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The Future of Comic Studies in the RGV

So, on February 25th, I was given the wonderful opportunity to discuss comic studies in the Rio Grande Valley in a panel for FESTIBA. For those that do not know, to quote the website, the Festival of International Books and Arts is here to “promote the importance of literacy, culture and the arts to students, parents, educators and community members throughout the Rio Grande Valley. With the theme of Building a Better World, FESTIBA 2020 strives to focus on a bright future by promoting and inspiring education for sustainable development, or the idea that we must teach in a way that empowers students to provide tomorrow’s generations with the same opportunities and quality of life that we enjoy today.”

The panel I was in was titled, The Future of Comic Studies in the RGV. I sat with Paul Valadez (who taught me back when I was an undergraduate), Jean Braithwaite (who also taught me when I was an undergraduate), Sabrina De La Rosa, and Jing Zhang.

The discussion was wonderful. We were asked thoughtful questions and I got to promote how libraries view graphic novels and what types of programs we were looking to utilize them. I presented an assignment I did last semester in my course on Public Librarianship.

Sabrina De La Rosa gave a beautiful presentation on her work and I hope to purchase her graphic novels one of these days, she is a talented person. I am only sorry that I could not share you her work. Paul Valadez also did a great speech on his own views of how to realize that artists and writers are professionals that should utilize their voice in that regard. Jean Braithwaite herself talked of Words + Pictures, the group that set up the panels and information sessions on graphic novels for FESTIBA. She talked of future plans and goals they would be having moving forward. Words+Pictures’ members are art professors, writing professors, and librarians that all want to show the artistry behind making a graphic novel. I hope to be more involved.

A photo before we started. On the left is Jean Braithwaite. On the right is Paul Valadez. Both are fantastic professors and I am lucky to have taken their classes.
Introducing ourselves. Say hello to the Dr. Pepper. It belongs to Carlton Nelson. He is a Research and Instruction Librarian at UTRGV. He was also the person that help set up everything. He is fantastic.

Review (Brown Girl Dreaming)

Bibliography: Woodson, Jacqueline. Brown Girl Dreaming. New York, New York: Nancy Paulsen Books (Penguin Books USA), 2014. ISBN-13: 978-0399252518.

Plot Summary: Jacqueline tells the story of herself and her family and how her home is in the South and in New York. She is born when so much history is happening around her as stated in the poem, “second daughter’s second day on earth.” While her birth certificate is getting done, “In Birmingham, Alabama, Martin Luther King Jr./ is planning a march on Washington, where/ John F. Kennedy is president. / In Harlem, Malcolm X is standing on a soapbox/ talking about a revolution.” She writes out her memories as she grows up, as so many changes happen in her life, such as getting a younger sibling, moving to a new home, dealing with her uncle going to prison. She writes about how she handles it all and how even her own siblings grow into their own persons.

Critical Analysis: Woodson’s writing is sparse but loaded, effective with the way she foreshadows her grandfather, Daddy’s death, “I do not know yet/ how sometimes the earth makes a promise/ it can never keep. Tobacco fields/ lay fallow, crops picked clean./ My grandfather coughs again/ and the earth waits/ for what and who it will get in return.”

Jacqueline loves words but finds herself going a different way about approaching them compared to her older sister, Dell. Where Dell excels at reading book after book quickly, Jacqueline takes a longer time to finish, letting the words absorb her. She makes up her own phrasings inside her head. Unfortunately, teachers at first get excited at having her for a student until they realize she learns differently from Dell. And, unfortunately, while the reader realizes that Jacqueline observes and reads like a poet, that Jacqueline is going to grow up to be a writer, the teachers themselves dismiss her. In the poem, “the other woodson,” the teachers keep waiting to see if she will act like Dell, but then they remember that she is “the other Woodson and begin searching for brilliance at another desk.”

Jacqueline’s narration says so many things in so few lines. She can show how limiting the adults’s viewpoint is that there is only one way to brilliance and that is by how quick children go through things, such as Dell. They end up ignoring great minds like Jacqueline. She also shows how that viewpoint is so limiting because the reader is reading Jacqueline’s point-of-view, we see what she utilizes for an emotional, sensory experience.

Woodson is strong in conveying a sensory experience, especially as she links it to nostalgia and the bittersweet emotions from that. She plays the senses with a rhythm to her verses. Part of the experience is how she paints the North and the South as contrasts. There are emotions tied to both places. With the south, Jacqueline feels free in many ways that is close to serene, such as running barefoot or catching fireflies in jars. In the winter, she talks of how it is like to be with her grandfather on the porch swing, ” a blanket around us as we sit on the front porch swing./ Its whine like a song. / You don’t need words/ on a night like this./ Just the warmth/ of your grandfather’s arm. Just the silent promise/ that the world as we know it/ will always be here.” Things are not always so sweet in the South, however. In a previous poem, Jacqueline narrates about the trauma of segregation in Greenville, where, despite a White Only sign being painted over, “…you can still see the words, right there/ like a ghost standing in front/ still keeping you out.”

