Monday, May 25, 2015

Too Loud, Too Noisy, But They Don't Believe You? Three Apps to Help.

Music, alarms, even honking horns help us navigate our daily lives.  But too much noise or "noise pollution" can be harmful. Aside from simply being too distracting or simply irritating, too much noise too often can cause hearing impairment.  Research has found that prolonged exposure to impulsive noise will damage eardrums and result in permanent hearing loss. Too much noise can also cause stress related illnesses, high blood pressure, sleep disruption and loss in productivity.

noIse pollution for kids
While we can't control all the noise around us, we can control the noise in our homes and classrooms. We can keep music volume down and we can help kids and family members develop their 'inside' voices.

Here are a few apps and websites that can help.

Too Noisy for ipad, iphone, and ipod shows "players" how loudly they are speaking. The app measures the volume of the noise in a room and displays a meter indicating whether or not the the room is too noisy. There is also an online version Too Noisy Online that comes with a free "Lite" version available for iOS and android as well as a "Pro" version.

In the Pro version, when the noise level is acceptable, a happy, smiley face appears above the noise meter.  When it is not acceptable, an audible alarm sounds.  When it's way too loud, the App appears to shatter the screen.  Note the alarm can be turned off, and the incident counter can be reset.

Too Noisy Pro - screenshot thumbnailToo Noisy Pro - screenshot thumbnailToo Noisy Pro - screenshot thumbnailToo Noisy Pro - screenshot thumbnail

Bouncy Balls is a free tool for smartphones and computers that shows students the volume of the noise around them by displaying a set of colorful bouncing balls. The higher the decibel level goes, the higher and more frequently the balls on the screen bounce. To use Bouncy Balls simply go to the website, click "begin bouncing," and then click the microphone icon to allow the site to access your computer's microphone. And, if you don't like colorful bouncy balls, there are bouncing emoji (with loads of different expressions), bullbles and eyeball that bounce and react to the noise around them.

Calmness Counter is similar to Bouncy Balls, although instead of colorful balls, cute emoji, calming bubbles, or funky eyeballs, it has a cool color-coded noise level meter. Like Bouncy Balls, Calm Counter is a website that activates your microphone and registers the room's noise level. The difference is that Calmness Counter displays a dial meter to display the decibel level. It begins with a calm, bright gree which will move from green to yellow to ortange to reddish purple. You can adjust the microphone input sensitivity directly on the Calmness Counter screen.

Whether you're at home, having a yard party, or in school: Projecting any tools for your students to see could be a good way to help them understand the appropriate volume for conversations, for "background" music, or for indoor and outdoor play.

For more on noise pollution and noise solutions please visit:
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Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Quandry Over Drama by Raina Telgemeier

Recently, the American Library Association released its list of the most frequently challenged books in America in 2014, and three graphic novels were included: Saga by Brain K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples, for sexual content; Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi) for its images of torture; and Drama by Raina Telgemeier.

Strangely, while Drama was challenged for being “sexually explicit,” the story is set in a middle school and has no sex at all in it. Furthermore, Drama has received numerous starred reviews and honors:

Raina Telgemeier, Drama
  • YALSA named it one of its Top Ten Great Graphic Novels for Teens,
  • NPR recommended it as one of the “Five Great Summer Reads for Teens”,
  • It was a Publishers Weekly Best Book of 2012,
  • A Washington Post Best Book of 2012,
  • A New York Times Editors’ Choice; and
  • A Booklist Editors’ Choice.
  • Drama also received the Stonewall Book Award, and it is a top selling graphic novel in bookstores throughout this country.

The book has a diverse cast of characters, including a few gay teens who either already knew they are gay or are slowly realizing it. That said, Telegemeier treats this as a non-issue, and aside from a few flirty kisses (one of Callie’s lands squarely on her crush’s cheek), there’s little depiction of romantic contact between any characters.

Given this confusion surrounding Drama and its inclusion on ALA’s frequently challenged list, here's a closer look at it in this post. Hopefully this will help teachers, librarians, administrators and parents better understand how to use Drama in their homes, classrooms and libraries. (For a closer look at Persepolis, please read “Using Graphic Novels in Education: Persepolis.”)

Raina Telgemeier, Drama
Drama, recommended for ages 9-14, is a fictional story about seventh-grader Callie, who, like many kids her age, wrestles with a pesky, snooping little brother while navigating middle school friendships and crushes. The interesting thing about Callie is her passion around being on the Drama Club’s tech crew and interacting with her friends in the club. What makes this book so special though, is its message to young girls. Specifically, what makes Callie happiest is not being cool or popular or even winning “the boy.” Instead, it’s working hard on her set ideas, becoming the best stage manager ever of the Drama Club, and refining her voice, her vision, and her skills within that role.

