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Comic-Con For Educators: Ramona High Eases Into ‘The Odyssey’ With Graphic Novel

A person reads a graphic novel based on the "The Odyssey," July 18, 2017.
Nicholas McVicker
A person reads a graphic novel based on the "The Odyssey," July 18, 2017.

Comics have always been an entry point for learning to read.

“You looked at 'Archie' and 'Jughead' and 'Veronica' and you made the stories happen. This is before we even knew what the alphabet was and how to read,” said Becky Harvey, a library technician at Ramona High School.

After nearly three decades working in Ramona Unified libraries, Harvey said academic book publishers are catching on in a major way.


Elementary school comic books detail historic events such as the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. Classics such as “The Scarlet Letter” and “Les Misérables” are making their way into high school libraries as manga, Japanese comics that read back to front.

“I’ve watched a relatively obscure, small fraction of the content of a library — graphic novels — grow to at least 20 percent (of checkouts),” Harvey said.

This past school year, Ramona High School began bringing the genre into its classrooms for the first time. Language arts teachers used a graphic novel by Gareth Hinds to teach 9th graders “The Odyssey.” Those teachers will present on the project at Comic-Con.

“It’s a challenging book for students to get through, especially ninth-grade students,” said librarian Cori McDonald. “So they decided to use the graphic novel in their classroom to see if that would deepen their understanding of the content.”

It did. “These students who just went through this unit understand ‘The Odyssey’ better than any of my students ever have before,” said English teacher Emily Maehler.

Comic-Con For Educators: Ramona High Eases Into ‘The Odyssey’ With Graphic Novel
Comic-Con For Educators: Ramona High Eases Into ‘The Odyssey’ With Graphic Novel
This week, downtown San Diego will be filled with fantastical creatures, comic book villains — and everyday superheroes. Teachers come to Comic-Con each year to present on using pop culture in the classroom. This year, they include educators from Ramona High School.

Maehler paired the novel with excerpts from the actual text and assigned essays on “the hero’s journey,” a narrative pattern in literature and mythology that students will come across throughout their education.

“They’re marking up the text and they’re analyzing the language and doing all those language arts activities,” Maehler said. “So this is really just giving them an overview of what the story actually is, so when they go in and they’re reading the actual text, it’s easier for them to understand.”

McDonald said the strategy brings every student — no matter their reading level and ability — along for the conversation, allowing them to learn new concepts even when they are catching up in other areas.

“Just the literature is probably not the best, ideal situation because it won’t reach all students. Just the graphic novel wouldn’t be either,” she said. “But when you give them multiple representations, you’re reaching more students, which I think is our goal as educators.”

Ramona High School’s Comic-Con panel is scheduled for 12 p.m. Saturday at the Central Library, and will be moderated by John Shableski, a Ramona High alumnus who works for book publisher Udon Entertainment and developed a grant program to bring graphic novels to libraries.

More Comic-Con Panels For Educators

Wednesday, July 19:

Teaching with Comics: An Interactive Workshop for Educators

Peter Carlson (Green Dot Public Schools), Antero Garcia (Stanford University) and Susan Kirtley (Portland State University) lead this hands-on workshop for integrating comic books into your classrooms. Using contexts from K-12, to higher ed instruction, to ongoing communities of comic scholars, this workshop guides participants through approaches to teaching comics and teaching with comics, with David Walker (Power Man and Iron Fist), Samantha Diego (Ánimo Western Charter Middle School), Rosie Knight (Nerdist, Women Write About Comics), and Johnny Parker II (Neat-O Comics) sharing key strategies, theories, and scholarship on comics pedagogy.

Thursday, July 20:

Creators, Libraries, and Literacy

Meet some of your favorite comics creators in a discussion about why librarians and libraries are important to them, featuring Raina Telgemeier, Matt Holm, Molly Ostertag, Zander Cannon and Mike Lawrence, with moderator Candice Mack (Los Angeles Public Library).

Raising Fankids: Teaching Young Geeks To Be Self-Confident and Successful

Pasquale Piro (middle-school teacher, father of two) hosts a panel with Alissa Piro (high school teacher, mother), Christina Silvoso (Christina Is Crafty, mother), Brandon Maze (high school teacher), Rafe Gerson and Tatti Che to discuss techniques and experiences that help kids grow up nerdy without the negative connotation.

