‘It’s all about the reading’


A visit from a children’s book writer, free books and new book cabinets.

That triple treat was delivered to students from K to grade 8 at the East Newark Borough School earlier this month.

And it all came about because an Essex County Boy Scout whose mother happens to be the East Newark School art teacher wanted to coordinate a school book fair to attain his Eagle Scout badge, the highest award in scouting.

Max Spiegel, a junior at South Orange/Maplewood Regional High School, is a member of BSA Troop 5, based in Maplewood.

After scoping out the three-pronged project, Max shared his ideas with his mom, Michell Spiegel, who shared some insights about the borough students many coming from families whose primary language is something other than English and that helped convince Max he could make an impact with East Newark as the host school.

And so he arranged, “through a friend of a friend,” to get alternate comics writer/illustrator/graphic novelist Kevin C. Pyle to come to East Newark and show the youngsters how the art of drafting comics translates to storytelling.

“In comics, you mix words and pictures together to create meaning,” Pyle told the children.  

Pyle used a Smartboard (a computer projection screen) to draw and display different kinds of character facial expressions and asked leading questions to elicit responses from the attentive students.

Pyle, who has done illustrations for The New York Times Op-Ed Page, NY Times Book Review, The New Yorker, among other publications, has focused mostly on comics and graphic novels the last 15 years.

Among his more well-known works are “Blindspot” — partly based on memories of “playing soldier in the woods as a kid” — and “Take What You Can Carry,” which deals with the interactions of a Chicago delinquent and a displaced Japanese-American family during WWII.

He said his newest novel, “Migrant,” now at the printer, relates the dangers attached to immigrants fleeing their homelands in Mexico, El Salvador and elsewhere and how that relates to “social justice.”

While he confessed to not being much of a comics fan growing up, Pyle said that as a kid, he “liked to draw war scenes” and recalls, embarrassingly, how he proudly showed off one of his favorite creations to his granddad, a WWI veteran.

He has taught comics, illustration and the cultural history of monsters in a variety of school settings and grade levels.

Scout Max, meanwhile, also contributed to the kids’ special day by collecting and handing out age-appropriate books selected from Nobrow Publishing to the students attending the program.

“Some of the books came from people in the community and from my high school and from me,” he said.

And he spent about two weeks, with help from several of his scout buddies, building three sets of wood book cabinets now installed in the school’s multi-purpose room.

East Newark School Superintendent/Principal Patrick Martin said he welcomed the Scout’s efforts as a boon to the school’s language-arts curriculum.

“There’s nothing more important than reading,” Martin said. “This young man coming and recognizing that by helping out young people in reading warms my heart, gives me hope for the future.

“Our students, many of them from Spanish-speaking backgrounds, have got some challenges in front of them and reading, therefore, becomes even more important for students like ours.”


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