Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Proud as a Peacock, Brave as a Lion: A Remembrance Day Review

Review by Scott Tingley

“I really like this book.” -said by “K” in my grade 3 class this morning.

There are a few Remembrance Day type books on the market aimed at Elementary aged school children - strong, well written and illustrated books that lend themselves to further research and writing projects. Books like this and this are excellent examples of this and I recommend them highly.

On the other hand, sometimes you are just looking for a book you can read to kids that will help explain what this whole Remembrance Day / Veteran’s Day thing is all about without having a lot of extra information. Sometimes you just want the story to speak for itself.

Well, here it is: Proud as a Peacock, Brave as a Lion.

This book is what many of us elementary teachers end up scrounging around for at the beginning of November: a well written and illustrated book that you can read to any of the age and sensitivity ranges that you find in elementary schools.

The writer, Jane Barclay has done a great job of bringing out the feelings of war in a safe, but touching and real way. She focuses on the feelings and experiences of one WWII veteran but through this one man, the feelings and experiences of Veterans from many wars, past and present, can be felt. She uses similes brilliantly to help explain a difficult subject. Also, artist Renné Benoit brings out the imagination and memories of the book’s two principal characters in subtle and touching ways. The art completely fits the tone and feel of the story – very nice work.

As questions come from a young grandchild, his grandpa talks about how, as a very young man, he was as proud as a peacock in uniform, busy as a beaver on his Atlantic crossing, and brave as a lion charging into battle. Soon, the old man’s room is filled with an imaginary menagerie as the child thinks about different aspects of wartime. But as he pins medals on his grandpa’s blazer and receives his own red poppy in return, the mood becomes more somber.

Outside, the crowd gathered for the veterans’ parade grows as quiet as a mouse, while men and women — old and young — march past in the rain. A trumpet plays and Grandpa lays a wreath in memory of his lost friend. Just then, the child imagines an elephant in the mist. “Elephants never forget,” he whispers to his grandpa. “Then let’s be elephants,” says the old man, as he wipes water from his eyes and takes his grandson’s hand. (From

While reading Proud as a Peacock, Brave as a Lion my own wife was brought to tears remembering what her own paternal grandfather shared with her and thinking of what her maternal grandfather would not. When she first read it, she came to me and couldn’t stop talking about it.

I actually work with the writer’s sister (a fact I discovered when talking about a book I had to read to my daughter every night, which turned out to be one of her other books) and she gets teary every time she reads it.

If you are a teacher who has to deal with Remembrance Day / Veteran’s Day at all, then this is really a book you want to pick up and put on the shelf for next year. I think it would help Middle and High School students really understand why a teen would rush off to war.

If you are a parent, this is a book that may help when your child comes asking difficult questions about the images seen on the news.

I read a lot of new children’s books every year, and this is one I want to see news reports about and, and on special displays in bookstores and being pushed by Scholastic.


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Sunday, October 4, 2009

Binky The Space Cat: Protecting the World One Alien/Bug at a Time

Review by Scott Tingley

Now That’s Funny.

I’m not sure if the book will actually turn out to be funny, but I am thirteen pages into Binky the Space Cat by Ashley Spires and I am amused. We meet Binky (the cat…pay attention) as he gets his Space Cat Certification in the mail. Now, I’ve been staring at the cover of this book for a couple of months and I assumed that it would be a space adventure comic/kids book – a reasonable assumption considering it has the words space and cat together in the title. While that could have been fun, the concept for this book is better than that. See, Binky is an indoor cat – his house is his space station and the outdoors is “outer space” (naturally).

That’s funny.

Hang on – I have to finish the book….There. Done.

Okay, I’ve finished the book, and it stayed funny all the way through. Not only is Binky on his way to becoming a space explorer, he is already something of a superhero in his own house. See, he is vigilant in protecting his humans from aliens! Aliens = bugs, but he is not sure why his humans haven’t figure this out yet.