Read-Alikes: What to Suggest When Patrons Have Already Read Smile and The Walking Dead

Read-alikes can be a librarian's best friend. In this session, panelists will help participants by sharing their experiences recommending titles to patrons who have finished reading popular graphic novels like Smile, Persepolis, American Born Chinese, and Deadpool. Panelists will also share their knowledge about upcoming comics and pop culture, and recent genre trends that tie in with comics. With panelists Angela Ocana, Kelly Quinn Chiu (Santa Clara City Library), Matthew Murray (University of Nevada, Las Vegas Libraries), Ben Neal (Portsmouth Public Library), Jenny McCluskey (Ingram Library Services), Steven Torres-Roman (Teen Librarian, San Diego Public Library) and Anna Ferri.

Young Adult Graphic Novel and Manga Collection Essentials: What Titles Every Library Should Carry

Librarians share their compiled knowledge on the best new and classic graphic novel and manga titles that are essential for any library's young adult collection. They will be discussing current trends in graphic novel publishing as it relates to greater diversity within the genre. They will cover how to use graphic novels and manga as a way of supporting Common Core curriculum and as a method of encouraging hi-lo readers. They'll conclude with some of their most anticipated graphic novels, comics and manga for the rest of 2017 and the start of 2018. With panelists Loren Spector (young adult librarian III, Memorial Library), Marissa Thompson (young adult librarian, North Hollywood Library), Jennifer Siron (young adult librarian, Chatsworth Library), Danica Sheridan (young adult librarian, Silver Lake Library), Angela Ocana (Santa Clara City Library), Kelly Quinn Chiu (Santa Clara City Library) and Steven Torres-Roman (San Diego Public Library).

Comics Arts Conference #3: Comics and Literacy

Lisa Smith (Pepperdine University) presents her approach to teaching analytical writing in a first-year composition class using Matt Fraction and David Aja's Hawkeye: My Life as a Weapon. Chris Kuhlow (University of Akron) examines her local comic book shop as a sponsor of multimodal literacy and the pedagogical implications of this sponsorship on the teaching of writing in freshman composition. James "Skip" Harvey (University of Missouri School of Journalism) reports on a two-year study investigating the literary practices of high school students working with a local artist to create comics and digital compositions.

Diversity in Comics: A Librarian's Perspective

We often hear about the importance of diversity in comics from the point of view of creators, but what about the librarians who provide access to the comics? How do library professionals face diversity and inclusion — or the lack thereof — in their comic collection development and programming? How can libraries better support the movement for more diverse and inclusive comics? With panelists Candice Mack (Los Angeles Public Library), Erwin Magbanua (San Diego Public Library), Lalitha Nataraj (Escondido Public Library) and Lisa Valdez (Pierce Community College).

Comics Arts Conference #4: STEAM(Y) Narratives and Graphic Content in Education

We live in a culture dominated by visual imagery. Because our culture is so hyper-visual, literacy is and should be understood as multimodal. Comics and graphic novels can provide a means by which we can begin to examine these multimodal literacies from an interdisciplinary perspective. Comic corporations such as Marvel, with their STEM challenge for girls, have started to examine these interdisciplinary connections, but more needs to be done in the public school setting. Matthew Sutherlin (Henderson State University), Michelle Johnson (Henderson State University) and Amy Counts (Lakeside Middle School) will focus on three STEAM-Y components of a new educational narrative.

Graphic Novel and Manga Programming for Tweens and Teens in our Diverse Communities for Any Budget

Librarians from the Los Angeles Public Library share their experiences with programming, presenting and promoting graphic novel and manga content utilizing partnerships and free local resources. The audience will learn about hosting Free Comic Book Day, programming ideas for tweens and teens, including anime screenings, author talks, character visits, giveaways and fun crafts. With panelists Corinda Humphrey (Los Angeles Public Library), Marissa Thompson (Los Angeles Public Library), Loren Spector (Los Angeles Public Library), Jennifer Siron (Los Angeles Public Library) and Danica Sheridan (Los Angeles Public Library).

Motivating Your Inner Mad-Kooky-Curious Scientist

Sure, comics are getting kids reading, but they're also breaking the science barrier. From amoebas to great white sharks and monsters of the deep, to learning about our bodies, our world and worlds around us, comics are invading! Featuring comics creators Jennifer Holm and Matt Holm (Babymouse, Squish), Alison Wilgus (Science Comics: Flying Machines), MK Reed (Science Comics: Dinosaurs), educator Talia Hurwich (NYU) and moderator Meryl Jaffe (Johns Hopkins, CBLDF).

How to Judge What Is Appropriate in Comics: What Does T for Teen Really Mean?

