Robot 6

Send Us Your Shelf Porn!

WholeShelf

Thank you for joining us for a very special, educational edition of Send Us Your Shelf Porn. Today’s guest is Ohio teacher Chris Peace, who is trying to improve his students’ reading skills by introducing them to comics. He’s even put together a small graphic novel library for them, which you can see in the photo above.

But Chris does a much better job explaining his collection than I ever could, so I’ll let him take over …


I’m a high school English teacher currently plying my trade at Middletown High School in Middletown, Ohio. It’s a wonderful place to work; I can safely say I’ve never worked with a better staff of teachers or administrators in my career. One of the challenges of my job involves working with students whose reading comprehension skills are well below high school levels. Working with fourteen year olds who read at a third or fourth grade reading level is not uncommon. These students are often incredibly self conscious about what they perceive as a deficiency in their education, to the point where they’re reticent to read ANYTHING.

In an effort to combat this problem, I have been working hard over the past two years to assemble a comic book and graphic novel lending library for my classroom. As our school does not have the funds to cover a project like this, the library has been assembled by myself using a variety of means. Some of the books in my classroom’s library are from my own collection… I’ll upgrade to a hardcover collection for myself and bring in the trade paperbacks for the school. Quite a few were acquired through lucky thrift store finds, sales at Half Price Books, or trades on Swaptree.com. The majority of comics, however came from donations made through DonorsChoose.org, an amazing website that allows teachers to draft and present proposals for essential classroom needs, and then have those projects funded by donations from charitable citizens. I’ve had four comics related proposals funded through DonorsChoose, including a nice collection of Marvel Essentials titles that I received just last week.

The library has been a boon to my classroom and especially to those students who struggle with reading. A teenager whose reading level is low would be really embarrassed to take out Encyclopedia Brown on the bus, but they have no problem reading Bone or Green Lantern. Students give up their lunch periods to sit in my room and browse my newest acquisitions. Most tell me that they love comics but often don’t have the opportunity to read them, especially “new” ones.

TopShelf

The top shelf includes a LOT of really popular books, chief among them The Walking Dead. TWD is probably THE most read book in the entire library. I think there’s something about “end of the world” fiction- Y the Last Man has been big as well. Also big: The Umbrella Academy and Lucy Knisley’s French Milk. The latter is a new addition to the library but much loved by all my Freshman who are currently starting to learn French. Watchmen was big last year but hasn’t been checked out as much lately; I think that’s probably blowback from the movie, which most of my kids saw before the comic.

SecondShelf

The second shelf down is mainly DC stuff. I think I’m probably betraying a bit of my own Grant Morrison bias here, but his Batman run is really popular, regardless of whether or not I dig his stuff. Also popular are most of the Green Lantern titles.

ThirdShelf

Third shelf: Mostly Marvel, mostly although by far the most exciting thing for most of my students here are the Scott Pilgrim trades. I had never read them before the beginning of this year, but I’m already on my second set. The Pilgrim books have a way of growing legs and walking out the door, which is one of the risks when it comes to putting together a library like this… but I always hope they go somewhere a kid who may not be a reader will enjoy them. I’m constantly getting asked when the next book is coming out, and well used to students getting upset when I tell them that there’s only going to be one more. Just as popular as Scott Pilgrim are Lars Brown’s Northworld series.

FourthShelf

Fourth shelf includes a bunch of Image and independent stuff. I have to mention that although the Bone One Volume looks like it’s been through the wars, by far the the most popular book here is Kevin Cannon’s Far Arden. I honestly never would have guessed the reaction of the readers who pick this one up, but it’s universally loved by everyone who reads it. It’s an awesome book and really easy to love.

FifthShelf

Final Shelf: Marvel Essentials, DC Showcase volumes, and a couple of manga titles. Honestly, if Marvel could have kept on publishing that Godzilla title from the 1970′s, they’d have a ridiculous hit on their hands, judging from how crazed most of my students are about them. The Essential Godzilla has actually ignited a weirdly passionate debate in my classroom that I wrote a comic about here.

(For the record, I’d have to go with the Hulk in that one.)

I’m currently working on beefing up the manga section of the library. It’s not an area of comics that I’m well-informed about, but my students are quickly schooling me. I’ve got a couple of kids working on a proposal for new manga right now.

If anyone is interested in donating to the cause of bringing comics to kids who really need them, please click over to my DonorsChoose giving page.  I’ve got several comics-related proposals up right now.

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Comments

30 Comments

Man, I wish I had teachers that did this.

Far Arden IS incredible! Great post.

As a librarian, gotta admit, great set-up.

Also: the THE WALKING DEAD books are probably my library’s most borrowed comics, too.

Cool, but I gotta dock a few points for displaying the Twilight books so prominently.

The best part about this is trusting students to act like mature adults and read things without being absolute morons about it. I can’t imagine some of those going over well with parents, but unless a kid makes a big deal out of it in the first place, that won’t happen.