Drama is a funny feel-good book about navigating the trials and tribulations of middle school. It emphasizes the importance of finding one’s voice as well as emphasizing the need for teamwork and consideration. depicts school-girl crushes and travails with humor and sensitivity, relayed through her engaging text, wonderfully expressive characters, and her colorful and engaging visual montages. The art conveys a sense of place, touch, and feel. You can feel the red velvet seats and the pre-show jitters and excitement. You can feel the tension, you can feel the excitement, and you can practically feel the cannon’s wet confetti. Finally, Telgemeier mixes humor, tension, confusion, passion, and fun as she tells Callie’s story.

Raina Telgemeier, Drama
Drama, is set up like a play. It begins with an overture of musical text flowing from panel to panel, ending with three characters entering the stage. It has four acts that begin with the announcement of this term’s play and continue with casting, directing, and preparing for opening night. There is an intermission with guests entering the theater as the stage crew works frantically to set the stage, and then an entr’acte, leading into a fifth act, covering the three nights of the play, and the final act, detailing the aftermath of the play and its players.

While set up like a play, and following Eucalyptus Middle School’s Drama Club production of “Moon Over Mississippi,” Drama is more about central character Callie and her friends than it is about the play. We follow Callie as she navigates her friendships and school crushes while creating a set worthy of Broadway within her middle school’s paltry budget.

Raina Telgemeier, Drama
There are a lot of things that make this book special. For one, Callie is true-to-life. She fumbles with her hair and checks her breath before talking to Greg, one of her crushes. She later frets whether Justin likes her and finds the courage to ask them out when he fails to do it himself. Then, there are her passions. She loves stage and set design and can’t wait to show Justin her favorite book of all time, “published in 1932 and reprinted thirty-four times, it includes photographs of Broadway sets and stage design from the nineteen-teens and twenties.”

Telgemeier’s art is another special facet of this book. The art and text weave the story, alternating between whether the art or text has the stronger voice, while both are equally engaging. One outstanding example, however, of Telgemeier’s powerful visual storytelling comes as Callie shows Justin her favorite book. In the first few panels, Callie leads Jesse to the book (as Justin checks out some manga). Taking it out of its shelf, Callie hugs it, and in the next panel we see her and Jesse walking into the book, sitting on the pages as if they’re sitting in the sets themselves as the book, at least for Callie, becomes larger than life.

Then there’s Callie herself. Callie’s ability to be so swept away in her passions makes her even more endearing and real. We love her quirkiness, her focus, and her determination as well as her vulnerability and cluelessness about boys. Finally, there’s her inner strength that is so engaging, empowering, and refreshing. Callie speaks her mind, and while often insecure and uncomfortable with certain parts of herself, she’s fine with the fact that she can’t sing, she embraces and follows her ambitions, and she never lets her relationships or felled crushes diminish her confidence or her dreams.

Raina Telgemeier, Drama
Finally, there’s Telgemeier’s portrayal of diverse characters from the stage crew — from geeks to the cool kids and jocks. There are kids of different ethnicities and cultural heritages, and all of them, regardless of color, background, size, or shape, are wresting with who they are. This in part,is why a few characters’ discoveries or realizations that they are or may be gay are such a non-issue. In fact the characters’ announcements that they are or may be gay are the only parts of the story in which there actually is no drama.

In short, this is a coming-of-age story as a young teenager learns to follow her passions, navigate friendships and crushes, and learns, along with her friends and peers, how to feel comfortable within one’s skin while embrace personal strengths, weaknesses, and quirks.
In Drama, Telgemeier relays:
  • How to follow one’s passions and ambitions with gusto and determination, not worrying how it might look;
  • How to put on a play from the stage crew’s perspective;
  • How to accept people who are different; and
  • How to navigate middle school friendships and crushes.
Raina Telgemeier, Drama
Plot, Themes, and Values Related
  • Discuss and chart the different themes Telgemeier presents in this work.
  • Discuss different types of friendships one might have with others. Detail what it means to be a good friend. Discuss the challenges we have in determining and maintaining friendships and why this is so important.
  • Discuss different passions/hobbies your children/students may have and how they might continue to pursue them. Discuss how it may feel when those passions aren’t “typical” passions/hobbies.
  • Discuss the challenges of being an individual while belonging to a group.
  • Discuss the challenges of putting on a theatrical production, working within limited budges while trying to create the best sets, props and costumes possible.
Raina Telgemeier, Drama
Critical Reading and Making Inferences
  • Telgemeier uses text, image, expressions, body language, and inference to let us know how and what her characters are thinking and feeling. Chart and discuss how she uses and integrates these techniques.
  • Throughout the book, we see Matt on the periphery and at one point (p. 62), Callie asks her friend Liz, “What is Matt’s problem?” What is Matt’s problem? Why does he act the way he does, and how might he resolve his problem? Why can’t Callie recognize his problem? What is Matt’s role throughout this story?
  • Throughout the book, the characters grapple with insecurities and anxieties. Chart and plot the insecurities and anxieties, and evaluate how the different characters effectively or ineffectively deal with them. Brainstorm more appropriate solutions.
Language, Literature, and Language Usage
Raina Telgemeier, Drama
  • Discuss how Drama is a cross between a book and a play while being a graphic novel. What literary techniques does Telgemeier use to create this feel?
  • After reading through “Moon Over Mississippi,” Callie comments on how romantic the script is and how “audiences love a sentimental love story.” Mirko, not quite sure about this, responds, “But what about Shakespeare? His most successful plays were tragedies?” Continue this discussion with your students. Evaluate what they think makes the most successful plays and how sentimental love stories and Shakespeare’s works fit into students’ interpretations.
  • Have students share their own stories of feeling different or their stories of trying to fit in. Compare how the stories are told, and chart the words used to relate their challenges and their feelings.

