beyond its normal call of duty. It reached deep into my soul and asked me to think the unthinkable. The story begins with a boy (Ely) and his best friend, a dog named Tommy. Awesome!, I thought to myself and snuggled a little closer on the couch to my own best friend, Sammie.  

So the story begins: After eating an indulgent and playful breakfast with Ely’s mom and dad Ely and Tommy set out on an adventure to prove that Tommy is one of the fastest and greatest dogs in the neighborhood.  

"Just like you, Sam, the greatest dog ever!" I said and she looked up at me.

But Ely and Tommy don't make it to the park. On the way Ely loses control of the leash and Tommy gets hit by a car and dies.  

Already the storyline is too close to home, but knowing Doug's previous graphic novels I trust him and read on, for I know he will take Ely and I on a spiritual, adventurous journey of healing and faith. And he absolutely does. With the unthinkable at the beginning of the story, TenNapel's craftsmanship for telling a story with images and words takes off. And along the way the reader just might be able to think the unthinkable and believe a little more.

English Language Arts Elements of Story

Plot: Ely has just lost his best friend, a dog named Tommy, when he sets off for a summer of hard work on his beloved and endearing grandfather's farm

Setting: Ely's house, Ely's room, Ely's yard, Ely's neighborhood, grandpa's farm, the cave, grandpa's town

Major Characters: Ely, Tommy, Mom, Dad, Mendoza, the Mayor, Randy, Shem, Beckett, Tommysaurus Rex, townspeople

Themes: Faith and Healing, Problem-solving, Friendship and Family, Relationships

Traditional and Contemporary Literary Pairing Suggestions:Old Yeller by Fred Gipson, Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls, A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle (adapted in graphic novel format by Eisner-award winner Hope Larson), Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O'Dell, Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt, Holes by Louis Sachar

Some Teaching Recommendations For Young Adult Readers*

Common Core Standard Alignment: Key Ideas and Details (grades 6 – 12)
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.
*Aligned to the Common Core Standards (www.corestandards.org).

Lesson Idea for Young Adult Readers
Directions: Use words and/or images in the following character boxes to describe each character's relationship to Ely.

Each of the characters you described also directly relates to one or more of the themes in Tommysaurus Rex. Discuss the following themes and their meanings as a class, and then (in small groups of two or three) decide which characters you want to list underneath each theme. When you write a character's name under a specific theme write a brief reason about why you chose to put that character under that theme. When everyone is finished discuss your decisions with the rest of the class.

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.