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

Curses! Foiled AgainCurses! Foiled Again
By: Jane Yolen and Mike Cavallaro
Publisher: First Second
Format: Softcover, 6 x 8.5, 176 pages, Partial Color, $15.99
ISBN: 978-1-59643-619-0

Sequels make me nervous. Whether a film or a book they inevitably cause me to get paranoid, especially when they are written by a dear friend. And, if I didn’t pump-up-my-anxiety-driven-paranoia-enough my subconscious kept chiming in with, "And you know your dear friend will probably read your review!"

That said, "Hi, Jane! Friendship or not, I must admit that I like Curses! Foiled Again better than its predecessor (Foiled). Your writing of the Foiled series is like a fine wine."

Slightly older, but still maturing and sparring with her new identity as the Defender of the Seelie Court, Aliera Carstairs is back in action. Lots of action. The only problem is someone's following her: A troll.  

By light a human, by darkness a troll, Avery Castle will not leave Aliera alone. He just keeps following her. Everywhere. He even wants Aliera to believe that he is now on her side, that he is [insert Aliera's eye roll here] a troll out to exchange his previous bad-boy ways for good-guy charm and devotion.   

With so much on her mind, Aliera simply doesn't have time to listen to (or believe) Avery's newfound claims of allegiance. She's too busy figuring out what it means to see, to interact, and above all DEFEND both the human and the fairy worlds. It's a lot to handle for a teenager, even if she is possibly headed to a national-level fencing competition where only the strongest and most talented defenders will succeed.  

English Language Arts Elements of Story

Plot: Aliera Carstairs is back in action, and, this time around she's coming to terms with her new identity as the Defender of the Seelie Court. And as if that wasn't enough that annoying troll Avery Castle is following her . . . . Everywhere!

Setting: The overlap between the fairy and human worlds

Major Characters: Aliera Carstairs, Avery Castle, cousin Caroline, Baba Yaga, Aliera's fencing coach Chris, and, finally, a lot of trolls

Themes: Coming of Age, Identity, Friendship, Loyalty, Family, School, Leadership

Traditional and Contemporary Literary Pairing Suggestions: Jeff Smith's Bone series, William Golding's Lord of the Flies, S.E. Hinton's The Outsiders, Aesop's Fables, the original Grimm's Fairy Tales or any contemporary version of the original fairy tales, Kazu Kibuishi's Amulet series, Doug TenNapel's Cardboard, Jane Yolen and Rebecca Guay's The Last Dragon

Some Teaching Recommendations For Middle Level Readers

Suggested Alignment to the Common Core Standards:*
*Standard numbers correspond to the literal common core standards numbers, www.commoncorestandards.org

Key Ideas and Details
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.

Lesson Idea for Middle Level Readers:

Directions: Ask students to work individually or in groups and consider the Common Core Standards' emphasis on middle level Key Ideas and Details, especially in regards to the characters and their individual personalities in Curses! Foiled Again. The below graphic organizer will help you and your students organize your thoughts.  

Before they start and eventually share their graphic organizer ask each student to pick their three favorite characters from the story.



Character Name


Quotes / Decisions Made by this Character


3 Adjectives You Would Use to Describe this Character


Evidence for Your Adjectives (words or pictures)


2 Themes Related to this Character (with brief rationale)


How does this character interact with the other characters you selected?

















































After completing their Key Ideas and Details graphic organizer about Curses! Foiled Again ask students to find a new friend (if they worked in small groups they must choose someone else to talk to). With their new friend they can take time to review/think once more about their responses. Next, give students 10 minutes to share their thoughts with their new friend (5 minutes of sharing per student). Finally, ask for volunteers to share highlights from their conversations and/or decisions.



District ComicsDistrict Comics: An Unconventional History of Washington, DC
Edited by: Matt Dembicki
Publisher: Fulcrum Publishing
Format: Softcover, 8 x8, 256 pages, Full Color, $24.95
ISBN: 978-1-55591-751-7

Fact: District Comics was published in 2012.  

Fact: I (and those of you who have yet to relish its pages) will read District Comics in 2013.

Fact: Edited by Matt Dembicki, District Comics is already one of my all-time favorite graphic novels. Whether or not you read it in 2012, or plan to read it in 2013, it will most likely end up on your "favorites" list as well.

Already acclaimed for his passion to bring some of the most interesting and singular historical places, people, and historical events in American history to life in comic book format, Matt Dembicki is a sincere modern day explorer, for he digs up stories from our past that cannot be found in textbooks.   

Instead of selecting well-known topics Dembicki scratches beneath the surface in District Comics. And in doing so he builds upon our already existing schema of Washington, DC by presenting stories we may never have known about our nation's capital had he and his authors and illustrators not dug up these golden nuggets of treasure and legend.

Dembicki's editorial introduction is teasing yet exciting, and it will surely make you want to bring this graphic novel into your classrooms and libraries:

Most people think of DC as center stage for national politics and iconic monuments, but it's more than that; if you scratch beneath the surface, you'll uncover a city rich in history, offbeat tails, and unique personalities . . . . These are stories that pop up during conversations with a longtime resident, through a community newspaper, or at a neighborhood barbecue, stories that have deep connections to the city and in many cases to that nation as well. (Dembicki, 2012)

English Language Arts Elements of Story

Plot: Various, historically-based comic book stories full of rare gems about our nation’s capital (Washington, DC)

Setting: Washington, DC (past-and-present)

Major Characters: For the first time ever in a review I think it is best to leave this category blank, for part of the fun in reading and teaching this graphic novel is identifying the characters.

Themes: History, Fact and Fiction, Storytelling, Nationalism, Politics, Relationships, Past-Present-Future

Traditional and Contemporary Literary Pairing Suggestions: Around the World in 80 Days by Jules Verne, Life on the Mississippi by Mark Twain, North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell, The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens, The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison, Nothing But the Truth by Avi, Fodor's Around Washington, DC with Kids, Washington, DC Guidebooks for Kids by Carol Bluestone

Some Teaching Recommendations For Middle and High School Readers

Suggested Alignment to the Common Core Standards:*
*Standard numbers correspond to the literal common core standards numbers, www.commoncorestandards.org

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 Middle and High School Readers:

Directions: Teachers and librarians have many options when it comes to teaching District Comics.
1. Teach the entire graphic novel District Comics
2. Teach a group of graphic novel stories from District Comics
3. Teach a few graphic novel stories from District Comics

Whichever method you choose to teach District Comics the following Figure will help you and your students identify and discuss all of the unique details found in each short story.  PLEASE NOTE: Discussion questions can be found below the graphic organizer figure.
























































































































































Discussion Questions (aimed at surfacing the key elements found in the Common Core Standards): Ask students to pick three stories to focus on and answer the following questions. Students should feel free to apply their three story selections to any of the following questions.

1. How do the words, phrases, and text help you analyze (and understand) the story?
Your Story Selection Title:


Your responses:

2. In what ways do the structure of the structure - including the use of words and images - relate to each other and the other short stories in the text?
Your Story Selection Title:


Your Responses:

3. How does point of view and purpose influence the stories of your selection?  
Your Story Selection Title:


Your Responses:

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.