Tag Archives: Literacy

Book Review: ABRIDGED CLASSICS by John Atkinson

ABRIDGED CLASSICS by John Atkinson

We can all use a laugh and cartoonist John Atkinson has a unique way to provide that for you with his new book, “Abridged Classics: Brief Summaries of Books You Were Supposed to Read but Probably Didn’t.” This would make a great gift for Father’s Day or just about any occasion. Atkinson is known for his comic strip, “Wrong Hands,” where he distills things down to their hilarious essence. You have probably read his funnies in Time Magazine. Well, he takes no prisoners as he distills over a hundred works of literature down to a few mere words! Very funny stuff.

“The world of the one panel comics gag shares a lot in common with the world of stand-up comedy. Either the joke works or it doesn’t. Welcome to Wrong Hands, the world of John Atkinson, where jokes make impacts.” I said that as part of my introduction to an interview I did with John Atkinson five years ago. That was long before his gig with Time Magazine. I just happened to enjoy his ongoing work that all began, and continues to take place, on a blog at WordPress. I love that Atkinson keeps it all simple and real, down to maintaining his no frills free blog just like so many of us out here in the blogosphere.

There is a lot going on in Atkinson’s deceptively simple cartoons. There’s the joke, which can unpack in your mind on a deeper level. And there’s the pared-down art, free of ego-centric expressive lines. You end up with a very zen experience. Atkinson has a lot he wants to say in his work and the magic is in how he achieves the maximum impact with as little as possible. So, it makes total sense for Atkinson to tackle some of the most celebrated books–with hilarious results.

I highly recommend that you pick yourself up a copy. It’s a fun book that you’ll want to come back to. The little hardcover book has a nice look and feel to it. But, by all means, enjoy it on your phone too, especially since Atkinson’s format fits perfectly on any screen.

“Abridged Classics: Brief Summaries of Books You Were Supposed to Read but Probably Didn’t” is a 157-page full color hardcover, published by HarperCollins.

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Filed under Book Reviews, Books, Cartoons, Comics, Humor, John Atkinson

Review: THE GUMAZING GUM GIRL: GUM LUCK

THE GUMAZING GUM GIRL: GUM LUCK

GUM LUCK is the second in the Gumazing Gum Girl series, published by Disney-Hyperion Books, and it is as irreverent and quirky as you may expect. Illustrated by Rhode Montijo, written by Montijo, with Luke Reynolds, this is a perfect book for young readers. This book is hilarious and there is method to all the madness too. Gabby Gomez has quite a conflict to deal with: bubblegum gives Gabby superpowers but her dentist dad is totally against bubblegum. Gabby feels compelled to confess her big gum secret but she can’t risk losing her powers.

Reading GUM GIRL

The script by Montijo and Reynolds provides a fun mix of kid reality and kid fantasy. For example, in one chapter, Gabby is alarmed to see a car skidding its way towards a collision. Instantly, Gabby sets loose her gum powers and brings the car to a sticky, but safe, stop. However, once Gabby arrives at school, she discovers her permission slip to go to the zoo is covered in bubblegum. Without a readable permission slip, Gabby is forced to stay behind in a classroom with other kids who can’t go to the zoo.

Pages from THE GUMAZING GUM GIRL: GUM LUCK

Montijo’s bold artwork is a real treat and keeps the action moving along. Montijo has managed to channel is own take on the Power Puff Girls. Gabby Gomez and her family are easy to relate to while Gum Girl is whimsical and fun to follow along. Montijo offers up a very pleasant and animated style. It is spare and clear and will be especially appealing to a younger age group of ages 6-8. This book also happens to have a pleasing hint of bubblegum scent!

THE GUMAZING GUM GIRL: GUM LUCK is a 160-page color hardcover, available as of June 13th. You can find it at Amazon right here.