When Jacqueline and her siblings move to New York with their mother, they miss South Carolina constantly, but then they start growing and start forming their own selves within New York while never forgetting their roots. For one thing, Jacqueline makes a best friend, “All the dreams this city holds/ right outside–just step through the door and walk/ two doors down to where/ my new best friend, Maria, lives.” New York is also where Jacqueline falls in love with the form of a poem. She is entranced when her teacher reads a poem about a birch tree and talks of how enthralled the whole class is, “And even though we’ve never seen an ice storm/ we’ve seen a birch tree, so we can imagine/ everything we need to imagine/ forever and ever/ infinity/ amen.”

This is a book about the many parts a person can have. They carry the legacy of both sides of the family, they can believe different things, they can consider different places their homes. As Jacqueline says near the end, “I believe in johnny pumps and jump ropes,/ Malcolm and Martin/ Buckeyes and Birmingham/ writing and listening, bad words and good words–/ I believe in Brooklyn!/ I believe in one day and someday and this/ perfect moment called Now.” This memoir of verses should be read-aloud, for both the beautiful imagery and the lilting rhythm that can empower anyone.

Review Excerpt and Awards won:

The Coretta Scott King Book Awards Author Winner (2015); National Book Award for Young People’s Literature (2014); NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work in Young Adult Fiction (2015); John Newbery Medal Honor (2016).

Following excerpt is from The New York Times, by Veronica Chambers, dated August 22, 2014:

“I thought of Nikki Giovanni and the teenage girl I was, almost constantly, as I read Jacqueline Woodson’s wonderful memoir in verse, “Brown Girl Dreaming,” because I suspect this book will be to a generation of girls what Giovanni’s book was to mine: a history lesson, a mash note passed in class, a book to read burrowed underneath the bed covers and a life raft during long car rides when you want to float far from wherever you are, and wherever you’re going, toward the person you feel destined to be…t is as rich a spread as the potluck table at a family reunion. Sure, you can plow through the pages, grabbing everything you can in one go, like piling a plate high with fried chicken and ribs, potato salad and corn bread. And yes, it’s entirely possible to hold that plate with one hand while balancing a bowl of gumbo and a cup of sweet tea with the other. But since the food isn’t going anywhere, you’ll make out just as well, maybe even a little better, if you pace yourself.”

This verse novel is organized in a way that it is thick as regular novel, but you find yourself quickly sweeping through, entranced by the vivid words Woodson writes. She even organizes them like memories, where one would experience vignettes of a daily life. This is truly a coming-of-age story.

Connections: A connection that can be made by reading this story is to have students interview guardians, parents, or grandparents over a favorite childhood memory. Have the student then write a poem out of that childhood memory. This can show students how to create poem out of a topic.

Review (A Pocketful of Poems)

Bibliography: Grimes, Nikki and Javaka Steptoe. A Pocketful of Poems. Boston, Massachusetts: Clarion Books, 2001. ISBN-13: 978-0395938683.

Plot Summary: A vibrant story about a little girl named Tiana who lives in Harlem and keeps words in her pockets. As she says in the beginning, “I play with [words] sometimes./ I use them in haiku./You can borrow most of them/if you want to.” She takes you, the reader, on a tour of seasons and celebrations, providing both wordplay and a sensory language that makes a familiar world new all over again. There are free-verse poems but also haiku playing against the illustrations. This is a book that reminds young minds of the beauty around the world. It also reminds older minds of the exuberance and beauty that children can take of their own surroundings.

Critical Analysis: This book will have children analyze it time and time again. Not only by the author’s clever, pretty phrasings, but by how the illustrator plays up to the sensory language. Steptoe makes moonlight out of aluminum foil on Tiana’s quilt and has it look almost like siren blares to complement the haiku that follows across it: “Full moon, magic in/silver, speaks to me, drowning/the sounds of sirens.” Steptoe completes the feeling of sleepiness by using a real-life texture to the quilt that takes up two pages of the book.

Steptoe adds a further experience with the senses with how he texturizes so many things. Tiana’s baseball bat is made of bendy straws. The Harlem buildings are made of maps of New York. The haiku tends to blend more against the illustrations while the free-verse is traditionally set in a more blank area of the page. Most often, the illustrator and author do not work together in making the story. Usually the illustrator sees the work sent to them and interprets them their own way. So, it is

There is emotional impact in this story, and it is of love and relishing every moment. The author does this by playing with simile and metaphor. For example, for Tiana, showers are like “soap and water for the sky” and snow makes “each streetlight into a star on a stick.” One of the best parts of the book is with the poem, “Harlem.” Tiana is an African-American girl and in the poem, her father, in his own way, says to cherish her heritage on Fourth of July. As the poem goes, “HARLEM/What a restless word!/It kicks up its black heels/day and night./I slide it into my hip pocket/next to AFRICA/and zip it tight./Daddy says these/are not words to spend/but to save.” Steptoe creates an image of Tiana being embraced by her father while holding the American flay. This serves a great purpose of highlighting that there are different ways of being an American and can start an excellent discussion with a child on heritage.