Cataloging and collection development practices for comic books, especially when it comes to age ranges and placement, can make librarians want to tear their hair out. In this session, the discussion will focus on understanding the content that justifies the labels of middle grade, young adult or adult. Additionally, because comics are targets for censorship, they will also review how librarians can handle challenges to material and banned books and continue to fulfill the American Library Association's statement on access to library resources and services to minors. With panelists Angela Ocana (Santa Clara City Library), Kelly Quinn Chiu (Santa Clara City Library), Jenny McCluskey (Ingram Library Services), Ben Neal (Portsmouth Public Library), Steven Torres-Roman (San Diego Public Library), and Andrew Woodrow-Butcher.

Friday, July 21:

Using Comics to Support Different Learning Styles in the Classroom

As schools struggle to ensure that students are not left behind in the learning process and to extend curriculum to challenge more advanced students, educators must adapt their classrooms to the developing needs of their students. Join in for a talk about visual literacy and the advantages of using sequential art to help connect with students and convey difficult concepts with ease.

Read Like a Girl: Middle-Grade Fiction for Girls (and Boys)

The authors behind some of your favorite middle-grade graphic fiction discuss creating stories with strong, positive female characters and the importance of overcoming the lingering perception that comics are only for boys. Featuring Nidhi Chanani (Pashmina), Victoria Jamieson (Roller Girl, Great Pet Caper series), Jenni Holm (Babymouse series), Molly Ostertag (The Witch Boy) and Raina Telgemeier (Ghosts). Moderated by Brigid Alverson (writer and reviewer, Good Comics for Kids).

Nonfiction and Memoir in Graphic Novels

Combining text and image can make difficult or abstract subject matter more appealing, winning over even the most reluctant reader. Learn how nonfiction graphic novels and graphic memoirs can be used to supplement lessons in STEM and history, and bring awareness to underrepresented and marginalized perspectives in the classroom. Panelists include Mairghread Scott (Science Comics: Robots), Thi Bui (The Best We Could Do), Nathan Hale (One Trick Pony), Tillie Walden (Spinning) and Alison Wilgus (Science Comics: Flying Machines). Moderated by Heidi MacDonald (Publishers Weekly,

Into the Past: History and Comics

How do comics help bring history to life? How are comics used to engage students in developing social awareness? Cecil Castellucci (Soupy Leaves Home), Brigitte Findakly (Poppies of Iraq), Nathan Hale (Hazardous Tales), Jose Pimienta (The Leg), Nate Powell (March trilogy), Chris Schweizer (The Crogan Adventures) and Alison Wilgus (Flying Machines) join moderator Michael Ulrich (educator) for a dynamic discussion.

Saturday, July 22:

Content Literacy: Teaching STEM with Comics

Illya Kowalchuck (director of education for Pop Culture Classroom), Brack Lee (Pop Culture Classroom), Nick Dragotta (Howtoons), MK Reed (Science Comics: Dinosaurs) and Alison Wilgus (Science Comics: Flying Machines) present a Q&A session about teaching with comics, as well as a list of some of the best graphic novels for supporting STEM topics in the classroom. Moderated by Tom Racine (Tell Tale Radio).

Graphic Novels in the High School Library

Cori McDonald (librarian, Ramona High School), Becky Harvey (library technician, Ramona High School), Erin Hill (language arts teacher, Ramona High School) and Emily Maehler (language arts teacher, Ramona High School) discuss their newly developed collaborations for using graphic novels in the classroom and library. Moderated by John Shableski (Will Eisner Studios, Udon Entertainment).

Superheroes and Comics Can Transform Learning

A group of educators, researchers and creators discuss how comics can be used to enhance literacy and STEM education and why our brains may be uniquely wired to learn from comics. Featuring Jorge Cham (author and creator, PhD Comics), Rebecca Thompson (creator, APS Spectra Comics), Jeff Barbanell (president, Scholastic Innovations, Inc.), Josh Elder (executive director, Reading with Pictures) and Neil Cohn (assistant professor, Tilburg University). Moderated by Russell Shilling (Digital Promise, former DARPA PM).

Comics in Classrooms and Instruction

San Diego teachers discuss the importance of the arts in classrooms, specifically how comics can be used as cross-curricular tools, as bridge-gaps for ELL/struggling readers and to increase engagement. Featuring Ashley Marie Golden (art and English), Ben Stone (AP world and European history), Julie Damschen (AP psychology) and Chris Mostellar (math).

