We have a Winner!

September 16, 2014 by  
Filed under Gene's Blog

I know it’s been over a month since Comic-Con 2014, but man, I’ve been busy.  Secret Coders got announced, I just finished the script for the next Avatar: The Last Airbender GN, and a new school year began!

Anyway, I finally got around to picking a winner for my Twitter contest, and it’s Deb Aoki!  She found the Green Turtle on the convention floor.  Here’s proof:


Find The Green Turtle at Comic-Con!

July 23, 2014 by  
Filed under Gene's Blog

Pro cosplayer Alvin Duong has graciously agreed to help us promote The Shadow Hero by cosplaying the Green Turtle!

When I first talked to Alvin, I told him we could find a way around the Green Turtle’s bare-chestedness.  Alvin wouldn’t hear of it — staying true to the source material is key for him.  So here he is, embodying the Green Turtle in all his goofy Golden Age glory:


Alvin made that entire costume himself!  From scratch!  Impressive, isn’t it?

So the Green Turtle (i.e. Alvin) will be walking around Comic-Con — giving you the chance to win original art by me!

Here’s what you have to do:

1.  Find The Green Turtle at Comic-Con 2014.

2.  Take a picture of you with the Green Turtle.

3.  Tweet the picture and tag me (@geneluenyang) in your tweet.

After Comic-Con is over, I’ll randomly select one of you and send you my original art!

Boxers & Saints in the Classroom Part 4

May 29, 2014 by  
Filed under Gene's Blog

Comics educator Joan Hilty (who also happens to be one of my editors for the Avatar: The Last Airbender comics) included Boxers & Saints on her syllabus for a class titled “Violence in the Pursuit of Justice” at John Jay CUNY!

Thank you, Joan!  You’re the best!

Here are some projects created by her students!



Boxers & Saints in the Classroom Part 3

May 28, 2014 by  
Filed under Gene's Blog



Teachers Robby Griffin and Darcy Caldwell continue to share about their experience teaching Boxers & Saints at The Peck School in Morristown, New Jersey!  Check out Part 1 and Part 2.

by Darcy Caldwell, The Peck School

Today a fellow teacher and I concluded our study of Boxers & Saints.
As a thirty-year veteran English teacher, I can say that co-teaching this book to 7th graders with young history teacher Robby Griffin (Harvard ‘09) has been one of the most exciting collaborative teaching experiences of my career.

This fall I moved from teaching high school English to teaching middle school English, and I learned that if you treat 7th graders like sophisticated thinkers, they will be sophisticated thinkers. The capacity of middle school students was fully demonstrated in our conversations about Boxers & Saints.

This text was a wonderful way to confirm that 7th graders know how to embrace shades of meaning and opposing ideas. They know how to recognize dualities in characters. They know that even the most minor characters in Boxers & Saints demand to be seen as having more than one story, more than one identifier or label. Minor characters (as well as major characters) force the reader to look beyond nationality or religion. The 7th graders could see that even Cousin Chung– who appears only briefly at the beginning of Boxers and the end of Saints– is enormously problematic and divided by different loyalties, and these characters make Boxers & Saints a treasure-trove of teaching moments and conversation topics. It is a text that lends itself to teaching students about stereotypes and assumptions, about xenophobia and myth-making, about identity, community, and family.

With this end-of-the-year unit, Boxers & Saints allowed our 41 7th graders to bring together their year of study. Early in the year in English, they were introduced to theories of narrative structure, and this spring they applied this understanding of narrative structure to explore the trajectories of Bao and Vibiana’s character development. We had intense conversations about the main characters’ rupture moments, moments that evoked change and new perspectives on the world.

Mr. Griffin and I also noticed that more than any other time during the year, the students “went to the text.” That is, they were –more often than ever before—using evidence to back their claims, an exercise they sometimes needed to be reminded of earlier in the year. Their attention to detail, their recognition of moments when the words and graphics seemed to be in conflict, allowed them to grow as readers as they were worked to make sense of the contradiction. Their ability to connect moments that are separated by hundreds of pages—even separated by volumes—showed that they were able to bring together disparate bits of evidence into a cohesive theory about meaning in Yang’s text.

