War of the Worlds and Media Literacy

As we discuss the stresses and fears of the late 1930s, the War of the Worlds broadcast provides a great vehicle to discuss how media can impact society. I first ask the students to discuss the importance of the date of this broadcast (night before Halloween, year before WWII, etc.). I then explain that they are to highlight/circle/underline the reasons why this radio play may have been thought of as an actual news report, why some believed it to be factual. The students then listen to about 17 minutes of the broadcast (minutes 3:30-20:20) and I am always pleasantly surprised at how much they enjoy just listening and using their imaginations. When we are finished, they then answer two questions:

  1. BRIEFLY summarize why people may have believed this to be an actual event:
  2. Explain what would need to be different about this broadcast to make a modern day audience (i.e. you) believe that aliens were really landing in New Jersey.

Students then pair/share and we have a whole class discussion.

What has been highlighted – students always reflect on the constant use of the word “professor” and Princeton University. The professor is also called “world famous” and “notable” – thereby establishing credibility.

*Use of scientific jargon to seem that they are more intelligent than the rest of us (transverse stripes, spectroscope, etc.)

*Inclusion of a counter-argument – it’s not all in your face that aliens are coming – several times opposite information is provided

*Organizations – National History Museum, Chief of Astronomical Division, etc.)

*Planting a seed – some mentions of activity on Mars early on in the broadcast.

*It sounds like news – breaking news, bulletin, etc. – music is being played and then interrupted – just like we would expect

*Eye-witness accounts – human interviews that are even funny

*Making intentional microphone mistakes that adds to the realism. The reporter getting fired and the mic just cutting off. Dead silence.

*Involvement of the military and martial law

*Lack of ways to verify the “news” with technology of the time

Question 2 – to make it a modern hoax

*Video – video that looks to be realistic (great conversation to be had about Deep Fake videos)

*being posted to multiple sources (some students said that they would look for social media influencers. More on that later)

*Turning on the TV – is this being shown on multiple credible news stations?

*Looking on social media for trending news, hashtags, and people on the ground.

*Look up people who live in the area on social media. Go to government agency social media accounts from the state/towns mentioned


I then plugged my smartphone into the smartboard and we went to TikTok and looked up some fake news from Ukraine. We looked at accounts showing videos of the Ghost of Kiev, etc. – the accounts had tens of thousands of followers and their videos were widely shared and commented on. We talked about people making money off of these fake videos (even including media from video games!) – just because something is widely shared does not make it true. We looked at their account names, when they were created, who follows them, what their other videos are on, etc. Of course, this is not to say that this information could not be true, but we need to compare it to other sources. We need to do a reverse Google image search, etc.

Then we discuss how the wide panic cause from the War of the Worlds broadcast is also a bit of an urban legend. Students did some initial research online and reported back. We discussed how newspapers were happy to report on the supposed panic as they were losing money to radio ads. Sensationalism always sells, etc. But then other students reported that the panic was more widespread. So we compare news sources… still up in the air about exactly what happened.

This conversation will continue through the year as we go further in our media literacy skillset.

Next up is creating our own fake news – https://breakyourownnews.com/ or https://www.worldgreynews.com/add-news

Broadcast – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xs0K4ApWl4g

Script and worksheet – https://docs.google.com/document/d/1lXy2uVBbrRN6YKArl29MIMX854b3wAdMqdKHJFhSdOc/edit?usp=sharing

I Believe In Second Chances

I believe in second chances. And third. And fourth. And more.  I believe in this for my children, for my students, and for myself. I am not a hopeless optimist, and I can’t always “just be happy,” nor do I expect those around me to behave like that either. Life is hard. We have earned the right to be angry, sad, depressed, anxiety-ridden, and to not smile when we don’t feel like it. I tell this to my students. BUT – I am also a 47-year-old without any regrets because I refuse to give up or to give in. I know that getting what I want out of this life takes hard work and the ability to keep getting up off the canvas. I am where I want to be in life and doing what I love to do – education the change-makers of tomorrow. Not only that, but I also get to infuse my love of comics and Hip Hop into my classroom lessons. I get to travel the world both in-person and virtually to share these methods of learning to universities, libraries, schools, and conferences. I get to be the teacher and adult I needed as a child for others. I have worked with the US State Department in a global education through comics initiative. I have a book coming out July 2022 – Teaching With Comics. But most importantly, I love being in the classroom.

BUT – none of this would be possible without the intervention and kindness of a person who was able to look past my fallibilities and to truly see my potential. See, after two years of attending Beaver College (now Arcadia University), my depression took a hold of me and, despite being on the soccer team, orientation leader, and having solid grades – I made some choices that lead me to transferring to another school. I left everything behind and cycled into a deeper depression. At my second school, I met my life-long best friends, including the love of my life, so I don’t regret this decision. However, my depression became that much work and I stopped attending classes, and I lost all faith in myself. I didn’t so much drop out of college, I just simply faded away. Some years passed and I was working in a career, but I wasn’t happy. I wanted to marry my now wife and so I made her a promise – that I would quit my career, work at UPS on the nightshift, return to college, earn my degree, and become the teacher I had always wanted to be. I am forever thankful to my wife for helping me through this tough time. I made this promise to her and to myself – that after she said yes to marrying me, that we would not marry until I finished my degree. Flash forward through two challenging years, and I graduate from Beaver College a few months before we married and began student teaching the month after we were wed.

UPS was hard work, but it offered solid pay, free health benefits, and college tuition reimbursement. When I applied for the job, the interviewer asked me if I knew what I was doing as they saw the career I was currently in. I smiled as I took the job, knowing my fiancé was waiting for me in the car and cheering me on. I would work until 8 in the morning loading trucks, becoming a safety supervisor, and then leaving to attend college classes. I laughed as the younger students around me complained about being tired. I felt like the old man in the classrooms, but I was so pumped and found my self-respect again. I was lucky to be able to attend classes again with THE Dr. Haywood – the best teacher I have ever had and the person who solidified my desire to be a history teacher. He is the type of educator who can come into class, sit in the front of the room, eat a sandwich, tell a few cat stories, and then mesmerize students with fascinating tales of Ancient Rome and Greece – he made history come to life. He showed me that history is a collection of stories that we stitch together, of people, of patterns and choices. This is how I teach today, and I am forever grateful for his leadership in my life.

I was so very proud of myself, a rare thing for someone with depression and anxiety, as I walked down the graduation aisle as the last graduating class of Beaver College, as it was becoming Arcadia University. I was able to look my fiancé and father in the eye and knew the future, though still unsure, was what I was going to make it. I just can’t imagine not being a teacher, it is who I am.

There is an important person in this story I have not yet mentioned – Bruce Keller. I have never been more nervous than going into the admissions office this second time around – none of my plan would work unless I was admitted. I had no where else to turn, I knew that colleges would not accept me with the grades I had after I transferred and then dropped out. I hoped that Bruce would remember me and the work I had done while a student for two years as Beaver College. I am not a pushy person – my social anxiety just won’t allow that – but I knew I had to make this happen. When I finally had the most important meeting of my life, Bruce did remember me. He looked at the transcript at my second school and I saw his eyes get wide. He simply asked me what happened. I had to stop myself from breaking down and sobbing right there in that office out of embarrassment and anxiety, but I held it together. I shared with him about my plan and my non-traditional path to earn my college degree. He was willing to look past my grades at the transfer school and to see me – the human in front of him. He gave me another chance. He knew who I really was and saw something in me. This chance literally saved me and allowed me to be who I am today. I am forever grateful.

I tell this story to my students throughout the school-year – they are probably tired of hearing it. But it is so important – teachers can’t be seen as perfect student. College was hard for me for so many reasons and I have always had to work hard to educate myself. I went to summer school for Algebra II in high school. I dropped out of college. But I came back. I didn’t let me fear and depression stop my life. I spiraled to even plan on committing suicide. It was the love of my best friend, and a short meeting with Bruce, that changed everything for me. This is why I believe in multiple chances. We are all going through something and need to understand this about the human condition. I have high expectations for my students, but I am also always willing to meet them where they are. Students can get annoyed with me as I keep on getting on them. I have been asked by students to just leave them alone. They ask why I am picking on them. I always respond with this story and tell them that I am picking on them because I love them and have hope for them. I just can’t give up on them, just like I was not given up on. I want to be that person for my students.

