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

Written and Illustrated by: Noelle Stevenson
Publisher: Harper Teen
Format: Hardcover/Softcover, 6 x 9, 272, Full Color, $17.99/$12.99
ISBN: HC: 978-0-06227-823-4/SC: 978-0-06227-822-7


It's been a few years since I have been this excited about a new name on the graphic novel scene!

Reader, please meet Noelle Stevenson:

Noelle Stevenson 

You can find Stevenson and her work - including her new graphic novel that I will review and write a lesson plan for in this column - online at: gingerhaze.com. Trust me, it's worth a visit. In fact, I would be willing to say that Stevenson is probably the most talented young graphic novelist I've come across in at least the last five years. In other words, my bet is that you'll see her name again. And each time you do it'll probably mean there's a new, addictively engrossing graphic novel for you to pleasantly devour.

Clever and endearing, Nimona is about a young wannabe villain (Nimona herself) who seeks out the most famous villain in the kingdom, Sir Ballister Blackheart, in order to be his understudy. After cunningly convincing Blackheart to let her tag along on his next evil plan, Nimona immediately goes to work. A little too happy for good measure, however, Nimona begins her first day on the job by immediately revising Blackheart's latest evil plan. As for Nimona's revisions? Well, let's just say she’s a little more sinister than Blackheart imagined.

Blackheart may be a villain, but he knows the rules. According to Blackheart, villains upset the established order, cause chaos. 

According to Nimona, villains seize the day. No matter the cost! And despite Blackheart's advice she is pretty sure she knows the rules too. The problem is that they are HER rules. Villains destroy. They even murder if necessary. They take out anything and anyone in their way. No matter the cost.

With their definitions of villainy at odds this duo must figure out just who they are. The reader is merely along for the ride, and what a ride it is. I've never fallen more in love with villainy before, and especially two very volatile villains themselves.

A message for Stevenson: Please tell us there is a sequel in the making. Please? I already miss my much adored and beloved new villainous friends.

English Language Arts Elements of Story

Plot(s): Nimona wants to be a villain so she seeks out the most well-known villain in the kingdom, Sir Ballister Blackheart. Blackheart and Nimona set out together to take over the kingdom, but their plans are more than slightly different. As a result, Blackheart must really start to wonder about the fishy story Nimona told him about her background. Who is Nimona, really? And, no matter what the answer, why does Blackheart want to be her ally?

Major Characters: Nimona, Ballister Blackheart, the King, Sir Goldenloin, Director of Institution of Law Enforcement and Heroics, Dr. Meredith Blitzmeyer, Gloreth

Major Settings: Blackheart's Fortress, the Kingdom, Institution of Law Enforcement and Heroics, news station, His Majesty's Royal Treasury, His Majesety's Hospital, the Antlered Snake

Major Themes: Heroes and Villains, Science, Right and Wrong, Rules, Shift and Change, Mentorship, Friendship, Loyalty

Reading/Literacy Recommendations For Young Adult Readers in Language Arts Grades 4 - 8

All standards dealing with "Key Ideas and Details" relate to teaching the following lesson plan with Noelle Stevenson's Nimona.

Reading Lesson Idea for Language Arts Readers in Grades 4 - 8

Directions: The key to understanding Nimona is chronicling and comprehending Nimona's character development as the story progresses. One way to keep track of Nimona's story is to do a series of character sketches of her physical appearance and significant quotations.

For the following activity students need to identify key moments in Nimona's story and complete a number of detailed, visual character development sketches (complete with Nimona's hair style, wardrobe, facial expressions, accessories and more). Students will also need to identify and add significant quotations to each character sketch (citing the page number), quotations that coordinate with each character sketch and its details.

Doing a character sketch for each chapter will be most helpful. The easiest way to do so is to ask students to complete one character sketch at a time, chapter-by-chapter, as they read. The following sketch and balloon can by used for each of the eleven chapters.

Nimona Character Sketch: Chapter _________


Secret Hero Society: Study Hall of JusticeSecret Hero Society: Study Hall of Justice
Written by: Derek Fridolfs
Illustrated by: Dustin Nguyen
Publisher: Scholastic
Format: Hardcover, 6 x 9, 176 pages, Full Color, $12.99
ISBN: 978-0-54582-501-6


I can't decide where to start. Do I start with the artwork? Do I start with the writing? Either way it's way more than positive in the case of Derek Fridolfs' and Dustin Nguyen's Secret Hero Society: Study Hall of Justice.