If you have an aversion to comics (although, if you did you probably would have stopped reading by now) just forget I mentioned that it was a comic. It looks a lot like a traditional kid’s book, with text instead of word balloons (for the most part), but the pictures are presented in a way that moves the story on – the sequential art tells the story along with the words in a way that straight storybooks rarely do. It makes the book hard to read to a large group of kids, but it makes it delightful to read to a kid or two snuggled around you on the couch.

Ashley Spires does a fine job with her first comic/graphic novel/storybook. The art is quirky and fun (hard-hitting journalism there) her writing is funny and clever, and she skillfully includes cat-tooting, cat poop, and a coughed up hairball in ways that will be hilarious to the book’s intended audience (6 years old or so, with some assistance, to 9 or 10 years old) and inoffensive to the suppliers of the book (YOU). Nicely done, Ashley.

If you get and like this book, I would recommend another Kids Can Press book, Skaredy Squirrel. It is in between a traditional kids book and Binky in the way the story is presented – less comic, more storybook, but I think they would go well together.

Binky the Space Cat
Fountas & Pinnell Reading level: N
Grade Level: 3

BTW, Kids Can Press has just become my favourite publisher for the fact that they include the Fountas & Pinnell reading levels. This can make planning guided reading lessons a lot easier. The teacher part of me thanks you.


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Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Things You May Not Know About Johnny Boo & the Happy Apples

Review by Scott Tingley, September 01, 2009

Things I learned from reading Johnny Boo & the Happy Apples:

1. Eating too much ice cream makes your muscles floopy.

2. Eating apples makes you strong.

3. Apples come from trees.

4. Wednesdays are SCARY.

5. Ice Cream Monsters are not to be trusted – no matter what day of the week it is.

6. Monsters have magic tummies, but it is undetermined whether they have satelite or basic cable.

7. Johnny Boo & the Happy Apples is a comic story written and drawn by a professional cartoonist (James Kochalka) in a way that makes it read like it was actually written by a very clever six year old. No self-respecting grownup would ever create a book as awesomely silly and fun this.

8. My own kids (4 ½ and 2 ½ ) thought it was silly (which means good).

9. I (Scott Tingley) am actually quoted (from a review I did on book 1) on the promotional literature provided by the publisher – on the same sheet of paper as a quote from BOOKLIST and from DJ Lance Rock from Yo Gabba Gabba. Very nice - that's a keeper.

10. Johnny Boo & the Happy Apples (Book 3), out now, is a full color hardcover comic (6”x9”), costs 9.95 (a good price compared to other kid's storybooks) and is published by Top Shelf Productions (publisher of great kids graphic novels/comics like: SpiralBound, Grampa and Julie: Shark Hunters and Owly).

Things I already knew about Johnny Boo:

1. Boys in my grade three class last year really liked Johnny Boo (book 1): The Best Little Ghost in the World.

2. They liked the short story in 2008's Top Shelf Free Comic Book Day issue

3. They will like this one as well.

4. This newest book (book 3) and the other two are perfect for about ages 4-9. My little girl wasn't crazy about the Ice Cream Monster loosing his cool and eating Johnny Boo and his pet ghost Squiggle, but since it all ends silly she was okay with it. Some 9yr olds might feel too cool for the cartoony art, but the cool kids in my grade three class liked it – so there.

5. James Kochalka is awesome. My class wrote to him a couple years ago and he wrote back. Very nice indeed.

6. It costs $9.95 (US), it's ISBN # is 978-1-60309-041-4, and you can see a preview and order it HERE.

Note: Johnny Boo says “what the heck?” once. Thought you might want to know.

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Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Boys of Steel: An INTERVIEW With Siegel and Shuster Biographer

Interview by Scott Tingley

While there are plenty of storybook biographies of history's most famous and important people, never have I seen one that fits both of my two book sites so perfectly (Comics in the Classroom and The Kid's Book Corner Blog): Boys of Steel: The creators of Superman . This new storybook biography, written by Marc Tyler Nobleman and illustrated by Ross MacDonald, explores Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster creation of Superman. Marc was kind enough to join us for an interview.

Scott Tingley – Comics in the Classroom : Marc, thank you for answering a few questions for us. We'll get to your new book in a moment, but please start by telling us about your career up to now.

