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

The Misadventures of Salem HydeThe Misadventures of Salem Hyde: Spelling Trouble
Written and illustrated by: Frank Cammuso
Publisher: Amulet
Format: HC/SC, 6 x 8, 96 pages, Partial Color, $4.95/$6.95
ISBN: HC: 978-1-41970-803-9/SC: 978-1-41970-804-6

It's one of the most well-known and often referenced terms in early reader Language Arts education. It's also a key conceptual skill noted in the Language Arts Common Core Standards for grades 1 – 5. And, last but not least, it's a term that I – a professor of early childhood education – am often asked to help explain to teachers themselves.  

To help aide teachers, librarians, parents, and students better understand the term "homophone" it is best to find authentic literary texts that creatively and engagingly use storytelling techniques to illuminate and ease the teaching of this term. Frank Cammuso’s new early reader graphic novel The Misadventures of Salem Hyde is the most recent, and best text for teaching students about homophones.

With characters sure to excite early readers, like Salem Hyde herself and her animal companion - a cat - named Percival J. Whamsford III, Cammuso sets up a witty plot that is both educational and hilarious. To start, the two main characters could not be more different from each other. If given the option they certainly would not choose to be friends. But friends they must be, for Salem's parents have charged Percival (whom Salem insists on calling "Whammy" despite all of his objections) with untangling Salem's spelling problems at school. Knowing that spelling is not her strong suite, Salem thinks that because she is a witch she will be one step ahead of her competition in the school spelling bee. She'll just use her witch talents to cast spells and fix any of the words she might spell inaccurately.  

But if you misspell the words in the spell you cast you might just create some unintentional spelling-challenged chaos. With Percival to help her Salem must somehow figure out not only how to get along with her new, pestering, yet helpful cat companion, but also how to fix all the confusion that ensues from her spells misspellings.

English Language Arts Elements of Story

Plot: Salem Hyde seems to have many misadventures, most of which revolve around her being a witch able to cast spells.  When she decides she wants to win her school's spelling bee, however, her magical spells intended to get the trophy in her hands cause much more chaos than she could have ever predicted. With her new companion, assigned to her by her parents, Salem and Percival the cat must untangle the chaos Salem has caused by casting spells on her misspelled words.

Major Characters: Salem Hyde, Percival the cat (aka "Whammy"), Shelly, Mrs. Fossil, Mr. Fink, Principal McCobb, Aunt Martha, Fergus, the Captain Ahab, and the white whale (aka: Moby Dick)

Themes: Problem-solving, Friendship, School Life, Homophones, Misunderstandings and Clarity

Traditional and Contemporary Literary Pairing Suggestions: Otto's Backwards Day and/or Otto's Orange Day by Frank Cammuso, Dear Deer: A Book of Homophones by Gene Barretta, How Much Can a Bare Bear Bear? by Brian P. Cleary, Eight Ate by Marvin Terban, Suzy Nose/Knows Homophones! By Ph.D. Rebecca Miller and Nicolas Peruzzo

Some Teaching Recommendations Using the Common Core Standards For Elementary Readers in Grades 1 – 5

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.
* The numbers referenced above correspond to the numbers used by the Common Core Standards (www.commoncore.org)

Lesson Idea for Elementary School Readers:

Directions: As students read, ask them to fill out the following two circle graphic organizers explaining how Salem understands the word "spell," and conversely, how Percival / "Whammy" and the school's teachers and students understand the word "spell."

Salem's understanding of

the word "spell"

Percival/ "Whammy"
and the school's
understanding of the
word "spell"


After students are done reading the entire graphic novel the class can work together to suggest and share the ideas they put into their own two circles. Finally, ask students to write a paragraph explanation about how Salem and Whammy/the teacher's/and the student's different misunderstandings change or merge together at the end of the story.



The Best American Comics 2013The Best American Comics 2013
Guest Editor: Jeff Smith
Series Editors: Jessica Abel and Matt Madden
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Format: Hardcover, 7 x 9, 352 pages, Partial Color, $25.00
ISBN: 978-0-54799-546-5

"Hello, Reader. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to infiltrate a top-secret-elite group of comic and graphic novel creators. Masterminded by the notorious husband and wife team of Jessica Abel and Matt Madden . . .