Glad to see other teachers doing this. I had a bit of a struggle securing school funds to buy a class set of V for Vendetta for a grade 8 novel study–it did pan out though and became a hit with the kids–especially the read nothing, or very little, boys.

Chris,

Are you worried about parents getting upset that you’re giving their kids books like Ultimates, Y: The Last Man, Walking Dead etc?

Will you take direct book donations? I have a few Powers trades I’d be happy to send your way.

If you look in most school libraries, you’ll find books that have the same type of content any of these books have. He shouldn’t have to worry about it.

OH GOD TWILIGHT KILL IT WITH FIRE

Didn’t that teacher get fired over giving a high school freshman Ice Haven?

And this isn’t part of the school library, where material would be approved by a board.

Kevin Kuczynski

March 17, 2010 at 5:23 pm

You could always sell Tomb of Dracula #1 and buy like 3 more books. It’s out of print and hard to find.

Very cool! We also have ‘reading problems’ in our town. Most, if not all, of the students here don’t read much (and have bad reading comprehension skills).

In fact, the most popular books here consist of chic lits and the Twilight Saga. One day I hope that they could also read books beyond mainstream/popular.

Perhaps we could also create some sort of “communal shelf” such as the one above.

Keep up the good work! :D

Bjarke M (Denmark)

March 17, 2010 at 5:56 pm

Oh my god! Does teachers in the US seriously have to worry about giving their students comic books!
How can you stand living in a country like that? Everything is so goddamn controlled nowadays.
I worked as an educator some years back, and we had an american girl there, around ten years old or so.
One day we had marsmellow and fire? Don’t know what to call but, well, you know what i mean.
Then her mother came one day and were really pleased that we were doing such things,
since they couldn’t do it in the US because they were affraid of getting sued if a child got burned on his/hers marsmellow!
I mean come on, what is it with everyone sueing everyonen over nothing.
Don’t you ever get tired of that, or is it really not as bad as we are told here over seas,
not just Denmark, but almost everywhere in europe, England, France, Germany, Norway and so on?
And anyway, keep up the great work :D

First, let me just say thanks for everyone for taking a look at my classroom’s collection! I thought I’d take answer a bunch of comments in one fell swoop.

Adam K & Darvid: You make an excellent points about the pitfalls of doing something like this without board approval. This is my way around that potential minefield: You’ll notice the majority of the “racy” books in my library (Y the Last Man, The Walking Dead, Fables, heck, even Maus) are on the top shelf. There’s a reason for this… namely that a lot of those books are lent out “by parental consent only”. I usually get that at the beginning of the year, but I’ll also make a call or shoot a parent an e-mail if something new makes its way into the library. For example, I just recently put a phone call home to get a go-ahead for a student to read one of Brian Keene’s horror novels.

Shawn & Brother Justin Crowe: Sometimes you have to play to the kids’ interests. I’m not a huge fan of Twilight AT ALL myself, but teenagers are. That’s just the facts of life. If nothing else, they’ve had a good influence toward getting kids to read. If it makes of the Twilight haters feel any better, I usually use those books as “gateway” reads. As in, “Read Twilight over the next two weeks and for your NEXT book I’ll introduce you to ‘Salem’s Lot (still in the vampire fiction wheelhouse) or The Hunger Games series (an actual, thinking, feeling, awesome female protagonist).”

Jared (or anyone else for that matter): If you’d like to donate actual materials, that’d be awesome! If you’d like to e-mail me at journalcomics@hotmail. com, I’d be happy to take ‘em off your hands!

I should also mention that this is the library “at full strength”.. most of the time, I keep about half these books off the shelves and rotate new ones in over the course of a few months. It keeps the kids interested.

Twilight ruined this shelf porn for me, good collection anyway.

Peace.

Chris,
What are the parents’ responses usually like? Do they ever ask to see the comics?

Hey, Chris, great idea! I’ve got a special section for kids stuff in our home library. But I have a question for you (and anyone else, of course):

I’m fostering a 9-year-old boy who’s reading at about a first grade level. The Marvel Adventures line is still a little advanced for him, but anything at his reading level is too “babyish” for him. I know you’re a high school teacher, but is there anything you’d recommend for him? He’s really into the military and Star Wars right now, but I think things like The Clone Wars or GI Joe & Sgt Rock reprints are still too advanced for him.

This is officially my favorite shelf porn ever. Thanks, Mr. Peace.

Thats some nice shelf porn mate

I love this entry of Shelf Porn! I fully approve this collection.

Chris, I run an afterschool program and I obviously hand my kids comics, which they love.

Good job on spreading the gospel.

This is awesome. Such depth and range in your collection and for such a great cause. It really is an almost perfect comic book LIBRARY!

I’m only 26 and could never have pictured any of my high school teachers doing something like this! I remember when I was an elementary school we had a book fair in our little library. I saw a copy of a Wolfman Teen Titans trade and the teacher took it out of my hands and talked it over with the librarians and forced me to get something else, saying I couldn’t buy it.