The love story continued as my fiancé attended courses alongside me to earn her Master Degree from Arcadia – we even took a class with THE Dr. Haywood together. We even went back to the castle on campus to have our wedding picture taken. I think of this story every time I walk by our photo in the living room.

Making History Relevant

My students are currently researching and presenting revolutions across Latin America, think: Miguel Hidalgo, Jose Maria Morelos, Simon Bolivar, Jose de San Martin, Toussaint Louverture, Jean-Jacques Dessalines. We had just come off of the French Revolution/Napoleon and we began to make connections between the American Revolution, French Revolution, and Haitian Revolution. After they were done with their inspiring presentations, we then focused on making connections to revolutions today. I also wanted them to make their own connections and to understand why these revolutionary ideals have not yet been fully realized and how revolutions may happen in the near future. I won’t bore you with all the details, but will just give some samples of the questions we discussed as we will use revolutions as a thread in our Global History course. All questions were in a PowerPoint with images from around the world and we always pair/share in small groups before then sharing as a whole group.

  1. Respond – why do revolutions happen? Give at least three reasons – ok to bullet (no pun intended…)
  2. Revolutions today? Why? Similarities from this song and what we have learned?
    *Write down at least three connections on your paper. (Students listened to Tracy Chapman’s Talkin’ ‘Bout A Revolution and made connections between the revolutions we studied and what she was singing about in her song. Always great to share my favorite musicians and I love sharing student suggestions as well. Students were provided with typed lyrics to annotate as we listened – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xv8FBjo1Y8I)
Don’t you know
They’re talking about a revolution?
It sounds like a whisper (is this religion? We whisper in Church… connections to churches in the US Civil Rights Movement)
Don’t you know
Talking about a revolution?
It sounds like a whisper
While they’re standing in the welfare lines (not enough to eat – just like the French Revolution – it’s why it became so radical)
Crying at the doorsteps of those armies of salvation (religious? Salvation Army? Who are they looking to for salvation?)
Wasting time in the unemployment lines (inflation and lack of jobs – just like in the French Revolution)
Sitting around waiting for a promotion (the Third Estate could not move up. Locked in with no options).
Don’t you know
Talking about a revolution?
It sounds like a whisper
Poor people gonna rise up
And get their share (ideals from the Enlightenment)
Poor people gonna rise up
And take what’s theirs (revolutions across the Americas and Haiti)
Don’t you know you better run, run, run, run, run, run (run away from those in power?)
Run, run, run, run, run, run (run towards the seat of power – Bastille, Versailles, etc.)
Oh, I said you better run, run, run, run, run, run (Today – run for political office to make change? We had recently read Run about John Lewis)
Run, run, run, run, run, run
‘Cause finally the tables are starting to turn
Talkin’ ’bout a revolution
‘Cause finally the tables are starting to turn
Talkin’ ’bout a revolution, oh no
Talkin’ ’bout a revolution, oh
I’ve been standing in the welfare lines
Crying at the doorsteps of those armies of salvation
Wasting time in the unemployment lines
Sitting around waiting for a promotion
Don’t you know
Talking about a revolution?
It sounds like a whisper
And finally the tables are starting to turn
Talkin’ ’bout a revolution
Yes, finally the tables are starting to turn
Talkin’ ’bout a revolution, oh, no
Talkin’ ’bout a revolution, oh, no
Talkin’ ’bout a revolution, oh, no
Source: Musixmatch
Songwriters: Chapman Tracy L

After the students had paired/shared – we talked about the current state of the US economy and what can happen when enough are impacted to the point of pushing back – especially when they feel that those in the government are not listening to their needs (as in the other revolutions). As we talked about welfare, I asked what type of people/ethnicity are the majority of Americans on welfare. The classes became silent, but I explain that we need to talk about “tough topics” as we struggle to make progress. All who volunteered (students of multiple ethnicities) either said African-American or People of Color/non-white. We then did a quick search and quickly disproved this notion and then I asked – why do so many of us think this way? What is the role of media in pushing this biased view, etc.? Then we discussed the Estates in France and the impact of racial class system set up in the Americas. Of course, all agreed this was awful, etc. BUT – I then asked what our class system is in the US. Many didn’t think there is one – but some others volunteered that we have Upper, Middle, and Lower classes – all decided upon one’s wealth and their supposed value as humans – biases based on intelligence, work effort, etc. Of course, we talked about how one can work their way out of the class in which they find themselves and then focused on the “American Dream” – is it really attainable? Do we all begin at the same place? etc. etc. – this is another lesson for another blog post.

Then we analyzed photos from some other “revolutions” – these samples are from Ukraine. Before saying that these images were from Ukraine, the students stated thoughts about how they were from the protests/riots (we had a long discussion on the differences of these terms and how they can be used) in the US over the past few years. When I shared that these were from Ukraine, there was surprise. I think many believe that revolutions are in the past, and that what we are seeing in the US is “just” a white/Black issue. Of course, we also need to look at haves/have nots, etc. throughout history and not just focus on events in the US as we are making connections across time and place.

Next step –

  • 4. Break down this video in few sentences – students watched the powerful 2020 remake of Public Enemy’s Fight the Power – https://youtu.be/nNUl8bAKdi4
  • What does it make you think about?
  • How does it make you feel?
  • What questions do you have?
  • What are the connections?

After students discussed, we talked about how this song initially came out when I was in high school – what does it mean that it can be updated? How much, if any, progress has been made? AND – the students who were really paying attention, noticed that Haiti, Toussaint, and Dessalines were mentioned in the lyrics. Once again – we made connections to the Haitian Revolution, connections to the US enslavement of human beings, and how Haiti was treated by “Western” nations that continues to have an impact today as such an economically impoverished country.

This then leads into an analysis of this political cartoon –

Next reflection question –

  1. HOW can people have revolutions? Write three ways – do they have to involve violence? How can YOU fight the power?

Students volunteered many fantastic answers (I will include samples in a later update). We then discussed a possible SEPTA (public transportation system for Phila, PA) strike that many happen soon. Of course, this would disrupt people going to work and students trying to get to school. What do you think they want? (#1 answer – more money). But what else? One of the “demands” from the union is for paid maternity leave. Why would they ask for this in a contract proposal? Doesn’t the US have something like this in place already? What about for paternal leave? This discussion will lead us into the upcoming unit on the Industrial Revolution and the changes labor was able to bring about through their own revolutions. We then looked at this map and I just let the students talk

Final two reflection questions –

  • 6. What are your overall thoughts from today?
  • 7. What is one question you have/want to know more about?

This turned into a powerful lesson that made many important connections throughout time and issues. Much of this may be lost in translation in a blog post, but I hope it may give you some idea of making history relevant. It also allows us to have open and honest conversations about “tough” topics, established classroom norms for respect and dialogue, and makes having these conversations more “normal” and easier to have throughout the year. I will share some of the student responses in an update to this blog as soon as I have the chance. Students are also begin to email me their own songs that inspire them to stand up for what they believe is right and I’ll put together a list of those as well.

Speak and Project Lit

How do we get our students to read? How do we create a culture of reading? How do we increase empathy and human connection in an increasingly disconnected world? Project Lit has proven to do exactly this and more. This is a world-wide movement begun by Jarred Amato (@jarredamato) and I am eternally grateful. As a social studies teacher, I fully understand the power of books and why we need to talk about them with our students. I know full well why books and intellectuals are the first targets by those who seek to control a population…


My students and I founded a Project Lit chapter in our high school and I could not be more excited. My first experience with Project Lit was in my daughter’s middle school, founded by the inspiring Sarah Levy (@teachreadrepeat). My daughter loves to read, and as she grows into a young teen, we don’t always have the greatest things to connect with – but literature will always be a shared love. We were invited to attend these monthly meetings held during the early evening with teachers, administrators, parents, and students at her middle school. We ate together, laughed together, shared literature together, and found our young students/children deserving of so much credit for their mature insights into the world around them. Project Lit gives us a chance to talk about the world around us as these shared books focus on representation in characters and authors. I am now thrilled that my son has now joined the club and I get to spend time at home reading the same books with my kids.

