Article about American Born Chinese

Gene Luen Yang's self portrait

Gene Luen Yang’s self portrait

In the May 2014 issue of English Journal, Melissa Schieble discusses how to teach “racial literacy” via Gene Luen Yang’s graphic novel. “Racial literacy” is Lani Guinier’s term for a critical stance that “moves citizens to explore race as less about interpersonal injustices and more ‘about the distribution of power’ and resources” (p. 49).

Schieble also proposes a list of questions to help students develop skills in critical visual literacy — in other words, how to read graphic novels as more than just entertainment.

Schieble’s list includes questions that look at “image syntax, shot distance, angles, and color” (p. 50). These questions work just as well when viewing film, sculpture, photography, or any other form of visual art.

These are the types of questions that will make APs happy to see students addressing in your classroom, especially if they see you moving the students from graphic novels to more complex informational texts which must also be read critically.

So find this article and read it, pen and paper at hand for the notes you’ll want to take.


Alternative Book Report: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian Book Cover


We’ve all heard the adage “Don’t judge a book by it’s cover.” However, there are questions that are presented in this idea. Namely, why not? What’s missing that would make this such a bad idea? This project allows students to delve into the world of creating a cover that reflects on the book, the author and what critics have said about The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, while allowing them to demonstrate their creativity in a book-centric manner. This semi-autobiographical book is ideal for this activity, as it incorporates the context of the author’s background in the assignment.

Placement in Unit:

This project would be assigned towards the end of the unit studying this novel. We would have spent time in class discussing the novel in depth, as well as trying to isolate the themes in the book.

Instructions to Students:

Once you’ve finished reading your novel, you’re going to create your own complete Book Cover/Dust Jacket (including front, back, and 2 side flaps) to the book. You should look carefully at the cover the book currently has, and think about how you could revise this and make it more accurately reflect what the book is about. Make sure your full book cover includes the following:

1.     Your own back cover summary of the book outlining the main events, main characters, setting and what you deem to be the most pertinent relevant details. Do NOT give away any of the story’s surprises, though!

2.     At least 3 critiques by professional sources, found independently online (credit will not be given for sources currently already cited on the book cover). You should include the name of the reviewer as well as the source at which you found the review.

3.     A brief summary of the author’s biography, paying special attention to those details which you feel are most relevant to this text.

4.    Your own cover art work! Make sure it differs from what is already on the book’s cover but is still relevant. If the relationship of the book’s new cover art to the text is unclear, I will ask you to write a brief explanation for why you chose it.

NOTE: You may either design your own using your own sources, sites and supplies or you may use the book cover creator on the website

Assessment Rubric (20 points total):

⃟     Book title/author (1 point)

⃟     Back Cover Summary (1-5 points)

⃟     Author Biography (1-5 points)

⃟     Cover Art Work (1-3 points)

⃟     Three Professional Source Critiques (1-2 points each)

Common Core Standards:


Determine an author’s point of view or purpose in a text and analyze how an author uses rhetoric to advance that point of view or purpose.


Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, well-chosen details, and well-structured event sequences.


Conduct short as well as more sustained research projects to answer a question . . . or solve a problem; narrow or broaden the inquiry when appropriate; synthesize multiple sources on the subject, demonstrating understanding of the subject under investigation.


Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection and research.

Foreseen Challenges:

Creating this book cover may be a challenge for students who have difficulty with the creative aspect of the project. Students will be encouraged to utilize the Book Cover making tool if they are having great difficulty with this project.


Magic in Maniac Magee


Although Jeff Magee seems like an idealized adolescent in many ways in Maniac Magee (even-keeled, accepting of others, good instincts, resourceful),  he also shows a visceral response to loss and pain by running,  a totally realistic boy response. One could argue his easygoing ways are a result of being shutdown. Maniac’s creative solutions to taking care of himself are brave and exciting, but also exhibit a certain lack of interest in himself, others and possible consequences. His feats of daring-do create a legend amongst the young, but could come about from an emotional disconnect. His other choices about how to live day to day after losing one’s parents and getting an inadequate substitute, reflects the loss of everything important: home, school, friends, community, belonging. So the wish fulfillment embodied by a boy running his way through a series of temporary families, and discovering that they all hold pain, loss, trouble and uncertainty, is a beautiful construct with lots of room for magic.

One beautiful magic in Maniac Magee is the examination of racism and prejudice through Maniac. His apparent indifference to accepting people’s judgements and prejudices, begs the question about how racial assumptions passed onto children by  unthinking elders can be shaken loose by the children themselves without their being completely emotionally unmoored first, with nothing to lose, like Maniac. This is not an easy question.

Although we want to believe that racism can be reduced to rubble through individual bridges like those shown in Maniac Magee,  this is like thinking one can reform a sociopath, someone incapable of empathy towards others, by modelling “nice” behavior.  This is mistaking the symptoms for the problem. The larger forces of societal bigotry are reinforced through many physical manifestations like neighborhood segregation: “our” part of town, “your” part of town. The same goes for our schools. This monolith of passive social acceptance of  an “us” vs “them” mentality through neighborhoods, communities, schools and places people live in, is difficult to face.

One way I might try to examine the issue of societal segregation in Maniac Magee would be through the two elements of neighborhoods and schools in the book.  We would examine the ways racism is shown in the towns, areas, streets and neighborhoods that Maniac runs through, especially “East” and “West” parts of Two Mills. We would look at the narrower glimpse into schools depicted in Maniac Magee. We would then try to imagine the schools the “East” kids attend, followed by imagining the schools  the “West” kids attend, with group creations of buildings, classes, teachers, curriculum, grading and sports, some created physically, some written out, some put together digitally, all stemming from clues in Maniac Magee. We would do the same for our imaginings of more positive, idealistic schools, for both the “East” and “West” schools. (These two extremes would point us towards utopian and dystopian YA fiction, to be explored at a later date.) Then we would discuss the differences between these imaginary schools, and vote on which we prefer; which we believe more realistic; how we might blend the two into both more idealistic, and more realistic models.

We would also explore people’s specific experiences with racism in their schools and neighborhoods, and ask the question: How could these deeper roots of racism be changed? How can individual actions change the systemic reinforcement of inequality and prejudice? These discussions and brainstormings might lead us into civics and self-government questions, leading us back to Maniac Magee by asking: Could Maniac have found any other places, maybe public places, to go with his loss, abuse and misery? Can society, while creating racial division an separation, also create places where young people, children and adolescents, can take themselves to be with each other, free of demands and expectations? What would this place look like?

While all this is deep work, students see all too well what doesn’t work, what hurts, what restricts, what is deadening themselves and others all around.  It is important to know that we can create alternatives, beginning in our minds, through collective investigation and exploration, as does Jeff Magee in Maniac Magee.