The writing is superb. Like its superhero characters the writing soars above and beyond, out of reach and way beyond expectations. Which is hard to do, especially when you're writing not only about overly familiar characters, but also those same superhero characters' hypothetical childhoods. Refreshing and thoughtful, Fridolfs' Secret Hero Society: Study Hall of Justice offers an enticing new look on the lives of the young Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman.

The artwork is delicious. Why? In order to capture a believable look for these three familiar superheroes Nguyen had to ask himself: "Since these are childhood versions of Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman how can I downplay their well-known, adult, and dominant personalities?" Adult superheroes are bold and big; they know who they are and what they stand for. Kid superheroes are inquisitive and rising; they neither know who they are yet, nor what they stand for. While retaining an underlining strength for the young superheroes, Nguyen's artwork in Secret Hero Society: Study Hall of Justice delicately shows our heroes as they figure out their world and their coming of age roles within it.

As for the story itself: The Ducard school the three superheroes-in-the-making attend has some mysteriously sinister students. In fact, most of the students are pretty darn evil. Prank-prone clowns. Mouth-bound wrestlers. Overly passionate botanists. Frozen-focused meteorologists. Hmmm...

Thought provoking, right? That's what a young Bruce Wayne, Clark Kent, and Diana of Themyscira think.

English Language Arts Elements of Story

Plot(s): A young Bruce Wayne (Batman), Clark Kent (Superman), and Diana of Themyscira (Wonder Woman) find themselves at the same middle school. The Ducard school doesn't seem to align with our future superheroes budding ideals about the world, however. It's filled with a bunch of bullies... Even the teachers! So what's going on? A young investigator in the making, Bruce Wayne leads the trio in an effort to find out.

Major Characters: Bruce Wayne, Professor Hugo Strange, Alfred, Principal, Dr. Thaddeus B. Sivana, Mr. Vandal Savage, Mr. Jervis Tetch, Mr. Basil Karlo, Ms. Siobhan McDougal, Coach Zod, Coach "Kitty" Faulkner, Mr. Solomon Grundy, Clark, Diana, Brainiac, Joker, Bane, Joe Kerr, Talia, ninjas, Ra's Al Ghul

Major Settings: Ducard school, Wayne Manor

Major Themes: Action and Adventure, School, Alliances and Friendships, Villainy, Mystery and Detective Work, Villainy

Reading / Literacy Recommendations For Young Adult Readers in Language Arts Grades 4 - 8

Text Types and Purposes:
Support claim(s) with logical reasoning and relevant, accurate data and evidence that demonstrate an understanding of the topic or text, using credible sources.
Use words, phrases, and clauses to create cohesion and clarify the relationships among claim(s), counterclaims, reasons, and evidence.

* Although these standards are indicated for grades 6 - 8 they encompass the standards in grades 4 and 5 as well.

Reading Lesson Idea for Language Arts Readers in Grades 4 - 8

Directions: Because this graphic novel relies so heavily on understanding a young Bruce Wayne's journal entries readers can demonstrate comprehension of the text by writing their own journal entries as well. Formatted similarly to those like Wayne's, readers can record their thoughts each time they read.

Dr. Katie Monnin is an Associate Professor of Literacy at the University of North Florida. Besides the joy that comes with reading comic books and graphic novels, Dr. Monnin enjoys a Peter Pan-ish life of researching and writing her own books about teaching comics, graphic novels, and cartoons: Teaching Graphic Novels (2010), Teaching Early Reader Comics and Graphic Novels (2011), Using Content-Area Graphic Texts for Learning (2012), Teaching Reading Comprehension with Graphic Texts (2013), and Get Animated! Teaching 21st Century Early Reader and Young Adult Cartoons in Language Arts (2014); Teaching New Literacies in Elementary Language Arts (2015). When she is not writing (or sitting around wondering how she ended up making an awesome career out of studying comics and graphic novels), Dr. Monnin spends her time with her three wiener dogs, Samantha, Max, and Alex Morgan Monnin.