Survive in the Outdoors!

Latinx boy and girl at a wooded campsite building a fire and holding a fish they caught surrounded by camping equipment.Just in time for summer fun, this graphic novel packs an incredible amount of practical, useful, clearly explained information about staying safe while enjoying the outdoors. Tweens Alonso and Sophia are spending the weekend with their Abuelo. Abuelo loves the outdoors and decides to take the children to his favorite remote fishing spot. Alonso and Sophia aren’t excited about this as they aren’t used to being disconnected from their online lives. Abuelo begins teaching them about what to expect as they make and pack the things they’ll need for their trip. As they hike deep into the woods Abuelo twists his ankle and can’t walk. It’s now up to Alonso and Sophia to care for Abuelo and keep themselves safe. 

The story of Alonso, Sophia and Abuelo is a great vehicle for teaching how to be prepared in the outdoors. Since this is a maker project book, it contains fun hands on activities as well as general information. The maker projects include making fishing lures, a compass, and a campfire, all of which are well illustrated and explained in detail. Outdoor safety concerns, e.g. avoiding ticks, administering first aid, making sure water is safe to drink, and creating an emergency shelter are presented in a way that informs rather than frightens. One unexpected and interesting element involves the children’s feelings about fishing for their dinner. Abuelo recognizes their sadness at having to kill a fish to eat it. He explains that feeling sad is normal, but if you’re going to eat meat you should know where it comes from.

The relationships in this Latinx family are sweet and warm. Sophia and Alonso manage through the crisis in a realistically age appropriate way. The art is colorful and engaging, expressing the characters’ emotions just as well as it diagrams project instructions. As someone whose first choice of activity is not spending time camping or fishing, I have to say this book made me feel like going outside might actually be fun.

Find Survive in the Outdoors!  at your local bookstore.

Personal note: Sorry to be absent from the blog for so long. COVID and other upheavals kept me away – I’m happy to be back!

Exploring Culture in Kids’ Comics

I recently had the opportunity to moderate a panel with three amazing graphic novel creators as part of San Diego Comic-Con’s Education Series. Each creator tells their story through the lens of their culture. Rumi Hara created  “Nori” which details the adventures of a mischievous, imaginative 4 year old living near Osaka, Japan. Jose Pimienta‘s “Suncatcher,” set in Mexicali, Mexico, is a  “devil at the crossroads” tale of a girl trying to pay a mystical debt and rescue her grandfather’s soul. In “Displacement” by Kiku Hughes a teen travels through time and memory to witness both her grandmother’s life as a Japanese American incarcerated during World War Two and the resulting intergenerational impact.

All three creators were fascinating and entertaining, as are each of their books!  Here’s the video of  our talk. I hope you enjoy it – then go read their books!

Find Nori, Suncatcher and Displacement at your local bookstore or comic shop.

Dragon Hoops

dragon hoopsDragon Hoops follows two fascinating narratives.  It’s the tale of a storied high school’s quest for a state championship and the author’s own journey as a graphic novelist.

Bishop O’Dowd High School, located in Oakland, CA, is renowned for its strong athletic program. Gene Luen Yang taught computer science at O’Dowd, while balancing a demanding career as a graphic novel creator. Yang had just wrapped up one project and was in the market for his next book idea.  He was a self-admitted lifelong hater of sports, but he couldn’t ignore his students’ excitement about the Dragons upcoming basketball season. His curiosity led him to sit down with basketball coach Lou Richie.  Before long, Yang had his next project.

The narrative includes details on the history of the men’s and women’s games, including how they were impacted by racism and sexism. For example, there was so much concern about the effects of basketball on their “womanhood,” women were not allowed to run the full length of the court until 1971. Profiles of the diverse team members and Coach Richie, himself an alum of O’Dowd and its basketball team, enrich the story. Some difficult history in the program is handled thoughtfully.

Yang elevates an already powerful story by weaving his own journey with sports and his career as a graphic novelist into the narrative.  The concept of taking steps – taking risks – is a recurring theme.

Yang’s art brings the story to life with depictions of the basketball games which are so compelling you feel as if you’re there, watching. He uses a full range of colors, which are muted in historical sections and more vibrant in the time of the story. You don’t have to love basketball to love this book. Find Dragon Hoops at your local bookstore or comic book shop.