Sunday, July 19, 2015

"Nathan Hale's Hazardous Tales: One Dead Spy" by Nathan Hale

"Nathan Hale's Hazardous Tales: One Dead Spy" is the first in Nathan Hale's series of historical graphic novels. This book humorously shares the events of the American Revolution from famed revolutionary spy, Nathan Hale (same name as the author/illustrator).  The book's premise is silly--Nathan, prior to his execution, is swallowed up by an enormous American History book, thus allowing him to know all there is of the nation's past and future, so the executioner and British soldier prolong his life to hear his tales--but beyond the funny premise, the historical content is great! For fifth graders on up, they can explore some of the milestones that have defined our nation, starting with Mr. Nathan Hale's zeal for his country in this first book. Spoiler Alert- Nathan doesn't die... yet.

Me (trying to look tough) with "One Dead Spy"


This book would be a good one for a book club because kids will want to hold this book. Sorry, it isn't a read aloud. It is, however, the perfect book to work in a cross-curricular manner between art, language, reading, and social studies. The book has SO many uses, but I'll just jot down a few...

1. Comparative Study:
Most teachers and homeschool parents have an official textbook adopted for instruction. Crosscheck facts, dates, and ideas presented by Hale . Compare what his "research babies" have collected for him (see the back of his book for a joke about how he got his research). Make a Venn Diagram showing the relationship between the two sources. In some cases, the information will all be in the middle area; however, some texts will contradict or have different details.

2. Class Debate:
While I normally save discussion prompts for the end of the post, I thought the actual structure and style of the book to be an important question to debate in the classroom.

Most people I have met really like this book and find it to be a great springboard for discussion; however, some may actually find it offensive that great heroes have been reduced to fake, comic book-styled icons. Thus, a debate is a great way to get kids to consider the merits of both arguments.

Divide the class into two groups: one side will take the stance stating it is honoring to Nathan Hale and the other men and women presented in the text to be immortalized in this graphic novel. The second half of the class will argue it is disrespectful and demeaning to the characters to be reduced to a comic book. No matter the child's perspective on the novel, make the children find arguments for their assigned parts.

After a good 10 minutes of discussion in the own groups, have students pick a buddy from their side. This newly formed pair will then meet up with a pair from the other point of view. For another 4-5 minutes, have the teams debate it out--not argue. Tell them the point of the debate is to bring up valid points, not to knock the other side down. A good example is to say:

"If you are in favor of the novel's portrayal of the American heroes, you wouldn't say: 'You guys who are against the book are stupid. Obviously this book is good because it is. You are just dumb.' Clearly, someone who uses name calling hasn't made any arguments for their side--it makes them look like they have no evidence to defend the book." 
Some of the opening pages of this hysterical-historical book.

Evidence is the key word. Make kids think: Why is the book's style good? Why is the book's style bad? While I tend to think this book is nothing less than fabulous, I can come up with a handful of valid ideas to counter my own beliefs.

At the end of the small group discussions, have students create t-charts, then have each group share some of the debates that went on in their groups. Each student is now able to collect information on both sides of the argument.

Finally, have students form their own opinions and write a persuasive paper on the novel. Challenge students to include specific details and counterarguments.

3. Comic-ing All of History:
This book inspires me to consider what other significant events could be told in graphic novel format. Think about all of the history lessons you teach, and consider one that lends itself to a good visual. The formation of the California missions? Ancient Egypt?

Give students a basic comic book template, and ask them to plan out a three-paged comic book-styled work that tells of one event in history.

Hale's novel has a great sense of wit, storytelling ability, and historical fact in his work. Students can have the same in their own work. For added learning, have students make a reference page where they can cite where they found their information.

4. Discussions/Writing Prompts:

Use these prompts to talk about the book with your kids, or you can have them write their responses. Remember, picture books (and in this case comic books) don't need to stop in second grade!

1. What aspects of this book's format (graphic novel) cause you to see something new about America's history?
2. Though Nathan Hale is famous for being a spy, the book doesn't paint him as the greatest spy. What traits do you think define Hale and his legacy?
3. The book brings up the use of mercenaries in war. Do you think it is right for people to fight in wars that are not their own? Why or why not?
4. Were the Revolutionaries moral in their methods? Killing, stealing, destroying property, and cursing are just a few of their moral ambiguities. Were the British moral in their methods? "Over" taxing the people, killing, stealing, and leaving POWs to die are just a few of their moral ambiguities.
5. If you could write a letter to George Washington to tell him of how Nathan Hale should be remembered, what would you say?

I hope you enjoy "Nathan Hale's Hazardous Tales: One Dead Spy"... And I hope you and your kids learn something from this hysterical-historical adventure.

Happy learning!

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