This is also a good time to point out another wonderful aspect of this club – my Language Arts colleague, Paul G., volunteered to help me charter this club and we are partners in this endeavor! Too often, there are few chances to collaborate across disciplines in a high school setting (I teach social studies), so this is just awesome!

This year, my students voted to have the graphic novel adaptation of Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak (hauntingly illustrated by Emily Carroll) as the book to read for our first selection. (Our next books to read, as voted by the students – Look Both Ways by Jason Reynolds, Hey, Kiddo by Jarrett Krosoczka, The 57 Bus by Dashka Slater, and Pride by Ibi Zoboi). I have read and reread Speak so many times and continue to learn more each time I do so. The illustrations add so many layers to an already deeply meaningful story. Here are the resources that I have put together so far – feel free to use, share, etc. I am BRAND NEW at this, so please keep that in mind.


Handout – this is a general plan of discussing the book over two meetings of 45 minutes each, – https://drive.google.com/open?id=1GwJdlUdp6-qy-5vAZjyvVSdKVmOy8t-I

Handout Part IIhttps://drive.google.com/open?id=1OcXnPmuGN1wIU26pvarVQ8a_H7eueLMm – these are some FAQs directly from Laurie Halse Anderson’s website.

Teacher Guide from Macmillan – https://images.macmillan.com/folio-assets/teachers-guides/9780374300289TG.pdf – created by my wife and I.

One concern I have going into this initial meeting is that I don’t want it to be run/dominated by the adults. I don’t want me to do much talking at all and to do more listening. I will certainly add my voice to the discussions, but as an equal participant. I did not put my examples or answers in the PowerPoint as the students would not be able to do so. Instead, we will all be pointing out panels/pages in our books as we discuss. Of course, this just means that my book is full of sticky notes!

Meeting Two –

Oops! I did exactly what I feared during the first meeting – I, and other adults, talked too much! We shared our views and our interpretations, especially when the conversation died out a bit. The adults needed to give better wait time and allow students to lead the conversation. On day 2, I would consider this task accomplished! The students were absolutely amazing, created their own questions, and even felt free to disagree with the adults. We were able to have a cross-generational discussion and learned from one another – as equals. I think part of this was due to first meeting nerves on the first day meeting. We even had new students join in the club – some had not even read the book. However, students were quickly pointing out parts of the book and the non-readers jumped into the larger social conversation. I’m going to do my best to jot down just some of the topics we discussed today –

*How to help a friend/student/fellow human showing signs of depression and self harm

*How we all feel alone and need to do a better job of looking outside our worlds. Parents need to SEE their kids.

*Older generation tended to be more “suck it up” – this is not appropriate for today

*Development of the teen brain and prefrontal cortex (the students brought this up!)

*Judge Kavanaugh hearings – what does this mean for those who have been sexually assaulted and coming forward?


*How the ideas of “boys will be boys” is outdated and as insulting to males as it is to females. We all agreed that this book is just as important for boys to read as it is for girls. I was honestly a bit surprised at how non awkward the conversation was – that we were all open to talking about the topic of rape.

*Gender stereotypes – the idea of “manning up” and being macho has changed. The lines are blurred are we need to be who we are. Many in the “older” generation have not yet realized this change.

*Rape is rape. End of story. It doesn’t matter how the girl dresses, or acts, or what she drinks. We need to make the conversation about the rapists, not the victims. If we only teach our girls the “proper” way of dressing, acting, etc. to not be a victim, what we are really doing is just making sure that our daughter is not a victim, but it does nothing to save others. You have to change the behavior of males and rape culture.

*We are all going through something – even Heather. Don’t be dismissive of what people are going through. Even Melinda was a bit dismissive – not paying attention to her friend’s struggle with anorexia, etc.

*The illustrations really added feeling to the story – students were very animated in pointing to the panels that stuck out to them the most. How the trees and climate changes had such a deep meaning. Emily Carroll also added a feeling of horror.

*Wonderful conversation about the differences between the prose and graphic novels. Each of us learned more from either version than the other. Those who were not familiar with graphic novels said they learned so much about how the illustrations added so much depth to the story – to slow down when reading graphic literature. I know that I personally did not fully understand the meaning of the trees until I had read the graphic novel adaptation.

*More and more voices are being heard today. It’s not that there are suddenly more rape victims, more depressed people, more trans people, etc. – it’s just that we are now finally hearing their voices and our society is trying to figure it all out.

*Discussion of rape kits that are sitting in warehouses – it’s like being forgotten, not being treated as a human. Why put yourself out there and speak your truth if those in authority are not going to help? Rape trials like being raped again.

*Stereotypes of high school and social hierarchy

*How would the story be different if set in a school today? How would social media play a part?

*When you speak up for yourself, you’re not just helping yourself – it’s about helping other victims.

*Not a happy/satisfying ending – but this is more realistic.

*What would/should be in book 2? What should happen to It? Melinda? Heather? Melinda’s parents?

*This one particular image came up multiple times in the conversation. How it can mean so much and in many different ways. Only graphic novels can create this type of individual meaning.

-These are just SOME of the topics we tackled over our two meetings, and we could have had many more meetings and still not have talked about everything on our minds. I learned that it’s not about TEACHING the book, but allowing it to lead us to a meaningful conversation about ourselves and our world. I could write even more, but will stop here – I am absolutely just awestruck at the power of Laurie and her story. At the power of Project Lit. At the power of books. I am looking forward to our next meeting as we read and discuss Look Both Ways by Jason Reynolds.

I was also able to talk about my own childhood and the sexual abuse that I had experienced. Over the past few years, I have found it ever more valuable to be more human with my students and to share what makes us us. I related my experience telling Laurie about this and how she responded, “we are family now.” – These topics are not “R” rated and these books should not be banned from schools. Like it or not, these “events” are happening to our kids and they need to know they are not alone. Books like these save lives.

At the end, we also discussed Laurie’s other books – many were fans of “Fever” but did not know that this was the same author! I also loaned out a few copies of Shout (Laurie’s “sequel” to Speak) and the Impossible Knife of Memory – two books that shed so much insight into Speak. I HIGHLY recommend these two books. And this is the most wonderful part – students borrowed books to read, not even to be a member of a club, but because they became genuinely connected to Laurie Halse Anderson on a personal and emotional level. Thank you, Laurie.

During lunch today, I sent the following message to those in the group –

THANK YOU so much for everyone who was able to make Friday and/or today’s meeting(s). The topics we were able to talk about just absolutely blew my mind and I am so proud of everyone. I really believe that books, like those in Project Lit, can change the world. In a world where we are increasingly distracted by our devices, when we feel alone in a sea of connectedness, I appreciate you. Out of all the choices we have during I/E, to CHOOSE to be a part of a group to read and discuss books, to have the courage to talk about “difficult” topics… I just can’t thank you all enough and I look forward to an amazing year. Please help spread the word. I am so sorry that I forgot to take a picture today!!!!!!!
Next book is Jason Reynold’s Look Both Ways and we will be meeting to discuss on 11/6 and 11/7. All of my books were already borrowed today. When you are finished reading, please bring them back so that others may read them before the next meeting.




Avatar and Star Wars in Social Studies

Using Avatar and Star Wars in Social Studies

By Tim Smyth

@historycomics historycomics.net


In my social studies class, we often discuss how pop culture mirrors events in society and that comics, tv shows, music, art, literature, and movies can thus be considered as societal artifacts. So when introducing WWII and Western Imperialism, Star Wars and Avatar are, to me at least, obvious allusions for the events of these time periods and their impact on current events. Not only do these movies serve as amazing tools of engagement by getting students immediately hooked, they also serve as powerful ways to make meaningful connections that will be long remembered. The number one comment I receive from former students is that they remember our lessons because we were able to make memorable connections.

