written by Ronnie Sidney II, MSW
illustrated by Traci Van Wagoner
There is so much to be said about the Public Education system in the United States. Working in and out of this system, I have witnessed some stories that makes one want to torch the entire thing. In many cases, our children are being smashed and discarded on so many levels. In several parts of the country, the Public Education system serves as a primer to the prison industrial complex. In those areas, children are just warehoused and then channeled into prison. In “Nelson Beats the Odds,” Ronnie Sidney gives the reader a ride through the public education system in the U.S.
Nelson is a student who has issues while in school. He is “diagnosed” with ADHD and placed on medication. The rest of the story shows Nelson trying to mask his issues and getting into more trouble. Soon Nelson meets a teacher who really cares and helps him overcome his issues. Sidney demonstrates how Nelson's entire community stood up to help him. Despite how the system treated Nelson, he triumphs and surpasses his goals with the help of family and friends.
Sidney does a wonderful job at explaining how for many our children there are systemic and human roadblocks to their growth and development. Sidney also demonstrates how sometimes we impede the path of our children in subtle ways. Sidney does not lay blame on any one institution, instead he points out how deep the problems are. He also explains how the solution has to be multi faceted. He is clear that it does take a community to help a child reach his or her goals. Sidney's simple story telling allows this book to be read by almost any level while leaving the discussion to the readers. The happy ending is needed since we see so many stories like Nelson's go in a completely different direction.
The illustrations by Traci Van Wagoner are great. Wagoner does a wonderful job at moving the story. The paneling works well and the segue's are not confusing. Nelson's constant frustration is evident through Wagoners breakdowns and coloring. Wagoner seems to work well with Sidney. The paneling is top notch and easy to follow. This is not something I see often with new artists.
If anyone is looking to see where comic books and social justice can intersect, books such as “Nelson Beats the Odds” are perfect. For those on the college level who teach future educators, this book is also recommended. It can be used as a tool to discuss the importance of empowering students as we educate them. As a parent, this book is empowering and helpful. Sidney provides tidbits of information that can help parents make decisions for the future of their children. I am sure educators can use this tool in clas to find students who feel exactly how Nelson did. Finally, Sidney explains how educators are crucial in the role of facilitators. For many students, it can be that one teacher who makes or breaks them. Through many of the characters, Sidney introduces the reader to many of Nelson's detractors and his motivators.