Modes of Storytelling and Visual Literacy
In graphic novels, images are used to relay messages with and without accompanying text, adding dimension to the story. In Drama, Telgemeier deftly weaves story and background with image, text, and design. Reading Drama with your students allows you to analyze, discuss, and learn how Telgemeier uses page and panels, text, and images to relay complex messages. For example:
  • Evaluate how she visually and textually creates the feel of a play.
  • Evaluate and discuss how Telgemeier creates the feel of the theatre, of the players, and of the drama surrounding them.
  • Evaluate and discuss how Telgemeier uses facial expressions, panel size and shape, and page design to create tension. For example, examine pp. 15-17, as Callie realizes Greg was not at baseball practice as he said he was.
  • Compare when Telgemeier uses a full-page single-panel splash versus pages with multiple panels. Chart when she uses single-panel splashes to emphasize key events or separate chapters and slow the reader down to emphasize particular points of the story, and discuss how effective this method is when storytelling with images.
  • Telgemeier discusses the importance of color both in the use of contrasting colors to help characters stand out and in creating the right mood. Research primary, additive, and subtractive color models. Discuss how different colors evoke different emotions and how complimentary and reciprocal colors can be used for different purposes (see the resources below).
Raina Telgemeier, Drama
Suggested Prose Novel Pairings
For greater discussion on literary style and content, here are some prose novels about growing up, being a pre-teen/teen, and the challenges of middle school and high school that you may want to read and pair with Drama:
  • Smile by Raina Telgemeier — an autobiographical coming-of-age memoir in which Telgemeier ruminates with humor and honesty on the tumultuous challenges and perils of her tween years, from the trauma of falling one night on her way home from a Girl Scout meeting and severely injuring her front teeth to dealing with boys, earthquakes, and the true meaning of friendship.
  • The Baby-Sitters Club series by A.M. Martin, illustrated by Telgemeier –- a popular young adult series about teenagers that has been adapted into graphic novel format.
  • Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney — a series about a boy and his struggles in middle school.
  • No More Dead Dogs by Gordon Korman — about theater productions gone wrong. The main plot revolves around a play based on Old Shep in which the ending has been changed to let the dog live.
  • Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong by Prudence Shen and Faith Erin Hicks — while for slightly older kids, the characters in this book are a real and life-like as Callie and her friends.
  • Hereville by Barry Deutsch — about another strong-willed girl who is Jewish Orthodox and is different from the other girls in her community.
  • Chiggers by Hope Larson — a young adult graphic novel about the friendships, fun, and foils of summer camp.
  • Amelia Rules! by Jimmy Gownley — an empowering, heart-warming story about Amelia Louise McBride, who moves with her mom to a small town in Pennsylvania to live with her uber-cool aunt Tanner after her parents’ divorce.
  • Stuck in the Middle: Seventeen Comics from an UNPLEASANT Age edited by Ariel Schrag — an anthology of comics by critically acclaimed cartoonists who take a bitingly honest look back at their “awkward” middle-school years, reflecting upon them with sensitivity and some humor.