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Filed under Children's Books, Disney, Education, Illustration, Literacy, Reading

Interview: David Schmader on Literacy, Neighborhoods, LGBTQ, and Cannabis

David Schmader

David Schmader

David Schmader is an American writer known for his solo plays, his writing for the Seattle newsweekly The Stranger, and his annotated screenings of Paul Verhoeven’s “Showgirls.” He is the author of the 2016 book “Weed: The User’s Guide.” And he is the Creative Director of the Greater Seattle Bureau of Fearless Ideas, a literary arts center offering free programs for youth ages 6 to 18. I had the opportunity to interview David and discuss better approaches to community and seeking common ground. Locally, for those of us who are a part of the Greenwood neighborhood of Seattle, we have been undergoing a recharge, a rallying around, after a gas leak explosion that tore into the fabric of everyday life. With BFI preparing to return to its original Greenwood site this month, it seemed to me a good time to check in with a thoughtful leader in our community. I begin our interview going back to that March 9th gas leak explosion in the middle of the night. Fueled with cups of coffee, we settled in at Couth Buzzard Books for this interview.

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Filed under Cannabis, Education, Gay, LGBTQ, Literacy, Marijuana, Seattle, The Stranger, Youth

Book Review: ENCYCLOPEDIA GREENWOODIA

ENCYCLOPEDIA GREENWOODIA

ENCYCLOPEDIA GREENWOODIA

On March 9, 2016, around 1:30 a.m. Pacific time, there was a gas leak explosion in the Greenwood area of Seattle. Businesses were destroyed and people were displaced. The crisis also brought people together. The community center, the Phinney Neighborhood Association (PNA), stepped up to co-ordinate the Greenwood Relief Fund. And the literary center for youth, the Greater Seattle Bureau of Fearless Ideas (BFI), chose to donate all proceeds from their newly-created book to the relief effort. The book, “Encyclopedia Greenwoodia,” begun a year before the explosion, took on a greater significance after the explosion, and has an uncanny relevance to community-building.

Firefighters work at the scene of a building explosion in Seattle's Greenwood neighborhood. March 9, 2016 Reuters

Firefighters at the scene of explosion in Seattle’s Greenwood neighborhood. March 9, 2016 Reuters

The explosion took place right across the street from BFI’s storefront, Greenwood Space Travel Supply Co. All tolled, the blast damaged more than fifty establishments, destroying Neptune Coffee, Mr. Gyros, Greenwood Quick Stop grocery, and much of G&O Family Cyclery. So much disruption. So much to rebuild. In fact, as of this writing, BFI’s operations are currently housed at the PNA. A reopening of BFI at its original Greenwood site is set for this July.

"ENCYCLOPEDIA GREENWOODIA: A Compendium of Writing About Our Neighborhood by Famous Adult Writers and BFI Kids"

“ENCYCLOPEDIA GREENWOODIA: A Compendium of Writing About Our Neighborhood by Famous Adult Writers and BFI Kids”

It is essential to be aware of and to care about your neighborhood. Fortunately, no one died or was severely injured. But this crisis did spur on renewed energy and commitment. One of the things that makes Phinney-Greenwood unique is the activity going on at the Bureau of Fearless Ideas. Originally part of Dave Eggers’s 826 network of literacy centers, BFI still remains loyal to 826 but has also branched off on its own. That added freedom is what allowed BFI the flexibility to respond to the Greenwood explosion by donating the sales of its latest book. And it is this book that is a testimony to what makes this neighborhood so vital.

What you can expect from this quirky “encyclopedia” is an anthology of wonderful writing from all ages and backgrounds, from professional writers all the way to kids just starting out. Flip through and you’ll land on some gem. We start with former Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn’s lively essay recounting the local effort to save Pluto’s status as a planet. Look further, and there’s BFI’s own anthology editor, Bill Thorness, sharing the story of Seattle’s first Ferris wheel, part of the Woodland Park Pavilion, operating from 1919 to 1934. The kids from BFI provide joyful and insightful work too. There’s the report from 9-year-old Maya Mullaney about the director of the Phinney Neighborhood Association, Lee Harper, and her being a professional service dog trainer. Another story comes from 9-year-old Meghan Doyle. She recounts the sensory experience of visiting the venerable Couth Buzzard Books with its great selection of books…and brownies.