Before I even begin to have students read in the textbook or get into historical details about imperialism, I put an image from the movie Avatar on the Smartboard and ask students to jot down a few sentences on what they know about the movie. (I also put the word imperialism in the Do Now description). If a student has never seen the movie, that is ok, they are allowed to discuss with their partners. They will begin to animatedly discuss the movie, and some will then begin to ask what this movie could have to do with the lesson for the day. I then ask students to write about the connection between this movie and the Age of Western Imperialism as I show a definition of the term on the smartboard. The students begin to make their OWN connections and raise their own questions, they don’t need to rely on me to explain everything and they are already engaged in the lesson. Next, I show a trailer for the movie and have students bullet specific connections they see or hear in the movie to the term imperialism.

All year, I focus on the skill of students being able to critically analyze source material and use textual evidence to inform their arguments. At this point, we have already done this by analyzing music lyrics, poetry, text excerpts, and comic books. Evidence doesn’t just come from a textbook for historians – it is all around us and comes in many forms. When we finish the trailer, students compare their lists with each other and discuss. The lists will differ and I remind the students that this is just fine as we all bring in our own perspectives and strengths. Some students will focus more on the images in the trailer and others on the dialogue. Some of the terms we find in the trailer:

New world, natural resources (unobtainium), “indigenous population called the Na’vi, they are very hard to kill”, village, savages, diplomatic solution, natives, going native, the strong prey on the weak”, “gunships against bows and arrows”, “that they can take whatever they want”, “this is our land” and more. The images are also discussed as students make connections to Native Americans on horseback with bows and arrows, hairstyles in braids, a white military destroying a population of non-whites, massive bulldozers against nature and animals, etc. “ This entire discussion comes out of a three minute movie trailer, but better than that, the students will never look at this movie the same way again. What is James Cameron trying to say with this movie? Is it about imperialism during 1870-1914, or are there some connections to today as well?

Still, without using the textbook, I next ask – is the USA an imperialist nation today? Do we fit the definition? We then conduct some online research and determine how many military conflicts the US has participated in (this surprises many students), how many military bases the US has around the world, where our aircraft carriers have recently traveled, and even comparing the size and cost of the US military to the rest of the world. Students begin forming their own opinions and discuss in their groups. I do not offer my opinion as I tell them that we will revisit this topic after we explore the historical age of Western Imperialism. We then finally open the textbook and begin to analyze the historical time period which will be sandwiched between current events and pop culture connections. The students WANT to read the textbook as their curiosity has been piqued. All this with a movie franchise that is planned to release sequels until 2025, and so the lesson will remain relevant.

As a quick add-on to the Imperialism lesson, I also have my students read a disturbing picture book titled An ABC for Baby Patriots, a British book published in 1899. There are many free ways to view this book in its entirety (http://ufdc.ufl.edu/UF00086056/00001) and so students can read it on their own and then share their opinions of the book. I use this activity as a culminating summative assessment for the students as it brings together the entire imperialism lesson. The students will go through each image and its corresponding text and decipher its meaning. This is yet another skill-based literacy lesson as the students need to provide both textual and visual evidence in their answers. After analyzing and discussing the meaning of the book, students are then placed into pairs and given a letter of their own to illustrate. They will create an original image and quatrain (a perfect chance for cross-curricular connections) together and we will put them all together into our own book. The class also chooses a title for their book and we compare it to the books made in all of my classes. The images my students have produced will take your breath away and they cover events from around the world.


Star Wars is also another ongoing movie franchise that I use to make connections to WWII, the rise of Hitler, Nazism, propaganda, and dictatorships. The most immediate connection is made through the term “Storm Trooper” which is what Hitler called his SA, or Brownshirts, who intimidated his political opponents. In addition to the SA, the propaganda machine was everywhere in Nazi Germany and we look at pictures of Nazi Germany with their many displayed blood flags and propaganda posters throughout their controlled lands. These displays of strength are clearly displayed in many of the Star Wars scenes.  They can be compared to the historically accurate propaganda posters displayed in one of my favorite movies, Swing Kids, released in 1993. This movie is loosely based on groups of teens in Nazi Germany who listened to banned American Swing Music as a form of rebellion. This resonates with teens as we connect with music as generational rebellion and I even share how my own father made me return my Public Enemy CD. Students are left speechless at the end of this movie and quite a few tears are shed.

Similarly, I show clips from the Nazi propaganda film, Triumph of the Will, (widely available for free online or for purchase on DVD) and compare it with film clips from Star Wars. I show one scene where Hitler is seen walking through packed stadiums of his supporters, when even farmers wield their spades as arms, and salute him as he slowly walks through the crowds. He and his officers then walk past Nazi Blood Flags and large fires to speak to their supporters. I then show two scenes, one each from Return of the Jedi and the Force Awakens. The connections are easy to make as the Emperor walks through his assembled forces when he arrives on the Death Star in Return of the Jedi. The connection to Force Awakens is also powerful when General Hux gives a speech to his assembled forces – the words, the flags, even the colors are all direct connections to the Nazi rallies. The actor who portrayed General Hux, Domhnall Gleeson, is eerily reminiscent of Hitler and we split-screen his rant with that of Hitler.

As part of this discussion, we also play a clip from Revenge of the Sith when Padme says, “so this is how liberty dies… with thunderous applause.” This is when Palpatine “reorganizes” the republic into the First Galactic Empire for a “safe and secure society.” This allows us to make direct connections to Hitler’s emergency powers in the Enabling Act of 1933, following the Reichstag Fire and how the Nazis reorganized the German government to consolidate “temporary” power. I then make a quick aside to the concept of habeas corpus in the United States Constitution whereas a person under arrest must be brought before a judge and evidence produced. This is a crucial constitutional right in stopping the possibility of dictatorship in the United States, but it can be set aside by a president as, according to the Constitution, “The Privileges of the Writ of habeas corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in cases of rebellion or invasion the public safety may require it.” This Suspension Clause leaves wide latitude in the definition of “rebellion” or “public safety” and President Lincoln suspended this right during the Civil War in the attempt to round up Confederate spies. While this may seem a reasonable application of the clause, President Franklin Roosevelt used it to place American citizens of Japanese ancestry in concentration camps on US soil during WWII. We also discuss under what circumstances this clause might be used today, in events such as 9/11. Do we trade safety for security? (This is also a tie-in to Marvel’s Civil War comic…)

One other piece of “pop culture” I use with WWII and propaganda was actually produced by Walt Disney. The films, Der Fuehrer’s Face and Education for Death, are examples of US propaganda intended to help reinforce negative ideas of Nazi Germany and to help unite American feelings. This leads us to a more open discussion of the idea of propaganda and its use, both positive and negative. As societal artifacts, we analyze the racial stereotypes (bright yellow Japanese figures with buck teeth) in Der Fuehrer’s Face and even the homophobic portrayal of some Nazi soldiers in the film. Education for Death is unlike any Disney film I have ever seen with its terrifying portrayal of schools in Nazi Germany that shows how the youth were brainwashed into following Hitler’s evil ideas. The films are funny at times as well and the students learn much from them. Again – they make meaningful connections to the lessons and remember these important concepts long after leaving my classroom meaning they are better able to connect history to current events.

Pop culture is everywhere and just begging to be used in our classrooms. Make these connections with your students and they will gain a much deeper understanding of history and the world around us. Make your class the one that is talked about at home and remembered for years to come.

Representation In Comics

On 7/21/2019, Marvel announced, at San Diego Comic Con, that a new Thor movie would be released in 2021, starring Natalie Portman as Jane Foster, Thor. Not only would there be a female Thor, but Valkyrie, as played by Tessa Thompson, would also be the first LGBTQ+ character in the Marvel cinematic universe. At the end of Thor: Ragnarok, Valkyrie was given the mantle of kingship and, as  Thompson said at SDCC,  Valkyrie would be “looking for her Queen.” This new movie, Thor: Love and Thunder!, will be released in November 2021. The director is the inspired Taika Waititi. There were many other exciting announcements, but I am going to focus on the impact of Jane Foster as Thor, as she is one of my all-time favorite heroes. She is also the favorite of my youngest daughter, who routinely dresses up as Thor for Halloween and comic cons. When this new movie was announced, I could not wait for her to wake up the next morning as to share the news with her and my other two children.