In the author’s note, Grimes writes that she’s “always loved what traditional haiku teaches about Eastern cultures, but [she] also thought it would be fun to read haiku poetry with contemporary images that [she] could relate to as a Harlem-born city girl, who grew up in North America.” Reading A Pocketful of Poems will serve as a great way to show children how to analyze words and images as well as appreciate their own surroundings.

Review Excerpt and Awards won:

Awards and Honors: There are no honors or awards for this book, but the author’s career has led her to gain the 2006 NCTE Award for Excellence in Poetry for Children, 2003 Coretta Scott King Author Award, 2016 Virginia Hamilton Literacy Award, and the 2017 Laura Ingalls Wilder Medal.

Following excerpt is from Publishers Weekly, date unknown: “Narrator and girl poet Tiana begins with an invitation to join her in wordplay, and the accompanying illustration depicts her, literally, with hands outstretched and bearing what appear to be carved letters in her palms. The poem ‘Tiana’ launches the volume, then the heroine leads readers through the seasons with more than a dozen words, from ‘Spring’ to ‘Gift’ at Christmastime… Tiana’s bubbling personality shines forth from each verse, and Steptoe…in an extraordinary feat, sculpts each of his character portraits from construction paper in a single, uninterrupted linear outline. His glorious mixed-media collages make the transition from intimate interior scenes to electric urban landscapes. Readers can only hope that this dynamic duo has many more pockets full of poems.”

Connections: This will be a great way to teach children to write their own haikus. Have the children think about their favorite places or weather and have them write out them out in haikus. Another connection will be teaching children about personifications–have the children choose a word that they can illustrate its meaning. For example, for the word, “fur” a child could draw the word with hair and a tail coming out of it.

Review (Stop Pretending: What Happened When My Big Sister Went Crazy)

Bibliography: Sones, Sonya. Stop Pretending: What Happened When My Big Sister Went Crazy. New York, New York: HarperTeen, 1999. ISBN-13: 978-0439250702.

Plot Summary: On Christmas Eve, Cookie’s older sister has a mental breakdown. Cookie’s sister is eventually placed in a psychiatric ward. Cookie grapples with many things after this happens. Her parents fighting, and she feels isolated in both home and school. Cookie fears how her friends and peers will view her once they find out that her sister is mentally ill, “Sometimes/ I worry that/ the truth will break out all/over my face, like a fresh crop/of zits.”

Cookie also worries that whatever her sister is dealing with, she may have it. This fear goes as far as to form into this idea (this hope) that her sister may be adopted, “She’s not my real sister./ I don’t have/ any/ of the same genes as her,/ not one single same gene,/ not one/single/insane/gene.” Cookie is ashamed, Cookie is angry, Cookie is in despair. Cookie is going through what many people do when they are coming to terms that a loved one is sick and needs help and treatment. As the months go by, there are ups and downs in Cookie’s life where she learns to accept what her sister is going through, discovers who her real friends are, and even falls in love with an understanding boy. Little by little, poem by poem, Cookie grows up, and, through all that, never stops loving her sister.

Critical Analysis: This is not an easy book. It is not an easy topic. This is why this verse book is significant today. Sones based this book on her own journal when her sister was taken to the psychiatric ward. Sones would have been the same age as Cookie in the early 1960s, but the book never specifies the time it is set in. We only know that Cookie is twelve and eventually turns thirteen. There is a brevity to this work, especially at the beginning as, poem by poem, Cookie slices into the many emotions toiling inside her. The dissection of the many things going on is further emphasized by most of the falling rhythm Sones uses.

Sones also uses rhyme for an eerie effect in “Sister’s Voices,” where “She tried to block them out, but couldn’t make/ them go away./ The voices asked her why/ she’d lost her mind. Her hands began to shake.” Sones also likes to use only one word for certain lines of the poem as a way to establish the harsh thoughts and emotions Cookie is dealing with.

Cookie later on develops an interest in photography, but the reader may see hints of this with the way the book is arranged. The poems are all titled and they look similar to how one captions a photograph, such as “Boston,” or “In English Class,” or “Her Self-Portrait.” These poems indicate that these are snapshots of both Cookie’s life, but also snapshots of what goes on in her own mind.

While the poetry is written in a clean-cut way, Sones does not hesitate to showcase uncomfortable things, especially with imagery. During art class, Cookie draws herself and her parents and it is unsettling. “I’m drawing my sister/ with sauces for eyes./ The saucers are spinning out sparks./ I’m drawing my mother/ with zippers for eyes./ The zippers are zipped up tight./ I’m drawing my father/ with windows for eyes./ The winds are broken and cracked./ I’m drawing myself/ without any eyes/ at all.” Unnerving, but it perfectly encapsulates what Cookie is feeling.