Getting deeper into the quirky and literary side of Greenwood is Paul Constant’s piece about a mysterious mailbox in Greenwood that promises each visitor a touch of poetry. Such a dazzling prospect! Paul is a co-founder of The Seattle Review of Books. He has written for The Progressive, Newsweek, Re/Code, the Utne Reader, and many North American alternative weeklies. He proves to be the perfect person to consider the merits of this poetry-delivery mechanism. Does it work? You’ll have to buy the book to find out!

Reading David Schmader's "Cleaning Greenwood"

Reading David Schmader’s “Cleaning Greenwood”

I’ll leave you with one more from this impressive collection. David Schmader is a writer known for his essays and one-person plays and is now the Creative Director for BFI. When David first arrived in Seattle in 1991, fresh out of school and looking for a job, he worked for a time in Greenwood as part of a house cleaning team. As he describes in his own inimitable way, this wasn’t anything like being a chummy part of the family like on “The Brady Bunch.” No, this was like a military operation, mission-focused. David attacks his tasks with precision until one fateful day when he’s ordered to dust these massive mounted busts of wild game. That’s a challenge that a devout vegetarian must face one way or another.

“Encyclopedia Greenwoodia” proves to be a timely book on neighborhood goodwill in so many ways. It is a 200-page paperback, with photos and a local map, priced at $10 (US) plus shipping. Consider picking up a copy for yourself. All proceeds go to the Greenwood Relief Fund. Find this book right here.

You may also consider a donation to Bureau of Fearless Ideas. Your tax-deductible donation to BFI supports the only program in Seattle created solely for and dedicated to improving the communication skills of Seattle youth through a wide range of free writing and tutoring opportunities. For more information, visit BFI right here.

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Filed under Bureau of Fearless Ideas, Dave Eggers, David Schmader, Literacy, Paul Constant, Phinney Neighborhood Association, Seattle, Seattle Review of Books

Review: ‘The Great Detective: The Amazing Rise and Immortal Life of Sherlock Holmes’ by Zach Dundas

Holmes investigates Holmes. Art by Henry Chamberlain.

Holmes investigates Holmes. Art by Henry Chamberlain.

It is clear that Zach Dundas loves Sherlock Holmes. A quest to explore how and why the interest in Sherlock Holmes has endured is the subject of his new book, “The Great Detective: The Amazing Rise and Immortal Life of Sherlock Holmes.” In a highly accessible and conversational narrative, Dundas weaves classic Holmes stories into his own idiosyncratic reportage. The result is jolly good fun and goes a long way in explaining the Holmes phenomena.

Can one really put one’s finger on the Holmes appeal? Well, sure, for one thing, he’s a comfortably familiar character right up there with Superman, Snow White, Snoopy, and Frankenstein. He’s the ultimate brand. Of course, do people still actually read the work of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle? Well, Dundas is here to assure you, if you have not, that it’s fun stuff. Much of the appeal to this book is Dundas’s unbridled enthusiasm for his subject. He makes no bones about letting you know his passion runs deep going back to reading Holmes tales as a kid.

Time and again, Dundas will casually describe to you an adventure from Sherlock Holmes lulling you in until you’re deep into the plot. Then he’ll alternate with one of his own quests such as dragging his family all across the moors of the English countryside or endless searching for the real-life potential counterparts to fictional Victorian London. For Dundas, part of the mystery lies in attempting to understand what all his fellow tourists see in Holmes.

As he waits in line to enter a replica to 221B Baker Street, Holmes’s fictional digs, he can’t help but get a little smug assuming no one else in line has actually read Doyle. This lapse can be forgiven. When the only thing setting you apart from the crowd is the fact that you’ve read something that they haven’t, that’s more of a humbling experience than something to be proud of. And, it’s in that spirit, that Dundas shines as he shares his various facts and insights.

