Friday With The Focus Group

I haven't done this in a while, but I do occasionally pass on review copies of the things I get to my 6th-grade cartooning students and ask them what they think of them, and I've got a few of those right here.

This time it was prompted by Tom Pomplun at Graphic Classics offering to send along a review copy of their latest offering, Louisa May Alcott.

Louisa May Alcott features an adaptation of “Little Women” by Trina Robbins and Anne Timmons, and also presents lesser-known Alcott stories including the gothic mystery “A Whisper in the Dark” by Antonella Caputo and Arnold Arre, “Lost in a Pyramid” by Alex Burrows and Pedro Lopez, and “The Rival Prima Donnas” by Rod Lott and Molly Crabapple. Plus “Buzz” by Mary Fleener, “The Piggy Girl” by Shary Flenniken, and poems illustrated by Toni Pawlowsky and Lisa K. Weber.

On the whole, I really approve of the Graphic Classics line, I think they're doing nice work there. (Given a book front-loaded with talent like Trina Robbins, Mary Fleener, and Shary Flenniken, it's hard to go wrong.) Certainly, the old Classics Illustrated comics of my youth were gateway books for me to stories I never would have bothered with otherwise.

But I'm also aware that I'm not really the target audience, and as a teacher I'm always curious what the kids think of books like this. So I offered Louisa May Alcott to my 6th-grade girls, explaining that it was a review copy and anyone who wanted to write a review was welcome to it.

Rahel took me up on it.

Here is what she had to say.

The first story, Little Women, was very touching. The pictures are just amazing. This story is good for the holiday of Christmas. I bet this story would be good for young women -- drama, laughter, feeling and so much more! The second story, Whisper In The Dark, didn't stick out as much as the first but that's just because it's a different kind of story. The images were very detailed and it was very dramatic, especially the ending. The rest of the book was just as amazing as the first and second story. I think this book is just wonderful for young women.

There you have it. I was struck by the fact that Rahel had never heard of Louisa May Alcott or Little Women, there's a huge culture gap between the life Rahel lives and the lives of Jo and her Victorian posse, and yet the story still worked for her. So I'd call that a successful adaptation.

I got a lot of complaints about only offering Louisa May Alcott to the girls, so I agreed to bring in some other review copies for the kids to look at. (Understand, the boys had zero interest in Little Women, they just thought they should have a shot at some swag too.) The agreement is always that if they write me a real review, at least a page, then they can keep the book. I figure they deserve at least the same deal as any other reviewer gets.

Almost all the review copies we get here at CBR are digital, usually in the form of a PDF file. Nevertheless, fair is fair, so I decided to run a couple of bound photocopies of books I thought the kids might be interested in seeing.

I thought an obvious choice was Mark Waid and Marcio Takara's The Incredibles: Family Matters, from Boom Studios.

Surprisingly -- dare I say "incredibly"? -- the kids were largely indifferent to this one. They were interested at first, but their idea of an Incredibles sequel is one on the screen. The question I kept getting was an excited, "Is there going to be another Incredibles movie?" and when I told them no, this book was the sequel, their interest waned. The kids that actually read it seemed to enjoy it a great deal, but only Jai'el wrote up a review. There are spoilers, for those who are concerned about those things.

Hare are her thoughts:

I thought the story was really really good because of the quality of the pictures. I could really see the feeling of Jill's family, finding out she was a villain. I thought the story was written with a lot of quality and feeling put into it. I especially thought the end was really really good, how Violet's boyfriend told her she was worth it. I had one question, if the mom was evil why wasn't the whole family evil, or both parents at least? Wouldn't they have to be evil together? But it was good.

I admit I was moved by Jai'el's easy assumption that families always confide their evil doings to one another. Clearly she never met any of my relatives.

But the book that was the clear runaway hit, that got passed around so eagerly that an actual fight almost broke out over who got to keep it -- and remember, this is just the review photocopy version -- was Mr. Stuffins. Another one from Boom!, written by Andrew Cosby and Johanna Stokes with art from Axel Medellin.

My students just couldn't get enough of Mr. Stuffins. Listening to the kids trying to excitedly explain what it was to the kids who hadn't read it yet was almost more fun than the book itself.

"It's a teddy bear who thinks he's a spy, and he can do kung fu and stuff, and he's got to save this little boy... it's awesome, you all have to read this, it should totally be a movie!" That was Jai'el trying to put across to the boys what the book was about.

It was the only book that more than one student wanted to do a review on. Emma got it first.

Here is Emma's assessment of Mr. Stuffins -- If you get the chance to read Mr. Stuffins, read it!! The plot is great and the characters are well thought up. I liked everything except the song ("A is for Apple"...) is annoying. Overall it is amazing!!

And Rahel also wanted to write it up. She adds: I love this story!! the teddy bear looks hardcore but cute. The beginning was so dramatic and amazing and so is all the rest of the story!! Mr. Stuffins is all fuzzy and cute but he's a good agent too, I really loved this, I could read it over and over again. Good story!!

So there you have it. The clear front-runner. If you are wondering what to get for the imaginative sixth-grader in your life who likes to read, look no further. Seriously, I don't think I've ever seen so many kids in my class agree on the coolness of a comic this side of Naruto. But Mr. Stuffins won over all of them.

Anyway, that's it for this lot. Thanks to Tom Pomplun at Graphic Classics and Chip Mosher at Boom! for sending along the review copies; I really do appreciate it and it makes for a fun extra-credit class thing, I know my students enjoy it.

So for any other comics publishers out there who might be wondering what young people are interested in reading, my class wants you to know that they are "totally up for doing more reviews!"

And everyone else, I'll see you next week.

Elvira: Mistress of the Dark #6

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