 Matt Madden and Jessica Abel

this year's elite team of comic book and graphic novel creators is joined by a suspicious man with wavy-flowing-beautiful hair, an affection for black t-shirts and a similar affection for stylish black blazers, both always worn with jeans. His name is Jeff Smith and his notoriously addictive and deservedly mega-popular graphic novel series is entitled Bone.

 Jeff Smith

Over the last year or two our team of undercover secret agents have observed this trio working on a top-secret project that only they have access too. Luckily, we were able to plant a mole into the group. The mole prepares their coffee and often orders pizza, leaving little doubt in the three culprits minds that she could secretly be working for us: The Elite Team of Comic Super-Secrets (ETCSS). But last week we lost contact with our mole, but not before she was able to smuggle out an advanced copy of the team's top-secret work on a text project anthology they call The Best American Comics 2013. The Best American Comics 2013 is about to be released around the world. That's why we need you!

Your job, if you choose to accept it, is to read through the mole's smuggled advance copy of The Best American Comics 2013, and decide whether or not the book is indeed composed of the best American comics of 2013 (thus avoiding a cataclysmic barrage of comic book reviews that will explode all over the internet on blogs that will eventually turn viral). Our hope is that you find it an enlightening, calming artifact that belongs on everyone's bookshelf (only to serve as a pedestal for next year's collection).  

A helpful detail to inform your mission may be that: During our last communication with the mole she gave us the smuggled copy to review and process as evidence. When she left us the last thing she said was: "When you are done I want it back!"

Mission Guidelines: The following graphic organizer (Table 1) will help you take notes and ultimately determine whether or not this elite and secret team of graphic novel creators has compiled a menace to society or a valuable literary artifact.  

Table 1: A running record of each comic Smith (the Editor who had the final say in all the comics included in the collection), Abel, and Madden (his mentors and series editors) choose to include in the 2013 version of Best American Comics.

Directions: After reading each comic included in the collection, fill in the last three columns on the graphic organizer.








Personal Reflection




(A+ to F-)











Alison Bechdel







The Speaker







Brandon Graham





The Divine Manifestation of a Singular Impulse





Jesse Jacobs






Turn Back







Sam Alden













Michael DeForge






The Good Wife







Sophie Goldstein






70 Nights of






Craig Thompson






The Story of
Gráine Ní Mháille




Colleen Doran,
Derek McCulloch, &
José Villarrubia






Excerpts from

American Elf






James Kochalka






You Lied to Us!







Jorge Aguirre
Rafael Rosado






Story Time







Evan Dorkin
Jill Thompson













Faith Erin Hicks













Leela Corman






A Husband and a






Sammy Harkham






Four Comics







Grant Snider






Nita Goes Home







Eleanor Davis






Concrete Park







Tony Puryear






Top Five








Malachi Ward






The Strange








Derf Backderf






A Killer Surprise









Terry Moore













Laura Park













Kate Beaton






Fun Strips







Evan Dorkin






Saints in the Store







Jennifer Hayden






Scary Bathtub









Michael Kupperman














Gabrielle Bell






In the Rough






Vanessa Davis






Love Me Forever! Oh! Oh! Oh!







Jeremy Sorese














Joseph Lambert













Paul Pope





After you have read The Best American Comics 2013 review your graphic organizer and identify your own top three comics. List them below:


Finally, after reviewing your graphic organizer and identifying your top three choices, write a one to two paragraph recommendation for your superiors here at our top-secret literary agency. Your recommendation should state why you think the ETCSS should or should not support this collection of American comics as the best of 2013.

Grade Level: High School Readers

Common Core Standard Alignment for Reading (Grades 6 – 12):

Integration of Knowledge and Ideas

7. Integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse formats and media, including visually and quantitatively, as well as in words.
8. Delineate and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, including the validity of the reasoning as well as the relevance and sufficiency of the evidence.
9. Analyze how two or more texts address similar themes or topics in order to build knowledge or to compare the approaches the authors take.

Common Core Standard Alignment for Writing (Grades 6 – 12):

Text Types and Purposes

1. Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts, using valid and relevant and sufficient evidence.

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 (2013); Teaching New Literacies in Elementary Language Arts ( in press, 2014).  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 two wiener dogs, Sam and Max.