The imagery does not just end with Cookie’s emotions. She also uses it to fully paint to the reader the extent of her sister’s illness. In one visit, she describes her as feral. She acts feral the way she freezes her hands “like rabbits freeze when danger’s near,” and she is later “hissing” her words to Cookie. The book does not hesitate to show that Cookie’s family is going through a difficult period, and that Cookie’s sister can’t simply be cured.

This book is a raw book. It is hopeful, but it is raw, and it can be a great introduction on how mental health is viewed and treated for young readers. Cookie’s sister does get better (but, like I said, she isn’t cured) and there is an optimism entwined with that uncertainty throughout the second half of novel. The author’s own notes state that her sister now takes medication after undergoing several treatments. The real-life Cookie’s sister is now married and has become a librarian. She also writes and draws and does volunteer work. This is an excellent verse book to teach readers compassion and empathy towards mentally ill people.

Review Excerpt and Awards won:

Awards and Honors: Winner of the 2000 Claudia Lewis Award for Poetry; Winner of Myra Cohn Livingston Poetry Award (2000); chosen for the ALA Best Book for Young Adults (2000), and the ALA Popular Paperback for Young Adults (2000.)

Following excerpt is from Kirkus Reviews, posted online on May 20, 2010 and originally written October 31, 1999:

“Collected, [the poems] take on life and movement, the individual frames of a movie that in the unspooling become animated, telling a compelling tale and presenting a painful passage through young adolescence. The form, a story-in-poems, fits the story remarkably well, spotlighting the musings of the 13-year-old narrator, and pinpointing the emotions powerfully. She copes with friends who snub her, worries that she, too, will go mad, and watches her sister’s slow recovery.”

Connection: Use this book for teens as a way for them to create their own journals but only write poetry in them, this will help them express themselves. Another way to use this book is to facilitate a group conversation about mental health and what are the good and bad ways of handling someone with mental illness.

Review (The Three Little Javelinas)

Bibliography: Lowell, Susan and Jim Harris. The Three Little Javelinas. Lanham, Maryland: Cooper Square Publishing Llc, 1992. ISBN-13: 978-0873585422

Plot Summary: This is a different take of the story of the Three Little Pigs. For one thing, instead of pigs, there are three javelinas. Instead of a wolf, it is a coyote that is this tale’s villain. The formalized opening (“Once upon a time”) takes the reader to the southwest desert, where three little javelinas, two brothers and a sister, live. They are in a “…hot, dry land, the sky…almost always blue. Steep purple mountains [look] down on the desert, where the cactus forests grew.” Each javelina makes their own path to a home in this desert.

The first javelina brother makes his home out of tumbleweeds. The second brother makes his with saguaro ribs. Lastly, the sister makes her house out of adobe bricks. The coyote first sees the tumbleweed house and he is ecstatic at the idea of having the javelina as a meal because he “was tired of eating mice and rabbits.” In tradition to the original story, the coyote beckons the javelina to come out. When the javelina refuses, the coyote blows his house away. The javelina manages to escape, but the coyote is on his trail. When the javelina reunites with his brother, they both take refuge in his home of saguaro ribs. Unfortunately, the coyote arrives to blow that house away too. The brothers then race to their sister’s home. The coyote first tries to cajole the javelinas to be invited inside. The javelinas refuse. The coyote then tries to blow the house away, but because it is made of bricks, he is not successful. This does not deter the coyote. He decides to sneak inside the home by climbing on the tin roof and going through the chimney. When the javelina sister realizes this, she lights up the stove, hurting the coyote into running off. The story ends in wry humor where “The three little javelinas lived happily ever after in the adobe house. And if you ever hear Coyote’s voice, way out in the desert at night…well, you know what he’s remembering!”

Critical analysis: This version of the story follows many elements of the original, where the wolf (the coyote) is the bad guy, and the three little pigs (javelinas) are the good guys. The javelina sister is a strong female character as she is the one that builds the most durable house, rescuing her two brothers. She is also clever enough to realize that the coyote is trying to sneak inside, and she lights up the stove to stop him. The plot is simple with a lot of action, but it works to make its setting an important part of the story. The javelinas are all dressed in gloves, hats, scarves, and boots for the heat. They find the materials of their homes from the environment, with two of the javelinas meeting humans that represent that region, a Native American woman and a Latino.