For their final project, students were asked to explore Yang’s point by writing Boxers & Saints in two volumes. In this essay, they were required to explore the connections and disparities between 282 Boxers and 158 Saints as well as 2-4 pairs of other panels that capture the importance of perspective. We required our students to conclude their papers by exploring how Yang’s purpose moves beyond Boxers & Saints. To prepare them for this, we briefly mentioned conflicts: Muslims vs. Hindus in Bengal 1930 (followed by their joining in cultural pride through language, art and music in 1939). We discussed ongoing conflicts Hutu vs. Tutsi in Rwanda, Sunni vs. Shi’a in Iraq, and Dinka vs. Nuer in Sudan. We also showed Chimamanda Adichie’s amazing Ted Talk “The Danger of a Single Story.”

Today in our final discussion we pulled together ideas even as we recognized some questions can never be answered. We spent a long time on the final panel in the epilogue. We know some of the things that happened in China following the Boxer Rebellion, but unless Gene Luen Yang writes a third volume (which many of the students yearn for), our questions about Bao in China and Vibiana in heaven can never be answered. It is this richness of ideas that are so relevant to our lives combined with the uncertainty of the future that makes Boxers & Saints so meaningful.

Boxers & Saints in the Classroom Part 2

May 27, 2014 by  
Filed under Gene's Blog


Teachers Robby Griffin and Darcy Caldwell continue to share about their experience teaching Boxers & Saints at The Peck School in Morristown, New Jersey!  Check out their first blog post here.

by Robby Griffin, The Peck School

For our third day on Boxers, the students have finished reading the book for homework and are ready to discuss its entirety in groups of 13 or 14 for a class period (they drop history for one day out of our 6-day cycle, so I joined the English classes for the day).  In addition to finishing Boxers, the students were asked to write the following:

Turn to the panel on p. 282 and write 2 paragraphs where you analyze the significance of this panel to Boxers and use three other panels or moments from the text to explain p. 282’s significance.

Not all of the students truly understood how to analyze this panel, but they made a valiant effort and many did a wonderful job with it.  We would have provided more guidance to ensure they all understood the basic elements, but they will be coming back to rethink their ideas in a week and once again a week after that.  Regardless of their individual writing, the students again came to class prepared to amaze us with their insight in discussion.  Every day has been progressively more impressive, making us extremely curious about the final discussions we will have once we finish both Boxers and Saints.  Here is an accounting of the discussions we had on this third day of our experiment.

The final chapter brought us to Peking with all its new sights, sounds, and ideas; the students began by considering how Little Bao and his compatriots interact with these new elements of urban life that are so separate from their prior rural experience.  One student noted how a Boxer picked up a bedpan thinking it was an extremely fine bowl out of which to eat.  After a couple of other observations on the differences of city life, I pulled the class’ attention back to our study of Buddhism and compared the four panels on pages 238-239 with the Four Sights of Siddhartha Gautama (the historical Buddha).  The first three sights are depressing new developments for Little Bao, but the fourth sight is one of potential salvation in the new disciples to his group of Boxers (note, however, that the fourth sight of the Buddha was an ascetic and that ultimately asceticism was not the path to end suffering for Buddhism as the Buddha elected for a middle path between asceticism and indulgence instead – this speaks to the false hope the Boxers provide to Little Bao for the salvation of China).  Moments like this underscore how important it is to situate this reading in a broader context of learning about the cultures and beliefs of China and the West, especially when teaching a younger group like this.