I travel the country giving workshops to educators on how, and why, to integrate comics in the classroom. I spend a lot of time discussing the fantastic increase of representation in comics and how important it is for students to see themselves in literature, as characters, authors, artists, etc. As a mid 40’s straight, white, CIS male, I know now how privileged I was growing up in that almost all of the positive heroes I saw in comics, movies, TV, etc. looked like me. So many adults haven’t read a comic since they were kids and haven’t been aware of how this has changed in modern comics. The movies simply had not caught up to the comics, and many only knew what was being done in the movies. However, this too is changing.

I was lucky enough to be asked by PBS to write two articles about how/why I use comics in my classroom, and this topic is discussed in both –



I was also interviewed for the local newspaper on this topic – even making the top fold on the front page! The text of the interview is here – http://www.montgomerynews.com/amblergazette/news/comics-in-the-classroom-how-one-wissahickon-teacher-uses-comic/article_aceed392-c658-5dfb-bec2-e339fecacd56.html

My family attends many comic cons, and my son said something to me at San Diego Comic Con that just struck me – he said – “Dad, look, anyone can be a hero (as he looked around at the many cosplayers). Boys can be princesses. Girls can be Captain America. Anyone can be anything they want.” If nothing else, this shared sentiment by my children has made all of these trips worth it. My kids have grown up in a house of books, including comics. To them, having a gay Iceman, black Captain America, Queer and Latina America with two moms, “overweight” Faith, bi-racial Spider-Man, Latina Green Lantern who suffers from anxiety, a 16 year-old Muslim, Pakistani American girl from Jersey City, etc. is all just the norm for them. And this is what gives me such hope for the future of our global society – that this will all become the norm.

This hasn’t always been without complaint or outrage from some. I am a member of many online comics groups and even created a Facebook group for Comics Teachers. I see people comment both in support and against what some see as a political agenda or forced political correctness. That these changes in comics are ruining their childhood and will destroy the comics industry. The argument is just not there for me – the traditional Spider-Man, Thor, Green Lantern, Captain America, are still there. I have even gotten into a debate with a teacher who thought that Thor could not possibly be a woman as it flies in the face of historical Norse Mythology. Seriously? There are many Thors throughout the comics canon – including THROG – a frog Thor. This is all acceptable – but a female? Nope, that’s just going too far!  There really is no way to argue with these folks and I honestly don’t waste my time. I KNOW the power of this representation with my own kids and with my students. These people who are complaining are not the ones buying a lot of new comics today and they will fade over time.

I’ve even been seeing that Natalie Portman can’t possibly be Thor because she is took skinny, not strong enough. Ha! This reveals a true lack of understanding of what makes Jason Aaron’s Jane Foster Thor so truly powerful and inspiring. Jane Foster is not just battling intergalactic monsters, she is also battling an internal monster – breast cancer. Every time she picks up the hammer to become Thor, the chemo therapy she is receiving stops working. When she fights to save us, she chooses to do this, knowing that it will accelerate her cancer. The letters to the editor for this run have been full of thanks from women seeing the bravery in themselves and their female relatives also fighting this cancer.

When my daughter showed her Thor costume at school (third grade), many boys laughed and told her that Thor could not be a girl, that he was a man. (Notice the subtle GIRL vs. MAN, here?). Her response was to tell the boys that they needed to read the comics. I gave her some comics to take in and show them. She also corrected these boys when they called Jane Foster the “female Thor.” – “She’s not FEMALE Thor, she’s THOR”. Love it! She and her sister also corrected me at dinner one night when I was talking about PRINCESS Leia. They were quick to tell me that she is GENERAL Leia.

Today, I celebrate the news of the new Thor movie by wearing my shirt –

And this brings up another point about representation and our societal prison cells of gender norms. I often see girls wearing male hero paraphernalia, t-shirts, backpacks, even full on costumes. Many see this as cute, as normal. But when the opposite happens – when a male wears that of a female hero, he is seen as lesser than, as being “unmanly” (whatever that is). I proudly wear items to my presentations and in my classroom that represent female heroes – Wonder Woman tie, Bat Woman suspenders, Ms. Marvel shirts, and more. I have often been stopped by women telling me how great it is what I wear these items – but this shouldn’t be such a big deal. I’ve not seen someone make a big deal when a female wears a Captain America t-shirt.

When I told my kids that I had exciting Marvel movie news, my son excitedly asked me if they were making a Ms. Marvel movie. When I said no, he was disappointed. I love that this Muslim girl is his hero.

I have many pictures in my classroom with my family and our favorite comics authors/artists we have been blessed enough to meet throughout the year. I had an exchange student from Kuwait in my class, and she stayed after class to talk to me about the picture of us with G. Willow Wilson (author of Ms. Marvel and many other great books). She told me that it was the first time she felt accepted at our school and wanted to talk more. This showcases the importance of our students seeing themselves in our classrooms.

I also connected with a shy African American student who came to talk to me about Miles Morales. He was more impressed that Spider-Man looked like him than did the US President at the time!

Is there still work to be done? Absolutely. While Loki is gender fluid, we need more characters who are transgender, nonbinary, questioning, and more. We need to increase the representation in the front offices of comics companies. But things are so much better than when I was growing up. When I was in school, no one was gay (or so I thought). I had never heard of the word transgender. We are getting better and we need to keep increasing the visualization of all types of heroes. One great example is a conversation I had with my kids at Denver Pop Culture Con. One of the favorite series in our house if Phoebe and Her Unicorn, by Dana Simpson. I was lucky enough to present with her and other creators during a panel on fairy tales in comics. (I was the diversity on the panel – certainly a first for this white guy!). My youngest, who is a HUGE fan of Dana, had a question. Yep – Dana is transgender. My daughter asked what this meant and I explained to my 2nd, 4th, and 6th grade kids in about one minute what this meant. It was not a complicated conversation. It was not a topic only for adults. My kids basically said “ok” and that it was great that she was happy. I really love all of her books – it’s a modern take on Calvin and Hobbes  – witty, funny, heart-felt, and imaginative.

Also pictured here are Tracy Edmunds – a fantastically inspiring educator on all things comics in education. Check out her website – tracyedmunds.com

Also – Nidhi Chanani – author of Pashmina and amazing artist. Pashmina is a wonderful book about Indian culture and a favorite in our house.

To get copies of The Mighty Thor run written by Jason Aaron and drawn by Russell Dauterman, you might still be able to find single issues at your local comics shop – I have every one. As an educator/librarian, a cheaper and longer lasting option, is to order the collected series (there are five hard bound volumes). The ISBN for the first volume is 9780785195221. This is a great way to teach about the impact of current events and pop culture as artifacts. I have a lot more to say on the subject of representation in comics, but I will stop now and thank you for taking the time to read this much.

Thank you to G. Willow Wilson, Jason Aaron, Brian Michael Bendis, Sara Pichelli, and so many other visionary authors for their willingness to give us the heroes we need and deserve. (You need to watch G. Willow Wilson’s Ted Talk on the fears she had creating Ms. Marvel, I show it to my students every year – https://youtu.be/piWo4200G0U)

I also wrote another blog post on my learning about the term Blerd and the awesome @TheBlerdGirl https://historycomics.edublogs.org/2016/10/12/blerds-the-beauty-of-nerdism/

Excellence In Graphic Literature Awards 2019

EXCELLENCE in GRAPHIC LITERATURE – the name of this award speaks volumes to where we are with comics as a medium and its acceptance as literature.  In the late summer of 2018, I was asked by several colleagues to be head judge in the Excellence in Graphic Literature Awards Young Adult Category run by the inspiring folks at Pop Culture Classroom and hosted by the Denver Pop Culture Con. I knew of the awards, having attended the inaugural awards ceremony in 2018, and was honored to play an active role in the second awards process. (Feel free to go past my reflection on the ceremony and process to look at the award finalists and winners). Let me first say that I am posting this as an individual and not officially on behalf of the organization, but as an individual and personal reflection. Deciding the winners was not easy and all of the finalists truly deserve a place in libraries and classrooms. Each category had over 50 submissions (we read and scored A LOT of graphic novels!) and so many of the titles should have made it into the finals; this speak volumes to the amazing depth and breadth of the graphic novel medium! I am thankful to all of the publishers and creators who submitted their books for review. Think about the graphic novels YOU are reading/creating this year – please urge the creators of your favorite 2019 books to submit for next year’s awards! I was disappointed that some of my favorite titles of 2018 were not submitted for the awards. You can’t win if you don’t submit!