Wesley Smith

Bone is the perennial favourite, scholastic put out editions that might be best for your nine year old. Also, try “Owly” which is short on text, but heavy on action and is great practice when learning how to read narrative (where do the eyes go next in proper sequence).

As for using “approved books”–I have as a teacher resisted this–if someone wants to challenge me on what I choose–fine..bring it. Having said that–the way I get around this is to merely place books in the room and let the kids find them. I am often amazed by parental responses to comics–that they are junk reading or garbage or immature–sure some of them are–like all literature. Of course I like to add that I still read comics–so I ask the parents what that makes me? Occasionally I have had difficulties over content, but thankfully live in a major city with a great teacher’s union where all we need is principal approval. If you have a great principal then the “approved list” gets significantly larger. Some parents objected to gender/sexual identity issues in The Sandman and took the complaints to the principal, who staunchly defended the book because he was himself gay and felt Sandman was a big part of why it was safer for him to live as himself. That was a satisfying moment.

I’m all about children reading and children reading comics, but some of these books are flat-out inappropriate for children. Just on first glance I spotted two books with rape scenes.

Cool Idea and a good collection.

But you’re missing the Howard the Duck Essential and that’s a must have.

Kevin Kuczynski: The pages of our copy of Essential Tomb of Dracula are somewhat separated from the book’s binding. Sadly, it’s a problem I’m finding across the board with the Marvel Essentials titles. I’ve been trying to replace our classroom’s copy of Essential Daredevil, Volume 1 for the past month. Barnes and Noble has reordered it for me TWO times, and each time the glue between the cover and the binding separates! Teenagers love it though… they’re also REALLY digging the Essential Marvel Horror titles.

Darvid: Occasionally parents ask about comics, but I find when that happens, they’re usually under the impression that I’m TEACHING comics rather than simply giving kids the option to occasionally read comics during their sustained silent reading. As a new parent myself, I don’t know that I’d want my kid being taught about The Red Hulk when he should be doing Animal Farm and Romeo and Juliet.

Wesley Smith: I have quite a few students interested in military and war comics myself. I know at least one of those kids has really enjoyed Mouse Guard.

Marc C: I take your points. I feel it’s only right that I involve the parents but speaking frankly, the violence in the majority of these books is tame compared to some of the books that are required reading in 9th grade. I love to point out to friends that if Romeo and Juliet had only been written a few years ago rather than three centuries ago, there is NO WAY a school would let me teach it. It’s brimming with violence and unbelievably dirty sex jokes!

I had a couple of Owly books in the library but they just weren’t that popular with my teenagers. My son Elliot LOVES them though.

Chap: I have a pretty strict and thorough policy about not lending books with truly mature content without some sort of approval from home. Most of those books live on the top shelf of the library as a result. I’ve since moved The Ultimates trades, as a commenter here pointed out that there are some intense scenes. If you see any that aren’t up there, please e-mail me at journalcomics@ hotmail.com. I may just not be aware of it.

Chap–I agree with Chris–with issues of rape or other forms of brutality than yes, depending on the age there should be some kind of oversight (read: parenting). I find that the parents who get enraged about content haven’t a half wit about what their kids are up to anyway. So, I think it is a defensive response to their own inattention. Having said that–where does the so called line get drawn? I teach in a public system and so deal with people from everywhere, all races, class situations, sexualities, etc. Sex ed or sexual content is often challenged, as though none of us have sex–and it is absolutely astounding how many parents simply do not talk to their kids, let alone bother to listen to the concerns most affecting their lives. I find your average grade six kid to be rather precocious compared to when I was at that age–they know rape, murder and all manner of ugly things happen in the world. I think what is key is to tackle subjects that the kids bring to you–answer their questions in such a way that it may spark another, better question. Sorry, got a bit off the rails. I feel very passionate about reading and that when it comes to the printed word…nothing should be banned or off limits. I had an education where I was constantly having to defend my reading choices to most of my teachers and principals who couldn’t be bothered to see what I needed as a reader, as a student and most important of all–what I needed to become the most interesting vibrant self I could. In grade 8 I bought Stephen King’s young adult novel The Eyes of the Dragon (I read the Dark Tower and wanted to read more about the Man in Black/Randall Flagg) and purchased the book at the school book fair. The Vice princ. told me it was inappropriate reading material and I pointed out that I bought it at school. He told me to read it at home and not to bring it to school. My response was this: ” Do you know who else banned books?…The Nazis.” He was pissed, but fortunately I was not suspended and continued to bring the book to school–a consequence of having the truth on my side.

One last thing…I also share comics with kids because it is a medium they don’t know much about–strangely. Selfishly I want to keep it alive.

Wow, Marc C. How you get that long-winded response from my brief comment is astounding. Someone likes standing on a soapbox.

Oh and thank you for lumping me in with censors and Nazis. Classy move sir.

Chap, you could have stopped reading at any time. I wasn’t lumping you with anyone, but speaking to my own experience with who the concerned parents are–with regards to content. Usually. I am guilty of generalizing–oh, and of having a strong opinion.

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