Soon our discussion touched on why the characters’ faces were missing features when they appeared farther away.  This may seem obvious to some, but it is an important development for students of this age (and I would imagine older students as well).  Together the students revealed that too much detail on far away characters could be misinterpreted since it would be hard for the reader to make out the expression accurately.  Instead, Yang uses more obvious facial expressions like wide eyes when he wants to convey emotion – a technique exclusive to animation, which our students have not dealt with before.  This talking point helped the students further explore Mei-wen’s emotions as she and Bao were in the library and she had her revelation concerning Guan Yin, the Goddess of Compassion.  Our students noticed how this was a parting moment for Mei-wen and Little Bao because while they are united in their goal of unifying China, their previously aligned paths of doing so through force of arms have now diverged since Mei-wen sees the importance of compassion and understanding of all beings while Little Bao maintains his path of destruction as led by Qin Shi Huang.  One student noted how this played out through Mei-wen’s revelation on page 282 while Little Bao was asleep and oblivious to her transformation – an idea which is reemphasized through his lack of understanding for her treating wounded secondary devils while donning a drawn eye on her hand symbolizing a hamsa.  Another student compared her compassion and treatment of all wounded to the American Civil War where women would often tend to the wounded of both sides.  This idea will return in future conversations as we explore the role of women within Yang’s text, but for now they recognized the differing conceptions of China conveyed by Mei-wen’s comment, “What is China but a people and their stories.”

During the remainder of class we explored ideas such as whether one can discern right and wrong during such conflict, the meaning of vows and edicts when confronted with difficult stakes and conditions, Little Bao’s inner conflict between his personal connections and the “good of China,” the possibility that part of Little Bao dies with Mei-wen in the library, whether this is truly Qin Shi Huang’s story and the parallels between them, and the idea of both hesitation and compassion being weaknesses in battle (as shown through the backfiring of the burning library and the backfiring of letting women and children survive on the train respectively).  Our discussions cover so many different points that it is impossible to give a full accounting, but that is what is so fascinating about dealing with a novel like this: there is no limit to the types of discussions one can have, so you can just choose certain major ideas to really emphasize and let the students take the class where they find the most meaning.  Every class has been filled with many insightful interpretations, impressive visual and textual connections (like the people in hell on page 279 with Lee Bao’s role models on page 308), and sometimes less impressive and more shallow observations that are necessary parts of the process of helping 7th graders understand a complicated text.  All of the past two paragraphs of observations were made by one section during a single 40-minute period; now I will recount some of the other ideas put forward in the other two sections with some more speed and less detail.

We started the other classes with the same questions about how Little Bao reacts to this grand city and how he is overwhelmed.  The students quickly brought us from his status as the only one left from his village to his love for Mei-wen to his reversion to a childlike state while watching the opera puppets on pages 266-268.  They also noted how Bing Wong-bing truly acts like Little Bao did at the beginning of the novel, illustrating a strange parallel that ends with Bing Wong-bing in a state more similar to Little Bao’s father after being beaten by foreign guards than to Little Bao himself.  The second class noted much more of how Little Bao reacts to the water of Qin Shi Huang, asking whether he feels like he’s drowning especially in light of the fact that he cannot swim and that he is shoved into the water by Qin Shi Huang on page 307.  They also explored very explicitly the parallels between the Qin Dynasty and Little Bao’s journey as both burned a massive number of books, both left fathers to die, both tried to unify China by force, and both had some explicit rules.  On that last note, however, we also made some distinctions between the Qin Dynasty’s extremely strict and specific rules of Legalism and the more broad edicts of the Boxers, which perhaps had more in common with Confucianism.  While discussing the edicts, one student made the observation that the edicts are in a different order on page 150 and page 261.  For the class, we treated this as an intentional choice on Yang’s part, but it is one of a few moments that might be a typo in the first edition.

We again explored the mutually opposing and interdependent forces of yin and yang briefly, but we are saving the larger discussion of this notion for after completing Saints.  Nonetheless, the idea of romance vs violence featured prominently here, and we tried to make some sense out of those conflicting forces.  A very interesting development during this discussion was the occasional over-reliance on Western notions; this will become a much bigger concern in Saints, but some students wanted to say that Qin Shi Huang already knew the foreign troops were waiting to ambush the Boxers after they burned down the library because gods are omniscient and can see what will happen.  We pushed back on this to ask for specific textual evidence (or “specs” as I call them) that Qin Shi Huang can foresee things rather than allowing it to stand on preconceived notions of what a god can and can’t do.  Thus, they noted that he knew it would be a “mistake” to let the women live from the train.