Raina Telgemeier, Drama
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Monday, April 20, 2015

On Ongoing Learning : Zen Pencil's "A Lifetime of Learning" by Isaac Asimov

Isaac Asimov (1920-1992) is probably best known for his contributions to science fiction, although his 500+ books covered fiction and non-fiction while entertaining, enlightening and influencing his varied fans and readers. While most noted for his science fiction (The Foundation Series, The Three Laws of Robotics, Nightfall, I Robot), he wrote mysteries, fantasies, etymologies and pronunciation guides for technical terms, and non-fiction (mostly on astronomy but some covered Shakespeare, the Bible and mythology, general science, math, history and physics. His books have been published in 9 of the 10 major Dewey Decimal Classification categories. He was a professor of biochemistry at Boston University and then later.
Found at:
Asimov was recognized by the 111th Congress, March 9, 2010 in House Resolution 1055, "supporting the designation of National Robotics Week as an annual event". The following passage appears in the text of the bill:"Whereas the second week in April each year is designated as 'National Robotics Week', recognizing the accomplishments of Isaac Asimov, who immigrated to America, taught science, wrote science books for children and adults, first used the term robotics, developed the Three Laws of Robotics, and died in April, 1992: Now, therefore, be it resolved..."

The ZenPencil comic below was taken from a 1988 interview (which can be seen on YouTube). In this interview, Asimov talks about learning and computers will empower people to learn anything "that strikes their fancy" about religion, population growth, the universe, and more. If you have time, here's a direct link to the interview.

If not, skip past this and enjoy ZenPencil's wonderful rendering of an interview segment on computers and ongoing learning. [Note you can find this and more at:]

Add caption
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Additional Asimov Resources:
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Please leave your impressions and reactions or your own two-cents about ongoing learning in the comments below.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Music and our Brains

Image result for music and the brain
Found at

“Without music, life would be a mistake” --Friedrich Nietzsche

While we all know we love music, here are some infographics and research facts (from resources listed below) to support and explain why. Note that as the infographics (especially "The Psychology of Music" by the University of Florida) may be difficult to read, I've included some of the highlights below:
  • Music involves more parts of the brain than any other function that people perform. Listening and playing music involves processing tonality (see "The Psychology of Music" Infographic by the 
  • Listening to music has been found to improve language skills, creativity, speed healing, increase optimism, decrease pain and has been helpful in treating patients with Alzheimer's and Parkinson's Sydromes, Tourettes and Austism.
  • Specific brainwave rhythms are associated with specific emotional and cognitive outcomes.
    •  One study showed that after hearing a short piece of music, participants were more likely to interpret a neutral expression as happy or sad, to match the tone of the music they heard. This also happened with other facial expressions, but was most notable for those that were close to neutral.
    • It turns out that a moderate noise level is the sweet spot for creativity because moderate noise levels increase processing difficulty which in turn promotes abstract processing, leading to higher creativity. When we work at process things with moderate levels of difficulty, we resort to more creative approaches. However, with high noise levels, creative thinking is impaired because we’re overwhelmed struggling to process information efficiently.
  • Students taking courses in music performance and music appreciation scored higher on tests than students who did not.

The Psychology of Music
Found at:

In another study (with infographic):
It was found that learning to play a musical instrument is useful in more ways than we might expect. One study showed that children with three or more years of instrument training performed better in auditory discrimination abilities and fine motor skills than those who didn’t.

They also tested better on vocabulary and nonverbal reasoning skills, involving understanding and analyzing visual information, such as identifying relationships, similarities and differences between shapes and patterns.

Additional Resources:
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Please leave your own experiences and insights on music and the brain in the comments below.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Looking at "March: Book 2" by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell

Image result for march book twoIn February, as part of our celebration of Black History Month, I reviewed and posted lesson suggestions March: Book Two by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell (Top Shelf, 2015) in my "Using Graphic Novels in Education" column for Comic Book Legal Defense Fund (CBLDF).  Here is an abridged version.  For those who want it all, please see my column, "Using Graphic Novels in Education: March Book Two" for CBLDF (The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund) website (at:

March: Book Two is the second volume of Representative John Lewis’s graphic novel memoir, co-written with his aide Andrew Aydin and illustrated by Nate Powell. March: Book One was a critically acclaimed bestseller and received the 2013 Coretta Scott King Honor Book Award from the American Library Association and was named one of the best books of 2013 by USA Today, The Washington Post, Publishers Weekly, Library Journal, School Library Journal, Kirkus Reviews, The Horn Book, Comics Alliance, and others. Book Two promises equal success

March: Book Two (Top Shelf)
March: Book Two details the real-life heroes of the 1960s, from the Civil Rights leaders of SNCC and the SCLC to the black and white protesters who risked life and limb for what was right. In Book Two, Lewis’s story continues with the events that took place on November 10, 1960, in Nashville, Tennessee, as “…our young organization had successfully ended segregation at the lunch counters downtown and turned its attention to fast food restaurants and cafeterias using the same strategy.” It then continues with events that took place in the South between 1960 -1963, culminating with the March on Washington on August 28, 1963.