The juries were made up of professional librarians and educators – people who understand the powerful impact of graphic novels on our students and patrons of all ages. In order to keep the judging free of bias, the head judges were given the names of those on their juries, but the jurors themselves did not know who the other jurors were, nor did the chairs know who one another were. Tara Bannon was the person who held everything together as she was in charge of everyone and directed us all on our journey. She tirelessly answered all of our questions and offered encouragement as we read and scored so many wonderful books in a short amount of time. As directors at Pop Culture Classroom, Katie Monnin and Adam Kullberg were also crucial to the success of the process throughout the year.

Pop Culture Classroom is such an inspiring organization full of people who fully understand the value of comics in education. They are the force behind Denver Pop Culture Con and organize all of the educational programming offered at the convention every year. I was on multiple panels and sat in on others and was constantly getting new ideas and titles to use in my classroom. One of my favorite moments was being on a panel with some of my comics heroes – Fred Van Lente and Ryan Dunlavey. I have used their Action Philosophers book in my AP Euro and my World History courses. My son absolutely LOVES their Action Presidents and has read the books many, many times – sharing them with great glee in school. The history in these books is accessible, hysterical, accurate, and allows the reader to see the “Great People” of history in a human and personal way. While they did not win in their category during the awards, they were deserving finalists and winners in my heart.

I was also finally able to meet the other judges and made many new friends at the convention as we presented together. All of this culminated in the awards ceremony on Saturday night and this was open to anyone who attended the convention!

I was the head judge for the Young Adult Category and we read over 50 books. It was tough to read through all the rubrics from all the jury members, and then tallying up the scores to determine the winner. On the rubric, we needed to take into account the educational possibilities of each for the classroom – unique to anything I have seen in the comics world! It was wonderful to see the differing opinions from each juror in the rubrics about the meaning of each title and how it can be used in the classroom. Thank you Pop Culture Classroom for helping further the legitimacy of comics in education.

I LOVED reading that Jarrett J. Krosoczka’s Hey, Kiddo was the YA Nonfiction award – it was a secret that I had been anxiously wanting to share with everyone! This book has been borrowed by so many of my students as the truth Jarrett shares resonates with us all. This is a must-read book.

Here is the speech I gave at the ceremony before introducing the finalists and winners – I will let my words speak for themselves on my feelings about the award itself and the power of comics.

“Working with the folks of Pop Culture Classroom and the jurors of the Excellence in Graphic Novel Awards has been an honor, a lot of hard work, a lot of great reading, but ultimately an honor. My own children LOVED all 50 of the graphic novels, yes 50, sent my way to read, and it speaks much to the power of this medium for literacy. The books I was blessed to read really speak to the many genres that are available in this visual literacy medium. This category was comprised of fiction and non-fiction, sci-fi and futuristic, historical and current events of world importance, intimate biographies, travelogues, adaptations of classic stories, and so many also demonstrated the importance of representation and inclusion. They made me laugh and cry, look to the past and wonder about the future, and they all enabled me to see the brilliant characters on a personal level while experiencing the story through their eyes – and this truly is the power of comics. The decision to choose a winner was not an easy one for our Young Adult jury and I am so very thankful for the diligence and hard work from each member of the jury. We each brought our own experiences into these books and often had different take-aways from the stories – which is always great to show students how graphic novels are open to interpretation as visual literacy. The winning entry did stand out, however, as a book that, while devastatingly honest and emotional, allowed us to see the core of humanity and to offer hope despite tragic adversity. I am honored to have been a part of this journey and I truly believe that these stories stand out as the award title suggests –as showing EXCELLENCE in Graphic Literature. And that’s what these books are – deep and meaningful literature that not only deserve a place in the classroom and library, but in the world for they will truly change lives.”

If you have any questions or would like more information, please feel free to contact me.

During one of the panels, I was asked what books I would have liked to have made the finals that did not —

WaterSnakes by Tony Sandoval. A Flower in a Field of Lions by Tyler Button. Amazing books.

Category judges:

EGL 2019 Children Category

EGL 2019 Middle-Grade

EGL 2019 Young Adult

EGL 2019 Adult

2019 Children’s Fiction Finalists 

The Dragon Slayer: Folktales from Latin America by Jaime Hernandez and published by Toon Books

Small Things by Mel Tregonning published by Pajama Press

Dog Man: Lord of the Fleas by Dav Pilkey, Scholastic.

Petals by Cris Peter and Gustavo Borges, Boom! Studios.

Tiger Vs. Nightmare by Emily Tetri, :01 First Second.


2019 Children’s Nonfiction Finalists

Snails Are Just My Speed! Kevin McCloskey. Toon Books.

We Are All Me. Jordan Crane. Toon Books.

Little Tails. Frederic Brremaud and Frederico Bertolucci. Lion Forge.

The Eye That Never Sleeps. Marissa Moss and Jeremy Holmes. Abrams ComicArts.

The Mushroom Fan Club. Elise Gravel. Drawn and Quarterly.


Middle-Grade Books Fiction:

Crush. Svetlana Chmakova. Yen Press.

Be Prepared. Vera Brosgol. 01: First Second

The Hidden Witch. Molly Knox Ostertag. Scholastic.

Sheets. Brenna Thummler. Lion Forge.

The Cardboard Kingdom. Chad Sell. Random House.


Middle-Grade Nonfiction

Stinky Cecil in Mudslide Mayhem! Paige Braddock. Andrews McMeel.

Lafayette: A Revolutionary War Tale. Nathan Hale. Abrams ComicArts.

The Faithful Spy: Bonhoeffer and the Plot to Kill Hitler. John Hendrix. Abrams ComicArts.

Action Presidents #1: George Washington. Fred Van Lente and Ryan Dunlavey. Harper Collins.

Ocean RenegadesL Journey Through the Paleozoic Era. Abby Howard. Abrams ComicArts.


Young Adult Fiction (I was chair of this category)

Monstress Vol. 3. Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda. Image.

The Prince and the Dressmaker. Jen Wang. 01: First Second.

Illegal. Eoin Colfer and Andrew Donkin. Sourcebooks

Manga Classics: Macbeth. Crystal S. Chan. Udon.

On a Sunbeam. Tillie Walden. 01: First Second.


Young Adult Non-Fiction 

Anne Frank’s Diary: The Graphic Adaptation. Ari Folman. Penguin Random House.

Grand Theft Horse. Greg Neri. Lee and Low Books.

Strange Fruit, Vol. 2; More Uncelebrated Narratives From Black History. Joel Christian Gill. Fulcrum Publishing.

Hey, Kiddo. Jarrett. J. Krosoczka. Scholastic.

Unwanted: Stories of the Syrian Refugees. Don Brown. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.


Adult Fiction

A Sea of Love. Wilfred Lupano and Gregory Panaccione. Lion Forge.

Infidel. Pornsak Pichetshote. Image.

Exit Stage Left: The Snagglepuss Chronicles. Mark Russell and Mike Freehan. DC Comics.

Berlin. Jason Lutes. Drawn and Quarterly.

Upgrade Soul. Ezra Claytan Daniels. Lion Forge.


Adult Nonfiction 

Brazen: Rebel Ladies Who Rocked the World. Penelope Bagieu.

Algeria is Beautiful Like America. Olivia Burton and Mahi Grand. Lion Forge.

Escaping Wars and Waves: Encounters with Syrian Refugees. Olivier Kugler. Penn State.

All the Answers. Michael Kupperman. G 13.

Monk! Thelonious Pannonica, and the Friendship Behind a Musical Revolution. Youssef Daoudi. 01: First Second.


Mosaic Award Winner – chosen from among all categories. 

Book of the Year Winner – chosen from among all categories.