According to the author, she “tried to handle all this geographical and cultural material with a light touch. The setting could really be almost any dry southwestern area where javelinas, coyotes, tumbleweeds, cacti, and adobe houses are found–which includes parts of Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California, as well as northern Mexico.” Throughout the story, Lowell peppers in the names of the animals and plants that are specific to the region. The illustrator, Jim Harris has also done his own research. Even if the animal is not mentioned in the text, he will include creatures such as rattlesnakes and Gambel’s quails in the backdrop. The illustrations themselves show the beauty of the desert, washing everything in warm, usually earthy tones. There is a particularly beautiful depiction of the desert at night, where Harris emphasizes the lush deep purples of the night sky washing over everything. There is also much humor put into the art. When the first javelina makes his house of tumbleweed, he is seen creating a mailbox addressed as “#1 Tumbleweed Ave.” Inside the mailbox is a rather exasperated mouse. In fact, this mouse can be seen along many images, adding further humor, such as when the javelina siblings are crouching down, covering their ears, worrying that the adobe house will be blown over. If you study the illustration, you will notice that the mouse in his hole is imitating their position. All in all, this is an amusing, exciting story to teach children of different types of animals in a region.

Review Excerpt and Awards won:

Awards and Honors: Arizona Young Readers Award (1994); Grand Canyon Reader Award for Picture Book (1994)

Following excerpt is from Publishers Weekly, dated January 27, 1992:

“Lowell spices the story with elements of Native American, Mexican and Old West culture. Javelina No. 1 builds his house of tumbleweed, while his brother relies on saguaro ribs. Twice Coyote huffs and puffs and the lightweight dwellings fall, but the peccaries are saved by their resourceful sister, who has had the foresight to build her home of stout adobe bricks. This clever and flavorful change of scene puts a diverting spin on an old favorite. Harris’s lively, finely detailed illustrations, with the bristling, pink-nosed peccaries clad in cowboy outfits, amusingly contrast the villain’s vigorous wiles with the title characters’ cozy domesticity. Sprightly fun.”

Connections: This book will be a great way to teach young readers about the climate/geography of the Southwest and what animals and plants live there. This is also a great introduction to the types of homes people make to live out there. Another connection can be to teach young readers how to analyze stories. Have the young readers make a chart that shows the similarities and differences of this story and the original tale.

Edited: 2/24/2020

Review (Rapunzel)

Bibliography: Zelinsky, Paul O. Rapunzel. New York, New York: Dutton Books for Young Readers (Penguin Books USA), 1997. ISBN-13: 978-0525456070

Plot Summary: A couple are expecting a baby. The wife sees a sorceress’ garden and falls in love with the rapunzel growing there. She is suddenly overcome with the desire to eat it, a desire so desperate that she swears she will die if she cannot have it. Therefore, the concerned husband sneaks into the garden and steals the rapunzel. The wife is happy, but wants more. When he goes into the garden for the second time, he is caught by the sorceress. The sorceress raises her arms at him, her dark green cloak billowing about her menacingly as she tells him, “How dare you come here to steal my rapunzel! Oh, it will serve you ill!” The husband begs for mercy and the sorceress strikes a deal. He can take as much rapunzel as he needs to, but he will have to give his first-born child to her. Because he worries about his wife’s health, he agrees. The wife lives and gives birth, “And when the child was born, the sorceress appeared in the room. She named the baby girl Rapunzel and carried her away.” The sorceress raises the girl with dedication but also domination. Once Rapunzel grows up, the sorceress locks her in a tower out in the woods. There is no door to the tower, but the sorceress can come and go as she pleases because Rapunzel “would unpin her…braids, wind them around a hook on the window frame, and let them tumble all the way to the ground. The sorceress would grab hold of them and hoist herself up.” Rapunzel lives an isolated life, never seeing anyone outside the sorceress. One day, she sings to the birds and a prince hears it while he is riding through the woods. He becomes interested to just who that voice belongs to. He is able to sneak into the tower, and he and Rapunzel meet and fall in love. He visits frequently and they even marry within the tower. Eventually, Rapunzel gets pregnant and the sorceress disowns her when she discovers this. She gets thrown out into the woods where she eventually gives birth to twins. The prince tries to return to the tower, but the sorceress scares him into falling down. He loses his eyesight in this ordeal. He travels through the woods, lost and bereft. Rapunzel discovers him. Her tears cure his blindness and they are able to live happily ever after with their twins in the prince’s home.

Critical Analysis: A theme of the book is that there are different types of love, some good, some not. The sorceress and Rapunzel’s parents do not have a healthy love toward Rapunzel. The sorceress and the parents contrast one another, with the former being clinging and dominating and the latter weak-willed enough to give their own flesh-and-blood away. Zelinsky does a powerful depiction of the sorceress taking away Rapunzel from her parents. While he describes the event in one page, he illustrates the whole thing onto two other pages, depicting it without any words, amplifying the seriousness of what has happened. The parents’ faces are interesting as they look on the sorceress walking away with the baby. The mother looks exhausted and unsure, while the father is touching his throat, looking lost and distressed.