Inspiring Young Readers Through Graphic Novels

Beth Duncan, Lisa Harrison, Nichole Santangelo (teachers, Rancho Minerva Middle School), Amy Pitotti (teacher, David A. Brown Middle School), Lisa Ferneau-Hayes (senior librarian, Oceanside Public Library), Erin Nakasone (librarian I in youth services, Oceanside Public Library), Matthew Shoemaker (international educator) and Yukiko Chavez (library media technician, Rancho Minerva Middle School) along with three middle and high school students will discuss how graphic novels have become a gateway into the world of literacy through art, teen book buddy programs and mentoring/modeling.

Sunday, July 23:

Comics Arts Conference #13: Other Voices, Other Histories

Braeden Jones (University of Iowa) discusses the ways in which creators of selected didactic comics from Spain, the U.S. and Mexico modified complicated historical facts to present different ideological interpretations of the conquest of Tenochtitlan. Clarissa Goldsmith (Arizona State University) draws from narratological and borderland theory to analyze how Relampago, the Invincible Man and El Gato Negro reimagine the superhero genre to address social concerns within the Chicanx community. Dwain C. Pruitt (University of Louisville) traces the development of DC Comics's black heroes as pseudo-Muslims, from the misunderstanding of African American cultural politics in the 1960s and 1970s to African American creators of the Milestone Comics imprint, and highlights 1978's Superman vs. Muhammad Ali as a turning point.

Discover Creating Comics with Kids: An Interactive Workshop

Comic books are for everyone, and that includes the youngest readers just learning about the world of four-color fantasy. The creators of BOOM! Studios's upcoming The Not-So Secret Society graphic novel present an interactive workshop where you and your school-age children will get hands-on experience in making their own comic.

GeekEd #1: Nerdentity

Education pros explore current identity issues in pop culture and show you how to utilize this intersection to serve students at your college or university. Panelists include Emily Sandoval (USC), Alex Belisario (UC Santa Cruz), Patricia Chau Nguyen (UCLA), Danny Slatkin (UCLA) and Brian Arao (UC Santa Cruz). This panel is one of four specifically focused on college and university staff, faculty, and students.

The Secret Origin of Good Readers

Get tips and insights on using comic creation tools to increase learning in your classroom. Special guests: New York Times and USA Today bestseller Anne Elizabeth (Once a SEAL), writer/editor Dave Elliot (The Weirding Willows), librarian Karen Green (Columbia University), New York Times bestseller Marjorie M. Liu (Monstress) and retailer Mimi Cruz (Night Flight Comics).

GeekEd #2: Shall We Play a Game?

A panel of game scholars discuss how building better games, identifying the biases within them, and the act of "play" helps people empathize with others and provides them with a guideline for this work on college campuses. This panel of scholars will explore the intersection of games, learning and inclusivity in the context of curriculum development, activism, policy, history and game design. Panelists include Constance Steinkuehler (UC Irvine; Senior Policy Analyst, White House Office of Science and Technology Policy 2011-2012), Bonnie Ruberg (UC Irvine), Kurt Squire (UC Irvine), Amanda Cullen (UC Irvine) and Aaron Trammell (UC Irvine).

GeekEd #3: Caring for the Nerd Mind

Teachers, education administrators and student affairs professionals are being called to respond to a wide variety of mental health concerns across the education landscape, with students today managing greater educational debt, digital identities and high expectations for academic performance. This panel of educators and mental health experts share how they have applied their passion for fandom and the lessons they've learned from superheroes to develop new best practices for promoting mental health in schools and on campuses. Panelists include Andrea Letamendi, Brent Crandal, Alfred Day (UC Berkeley), Adrian Perdue (UCLA) and Brian MacDonald (UCLA).

GeekEd #4: Comics in Secondary Education

Teachers from California schools discuss incorporating comics, including Ms. Marvel, Batman, Maus, Persepolis and Pride of Baghdad, into English, world history, psychology and special education courses. Panelists include Jason Goldman-Hall (Pioneer High School), Alexander Hung-Diep (Andrew Hill High School), Jenny Kim (Pioneer High School), Courtney Arndt (Independence High School) and Michelle Kittel (Rocketship Academy).

Raising Heroic Girls

A look at how heroic comics, movies and toys can inspire girls to be more confident and successful by combatting harmful gender norms that can hold them back. A panel of experts including Alaina Huffman (Supernatural, Smallville), Audrey Kearns (Geek Girl Authority), Cassandra Pelham (senior editor at Graphix and Scholastic Press), Dr. Janina Scarlet (Superhero Therapy) and Jenna Busch (Stan Lee's World of Heroes, Legion of Leia) will participate in a session moderated by John Marcotte (founder of Heroic Girls).

Source: Comic-Con International