March: Book Two begins with the SNCC’s success at integrating lunch counters in Nashville and their plans to go further. Through Lewis’s recollections, Aydin’s direction, and Powell’s art, we literally become active viewers as the following events unfold:
  • Nashville’s nonviolent protests trying to enter movie theaters;
  • CORE (Congress of Racial Equality) sponsored Freedom Ride to demonstrate how effectively the Supreme Court Decision of Boynton v. Virginia — which outlawed segregation and racial discrimination in busses and bus terminals in the previous year — was being upheld (or not);
  • SNCC (Student Nonviolence Coordinating Committee)’s “Operation Open City,” designed to promote free employment practices;
  • SNCC’s decision (after discussions with Attorney General Robert Kennedy) to register Black voters;
  • SNCC’s change in leadership and conflicts over tactics;
  • Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s SCLS Birmingham Campaign; and
  • the March on Washington on August 28, 1963
In Book Two, we also meet some wonderful — and not-so-wonderful — people. Civil Rights leaders highlighted in this volume include:page14
  • Attorney General Robert Kennedy and his aide, John Seigenthaler (to whose memory the book is dedicated);
  • Bayard Rustin, organizer of the March on Washington;
  • The Big Six:
    • A. Philip Randolph (founder of The Brotherhood of the Sleeping Car Porters and influential Civil Rights and Labor organizer),
    • Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.,
    • Roy Wilkins of the NAACP,
    • Jim Farmer of CORE,
    • Whitney Young of the Urban League, and
    • John Lewis of SNCC.
March: Book Two is beautifully written and illustrated. We read, see and feel, the tension in the South and in Washington as events unfold. As Lewis and Aydin narrate Lewis’s story, the power of these events and the tumultuous emotions and reactions they evoked are relayed through Powell’s powerful images. Lewis’s decision to tell his story in graphic novel form is used here to his advantage. The interplay of language, art, and design (choice of panel, font, and use of space) make the story come alive. As readers, we literally feel like we are there, observing, hurting, feeling, and cheering our heroes on.

The language alone is worthy of discussion (see below for details). The story weaves back and forth almost effortlessly between events of the 1960s and the historic inauguration of Barak Obama. Lewis shares famous quotes and snippets of speeches, while relaying his story with quotes, metaphors, and descriptions. The art and page design are instrumental in weaving the story pieces together as a whole and making this tumultuous period in our history come alive.
page9In March: Book Two, Powell’s deftly uses black and white contrast, sharp angles, and fonts to relay violent emotions. This is then paired and contrasted with soft, sloping grays for the gentler intervals. We see Black and White protesters treated with equal respect and drawn with soft rounded strokes, while White Southern agitators and Ku Klux Klan members are drown in chilling, brutal, angular strokes. There are beautiful wide-angle shots establishing historic locations, and extensive use of black and white juxtapositions to relate Lewis’s personal turmoil and the drama of these famous and infamous events. Lewis, Aydin, and Powell relay the story in visual and verbal metaphors that are breathtaking.

Finally, while Lewis introduces us to the giants of the Civil Rights Movement, he never loses touch with the fact that the real heroes were those who sacrificed their goals, their times, and sometimes their lives to advance civil rights. Furthermore, while Lewis was a key player, he modestly downplays his own role in the events. As a result, the book feels real and we feel like we are there with the participants, looking on and urging them forward.

In short, Lewis’ story is told through gentle narration and vibrant art in a way that empowers us to relive it with him. As a result, readers better understand the social unrest of the early 1960s, the growing pains of the Civil Rights Movement, and the increasing need of coordination among local, state, and federal governments to address these issues.
Throughout March: Book Two, Lewis, Aydin, and Powell relay:
  • The effects of segregation and the painful and all-too-gradual upheaval of the Jim Crow laws in 1960s;
  • The power and struggles of social gospel and non-violent protest in times of civic unrest;
  • The growing pains of the Civil Rights Movement, during which some wanted to meet violence with violence, forgoing their earlier nonviolent dictum;
  • The fights fought and barriers overcome by Black and White champions of the Civil Rights;
  • The power of the peoples’ voice in a democratic republic;
  • The powers and limits of local and national government, especially in times of civic unrest;
  • The different ways people find the courage to stand up and fight for their rights;
  • The power words can have, be they in print or oratory, as well as the power image can play in communicating passions, events, and perspectives.