Laurie Halse Anderson, poetry, and WWII


I am lucky enough to have gotten to know Laurie Halse Anderson over the years, both in person and by reading her emotionally brave and honest writings. My wife and I wrote the teacher’s guide for the powerhouse graphic novel adaptation of Speak (https://images.macmillan.com/folio-assets/teachers-guides/9780374300289TG.pdf), even using the book to teach our own 7th grade daughter about the importance of finding her own voice and standing up for herself. I also find the Seeds of America Trilogy (Chains, Forge, Ashes) to be a powerful read – if you are teaching US history – it really is a must have in the classroom! Another of Laurie’s many books that stuck out to me was The Impossible Knife of Memory, about a young girl having to navigate the perils of her alcoholic father as he struggled with PTSD since fighting in Iraq. Little did I know that this story was actually about events in Laurie’s life and her own father struggling with similar demons after WWII. This year, I looked forward to reading Laurie’s newest book, Shout, as I knew that it would help so many victims find their voices and empower our youth. However, the first two entries in the book, both poems, took me completely by surprise. These two poems center on Laurie’s father and his experiences in WWII and helping to liberate Dachau. Needless to say, this has a long-lasting impact on him and Laurie’s family. As soon as I read these poems, I knew that I needed to integrate them into my WWII lesson as it helps to humanize such an overwhelming era. It also happens to be National Poetry Month and I knew that we could also discuss current issues through the poems as well. This is the power of approaching social studies courses through a humanities lens.

My lesson consisted of having students annotate the two poems, “in the name of love” and “stained glass curtain’s in my mother’s mouth” – this is such a crucial skill for all classroom, not just Language Arts. Even as a social studies teacher, I expect students to interact with text – asking questions, making connections, reacting, etc. – and I model this with them as I share my own annotations. After they completed the annotations, they then are asked to write a brief overall reaction and then ask two specific questions of the author. The students then pair/share what they have annotated and their questions as they sit in tables of four students. This allows me to sit with each group and discuss with them and, this is so important, to LISTEN to them and not run the conversation as the teacher. I am so often astounded by the deep connections students are able to make between history and text when I just get out of the way.

We then talked as an entire class about the connections that we made and began to conduct some research on the topics that came up. The most common topic was that of PTSD and the impact on soldiers and their families. The laptops were then flipped open and we began to dig deeper about suicides from today’s veterans and came across some disturbing figures. We made sure that our news sources were credible, even using official US Military findings, before discussing further. Finding out statistics such as – 20 veterans committed suicide each day in 2016, 321 ACTIVE duty military personnel committed suicide in 2018, half of all military personnel know a vet who has committed suicide, and much more. These numbers would mean much less if not for the human connection the students were able to make through Laurie’s poems. I then discussed how my grandfather never opened up about his experiences in WWII and that family members refuse to discuss experiences in Vietnam. This, of course, leads into the discussion of the changing definition of what it means to be a “man” today and that we all need to access our feelings, fears, and to seek help when needed. We are now discussing what we can do to help. More on this later.

Too often, the textbook will just end with WWII is ended, now onto the Cold War. Text can often be dry and dehumanizing – it is through personal literature, such as these poems form Laurie, that help us find the connected humanity in all of these events. The wars are not over when the fighting is complete and the witnessed events will continue to have impacts. That Laurie was brave enough to share what happened with her father, his decline into alcoholism, even hitting her mother, will help so many. Her book, The Impossible Knife of Memory, though fictional and set in more modern times, it is a haunting view into Laurie’s own life. This point is not to be overlooked when we discuss literature in the classroom, that the author’s life and experiences need to be examined and taken into account. We will now be able to better discuss the events of wars throughout time and their continuing impacts.

What makes this lesson all the more powerful, is that my students are 10th graders and many were lucky enough to have seen Laurie speak when she visited our Middle School and chatted with them as an author in my Language Arts wife’s classroom.

Some questions and connections that have come up from students:

So many who fight in wars are just “kids” – just like the actual child soldiers we learned about in Africa

Emotion is essential for being human

“The image of my father hitting my mother picassoed in front of me” – this is like the painting of Guernica from the Spanish Civil War – I can really imagine this situation in my mind.

“Rearranging the truth on the floor” – turning point in the author’s life.

Allusion to fairy tales which are usually seen as romantic/lovely, very out of place here.

Motif of internal self-destruction, broken family

These are typical signs of abuse

Why didn’t the dentist or her parents try to help?

“I think that this poem really demonstrates how difficult it is to understand the experiences of someone else’s life. Simply by looking at him, it would be impossible to know all of these hardships that Laurie Halse Anderson’s father endured. Even after reading about it, it is difficult to comprehend exactly how he must have felt, and I think that that is one of the main messages of this poem”

“Did the father force the family to lie and cover up abuse or did they decide to not share?”

“How does Anderson feel about her father today?”

“The War was more than just what happened on the battlefield”

“When the mother kept on saying that he “had to” hit her, she was lying to both her daughter and to herself. Deep down, she knew that what he did was wrong, but it was easier for her to take if she told herself she deserved it. Her weakness made me upset because if shes spoke out, she wouldn’t have to feel trapped”

“He was just an 18 year old kid!” “Not his fault”

“PTSD… when she said that the war was over, but not really, it seems to allude to the battle within himself”

“What would have happened if his ‘mental crate’ overfilled?”

“The war after the war”

“The war caused as much trauma to Laurie and her mother as it did to her Dad.”

“Why did her mom think she deserved it?”

“I feel that her father’s actions are irredeemable, but they are also understandable”

“I can’t even imagine the pain he had inside for 40 years”

“It angers me that some women or anybody who’s experienced abuse think it’s their fault that the abuser got mad and try to fix themselves to the abusers satisfaction. The Dad is obviously still trying to overcome his experience from the war, but that gives him no right to hit her. Reminds me of the Women’s march I went to. I wonder how this impacted Laurie’s view of men throughout her life?”

“This reminds me of learning about Freud and repressed memories…”

“This was well done as I felt like I was a lost soldier. I like how she emphasized his age (18) because I am not that far away from that age, scary to think he was at war as a teenager.”

“When/how did your father finally tell you the story of his experiences?”

“gut-wrenching” “saddened my heart”

“sounds like Laurie can forgive, but not forget”

“a living nightmare”

“It is terrifying to see the evil of mankind”

How can we help those with PTSD?


AND THEN – we were able to live tweet with Laurie for a bit – she is awesome!



Jerry Craft Author Visit

5/10/18 – Today was awesome! Members from two of our high school clubs – Comic Book Club and CASA (Celebrating All Students’ Achievements) – came together for a Skype session with author and artist Jerry Craft. I have loved reading all of the books Jerry has written and illustrated and was immensely pleased when he agreed to spend some time with our clubs. I was prepared to spend about 15 minutes or so having a Q and A session from the kids, but we wound up spending an hour sharing stories, laughing, and learning so much. Jerry is such an awesome human being who cares deeply about his work and sharing it with young people. He immediately made my nervous students feel comfortable as he teased them, called them out by name, and gave them invaluable insight into the process of writing and illustrating books. Holding the attention of a roomful of teens is difficult at times, but they were completely focused on the discussion, even though some of them were stressing about the AP US test being given the very next day. It was great to see the kids relax for a bit as Jerry made them feel valued.

Jerry shared with us, under pain of execution, pages of his upcoming book, New Kid, published by HarperCollins, that will be published in February 2019. My students let out audible gasps as they were told that they were among the first to get a peek into this upcoming book! (I was giddy myself!) This really left an impression on the kids – that Jerry would not only trust them with a sneak peek, but that he was so excited himself to share what he was doing. Several of the students remarked on this repeated reaction from Jerry – that he was so passionate about his work. This then fired up the students as well. Jerry not only shared much of his book with us, but he also walked us all through the process of writing and illustrating. Some of my students want to become authors, illustrators, and journalists and the knowledge that Jerry dropped was invaluable. He has been working on the illustrations for 13 months at this point and still has months to go before completion. Jerry shared that he mostly works seven days a week and up to 15 hours each day on this project. He shared with us feedback from his editors and countless small “mistakes” or oversights that needed to be fixed on what he had already completed. He also shared the process of just choosing the right cover for the new book and how many changes were made – we love the one that was finally settled on. He gave huge compliments to his editing team at HarperCollins and explained how much they have helped him in the process. Jerry did not complain about any of this process – we could easily tell that he loves what he is doing.