With the final section of the day, we visited many of the same ideas as the prior two, but the students also emphasized how there were two forces pulling on Little Bao: Qin Shi Huang (or perhaps China) and Mei-wen.  A large discussion ensued over whether or not people without the mystic vision can see the Opera Gods.  They offered some interesting evidence and debated with each other quite a bit.  It was a worthwhile exercise, but eventually we tabled the discussion since we’ll have many more thoughts on it after finishing Saints.  This group also explored what role Little Bao’s eldest brother played in Bao’s life and whether his influence could have shown a middle path to Bao had First Brother not been killed by the woman from the train.

This third day of discussion really emphasized just how deeply the students can delve into a novel and how much Yang’s work inspired them to fully engage with the discussions.  From here our plan was to continue on to Saints as homework over the weekend, but we were lucky enough to get an extra 45 minutes with the entire grade on Friday when a math project fell through.  So, we broke them into their small groups to discuss two questions before returning for a whole-grade discussion of those points.  I have added the two questions below which sparked much fascinating discussion in both the small groups and the larger group.

Question 1
In yesterday’s discussion, some of you felt that Bao is struggling with elements within himself.  Some of you felt that Bao is wrestling with elements outside himself.

Either way, whether Qin Shi Huang is internal or external, in the final pages (beginning with page 312) has Bao achieved any kind of resolution?  Psychologically, where is Bao before he dies?  Has he resolved his conflict?

Question 2
In yesterday’s discussion, one student took us to page 262 and noted the moment where a Boxer thought a bedpan was a soup bowl.  While they are both Chinese and both seemingly united by their Boxer affiliation, in this panel Lu Pai and the Boxer show their differences as an urban dweller vs a rural dweller and perhaps also as a government magistrate vs a poor village boy.  Consider the groups and factions that are represented in this novel.  Can you take this example as a starting point and identify groups of people (throughout the text) who unite or divide beyond the delineations of Boxers and Saints?

Boxers & Saints in the Classroom Part 1

May 26, 2014 by  
Filed under Gene's Blog


Teachers Robby Griffin and Darcy Caldwell are using Boxers & Saints at The Peck School in Morristown, New Jersey!

Thank you so much, Robby and Darcy!

I asked them to write about their experience, and here’s what they had to say:

by Robby Griffin, The Peck School

My history course at the Peck School in Morristown, NJ focuses on China and the Middle East. Some of my greatest emphasis is on developing my 7th graders critical thinking skills through writing, discussion, and careful analysis of the reliability of sources (searching for bias in perspective). As I began to teach this year’s wonderful and intellectually superb 7th graders, my mother brought a new graphic novel to my attention called Boxers & Saints. She said that the reviews explain its focus on the Boxer Rebellion and understanding an event from different perspectives, and that it sounded perfect for my course. I read the reviews and immediately forwarded them to my colleague Darcy Caldwell who teaches 7th grade English. Immediately after reading the reviews we were already getting amped to potentially teach the novel, so we ordered copies for ourselves and the powers-that-be at Peck to read and discuss.

The administrators at Peck School were concerned about the language and imagery used by the character Lu Pai to refer to the practices of the “foreign devil” Christians. They wondered if our 7th graders were too immature to handle lines such as “Before going to war, their foot soliders smear mentrual blood across their foreheads” and “They fly flags woven from women’s pubic hair over their churches!” However, Darcy and I felt strongly that this textual moment offered a perfect opportunity to let the students interact with uncomfortable and ridiculous ideas and learn how to responsibly understand other cultures.

After continued discussion, we were granted permission to teach Boxers and Saints based on our logical and emphatic defenses. Thus began a whirlwind of preparation as we shortened our regular curricula to accommodate 2 and a half weeks of collaboration around Boxers & Saints. We spent countless hours discussing and emailing about what we would want to bring out most and how to do so. Already, those discussions were making this experiment one of the best teaching experiences we have had so far.

In preparation for our study of the novel, I made sure to emphasize certain key aspects of Chinese history even more than I would have normally such as extraterritoriality, the unwillingness of the Empress Dowager Ci Xi to modernize, Qin Shi Huangdi, filial piety, and ancestor worship. Additionally, Darcy coached the kids in how to read a graphic novel and analyze for meaning.