What you get here is a low-key and quirky look at what Holmes meant in his own time and what came soon after-and beyond. As Dundas observes, Holmes went retro rather quickly and embraced his new position, as it were, with gusto. With the death of Queen Victoria in 1901, the Victorian era quite literally came to an end. However, in the Holmes universe, the Victorian era would now enter a perpetual loop as Doyle kept on creating Holmes adventures set circa 1890. In short, Holmes was the original steampunk. And, with that in mind, it makes more and more sense as Dundas explores the myth and mystique of Holmes leading him all the way to Benedict Cumberbatch.

Ultimately, the mystery to Holmes does seem to be that such an esoteric character should have such broad appeal. That said, there are a number of erudite, refined, offbeat, and just plain weird characters that have struck a chord with wide audiences. Doctor Who is one, for sure. But you can rattle off any number of them from Star Wars to Game of Thrones and so on down the line. The general public is not always looking for some obviously populist figure to be the next pop culture superstar. And, with Holmes, you get a ready-made multi-layered artichoke of entertainment at the ready to be peeled back for deeper and richer understanding. That is what Dundas delightfully demonstrates in this quite entertaining book.

“The Great Detective: The Amazing Rise and Immortal Life of Sherlock Holmes” is 336-page hardcover, published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, and available as of June 2. You can find it at Amazon right here.

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Filed under Book Reviews, Books, mystery, pop culture, Sherlock Holmes, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Webcomic Review: DAWN OF THE UNREAD

Dawn-0f-the-Unread-James-Walker

DAWN OF THE UNREAD is a graphic novel webcomic exploring Nottingham’s literary history created by James Walker. Now, this is quite an impressive project in its specificity and its execution. The underlying mission here is to spark the imagination of new readers and have them rediscover the world of fiction and, most importantly, their local library! To that end, this webcomic is interactive and contains very compelling content. A new installment is published on the 8th of each month. Let’s take a closer look at some of the previous chapters.

Above: Artist Francis Lowe discusses his collaboration with Adrian Reynolds for their “Little Boxes” chapter, published on 8 June 2014.

In “Little Boxes,” you are treated to a variety of interesting facts about Batman lore with a Nottingham connection. Did you know, for instance, that Wollaton Hall was Wayne Manor in one of the Batman films? Well, the focus here is the nearby village of Gotham. And, yes, total Batman connection beginning with Washington Irving bestowing that nickname on Manhattan. We end up making a detour to H.P. Lovecraft. This is a very cleanly drawn comic with just the right touch of whimsy.

"Little Boxes,"  by Adrian Reynolds and Francis Lowe

“Little Boxes” by Adrian Reynolds and Francis Lowe

Read it here.

Above: Cartoonist Steve Larder, with Alan Gibbons, discusses bringing Geoffrey Trease back to life in “Books and Bowstrings,” published on 8 January 2015.

With “Books and Bowstrings,” you get it all. Steve Larder, author of “Rum Lad,” provides a punk aesthetic with his quirky artwork. With the help of some literary ghosts, byway of Sherwood Forest, the local libraries are on their way to regaining the old spirit.

"Books and Bowstrings" by Alan Gibbons and Steve Larder

“Books and Bowstrings” by Alan Gibbons and Steve Larder

Read it here.

Above: Illustrator Amanda Elanor Tribble discusses her collaboration with Aly Stoneman for their chapter, “Ms. Hood,” published on 8 December 2014.

“Ms. Hood,” takes up a contemporary Robin Hood theme to great effect. The artwork is bold and engaging. The story manages to fit in a lot of food for thought.

"Ms. Hood" by Aly Stoneman and Amanda Elanor Tribble

“Ms. Hood” by Aly Stoneman and Amanda Elanor Tribble

Read it here.

“Dawn of the Unread” is an interactive graphic novel for PC, Mac, iPad, tablet and mobile. Be sure to visit right here.

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Filed under Books, Comics, Education, Libraries, Literacy, Webcomics

UNCLE JAM #103, Volume 40, Winter 2013

Uncle-Jam-Winged-Tiger-Phil-Yeh

UNCLE JAM is a magazine showcasing the visual and literary arts. It’s been around since 1973 and can always be relied upon to entertain and inform. Phil Yeh started up this magazine when he was still just a kid with a dream. He’s seen his magazine evolve into a sophisticated publication both in print and on the web. You can view it by visiting the Winged Tiger website here.

