Thursday, September 03, 2015

Nelson Beats the Odds

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.  

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

The Little Red Fish

Written by James Moffitt
Illustrated by Bizhan Khodabandeh

As a historian, I have always found that the Iranian Revolution to be one of the most interesting turning points of the 20th century. This revolution was influential on how Middle Eastern politics functions and how the rest of the world reacts to it in particular with how U.S. Foreign policy was shaped after WWII. As a part time educator, my dilemma was trying to convey this event to my younger students with boring them. Through Rosarium Publishing, the reader is introduced to “The Little Red Fish” by James Moffitt.

Moffitt tells the story of an aquatic reef where the fish are harshly governed by heron. There is constant surveillance of the fish by their masters. The fish swim about in an atmosphere thick with fear. It seems as if every facet of their lives is controlled and monitored. It seems all hope is lost until Manuchehr the Hawk arrives. As Manuchehr interacts with the fish, the Heron scheme.

The reader learns that Manuchehr was once a fish. The fish openly discuss revolution with him around. Manuchehr inspires them. Although he warns them that they have to change before revolting against the heron, the fish still speak openly. Soon the heron attack Manuchehr in a fight to the death.

While the story is very abstract, the basic elements that made the backdrop of the Iranian revolution are there. The opening scene takes place at a local market. In many countries like Iran, the market is a place where everyone gets to exchange information and interact with one another. I enjoyed the fact that Moffitt jumped right into the story without the need to narrate the background. This added much mystery to the story and allowed the reader to become a part of the community. The concept of community is found throughout the story as we see the fish act together when making a decision.

The illustrations by Bizhan Khodabandeh are amazing. The details are vivid right down to the barnacles found on the rafters where the fish live. When Manuchehr shows up, Khodabandeh wastes nothing to protray how his presence easily inspires his compatriots. The reader cannot help to quickly see Manuchehr as the warrior he truly is.

I thoroughly enjoyed this story so much that I read it over and over. For any social studies teacher, this book would be ideal to introduce the story of the Iranian revolution. I think any avid comic book fan would enjoy the story even if they knew nothing about that part of history. As a parent, I can see this as a tool to bring one's children into the discussion. I find that “The Little Red Fish” has something for everybody. Rosarium Publishing picked another winner.