Ultimately, our study of Boxers & Saints has arisen out of a perfectly natural progression in our respective courses; we haven’t had to do anything truly different but just continue to develop our students abilities to critically analyze and then apply that understanding to a new form of literature. In the final weeks before we began teaching this wonderful piece of work, we settled on a few novel approaches to co-teaching this novel. Since there are three sections in the 7th grade, we each teach 1/3 of them during any given class. Thus, by combining, we would get 2/3rds of the grade at once, but the next period we would have a different 2/3rds, half of whom wouldn’t have been in class yet. So we have figured out a few different ways to split this up that involve various combinations of large group discussions (groups of 14 or 28 at a time), small group discussions (each student has a group of 3 or 4 that will continue to meet for the next few weeks; at the end they will evaluate each other on their collaboration), and individual work. In this way, we can ensure that all the students are constantly engaged in the work, but most periods we can also co-teach the class.

Co-teaching has been one of the two best elements of this experience along with discussing such amazing work with such bright and eager students (come to think of it, those have been the best two elements of the year at large).

Two days ago we gave the students the books and assigned the first 79 pages of reading as homework. This may sound like a lot, but it is amazing how fast one can read a graphic novel. In that light, this may sound like too little, but when properly examining each panel for meaning and trying to make sense of the interconnections throughout the text, the students need to slow down considerably to make their best observations and connections. So, we were able to begin discussing the novel yesterday, and we were just floored by what the students were getting out of it. We had carefully gone through the text to find the ideas and moments that seemed most important to grapple with, but, as we have come to expect through our consistent use of Harkness and various other discussion-based techniques this year, the students were bringing us not only to those important places we had identified but to so many more than we could have ever considered. What is going to follow are brief accounts of how the classes are going now that we have been through two days of discussion, and we will continue to post further blog entries until we have completed our journey.

Gene Luen Yang has written a truly masterful graphic novel in Boxers & Saints. He incorporates so much meticulously researched history while engaging the reader on a deep level by exploring the events of the Boxer Rebellion through the eyes of two children on differing sides of the conflict. In examining the lives of Lee Bao and Four-Girl/Vibiana, we are able to put ourselves into the hearts and minds of people embroiled in a conflict far greater than themselves who nonetheless have significant roles to play. The most impactful elements of this carefully-wrought masterpiece can only be understood after finishing both volumes (the novel is told in two volumes, one dedicated to Lee Bao and the Boxer perspective, and the other dedicated to Four-Girl/Vibiana and the Christian/Saint perspective). However, there are innumerable elements to take away from each portion of the volumes along the way, so our first week will be spent reading and carefully exploring each of those portions.

Yesterday was our first day of discussion, so the kids were just starting to get into the groove of having potentially double-sized classes in a different space and also how to read a graphic novel. They immediately displayed a passion for the reading and made connections with various elements we had seen throughout the year in history class. Additionally, they were able to notice similarities in certain themes with the novel they just finished in English, To Kill a Mockingbird.

At first the kids brought up themes which were most personally identifiable such as how Little Bao is a typical younger brother who feels excluded by his older brothers. They noticed how Bao admires Red Lantern Chu much more than his own brothers since Red Lantern treats him well and is such an impressive fighter and provider. This discussion of Red Lantern’s role in Little Bao’s life began a recurring discussion of who Bao’s role model was until they decided he was moving through various role models, starting with the opera gods, moving to his father when he punched the bully (as shown by Bao’s vision of his father in an opera costume, thus supplanting the opera gods), and then Red Lantern Chu when his father proved too weak to be a match for the foreigners, and finally Master Big Belly. That was as far as we could go since we hadn’t read past page 79 at the time. The idea of role models was at the top of our minds as we prepared for that discussion, but the kids naturally took it to those points in a coherent fashion on their own, a testament to their progress in class over the course of the year, the brilliance of the text as a window into much deeper subjects than are normally accessible, and the brilliance of our kids. Among the other ideas they explored were the breaking of Bao’s vow to obey his father (and many commented on the implicit aspect of filial piety in his original vow), Bao’s emotional reaction to the smashing of the Tu Di Gong idol by Father Bey, Bao’s changing feelings toward life as a new spring appears with a new Tu Di Gong statues and yet “Thing just aren’t the same,” Yang’s clues to Little Bao’s maturation as he moves from playing games with teeth to learning kung fu, and how Bao begins to take on a new confidence after watching Red Lantern and saying that he would learn to fight with or without a sword. Already in this first discussion the kids demonstrated a strong understanding of the source material, but more importantly they demonstrated the ability to ask discerning questions and learn from each other.