I am honored to do whatever I can to lend a hand in broadening UNCLE JAM’s reach in my area and beyond. As its Seattle Bureau Chief, I’ll oversee distribution and content related to the Pacific Northwest. UNCLE JAM, as always, remains a beautiful work-in-progress and I look forward to lending a hand in the years to come. I will see what I can do to give UNCLE JAM, a California-based magazine, a bit of that Seattle, and Portland, cool. It is, after all, already very cool! UNCLE JAM is a jewel among the many good works that Phil Yeh does to support the arts and literacy around the world. Learn more about Phil Yeh, and Cartoonists Across America and The World, here.

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Filed under Activism, Art, Books, Comics, Literacy, Magazines, Phil Yeh, Uncle Jam

Review: ‘Huck Finn’s Adventures in Underland’

Huck-Finn-in-Underland-Alterna-Comics-2013

Alterna Comics presents for your consideration, the mini-series, “Huck Finn’s Adventures in Underland.” It is written by Nikola Jajic, with art by Gabriel Peralta and Felipe Gaona, lettering by Peter Simeti, covers by Brian Level. It is 22 pages, full color, for all ages, issues are priced at $1.99. It is an excellent idea for a literary mashup. There is no need for prior reading of Mark Twain or Lewis Carroll or H.P. Lovecraft to enjoy this comic. For some readers, that may come as a disappoint but, for others, they will find this to meet expectations: you have here some weird and strange adventure.

This won’t blow your socks off if you were looking for stimulating literary comparisons. But maybe that’s not the point, really. It is meant for an all ages audience and, in that respect, it does well. And the comic is substantial enough where you can read into it whatever you like. For instance, you can say that Huck attracts the most foul and violent elements in an alternate world.

The inks and pencils by Gabriel Peralta are lively and keep things loose and moving right along. The colors by Felipe Gaona are nice and moody in places and more vibrant in others.

All things considered, this is fine little work and something you can enjoy as a mild amusement or share with the kids. When you think about it, this is a fine gateway to going on and reading works in literature. You can check it out at ComiXology here.

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Filed under Alice in Wonderland, Alterna Comics, Comics Reviews, Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain

Interview: PHIL YEH and the Joy of Reading

Phil Yeh and Friends

Phil Yeh and Friends

Based on various studies, it is estimated that over a third of Americans cannot read this sentence. Yes, at least 60 million Americans are illiterate. Consider these reports here and here. Not being able to read and comprehend the written word robs people of the ability to control their lives in very significant ways. This burden is preventable. Ask Phil Yeh. He knows. As a cartoonist and an activist, he has worked hard throughout his life to inspire and help others to learn the joy of reading. Phil Yeh has painted more than 1800 murals in 49 states and 15 countries promoting literacy and the arts with his Cartoonists Across America & the World Tours.

Phil Yeh. You know the name. He’s the guy in the comics history books as a pioneer in the creation of the graphic novel. He’s the guy who promotes literacy with all those murals around the world. Yeah, that Phil Yeh. Are there others? Well, we sure could use more Phil Yehs in the world.

Patrick-Rabbit-Phi-Yeh-Route-66

Phil Yeh is always busy. He can be working on his latest book. He can be working on his most recent mural for Cartoonists Across America and the World. At this particular time, for this interview, we find Phil continuing to work on a very special mural that highlights the achievements, the personalities, and the great history of the City of San Bernardino, California.

Sandy Fischer Cvar created the portraits on the San Bernardino mural

Sandy Fischer Cvar created the portraits on the San Bernardino mural

About a year and a half ago, Phil suffered a stroke. It slowed him down but, as Phil observes, it has led to the best work of his life. In April of 2012, after having started to pick up a paint brush again, he embarked upon one of his greatest murals. It is on the historic site of the world’s first McDonald’s restaurant in San Bernardino, California, on Route 66. This mural is just the sort of spark that sure helps in the process of San Bernardino’s revival.