The reader can see that the parents regret what they have done, but it is too late. If the parents’ love for Rapunzel was weak, the sorceress’ love dominating, then the healthiest love would have to be from the Prince. While parents may be concerned that the Prince tricks Rapunzel into letting him up, the relationship otherwise proves to be a mutual love once he “began to speak to [Rapunzel] in such a friendly way that her fear was soon gone.” They are dedicated to one another, even marrying within the tower.

The illustrations are exquisite, oil paintings done to the style of Italian Renaissance, where Rapunzel has glimmering gold-red hair, and most of the tones are warm and earthy. Zelinsky actually states in an afterword that he found Italy fitting as it was one of the original countries of the tale. Not to mention, it went well with the symbols of the story. Zelinsky states “…the very image of a tower evokes the Italian landscape, where the campanile, or bell tower, plays a prominent role in architectural tradition. (The closeness of the word to Campanula, the name of the bellflower genus to which rapunzel belongs, helped me believe I was setting out on the right track.)”

A motif that occurs is how Rapunzel, named after a plant, is passed onto different people like she herself is no more than a plant, a thing take ownership on. She is given off to the sorceress by her own blood, the sorceress passes her off to the woods, and, though, she and the Prince’s relationship is the healthiest, he does in some ways has power over while she is stuck in the tower. He can come and go as he likes, she cannot. It is only until both are thrown out to the world that the relationship is more at level. Both have been harmed and have been surviving on their own when they meet up again. Rapunzel is even given the power to cure the prince of his blindness, therefore having him rely on her as much as she him.

A theme that ultimately pervades until the end is isolation. The sorceress isolates Rapunzel from the world. She further isolates her by disowning the girl and tossing her out to woods to fend for herself. The prince is eventually isolated himself once he becomes blind and lost for a year in the wilderness. Even the compositions of illustrations take to this theme, highlighting the vastness of the world. The rooms are all large, showing the human forms small in comparison. Even the narrow tower is larger on the inside because of enchantments by the sorceress. Ultimately, the prince and Rapunzel overcome this isolation by relying on one another. It is a great lesson for children, that tragedy and pain can happen, but they are not eternal. People can overcome pain and lead happy lives. It is no wonder this fairy tale still resonates to this day.

Review Excerpt and Awards won:

Awards and honors: 1998 Caldecott Winner; 1998 Carl Sandburg Award Winner.

Following excerpt is from Kirkus Reviews, posted online on June 24, 20101 and originally written October 1, 1997:

“[Zelinsky] draws on many of [versions of the story] to create a formal, spare text that is more about the undercurrents between characters than crime and punishment. Feeling ‘her dress growing tight around her waist’ a woman conceives the desire for an herb from the neighboring garden—rendered in fine detail with low clipped hedges, elaborate statuary and even a wandering pangolin—that causes her to lose her child to a witch. Ensconced for years in a tower, young Rapunzel meets the prince, ‘marries’ him immediately, is cast into the wilderness when her own dress begins to tighten, gives birth to twins, and cures her husband’s blindness with her tears at their long-awaited reunion. Suffused with golden light, Zelinsky’s landscapes and indoor scenes are grandly evocative, composed and executed with superb technical and emotional command.”

He draws on many of these to create a formal, spare text that is more about the undercurrents between characters than crime and punishment. Feeling “her dress growing tight around her waist” a woman conceives the desire for an herb from the neighboring garden—rendered in fine detail with low clipped hedges, elaborate statuary and even a wandering pangolin—that causes her to lose her child to a witch. Ensconced for years in a tower, young Rapunzel meets the prince, “marries” him immediately, is cast into the wilderness when her own dress begins to tighten, gives birth to twins, and cures her husband’s blindness with her tears at their long-awaited reunion.Suffused with golden light, Zelinsky’s landscapes and indoor scenes are grandly evocative, composed and executed with superb technical and emotional command.

Connections: This book is a great way to facilitate discussions on how people should love and respect one another, including asking if it was right for the parents to give Rapunzel, if it was right for the prince to enter the tower without asking Rapunzel, and why was it wrong for the sorceress to hide Rapunzel in a tower. Instructors can also teach students to write on what are the main ideas of certain scenes and how it affects the story. Rapunzel can be a teaching tool on how to summarize stories. This book can also help demonstrate to children how to see that characters can carry both positive and negative characteristics and write them down. For example, it can be considered a good trait of Rapunzel’s father to want to help his wife with her health. It can be considered a bad trait that he does not stand up to to sorceress or even taking her food without her permission.

Review (Turtle Knows Your Name)

Bibliography: Bryan, Ashley. Turtle Knows Your Name. New York, New York: Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 1989. ISBN-13: 978-0689315787.