Marc Tyler Nobleman : My first job after college was in book marketing. My first published book came out in 1996. Since then, I've written more than 70 other books for young people (and marketed many of them as well!). Much of it is nonfiction though I have done some fiction, and some of it involves humor (even some of the nonfiction). I've also written for magazines including Nickelodeon. One of the most rewarding aspects of my job is that it brings me before groups of students in schools, where I get to share with them the behind-the-scenes of an author.

CitC : Why this book? What drove you to write a story book about comics in general and about the creators of the comic book superhero specifically? Were you a comic reader growing up – are you still a comic reader now?

MTN : I chose to write on this subject on for several reasons. My fondness for Superman goes back to when I saw Superman: The Movie at age six (in my pajamas, front row). He's one of the most iconic fictional characters in the world so it's astounding how so few know who created him or when or where or why. Any setup like that—a recognizable entry point but a mystery backstory—has great potential for a book! It fills a gap in the marketplace, and luckily, it's an engaging story. I grew up reading DC Comics (and watching Super Friends cartoons) and I still do read certain comics.

CitC : When I first heard of your book I kind of assumed that it would be in the form of a comic book, but instead, for the most part, it is in the form of a traditional story book biography. Did you and artist Ross MacDonald intend for it to be like this from the beginning or was the decision to go this way made later in the creative process?

MTN : Picture books and comic books are first cousins, of course, but I wrote Boys of Steel to be a picture book. Some editors who rejected it suggested I reimagine it as a graphic novel, but I felt that was too obvious. In my mind, a comic book about comic book creators would not stand out (based on that alone), but no comic book creators had been the focus of an illustrated picture book before. That said, I did want one particular spread to resemble a comic book—the scene in which Jerry Siegel was kept awake one night by ideas that would coalesce into Superman. By having only that spread look like a comic, I was hoping it would signal to readers “Okay, this is a significant moment” and propel them with even more enthusiasm through the second half of the book.

CitC : Was this book written like a comic or like a more traditional story book? What I mean by that is, as the writer, did you control the visuals as a comic writer does or was it more like how a traditional storybook gets made with the writer just providing the words with the artist filling in the visuals (at least that is how I understand the process usually works).
I ask this because many comic fans understand the basics of how a comic is created: the writer writes and the artist follows the writer's instructions. This varies, of course, but this seems to be the basic model and I think comic fans are surprised when they find out how different kid's books / story books are created.

MTN : I tried to write the book so that the illustrations would convey some of the information. For example, the story proper (the illustrated main part of the book, not the text-only author's note) does not contain the word “ Superman ” even once—after reading it you may think it does, but you'd just be remembering the images of Superman in the book. After I sold the book and the publisher hired the illustrator, the wonderful Ross MacDonald, I was able to pass on to Ross my suggestions for art. He was under no obligation to take those suggestions, but in many cases he did, which I was thrilled about. I also passed on to Ross many historical images for reference, and he used those as well. And I got to weigh in on the sketches. But I did not have final say on the art.

CitC : Did you have a hard time selling the publisher on this idea for a biography? Were they open to this idea or did you need to convince them (which betrays my naivet̩ Рfor all I know every book is a hard sell).

MTN : The book was rejected by 22 publishers, so I'd say I didn't have the easiest time selling it! But it takes only one yes. I didn't have to convince them—they read it and either they wanted it or they didn't. I did try to be strategic about which editors I approached. I focused on ones who had experience with picture books on pop culture subjects (as opposed to what I call “textbook names,” like Ben Franklin or Rosa Parks) because I figured they'd be more open to a book on the creators of a superhero. And sure enough, it was an editor who did a book on Dr. Seuss who took on mine.

CitC : In your research for this book did you have the opportunity to speak with any members of Siegel or Shuster's family.

MTN : I tried but I did not hear back. In only the few short years since then, I've become much more determined in my research!

CitC : The main part of the books tells the story of two young men sticking with their creations and making it big. However, the final three text pages tells of their battle with DC comics to get some recognition and royalties for Superman - something comic creators were not given at the time. Why leave it to the end like this? Why not do a couple of illustrated pages to get this information across?

