Common Core and Comics: Stinky by Eleanor Davis

For second grade, the Common Core Standards for reading become more specific and detailed. For example, CCSS 1 for Kindergarten says, “(a)sk and answer questions about key details in a text”. The first grade CCSS 1 for 1st Grade states “(a)sk and answer questions about key details in a text”. For second grade, CCSS 1 requires the use of “who, what, when, why, where, and how questions”. The books selected enable teachers to develop such questions. Eleanor Davis has written and illustrated the comic,Stinky, which provides the basis for asking a range of questions.
The Common Core Standards Stinky meets are 135 ,6 ,79 and 10 Stinky is a story about a monster of the same name.
The story is presented in three simple chapters:
1. Stinky lives in a swamp and his sidekick is a toad named Wartbelly whom is pulled around in a red wagon (CCSS 1) and Stinky meets a child.
2. the conflict that ensues
3. the child forgives Stinky and they become friends (CCSS 35 and 6).
Obviously, as a comic, Standard 7 is met because the illustrations give understanding to the characters, setting, and plot. The book is a story about tolerance, misunderstanding, and racism — large topics for a second-grade student, but presented in a manner that is appropriate for children in second grade (CCSS 10).
Davis is the first sequential artist introduced to break the simple tier structure and explore the possibilities of page layout and panel shapes. Most of her panels are the standard rectangular shape, but she breaks this standard in very specific ways. For example, when Stinky declares his fear of human children, the panel is wobbly and wavy, and a different color palette is used. These two elements combined indicate Stinky’s dream or thought. It’s this ability to express such concepts within the medium of comics and sequential art that makes comics useful to the development of early readers. The integration of the words and pictures and how they are juxtaposed are unique to sequential art and the comic medium.
Davis also uses variations in the appearance of the text. She changes the boldness, size, and color of the text to indicate different volumes, emphases, and emotions. Each indicates a different way the word is said when read aloud and allows students to see how emotion is expressed so they might gain a better understanding of the story. Davis also varies the word balloons. She uses different shapes to show confidence, anger, fear, whispering, uncertainty, and surprise. For example, when Stinky falls down the “bottomless pit”, he yells “HELP!” In fact, he yells it so loud, it’s not in a word balloon, and it’s bright red. The lack of word balloon indicates volume, and the color indicates fear. She uses the ideas of text as art and text integrated into art to convey emotion.
Stinky is an excellent example of the complexity of sequential art. It also shows how a comic can take complex and mature ideas such as intolerance, fear, and racism and make them into a story that can be understood by and discussed with seven- and eight-year-old students. Most students will be entertained simply by the story of a monster in a swamp, and others will mainly enjoy the drawings. But every student will enjoy discussing some aspect of the story of Stinky and the boy. Whether it’s the drawings, the story, the colors, or the design, each element adds a level of understanding to the story as well a different discussion point that relates to the Common Core Standards for this level.

Reading Standards for Literature Grade 2:

1. Ask and answer such questions as who, what, where, when, why, and how to demonstrate understanding of key details in a text.
2. Recount stories, including fables and folktales from diverse cultures, and determine their central message, lesson, or moral.
3. Describe how characters in a story respond to major events and challenges.
4. Describe how words and phrases (e.g., regular beats, alliteration, rhymes, repeated lines) supply rhythm and meaning in a story, poem, or song.
5. Describe the overall structure of a story, including describing how the beginning introduces the story and the ending concludes the action.
6. Acknowledge differences in the points of view of characters, including by speaking in a different voice for each character when readingdialogue aloud.
7. Use information gained from the illustrations and words in a print or digital text to demonstrate understanding of its characters, setting, or plot.
8. (Not applicable to literature)
9. Compare and contrast two or more versions of the same story (e.g., Cinderella stories) by different authors or from different cultures.
10. By the end of the year, read and comprehend literature, including stories and poetry, in the grades 2–3 text complexity band proficiently, with scaffolding as needed at the high end of the range.
Jay Peteranetz holds a MFA in Sequential Art from the Savannah College of Art and Design.

He is very interested in the literary, cultural, political, and social discussions comics can bring to all readers.  He has been published by small press companies across the nation, including Harvard Bookstore’s first comics anthology: Minimum Paige.

He is currently working on An American Apocalypse, an independent comic with former Colorado State Senator Bob Hagedorn.

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