Plot Summary: In an island village, a little boy is raised by his grandmother, who teaches him how to say his name. He learns to say that he is named Upsilimana Tumpalerado. The grandmother celebrates by dancing with him by the sea where a turtle learns it as well as the boy sings, “Upsilimana Tumpalerado/That’s my name/I took my time to learn it/ Won’t you do the same?” Unfortunately, the little boy’s friends will not remember his name. They call him Long Name without asking. His grandmother always reminds him to teach his name to others, stating, “… Remember, your name is long, but it’s not the longest.” The boy eventually meets the turtle who sings, “Upsilimana Tumpalerado/ I’m so glad you came/ Upsilimana Tumpalerado/ Turtle knows your name.” The boy asks how the turtle learned it, but the turtle swims away. When the boy returns home for dinner, his grandmother challenges him to tell her what her real name is if he wants dessert. She will not take “Granny” as an adequate answer. She tells him, “There are grannies all over the village. Every granny has a name…” The boy sets out for the rest of the story to find out what is her real name is. He looks to see who can help him. It is Turtle who reveals to him that Granny’s real name is Mapaseedo Jackalindy Eye Pie Tackarindy. He gets his dessert. Granny finds out who it is that revealed her name. At the end, Granny and the boy agree to give each other nicknames, affirm that they love their long names and each other.

Critical Analysis: This books carries a situation that many children go through, especially immigrants and children of color, where people will not want to practice saying their name if it is not one they are used to. They will even give them nicknames without their permission. His grandmother also reminds him when he goes out to “…teach your name to your playmates and do your best. Remember, your name is long, but it’s not the longest.” The boy gets frustrated that his playmates will not remember what he is called, so he decides to one day spend time with the animals. This is definitely a book to read to children, while singing certain lines and dancing to certain parts. The book is rife with rhythm and rhymes and even some onomatopoeia, such as when the boy travels and whistles “twee-twaa-twee.” When his grandmother serves dinner, they sing “Fungi rolled in a bowl/Till it’s round as a ball/ And as yellow as gold/ Is the best of all.” Ashley Bryan lovingly depicts the Caribbean world his story takes place in by depicting it all in pastels and bold lines, with different skin tones for all its villagers, giving almost a rainbow effect. Ultimately, this is a happy book with happy illustrations.

Review Excerpt and Awards won:

No awards are applied to this book, but the author has received many awards in his career, including the Laura Ingalls Wilder Medal (2009) and the Virginia Hamilton Award (2012), which are two American Library Association career literary awards.

Following excerpt is from Kirkus Reviews, posted online on October 26, 2011 and originally written September 15, 1989: “Full of dancing rhythms and mild humor, the story’s message about the value of the inner lives of those we take for granted is quietly understated. Bryan’s lovely paintings, in light, bright island colors, swirl with joyous patterns; Granny and her boy are full of love and life. Fine for reading, telling, and sharing…”

Connections: This book will be a great way to teach children the importance of respecting other people’s names, especially by asking for permission if they want to be called by a nickname like Upsulimana Tumpalerado and his grandmother do at the end. It teaches them that names are a way for people to say who they are. Have the children write out their own names in big, block text and have them draw art within the letters that best represent who they are. For example, my name is Alison and I will draw cats in the letter A because I love cats. Another thing that can be done with this book is teaching children about the different foods that are mentioned in the text. Many children possibly do not know what plantains are, or what cornmeal coucou (called Fungi in the book is) and you can facilitate a conversation where children discuss what dishes represent their own cultures. Lastly, another connection for this book can be children learning how to create family trees. Upsulimana Tumpalerado learns that his grandmother was not always named Granny. Have the children learn what their parents/grandparents/guardians are named and make a family tree out of that.

FESTIBA 2020

Today, McAllen is a washed-out gray, with a high of 66˚F. This is probably mild to people outside of Texas, but, here, it feels quite chilly.


I got an email today that confirms I will be speaking at FESTIBA 2020 for Comics Day. It will be happening later this February. For those that do not know, Festival of International Books and Arts is an event that promotes “the importance of literacy, culture and the arts to students, parents, educators and community members throughout the Rio Grande Valley.”

I will be participating as a speaker for Comics Day in Festiba where me, a writing professor, two art professors, and an undergraduate student will be discussing the future of comic studies at UTRGV. I will be representing there as both an alumna of UTRGV and as a library school student. With the latter, I will be discussing how graphic novels are viewed in library schools and by both librarians and soon-to-be librarians. I am so excited and grateful for this opportunity.

I will be posting about how the panel went once it is over.

Review (The Tale of Peter Rabbit)

Bibliography: Potter, Beatrix. The Tale of Peter Rabbit. London, United Kingdom: Warne, 2019. ISBN-13: 9780141377490

Plot Summary: A mother rabbit and her four children live underneath the root of a tree. The mother rabbit tells her children that while she is out, they are allowed to play in the fields or down the lane, but mustn’t go into Mr. McGregor’s garden. It was in Mr. McGregor’s garden that their father rabbit had died and became a pie! Three of the rabbits listen to their mother, but Peter Rabbit decides to sneak into Mr. McGregor’s garden to eat some of his vegetables. Unfortunately, Mr. McGregor catches him and Peter has to figure out a way to escape!