MTN : Great question. Two-part answer. Part 1: I probably wouldn't have had room, plain and simple, given the conventions of the format. Part 2: Comics people know the story. It's widely regarded as the industry's most profound tragedy. And most every time the story is told, it ends on a sad note: two creators who've spent much of the second half of their lives suffering. For once, I thought it would be nice to let their story end on a high note. So I ended when things were never higher: right after Superman debuted and had become an instant phenomenon. I wanted to remind people that the legacy of these two guys is not that they were martyrs but that they were visionaries, and they did get to enjoy that. To be clear, I did it this way only because I did address their hardships in the author's note—if that wasn't there, I would have had to mention it in the story proper or else it would be hugely misleading. But I feel it was a great compromise—end on a high note yet still discuss the rest of their lives in an “optional” afterword.
CitC : Is there anything else you would like to tell the readers here? Anything else about the book or about new projects coming up?

MTN : Don't get me started! Well, for those interested in the research and the promotion of the book, my blog shares many behind-the-scenes stories: I've got several more nonfiction picture book manuscripts in the works. One is about the secret co-creator behind Batman. Thanks for your interest!

CitC: Thanks for your time. Boys of Steel is available now and would be a great addidtion to any library, classroom or home.

ISBN: 978-0-375-93802-3 (0-375-93802-8)

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Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Duck and Goose: How Are You Feeling?...KaChow!

Review by Scott Tingley

I have a just-turned two year old boy obsessed with all things that in any way resemble a form of motorized transportation. In the fall we had to keep pulling him off the tiller which he was climbing and calling a tractor. He got the movie CARS for his birthday a couple of weeks ago and he has watched it EVERY MORNING SINCE THEN. He is a boy obsessed.

You need to understand that to understand this:

As I was putting him to bed this evening he made me stop reading his favorite book, Busy Wheels so we could read the board book Duck and Goose: How Are You Feeling?, by Tad Hills. There is really noting else I could say that would be higher praise. We just got it today and it is now at the top of the rotation.

I could go on about the very cute pictures and expressive features of the birds, but why? My son made me stop reading a car book to read it. That should be enough.

Thanks for reading.

  • Publisher: Random House Children's Books
  • Pub. Date: January 2009
  • ISBN-13: 9780375846298
  • Age Range: For infants or children in preschool
  • 22pp board book


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Monday, January 26, 2009

Benny and Penny in The Big No-No - Reviewed By My Four Year Old

Review by Scott Tingley and Mariah

I am a terrible at telling true stories because I have an unnatural aversion to exaggerating. I say this so you will understand that what I say here is the 99.9% truth.

I wanted to write a review of the Toon Books comic for new readers Benny and Penny in The Big No-No by Geoffrey Hayes, but my daughter won't let me.

I got a copy of this upcoming release from Toon Books in the mail a few days ago and it has been in my four year olds room ever since. I have read it at least a dozen times by now. I tried sneaking it out this evening to help me with this review, but she wanted to read before going to sleep so I had to sneak it back. I guess I will have to quote the website for help on this one.

Benny and his sister Penny know it's wrong to sneak into someone else's backyard but their mysterious new neighbor—or is it a monster?—may be a thief. They go snooping and discover a lot about themselves and…a new friend. (From

I like the cute characters (I love how the little platypus girl looks as she is preparing to throw a mudball…I can't remember her name and I don't have the book, remember?) and the effective storytelling. The smallish comic panels would make it a hard book to read to a group of kids, but it is perfect for reading with one or two kids gathered around you.

That's all I can say without having the book so I will quote my daughter:

This is my favorite book ever . – Mariah Tingley, age 4, reviewer for

That sums it up perfectly.

The book is due out on May 05, 2009 and would be perfect for grades 1 and lower (on the other hand, some of my grade 3s last year really enjoyed the first book - even thought the reading level was not challenging for them, they still liked the art and story).

ISBN 13: 978-0-9799238-9-0
ISBN 10: 0-9799238-9-0



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