  • Chart the progress of the Civil Rights movement through March Book One and Book Two. Discuss:
    • What was gained?
    • What was lost?
    • What were the costs to states/cities/individuals?
    • What were the pivotal decisions made that helped shape the changing political and social landscapes?
  • Research the Supreme Court Decision in Boynton v. Virginia. Compare Lewis’ account to accounts found in newspapers and magazines of the time.
  • Research and discuss CORE’s Freedom Ride. (See below for links to relevant resources.) Discuss:
    • What participants went through just to get there;
    • Different ways people reacted and reported this incident (newspapers, magazines, personal accounts).
    • What were some of the social and political issues that city officials faced as the Riders approached their jurisdiction?
  • Research, present and discuss the lives and roles of the Civil Rights Movement leaders mentioned in this book:
    • James Farmer (CORE);
    • Freedom Riders: Joe Perkins, Jim Peck, Elton Cox, Dr. Walter Bergman, Jimmy McDonald, Charles Person, Ed Blankenheim, Genevieve Hughes, Albert Bigelow, Hank Thomas, Paul Brooks, Jim Swerg, and Salynn McCollum;
    • Attorney General Robert Kennedy;
    • Robert Kennedy’s aide, John Seigenthaler (to whom the second book was dedicated);
    • Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.;
    • Ralph Abernathy and his First Baptist Church;
    • Fred Shuttleworth;
    • Stokely Charmichael;
    • A. Philip Randolph, founder of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters;
    • Roy Wilkins of the NAACP;
    • Whitney Young of the Urban League;
    • Malcolm X;
    • Bayard Rustin.
  • Research, present, and discuss the lives and roles of those who violently opposed the Civil Rights Movement:
    • Eugene “Bull” Connor;
    • Alabama Governor John Patterson;
    • Alabama Governor George Corley Wallace, Jr.;
    • Fred Jones, Superintendent Mississippi State Penitentiary (a.k.a. “Parchman Farm”);
    • Mississippi Governor, Ross Barnett (1960 – 1964);
    • South Carolina Senator Storm Thurmond;
    • the Ku Klux Klan.
  • Research, present, and discuss the different sides of the following events that shaped the Civil Rights Movement. Discuss how each shaped and affected the world around them:
    • Theater protests in the 1960s;
    • CORE’s Freedom Ride;
    • The trial of E.H. Hurst, member of the Mississippi State Legislature who shot a local black farmer named Herbert Lee, and the resulting protest led by Bob Moses, Charles McDew, and Bob Zellner;
    • The summer protest at the swimming pool in Cairo, Illinois, and the powerful photograph taken for the SNCC by Danny “Dandelion” Lyon;
    • Protest march at Zion Hill Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, on April 12, 1963, which was led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and led to his imprisonment and his “Letter from Birmingham Jail”;
    • Jim Bevel and the SCLC’s Birmingham Children’s March on May 2-3, 1963.
  • Read, evaluate and debate the merits and demerits of President Kennedy’s Civil Rights Bill, keeping in mind the social and political environments in which is was proposed.
  • Read, evaluate, compare, and contrast the six speeches made at the March on Washington
Cultural Diversity, Civic Responsibilities, and Social Issues
  • Analyze how the book’s different characters dealt with racism. Ask students how they might deal with racist comments, practices and restrictions.
  • Discuss what it must have felt like to be excluded from busses, shops, and from receiving community services.
  • Discuss different options and means of protest. How have these options changed today, if at all, compared to the options Lewis and his colleagues had in the 1960s?
  • Research, present, and discuss the personal backgrounds, public struggles, and the articles and speeches of local and national figures of the Civil Rights Movement.
  • Define and discuss “racism.”
    • Discuss the different instances of discrimination and racism presented throughout the book. Discuss instances of racism today on local, national, and international scenes.
  • How is racism the same / different across time and geographic locations (nationally and / or internationally)?
  • How has racism changed today, if at all?
    • Discuss how hurtful racism can be to those targeted as well as to the general population.
    • Discuss how racism has influenced, shaped, and determined national and international policies and politics.
    • Discuss what can be done today to fight racism and discrimination and ways students can help.
  • On pages 96-97, Lewis notes that, “Racism in Mississippi was different than in Alabama… They tried to hide the open violence that was so publicly allowed to take place in Birmingham, Montgomery and elsewhere… Instead, much of the means of enforcing segregation came through economic and political pressure organized by a group called the White Citizens’ Council. Sort of like a businessman’s Ki Klux Klan.”