Later in the day, the students returned to discuss p. 79 to 120. Darcy typically asks her students to identify a “rupture moment” in the text, so we began this discussion by exploring moments where Bao’s world is disrupted. Discerningly, the students quickly jumped to Little Bao seeing Red Lantern’s head on a pike. Yang conveys the importance and emotion of this moment by using an upright oriented panel for the gruesome head and a wonderfully drawn horizontal panel of Little Bao’s face. However, one of the students pointed out how there are two panels in between those that show the imperial troops smiling, and he suggested that it isn’t until Little Bao sees their faces that he fully cements his hatred for the foreign and secondary devils and thus his resolve to do something about it. At this point, I was able to remind the students of one my favorite sayings from my old conductor, “He didn’t have to do that;” Yang could have jumped straight from the severed head to Bao’s reaction, but he chose to show the smiling imperial guards. This was one of many impressive insights from the kids. Another was noticing that when Little Bao dreams of taking the food from Master Big Belly, he sees himself in the opera costume he had imagined for his own father. Also, his second-oldest brother doesn’t kowtow to him at first, but eventually they all do after Bao kills the imperial guards. One student suggested that Little Bao will never lose his innocence, which is an interesting thought that had some support (not an overwhelming amount, but some) in the early chapters. A day later, he revised his thought after seeing how much innocence Bao lost. This realization helped cement the importance of our approach to the book where we are breaking it down into sections and discussing what we have seen so far before moving on (and no students are allowed to read ahead despite their desires to do so). One of the biggest challenges of these types of discussions is that not every class can be on the same page at every moment, so when one student makes a wonderful observation about, for instance, Qin Shi Huang’s vacant, green eyes before possessing Little Bao and gaining pupils, we just have to hope that the other class will either notice it or be able to manage without. It is impossible to look at every single detail in such a dense piece of work, so we just have to view each of these moments as one of great progress and insight that will be manifested through a different moment for other students and classes.

The first day went extremely well, and both Darcy and I were amazed by the level of conversation in which our students were already engaging. That night the students had to read a lengthier segment and write some short journal entries on their experience so far, a rupture moment in the text, and Bao’s edicts. So today they came prepared to discuss all the way to page 250. Some of the hardest workers felt a little stressed under the workload, but they did well getting through it, and they all showed up prepared to engage in absolutely fantastic discourse. The first period was devoted solely to discussion, and the second period started with small group discussion, quick writing of thoughts, and then ended with large group discussion again. The final discussion in particular went amazingly well, and we just struggled to cut off the conversation (we may have gone 4 minute over time into Academic Support). As part of my class, I videotape every day and post it on our class website so that absent students can stay with the class, I can review my own teaching, and I can discuss my teaching with colleagues. So for this whole experience with Boxers & Saints we are recording every minute of larger discussion (small group discussion can be hard to capture as they disperse to various areas). The first day went fine in this regard, but today was one of the most frustrating experiences I’ve had at Peck when I discovered that the audio had failed to record because the conference call system was left on mute after a board meeting last night. Thus, the entire system appeared to be working, but no audio actually came in through it, a fact of which I was unaware until after three phenomenal classes. Thus, we have lost an entire day of footage that we would have used. It is a lesson in redundancies (setting up a second camera) and perseverance. Nonetheless, we couldn’t have been happier with how most of the discussion went.

The kids had to grapple with a number of issues in their pursuit of understanding the novel, but the discussion continued to develop in a positive and increasingly revelatory direction. One student pointed out the lack of understanding and respect Little Bao shows for Christianity when he kills the men at the train to “free” the Chinese people. Bao could not grasp why people would willingly go with these foreign devils. This was an important observation in and of itself, but Darcy prompted the girl to search for whether the Christians had shown the same misunderstanding of the Chinese folk religion which connected their thoughts of Bao’s misunderstandings with Father Bey’s misunderstandings when he came to town at the beginning and smashed the statue of Tu Di Gong.