Ribbon Cutting Ceremony with Mayor Pat Morris, May 1, 2012

Ribbon Cutting Ceremony with Mayor Pat Morris, May 1, 2012

The main topic of discussion for this interview is the City of San Bernardino. It has fallen on hard times and every effort to set things back on track is essential. The Great Recession has taken its toll but hope prevails. Phil’s mural is a bright light on the way to recovery. In this interview, he goes into detail about the inspiring people from San Bernardino who have made history and major contributions to the betterment of everyone. And, if there was only one person to focus on, it would be Chester Carlson. He came from poverty, even having lived in an abandoned chicken coop as a teen, and rose to create Xerox.

A book on Chester Carlson that Phil highly recommends is “Copies in Seconds,” published in 2004, by David Owens. You can find it here. He would like to see it in every library and school. But there is always another inspiring story. Phil speaks with great feeling and ready with another story such as that of San Bernardino favorite son, Garner Holt. Starting at age 16, Holt began his work on animatronics. He’d been inspired by the animatronics he’d seen on a trip to Disneyland. He went on to create a major animatronics firm that developed, among other projects, the animatronics for the Chuck E.Cheese restaurant chain. And, like Carlson, Holt never forgot San Bernardino and gave back significantly.

Phil’s enthusiasm is truly boundless. Get him to talk about today’s youth and he’s adamant about valuing one’s time. “If you spend four hours a day on social media, hey, that’s four hours wasted. That’s four hours you could have been doing something creative.”

Phil loves to share his first experience at San Diego Comic-Con in 1970. He talks about how he went there as a timid teenager and was set on his life’s path with two conversations. He talked to Ray Bradbury about his passion for writing but his fear that he couldn’t pursue it because he couldn’t type. Ray Bradbury reassured him and revealed to him that he didn’t know how to type. He told him to just write. Phil then sought advice from Jack Kirby. He talked to Jack Kirby about his passion for drawing but his concern that he should go to art school. Kirby had the best advice: Just draw! Phil took both men’s advice to heart, started his own publishing company and never looked back.

Phil looks forward to a number of book projects including one with a steampunk theme. And he’s looking forward to press coverage on the San Bernardino mural that will reach full completion this by this summer. “We’re getting China’s CCTV to cover us. That’s the biggest televison network in the world with a 1 billion 400 million viewership. We’re thinking that with German TV, French TV, and Brazilian TV coverage on board, that this will ultimately lead to local Los Angeles TV coverage. They’re tough to reach!”

Sometimes good news is a hard sell. But Phil Yeh knows how to reach people. He’s been doing that all his life.

Right below is the full podcast interview with Phil Yeh:

Phil-Yeh-March-2013

And one more a bit of news on the San Bernardino mural: Here is an update as of today from Phil Yeh:

Phil Yeh and the San Bernardino mural

Phil Yeh and the San Bernardino mural

We are painting the entire Route 66 in California ending up in Santa Monica! Brendan Moore is capturing some of Hollywood’s landmarks & the Queen Mary in Long Beach while Beth Winokur brings her own creativity to the boxcars. Every one of these boxcars will feature a town in San Bernardino County as a fruit label! I am working on my favorite manmade landmark in the world, Simon Rodia’s Watts Towers in Los Angeles not far from my boyhood home where I grew up in the 1960s. We should be finished in the summer of 2013.

Visit Phil Yeh here.

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Filed under Activism, Art, Books, Comic-Con, Comics, Education, Libraries, Literacy, Phil Yeh, pop culture, Ray Bradbury, Reading, Schools

LITERACY IN AMERICA

Learn the facts. It’s pretty bad. But we can all make some contribution to promote reading.

Here is a handy graphic, courtesy of Edudemic. Check them out here.

literacy-america

Check out the links at the bottom, like the one for Write At Home and ProLiteracy.

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Filed under Activism, Education, Literacy, Reading, Schools