    • Research and compare the incidents and strategies of the White Citizen’s Council versus the Ku Klux Klan.
    • Debate the effectiveness or the destructive qualities of each.
  • On page 109, as the Freedom Ride campaign continued, Lewis writes, “By the end of the summer, dozens more busses carried the nation’s daughters and sons into the heart of the Deep South to carry on the work we began. The fare was paid in blood, but the Freedom Rides stirred the national consciousness and awoke the hearts and minds of a generation… We were becoming a national movement.” Discuss how and why national movements “become.”
  • On page 114, Lewis notes that, “No state showed us what we were up against more than Mississippi. Nearly 90% of the state’s black families lived below the poverty line, and only 5% of eligible black voters were registered….” Research and compare:
    • The populations of various Black and White populations in Southern states in the 1960s and now.
    • The populations and proportions of Black and White populations in Southern States that were registered voters.
    • Discuss if / how things have changed and why / why not.
  • Toward the end of the book, at the March on Washington, many had issues with Lewis’ original speech. As a result, he was pressured to cut out passages he felt quite passionate about. Discuss and debate the needs of compromise in public offices and speeches as well as in legislation.
Language, Literature, and Language Usage
  • Search for, define, and discuss the book’s use of idioms, hyperbole, and simile to better express opinions, feelings, and cultural expressions. Discuss how effective they are in communicating a specific message or a specific point in time. For example, you may want to discuss:
    • On pages 6-7, as the U.S. House Representatives line up for President Obama’s inauguration (2009), a colleague approaches John Lewis, telling him he should hurry to get to the front, and John Lewis replies, “There’s no need to hurry, I’ll end up where I need to be.” This then segues into Lewis’ past. Discuss the use of text and image to create this metaphor.
    • On page 91, Lewis recounts Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s statement when explaining why he would not be joining the Freedom Riders, “…I think I should choose the time and the place of my Golgotha.”
    • On page 99, “Parchman (Farm, Mississippi State Penitentiary) was the stuff of legends — dark legends. 21,000 acres of bullwhip-wielding guards and human bondage.”
    • On page 109, as the Freedom Ride campaign continued, Lewis writes, “By the end of the summer, dozens more busses carried the nation’s daughters and sons into the heart of the Deep South to carry on the work we began. The fare was paid in blood, but the Freedom Rides stirred the national consciousness and awoke the hearts and minds of a generation… We were becoming a national movement.”
    • On pages 140-141, in President Kennedy’s address, Lewis notes, “…The events in Birmingham and elsewhere have so increased the cries for equality that no city or state legislative body can prudently ignore them. The fires of frustration and discord are burning…It is time to act… A great change is at hand, and our task — our obligation — is to make that revolution, that change peaceful and constructive for all.”
    • On page 171, in his March on Washington speech, Lewis notes, “By the force of our demands, our determination, and our numbers, we shall splinter the segregated South into a thousand pieces, and put them together in the image of God and democracy…”
    • On page 172, Lewis notes about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech, “His words carried through the air like arrows… moving to a climactic refrain the world would never forget.”
  • Compare and contrast the language used in the various speeches given at the March on Washington August 28, 1963.
  • Have students collect family stories (oral, written, and / or photographed) of the 1960s and the Civil Rights Movement, marches, and protests, and / or stories of racism and segregation. [Note there were and still are incidents of racism and segregation experienced by minority and immigrant families as well. To include all your students, you may want to expand your discussion to racist incidents directed at various targeted groups.]
    • You may have students write two versions of these stories as a means of reflecting on language use and idioms that are time or era specific.
    • Have them write one version as if they are there in the 1960s, as a first-person narrative; and then writing it now, reflecting back. How does the language and the story differ?