After not too long, the conversation made its way to page 179, which our administration had balked at when first considering the novel. In order to provide some context for these vicious lies, Darcy read from Yang’s source for those ideas, Diana Preston’s The Boxer Rebellion: The Dramatic Story of China’s War on Foreigners That Shook the World in the Summer of 1900. The students quickly understood the historical context that necessitates dealing with such slander, and they dealt with it all very maturely. However, they were also able to identify why those moments were so important to the story itself. Many historians will leave in copious amounts of details because that just seems to be the way of historians, but Yang approaches this as both a historian and a writer, which is one of the aspects that makes this novel ideal for a collaborative English and history study (some students have suggested Engstory and Hinglish as names for this combined subject in addition to the classic and appropriate humanities). Rather than merely including this slander because it happened, Yang weaves the ideas into the plot of the story. A student identified how Little Bao required Lu Pai to come over and repeat the slander to him in order to psyche himself up before burning down a building in Peking with women and children inside. After some discussion of this, it provided a perfect opportunity to show and discuss a clip Darcy had connected a couple days prior – the one where Richard Sherman has an epic rant after winning a game for the Seahawks. The kids seemed to quickly connect with this idea, especially the boys, and they further understood the mentality of someone who is going into battle, whether literally in war or figuratively on the grid-iron.

The discussion found its way through a myriad of other plot points and issues, but some notable points include how Bao does what he thinks is right for China, the cost of Little Bao’s “mistake” in letting the women and children survive the train attack, and the connection between the fires on page 100 and page 250. Some of the observations could be more obvious than others, and some could be less founded than others, but every student displayed an earnest desire to participate and understand the text. There were even some larger discussions that Darcy and I had been considering for later classes (after having read much more or all of the text) that were brought up by the students such as whether Qin Shi Huang is a figment of Bao’s imagination or an actual spirit and how Bao is constantly struggling between his fighting self and compassionate self as he tries to decide when is the right time to kill. Another student brought up how Qin Shi Huang was acting out of self-interest, not out of the best interests of others or even China – an idea which is brought up in a teacher’s guide on Yang’s website (a wonderful resource), but an idea which is likely to be considered much further into the text and by 11th or 12th graders.

Darcy and I couldn’t be more pleased with how the first two days of Boxers & Saints have turned out (with the exception of the audio being lost for all of today). We are in awe of our students’ thoughts and abilities, and we are more excited than ever to see where the next days will take us. I will reserve full judgement on the success and replicability of this experiment until we are done, but at this juncture, I’m happy to report that it seems to be a resounding success. Visit again for future blog posts on our experiment with Boxers & Saints by the astoundingly talented Gene Luen Yang. I will leave you with the final, profound question one of our student’s raised today in relation to the text and especially whether Qin Shi Huang really exists or is in Little Bao’s head: what is reality?

Why is Zita the Spacegirl Awesome?

May 20, 2014 by  
Filed under Gene's Blog

The third volume of Ben Hatke’s wonderful middle grade GN series Zita the Spacegirl is out in stores now! I did some fan art to celebrate:
Why is Zita the Spacegirl so awesome? Because
Little Girl + Courage + Giant Rideable Mouse + Outer Space = AWESOME

The Shadow Hero #3 is Out!

April 17, 2014 by  
Filed under Gene's Blog

The third digital issue of The Shadow Hero is out!  The Shadow Hero is the origin story of The Green Turtle, an obscure Golden Age character who is arguably the first Asian American superhero.  I did the writing, Sonny Liew did the art.

Check out some reviews of The Shadow Hero #3 here:

Comic Bastards
Fanboy Comics
The Pullbox

In this chapter we introduce Mock Beak, one of the major antagonists of the series.

When I first sent Sonny the script, he thought Mock Beak was inspired by Mr. Han from the Bruce Lee classic Enter The Dragon.  He’s not.  He’s actually inspired by a real-life Chinese-American gangster known as Mock Duck.

Tongs – Chinese gangs – have been in the news lately because they played a key part in Senator Leland Yee’s downfall.  For the most part, though, Tongs are pretty quiet these days.

