In which Annie (high school teacher, mother of two young girls and a younger boy) and her aunt Deborah (children's bookseller, mother of two young women in their 20s) discuss children's books and come up with annotated lists.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Reading graphic novels (alone, together, aloud, silently)

Dear Aunt Debbie,

First, how much do I love that you have a "random facts shelf" in your store? Not for the first time, I'm sorry we don't live closer to DC.

You asked in your last post about how I read graphic novels and comic books aloud. I've recently had a lot of time to practice the skill, because in the last couple of weeks we as a family have gone deep into the Bone series, by Jeff Smith. We have the first four Bone books out from the library right now, and they are in constant rotation, in a variety of ways:

"Reading" alone: When Isabel gets a new graphic novel, she first wants to read it by herself. I've made the mistake of referring to what she's doing as "looking at the book," and have been insistently corrected: "No, I'm READING it." She sits right down and examines every page, really taking her time with it. She starts to figure out what's going on, finds the characters she's most interested in, and determines which parts look scary, so she can prepare herself. (At least, that's how I interpret her poring over the pages. She doesn't talk much about what she's thinking as she looks through the books.)

Reading aloud together: After Isabel is done with her first read-through, she will allow me or Jeff (or sometimes Eleanor) to read the book to her. In my read-alouds, I follow the excellent advice provided by the folks at Toon Books (publishers of our beloved Maya Makes a Mess).

Here's the beginning of their list of top ten tips for reading comics with kids:

1. Find the right book

There are many comics and graphic novels out there, but not all are appropriate for every age. Look for titles made especially for children. It's best to choose a story that fits the child's age and interests.

2. Guide young readers

Keep your fingertip below the character that is speaking, so kids can follow along with the story even if they can't yet read the words.

3. Ham it up!

Think of the comic book story as a play. Don't hesitate to be a ham! Read with expression and intonation. Assign parts or get kids to supply the sound effects--it's a great way to reinforce phonics skills.
In reading aloud, this is what I do. I keep my fingertip at the bottom of each panel, under the character who's speaking, so I don't need to narrate who is saying what. I also try to differentiate my voices for different characters, giving them accents or higher or lower tones. Both Jeff Smith, in the Bone books, and Ben Hatke, in the Zita the Spacegirl books, help out by providing accent hints via phonetic spelling.  Here, from Zita, is an alien named Topper, who you can't help but read in a Cockney accent:
In Bone, the rat creatures hiss in long strings of SSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS, which Isabel has claimed as hers to read aloud.

Reading alone: As soon as Isabel has put down a Bone book, Eleanor grabs it up, takes it to the corner we've dubbed the "reading nook," and reads it to herself. This is awesome in all ways but one: she has a terrible time keeping major plot points to herself. Lots of spoilers around here.

Reading aloud separately: When Eleanor reads to herself, she likes to stop and read aloud sentences and brief scenes that she finds funny: "Listen to this!" Mostly, these lines are completely out of context, so if she's reading something no one else in the house has read yet, it's difficult to understand what she's talking about. Every once in a while, however, she hits on a scene  that stands alone. She's fallen in love with this exchange between happy-go-lucky Smiley Bone and dour barkeep Lucius in Bone #3: Eyes of the Storm:

After reading it aloud by herself first, she drafted Jeff to play Lucius, and memorized all of Smiley's lines. They have probably recited this scene aloud 25 times in the last two days.

Rereading/reading out of order: Both Eleanor and Isabel pick up graphic novels out of order, paging through them to find and reread their favorite parts. Right now, Eleanor has read all of the first four books to herself, but likes to listen when I read aloud. Isabel has "read" all of them on her own. I've read the first three books aloud to Isabel, and today we started the fourth. Simultaneously, Jeff is rereading Isabel the second book, and Isabel on her own is reading the end of the fourth. Tonight I read to both girls by myself, as Jeff stayed late at work: Isabel requested a funny rat creature scene from the second book, and Eleanor wanted the continuing narrative in the fourth. The text and illustrations are rich, and the plot is growing increasingly complex, so the rereading doesn't feel repetitive. Often, it provides Eleanor and Isabel the opportunity to notice connections and foreshadowing we missed during the first readthrough.

It is such a pleasure to be immersed in this world as a whole family.

Love, Annie

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