Passion – this is a word that Jerry used often in the conversation. Find what you love to do in this world – there are lots of cool jobs out there. Success will find you. But do what you are passionate about. Jerry then shared that this is what I do as a teacher – that I am obviously passionate about what I do and integrating engaging resources in the classroom – not just opening the textbook. I smiled when my students laughed at this and all nodded their heads in agreement. I preach this all the time – it took me awhile to fully realize this concept, but I love what I do and incorporating my passion in the classroom. Jerry told the kids to find their superpower as people will benefit from their passion. However, with passion comes hurdles as well – Jerry shared his rejection letters and the long road it took to find his success. This is an invaluable lesson in today’s instant gratification and “reality” contest shows were people seem to become instant successes.

Jerry talked to the kids about his background and how pop culture has changed over the years, from Blaxploitatation and Good Times and What’s Happening to Black Panther and Creed. He also shared how this was an influence on his creation of the award winning Mama’s Boyz comic and books. He was initially rejected because he purposely did not want to fall into the traditional Black stereotypes of basketball and gangs. Many publishers were looking for traditional books on MLK, Jr, Frederick Douglas, civil rights, and slavery. Jerry wanted to write authentic stories of his life without falling victim to these overdone topics. He knew that his own kids were interested in Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, and Diary of a Wimpy Kid. This reminded me of my experience in a NYCC panel on Blerds – https://historycomics.edublogs.org/2016/10/12/blerds-the-beauty-of-nerdism/ This is when he decided to self-publish – even going to the library to read a book about self-publishing to do so! There is no violence or gangs in his stories, but they are also hard-hitting and meaningful. He tackles topics on bullying, nutrition, respecting elders, music, and more.

We were ready to say our good-byes – all of the kids were clapping for Jerry. But he wouldn’t let us go! Here I was afraid that we were taking up so much of his time, but Jerry still had more to share with us. He began talking about a possible sequel to his upcoming book – showing us an actual story arc that would make English teachers everywhere excited! He told us about how he is always observing and watching people so that he can be authentic in his drawings. He is able to look at the most ordinary and repetitive interactions in life and see so much beauty in them. This was simply amazing.

Jerry’s book, New Kid, comes out in February 2019. I was able to get a peek into it and can’t wait to read the entire book! There was so much honesty, emotion, heart, and laughter in what I was able to see. There was one part in the lunchroom… well, I promised I wouldn’t give away details. But trust me, it hit me in the feels! In the meantime, check out Jerry’s existing books which I cannot recommend enough at http://www.jerrycraft.net/

Thank you, Jerry. The kids kept talking about you for another 30 minutes after we ended the Skype session. You have fired up their imaginations and have filled them with hope, and a dose of realism, for their future. There is no greater gift an individual could give to my students.


My son has been on my mind a lot, as he is most days. I have written about him before (https://historycomics.edublogs.org/2017/04/09/a-human-humanities-course/) and the obstacles that he has to overcome in life and school. We have been in large IEP meetings with his speech therapist, occupational therapist, and other specialists. He has a rare form of Meningitis that causes him a lot of migraines, aches, fatigue, and hospitalization.  I’ll spare you all the details, but his condition is a central piece of this post and has helped me to be a better teacher and human being. I can often see the pain and fatigue in his eyes, but he powers through and inspires me everyday.  It is important to note that we LOVE the school district our kids are in and we have been blessed to have amazing teachers for all three of our children. This post is not a complaint about them in any way, but we did have a bad experience in a private school (we pulled our kids out as a result), and I am also reflecting on what I hear other parents and teachers say throughout my life. This is also not a complaint about private schools either – just the one where my children were previously enrolled.

My son has fine motor skill issues with his hands and his handwriting is often hard to decipher as a result. His hands will hurt when he writes for too long and the upcoming state tests always have us on edge. When he took the exams last year, he came home from school, ate an early dinner, then went directly to bed and slept for 14 hours as a result of his fatigue. It has been suggested that he sit out the exams, but we also know that he can’t be excused from too much in life, that we need to find ways to adapt. We also know, as educators, that if he does not take the exam, that it will count as an automatic failure against his teacher and school district. This is just one of the criteria that teachers are often judged upon, even though they have little control over it. His team at school (and it is a TEAM!) have put together a game plan with a scribe and to keep us in the loop as to his fatigue levels during the tests. He will also have someone bubble in the bubbles on the answer sheet as this task is all but impossible for him. Enough on my standardized testing rant, I could write a book on this topic alone.

All of this is to get to my central point for this post – his handwriting. We often cannot read his writing, and, especially frustrating, is that he often cannot read his own writing. He LOVES to write stories and to illustrate them with amazing original art (I credit the many shelves of comics, graphic novels, and traditional books in our home). He keeps a little black book to write in as inspiration finds him and he will often read these wonderful stories to family members. We need to have a little patience as he sometimes has to figure out a word or two that he cannot read, but it is so worth the wait. He had a teacher, in his former school, that would often comment on his “messy” writing and that he needed to put forth more effort. He also had an art teacher who would comment on his “messy” drawings that needed more detail, or cuts with scissors that were not straight enough. He was already termed a “reluctant reader” at school.  Add up all this and you had a kid who was being unfairly judged and whose confidence was shattered. He began to rebel at school and to withdraw from the lessons being given. We also saw this rebelliousness at home and were trying to figure out how best to help him. It was comic books that gave my son the confidence and engagement he needed to become the amazing reader, writer, and illustrator he is today. It was also enrolling him in his current public school district where his amazing teachers also helped him to find his confidence.

My blood boils as I write this, but I am so happy that he is in a better place. However, his writing will always be a struggle. I have had parents joke around about their own child’s writing and make a comment about messy handwriting and to even seem embarrassed about it. Kids hear these comments and internalize them. IT is too easy to judge at first glance. This often happens when I pull out their writing folder and share their child’s work with them. I ask them to look beyond the handwriting, and like my son, look at the content of their words. This is when the conversation becomes uplifting and empowering. Messy handwriting is often not a sign of being lazy or unmotivated – for many, it is just too difficult a task. We need to actually read what our kids are writing and give them specific feedback and encouragement.

After over 15 years as an educator, I have learned perhaps the most important skill – the ability to laugh at myself and to forgive mistakes. I used to be a strict A-type teacher – the one who needed perfect handwriting, to have the torn edges taken off of loose-leaf, to discuss with parents how their child needed to do less doodling on their notes and actually pay attention, etc – groan! I now understand the brilliance being shown in the “doodling” shown on papers and I now encourage sketch-noting and making these important neural connections. (It’s also why I refer pen to paper rather than computer writing – but that’s another post). It is because of my own children’s experiences with ADHD, my experiences with comics, and our Art Department Chair that I was able to open my mind. Years ago, I was sitting in an IEP meeting and the Art Chair spoke up about the doodles I was complaining about. He was (and still is) a teacher for whom I have profound respect and his words hit me hard. He spoke to the creative genius and the imagination and connections being made on the student’s papers. I did not become defensive, but began to research and to see the light. Again, it is also my love of comics that helped me with this journey. I know that much research shows that students with ADD/ADHD can benefit from doodling with a purpose (sketch-noting) and taking notes in class. We do not excuse our children from taking notes and have found this expectation to be helpful (for us). I am also a fan of purposeful homework, despite my son’s physical issues and the ADHD in all of my children. But, again, a topic for another post.

Keep a writing folder for your kids and show parents the power of their words. I know that my son will continue to be shy about sharing his written work, but we continue to encourage him and are so happy that his teachers are able to look past his disability and see the amazingly curious, intelligent, and creative boy behind the “messy” words. Be conscious of the comments you make to students and the confidence you may be undermining. Also be aware that this confidence may have been shaken in years before you. Embrace creativity – no matter how “messy.”