At the turn of the century, however, Tongs were a big part of Chinatown life.  They orchestrated most of the violent crime, drug trafficking, and prostitution in Chinatown.  Sai Wing Mock, or Mock Duck, was one of the most notorious Tong leaders. He led the Hip Sing Tong in Manhattan.  From what I can gather, he was a pretty intense guy.  He liked flaunting diamond jewelry and regularly wore a vest made of chain mail.  He even made it onto Maxim’s list of Top 5 Ballsiest Criminals of All Time. You can read more about him on Wikipedia.

And we hope you’ll also read about the fictional character inspired by him in The Shadow Hero miniseries on Amazon Kindle, Apple iBooks, or B&N Nook!

Eisner Awards 2014

April 16, 2014 by  
Filed under Gene's Blog

They announced the 2014 Eisner Award nominations yesterday, and Boxers & Saints was nominated for Best Publication for Teens!  Actually, three of the six books in my category are from First Second Books. As a former high school teacher, I’m really proud to be a part of a team that’s serving that age group so well.

Congrats to all the other nominees!  So many friends on the list:  Jordan Mechner, LeUyen Pham, Alex Puviland, Cecil Castellucci, Faith Erin Hicks, Kazu Kibuishi, Paul Pope, Frank Cammuso, Zander Cannon…  I’m super-excited that Zander Cannon’s Heck was nominated.  Great book.  Check it out if you haven’t already.  You can find the full list here.

LA Times Book Fest 2014

April 16, 2014 by  
Filed under Gene's Blog

I had a blast at the LA Times Book Fest last weekend.  First, Boxers & Saints won the LA Times Book Prize for Young Adult Literature!  I was listed alongside some of our very best YA authors: Elizabeth Knox (Mortal Fire), Rainbow Rowell (Fangirl), Joyce Sidman (What the Heart Knows: Chants, Charms and Blessings), and Jonathan Stroud (Lockwood & Co: The Screaming Staircase).

I also got to hang out with some really amazing people. (Just a warning — I’m about to name-drop like NOBODY’S BUSINESS.)

The lighting makes Rainbow and me look like a panel out of Frank Miller's Sin City.

The lighting makes Rainbow and me look like a panel out of Frank Miller’s Sin City.

I met Rainbow Rowell for the first time and we connected over 80′s comics.  She’s currently working a graphic novel with Faith Erin Hicks, one of my favorite cartoonists ever, for First Second Books.  It’ll blow your mind when it comes out, I guarantee.

Selfie with John Green. Bucket List Item #146, check.

Selfie with John Green. Bucket List Item #146, check.

I also got to hang out with John Green, albeit briefly.  He and I first met when we were both honored by the Printz Awards folks way back in 2007.  Since then, John’s become a full-blown rock star.  I shared a golf cart ride with him from one venue to another (golf carts to authors are like limos to rappers, in case you didn’t know), and women freely professed their love for him from the street.  I wanted to too, but that’d be weird, right?  To get off the golf cart just to yell “I love you” at John Green?

Cecil and me bein' fancy.

Cecil and me bein’ fancy.

In a Venn diagram of the book industry and the comic book industry, Cecil Castellucci fits right in that overlap space.  She write both YA novels and comics.  Odd Duck, her GN with Sara Varon, just got nominated for an Eisner Award!  (Congratulations, Cecil!)  She’s also one of the funniest people ever.  Whenever she does an impression of… well, anybody, she makes them sound like Chris Farley.  Hilarious.

After this photo, Laurie Halse Anderson went to author talks to fill her mind.  I went to that table behind us to fill my stomach.

After this photo, Laurie Halse Anderson went to author talks to fill her mind. I went to that table behind us to fill my stomach.

Laurie Halse Anderson and I did a panel with Eliot Schrefer and Jason Reynolds at PLA a couple months back.  It was one the best panels I’ve ever been a part of.  Laurie was speaking at the LA Times Book Fest on Sunday, but she came on Saturday just to attend talks by other authors.  Professional development.  I guess that’s how you become Laurie Halse Anderson — you never stop learning.

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