Critical Analysis: While all of Peter’s problems arise from not listening to his mother in the beginning, this story is not necessarily a fable. The moral is set in a way where it is not outright stated, but can be used to teach children to interpret stories and the messages they convey. There is more concentration on the adventure itself, where Peter tries to escape Mr. McGregor’s clutches. Peter Rabbit runs and loses his clothes, he hides in a filled watering can, and he even has to sneak past a cat by the pond. The illustrations are beautiful, and one can tell how much Beatrix Potter loved the countryside with her loving details to the wild life, which she does all in watercolor. She even names out certain plants and foods associated with English gardens, such as fir trees, radishes, parsley, and blackberries. In a way, Peter Rabbit is in an adventure type of story that is not too different from a Tom and Jerry cartoon, but Peter is not entirely mischievous. There are sweet vulnerable moments where he cries about wanting to go home, making him not a static character, but someone you can have some sympathy with. While the ending is where he happily reunites with his mother, Potter touches wry humor here and there by having Peter going to bed earlier than his siblings due getting sick. Not to mention, the book has Mr. McGregor use Peter’s discarded clothes to make a scarecrow. This book can make children appreciate nature, but also understand consequences to actions the way Peter Rabbit has learned!

Review Excerpt and Awards won:

Has not won any recent awards, but was #19 on School Library Journal’s Top 100 Picture Books and was listed as a book “to grow on” by the American Library Association-Children’s Book Council Joint Committee in April 2003.

Following excerpt is from Publishers Weekly, dated April 22, 2002 by Julia Eccleshare:

“The enduring qualities of the entire The World of Peter Rabbit empire lie in Potter’s original stories and pictures, proving the all-embracing power of a good storyteller with a keen sense of her audience. Beatrix Potter understood this absolutely…Potter continued to write illustrated letters to other children and once wrote to the mother of one, “It is much more satisfactory to address a real child. I often think that was the secret success of Peter Rabbit: it was written to a child, not made to order.'”

Connections: Gather and read the other 22 tales by Beatrix Potter such as The Tale of Tom Kitten and The Tale of Squirrel Nutkin. Use this book as a lesson to children as to why parents or guardians tell them what not to do and the consequences if they do not listen. Also use this book to discuss gardening and how it works to children.

Review (Draw! by Raúl Colón)

Bibliography: Colón, Raúl. Draw! New York, New York: Simon & Schuster, 2014. ISBN-13: 9781442494923

Plot Summary: In artwork that goes from pale watercolors and hatching lines to richer, softer colored pencils, this book is about a young boy fantasizing about going on a safari after reading his books about Africa. He admires the animals and desires to draw them all. He bonds with an elephant and its cattle egret, who takes him to visit all the animals. The boy only has his easel, pencil, notepad, and lunch bag. He draws lions from a safe distance, shares lunch (and his hat) with the gorillas, and learns to placate a rhino on his adventure, and so much more. With this fantasy coming to an end, the boy in real life draws it out to share with his classmates.

Critical Analysis: There are no words in the picture book. No dialogue. We do not even learn the main character’s name. It is up to the reader to figure out who he is based on the rumpled bed sheets, the safari hat on his bed, the pencils and notepad near him. This kid is a dreamer and an artist. What the book does effectively is depicting which is real life and which is fantasy by changing the art style. As mentioned earlier, the story begins in watercolors, ultra-thin lines, with some hatched here and there to depict shadows and folds. As the story moves into fantasy, the lines are no longer so stark. The colors are warmer, deeper, and, seemingly, Colón switches to colored pencils which gives off a world that is softer, almost velvety-looking. The boy bonds with an elephant, the elephant’s cattle bird tags along, adding an amusing touch to the illustrations as it sits on the elephant’s head or back. When the boy finally ends his traveling, the cattle bird hides its face in its wing, as if crying while saying good bye. The book does well in showing the beauty and different facets of nature. This book will make any child desire to search outside themselves. This book encourages readers to invest in their own creativity.

Review Excerpt and Awards won:

Awards and honors: 2015 Charlotte Huck Award for Outstanding Fiction for Children (Recommended); 2015 Star of the North Picture Book Award (Nominee); and 2016 Georgia Children’s Book Award-Picture Storybook (Finalist.)

Following excerpt is from The Horn Book, dated September 8, 2014 by Kathleen T. Horning:

“The story line is engaging and easy to follow, and, while it’s whimsical, the majesty of the animals comes through in both the boy’s sketches and the main illustrations. Colón’s pen-and-ink, watercolor, colored-pencil, and lithograph pencil pictures are nicely textured and tinged with golden hues.”

Connections: This book can teach children about analyzing images to decipher the story. Use it for an activity where children are to draw out a story without relying on words and to see how others interpret their work. This work can also connect children to learning about African landscapes and what animals live there.

Edited: 2/16/2020