Critical Thinking and Inferences
The authors make many inferences in this book both with language use and through imagery. You may want to discuss the following uses of inference:
  • On page 22, Lewis recalls a conversation with the SNCC’s Central Planning Committee, debating whether nonviolent protests should be halted in response to the increasing violence that met them. Lewis notes that Reverend Will Campbell argued, “How can it be the right thing to do, to continue putting young people in harm’s way?” Lewis replies adamantly that they’re going to march regardless, and Campbell responds, “What it comes down to is that this is just a matter of pride to you. This is about your own stubbornness. Your own sin.” Debate the pros and cons on continuing non-violent protest when it’s met with violence, and discuss Campbell’s intent in what he said. Was he correct? Why or why not?
  • Discuss the merits and intent of the Freedom Riders’ strategy (p. 36): “We will accept that arrest and if there is violence we will accept that violence without responding in kind We will NOT pay fines because we feel that, by paying money to a segregated state, we would help it perpetuate segregation.”
  • Discuss Dr. King’s word to President Kennedy when he says (pg.95): “It’s difficult to understand the position of oppressed people. Ours is a way out — creative moral, and nonviolent. It is not tied to Black Supremacy or Communism, but to the plight of the oppressed. It can save the soul of America.”
  • Discuss Dr. Martin Luther King’s intent when he wrote: “…I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for law” in his Letter from Birmingham Jail.
  • At the Birmingham Children’s March on May 2-3, 1963, we see a police officer asking a young girl (p. 135), “What do you want?” She responds, “F’eedom.” Discuss Lewis’ comments as he notes, “It was an embarrassment to the city.”
Modes of Storytelling and Visual Literacy
In graphic novels, images are used to relay messages with and without accompanying text, adding additional dimension to the story. Compare, contrast, and discuss with students how images can be used to relay complex messages. Powell is a master at combining text, image, shading, and design work to communicate passions, events, and powerful messages. Here are lesson suggestions to help students learn and appreciate this skill:
  • Have students hunt for examples of how Aydin and Powell use text, image, and design to relay complicated messages and issues, or simply present your own instances and have students analyze them. For example:
    • Discuss how effortlessly the transitions are made between past and present. Analyze how this is done.
    • On pages 70-71, Lewis relays how Attorney General Robert Kennedy arranged for the Freedom Ride to continue through Alabama. Evaluate and discuss how this is done through images, text, and panel design.
    • On pages 79-82, the reader goes from the past, to the present, and then back to the past, with “My Country ‘Tis of Thee” sung throughout the transitions, adding multiple layers of meaning. Discuss how this is done and the intent of the authors in doing this.
    • On page 115, Lewis recalls the incident in Liberty, Mississippi, where a local Black farmer, Herbert Lee, was shot dead by E.H. Hurst. Discuss how Powell’s use of gray on black relays the events.
    • On page 123, discuss the powerful image in which Lewis is punched in the face with the text, “By the end of 1962, you heard people questioning whether SNCC should even BE a multi-racial organization.”
    • On page 130 ,the authors relay a powerful passage from Dr. King’s Letter from Birmingham Jail. Discuss the use of black, white, and gray as well as the page design to brilliantly relay the lighter message of hope from the dark depths of prison.
  • Have students hunt for visual and verbal examples of racism, discrimination, and / or segregation, comparing how they are relayed through language and how they are relayed through image. Discuss the impact of these various forms of communication.
  • For parts of the story, Powell relays his images against a black background while others are relayed against a white background. Chart when he does each, and discuss why this might be. Discuss how page design and backgrounds help communicate the story and its messages.
  • Compare and contrast how the authors help us distinguish between words that were sung, spoken, preached, and / or heard over the radio.
  • Discuss how Powell uses art between pages 60-63 to relay the passage of time in Lewis’ life and narrative.
Suggested Prose Novel and Poetry Pairings
For greater discussion on literary style and/or content here are some prose novels and poetry you may want to read with The Silence of Our Friends
  • March: Book One (August 2013): A graphic novel by Congressman John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell. This first volume spans Lewis’ youth in rural Alabama, his meeting with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the birth of the Nashville Student Movement, and their battle against segregation. NOTE: This book has an awesome teacher’s guide too.
  • King by Ho Che Anderson (Fantagraphics, 1993; reprint edition 2010): A beautifully illustrated award-winning biography integrates interviews, narrative, sketches, illustrations, photographs, and collages that piece together an honest look at the life, times, tragedies, and triumphs of Martin Luther King, Jr. For King, Anderson won the Harvey Award for Best New Talent (1991), Best Graphic Album (1993), and Parents’ Choice Award (1995).
  • The Silence of Our Friends by Mark Long, Jim Demonakos, and Nate Powell (First Second Books, 2012): A semi-autobiographical story of Mark Long’s childhood experiences in Houston, Texas, centering around the Texas Southern University student boycott after the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCCC) was banned from its campus in 1968.
  • P.S. Be Eleven by Rita Williams-Garcia: Winner of the Loretta Scott King Award (2013) and sequel to One Crazy Summer (Newberry Honor Book) that reveals race, gender, and political issues of the late 1960s.
  • I Have a Dream: Writings and Speeches That Changed the World by Martin Luther King, Jr.: Martin Luther King’s “ – text of his famous speech (see link below).
  • Martin’s Big Words: The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. by Doreen Rappaport and Bryan Collier (illustrator): An extraordinary picture-book biography incorporating narrative, famous quotes from Dr. King and powerful collage and watercolor illustrations introducing King’s words and legacy to younger readers.


As always, thank you for your visit.
Please leave your own impressions or stories in the comments below.

Meryl Jaffe, PhD teaches visual literacy and critical reading at Johns Hopkins University Center for Talented Youth OnLine Division and is the author of Raising a Reader! and Using Content-Area Graphic Texts for Learning. She used to encourage the “classics” to the exclusion comics, but with her kids’ intervention, Meryl has become an avid graphic novel fan. She now incorporates them in her work, believing that the educational process must reflect the imagination and intellectual flexibility it hopes to nurture. In this monthly feature, Meryl and CBLDF hope to empower educators and encourage an ongoing dialogue promoting kids’ right to read while utilizing the rich educational opportunities graphic novels have to offer. Please continue the dialogue with your own comments, teaching, reading, or discussion ideas at and please visit Dr. Jaffe at http://www.departingthe

All images (c) John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell.