A Public Service Announcement! ;)

A Public Service Announcement! ;)

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Dangerous Marketing: Recent Commentary on Graphic Novels and Literacy

A few weeks ago Graphic Novel Reporter's Peter Gutierrez reviewed Terry Thompson's very fine book Adventures in Graphica: Using Comics and Graphic Novels to Teach Comprehension, 2-6. In the review, he states:

"In many ways, Thompson represents the ideal author for a book on teaching reading with comics and graphic novels in today's schools. He's not just a classroom teacher, but a literacy coach.... this is no expert hailing from academia, but an educator who works in the so-called trenches.... For him, using comics and graphic novels in not just a nice new approach."

I also just received word that classroom teacher Maureen Bakis is publishing a book on teaching comics and graphic novels: Real Students, Real Literature: Teaching Graphic Novels to Not so Young Adults.

This is how she describes her book in her own spot at Graphic Novel Reporter: "It's the guidebook I wish I had when I entered the world of graphic novels." Her e-mail about her manuscript says, "My book is different from other resources because it is authored by a high school teacher for teachers. It's light on theory and heavy on practicality!"

I don't know whether Graphic Novel Reporter has something against educators who work at the university, or whether there's a deeper connection between these two stories and their common source (guess we'll have to wait to see who the publisher is for Bakis' upcoming book, then follow the money), but it seems foolish to me to market a new book on teaching graphic novels as "for us, by us" as if:

1. Those of us who have previously published on the subject of comics and literacy and continue to do so have never taught a day of middle or high school in our lives and are simply "making stuff up as we go." Certainly my chapters in my best-selling edited collection Building Literacy Connections with Graphic Novels detail my experiences teaching graphic novels in both my former high school and middle school classrooms. And, as I continue to write, I pull from my secondary teaching days as well as my expanded notions of curriculum and student need.

Douglas Fisher and Nancy Frey, two other leaders in this field, not only work at San Diego State University, but they have been -- and to my knowledge, still are -- on the faculty of Hoover High School and pull from those practical experiences when they talk about using graphic novels. Michael Bitz's two books detail experiences he and other had when working with high school students at the very real Martin Luther King, Jr. High School in NYC.

Stephen Cary's book on comics and literacy comes from hands-on, practical work with secondary students as well, though Cary works only as a professor at the University of San Francisco.

It's also my assumption that Katie Monnin is a former secondary teacher as well and used her experiences with best practices to help her craft her book.

2. Those of us listed above, and other comics-and-literacy workers, aren't reading the marketing material and thinking about how misinformed it is.

Honestly, while I'll be happy to buy and use Mrs. Bakis' book once it is available, that we're hearing phrases like "the guidebook I wish I'd had" and getting the "it's different because I'm a teacher, not an academic" spiel wrings cheap in my ears. I hope she's got a good publisher that knows better than to go with that line as the selling point.

Those of us in the comics-and-literacy field are a pretty amiable bunch, and it's been my practice and my general opinion that we also like advocating for each others work and are a little protective of one another.

I'd hate to see that change because an author or a website or publisher's marketing team came out of the gate getting things wrong and sending the impression that the rest of us who have published previously on this topic have nothing good to offer simply because we educate teachers and therefore it is assumed we don't know what it is like to be in the k-12 classroom.

That could set an unfortuante precident, make enemies when none need to be made, and force the book to seem uniformed before anyone has a chance to read it.


mj hollman said...

Your questions and concerns are justified, I think. There is a part of teachers' culture, or some teachers' cultures) that views everyone else as an outsider no matter the background.
also, a decided contempt for "theory," although no method or approach or choice in teaching is w/o some sort of theory.

Bucky C. said...


Peter Gutierez said...

A little sensitive, eh?

Since you've read and admire Adventures in Graphica, you know that Thompson's book is decidedly more hands-on and practical than most academic approaches; he even has a section on storing comics and helping students put them in "protective sleeves"--can't recall stuff like that in a book published by a University Press.

Moreover, how my review an example of "dangerous marketing"? In fact, how is it even marketing? I don't work for the publisher, Stenhouse, nor as far as I know has my review been picked up and blurbed by the marketing folks there. It's just a journalistic piece for a readership that is very much non-academic. Too glib in tone? Maybe. And do I generalize too much? Maybe. But "dangerous"? Yikes.

As for the idea that I eschew "theory," implied by MJ Hollman's borderline ad hominem comment--well, you know me *way* better than this (and yet your only response is "Well-said!"). So does anyone who's ever attended my talks at IRA or NCTE on comics and literacy/pedagogy... or even just spent five minutes chatting with me, which you've done. Ironically, I've even been called a "theorist... like James 'Bucky' Carter."

Finally, the word "ideal" in my piece was probably ill-chosen--but a simple email to me, whom you've known for a few years, would have corrected the problem right away as I would've welcomed the feedback. With this in mind, I view your closing comments about not unnecessarily making any enemies with some amusement. In my review I mentioned neither you nor any of the other fine writers and educators you cite by name--and indeed, it would never have occurred to me. I am constantly recommending your, Katie's, and Cary's books, both in print and in workshops. If you had an issue with something I wrote, no problem--you do raise some good points here--but why not contact me directly... even if it's after making the post? I only now just stumbled across this. That is, why not engage in dialogue since overall we're on the same side here and you happen to know me personally? Or at least I thought we were on the same side. Very sad, really.

Peter Gutierez said...

The text of the review has now been changed, with a couple of clarifying sentences added that make clear that no slight was intended. (Plus, there was always this, which speaks to Thompson's ability to make literacy *theory* accessible--not irrelevant: "And while English Language Arts teachers, department heads, and other literacy coaches will appreciate that Thompson is obviously deeply familiar with the work of Rasinki, Allington, Fountas and Pinell, and a host of other scholars, his light, strategic referencing of their work and his down-to-earth, conversational style means that Adventures in Graphica is equally accessible to librarians, parents, and others with a stake in childhood literacy."

Of course the review's text could have been changed immediately, or at the very least a retraction-like comment could have been posted by yours truly. All that would have been needed, Bucky, is a simple email, Facebook message, or even a phone call--you know how to reach me. But that would have been too practical and solution-minded, and would have deprived this blog of a nice excuse for self-righteous, mountain-out-of-a-molehill post.