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Posts from November 2017

Yes, #GraphicNovels Are Real Books

I've had a couple of parents approach me recently with questions akin to: "How do I get my child to read something else besides graphic novel? I want him to read real chapter books." To which I say: "Why do you need to do this?" If your child is reading graphic novels, then he is reading. Graphic novels are real books. If your child is reading graphic novels avidly, then my suggestion is not to try to push him to chapter books. My suggestion is to find him more graphic novels.

RealFriendsNow, I will concede one issue that I've run into due to my daughter's devotion to graphic novels. There just aren't as many graphic novels as there are chapter books. This means that we can actually run out of books for her to read that are even remotely age appropriate (and believe me, I have stretched this upwards). She doesn't help matters by having only passing interest in fantasy - she wants thick, realistic graphic novels only. And she pretty much has all of the ones I can find that she can understand. She simply reads those over and over again. I'm fairly sure she must know Shannon Hale and LeUyen Pham's Real Friends by heart. 

Because of this shortage I have tried introducing some notebook novels into the mix. These still have plenty of illustrations, but also have more text. My daughter is having none of it. This means that unless I can find new graphic novels that she likes, she ends up reading less. Which is certainly not the goal. But I personally think it would be worse to push her to read books that she's not interested in. So I don't. 

Graphic novels, by their nature, provide more scaffolding to new readers. They can often figure out what's going on by looking at the pictures, even when the vocabulary might be above their heads. My daughter told me that she finds graphic novels easier to read because "you don't have to read all that 'he said' 'she said' stuff." To her, it's more intuitive to just SEE who is saying what. 

Graphic novels are also generally fast reads - our eyes can scan pictures faster than we can read words. My daughter is currently whipping her way through the Amulet series (here we have branched out a bit from the realistic fiction, though she doesn't expect to have an interest in re-reading these). Because they can be thick, but still a fast read, graphic novels give new readers a sense of accomplishment. 

SunnySideUpAnd just like chapter books, graphic novels can cover serious issues. In Sunny Side Up, by Jenni Holm and Matt Holm, young Sunny's summer is overshadowed by her worries about her older brother, whose drug problem has led to erratic behavior. This is shown via flashbacks, and the graphic format allows the authors to imply the drug use without speaking of it directly. This means that it's not overwhelming for my daughter (I think it mostly went over her head), but it's there for older readers to process. 

For more on benefits of graphic novels, see this digital document created by the Comic Book Legal Defense Club: Raising a Reader! How Comics & Graphic Novels Can Help Your Kids Love To Read!, a resource for parents & educators about the learning benefits of comics. This is a great resource for parents covering things that graphic novels offer kids, tips for parents for navigating graphic novels, ideas for creating reading dialogs with graphic novels, booklists, and more.

So why are some parents (and many librarians, for that matter), so determined to push kids out of graphic novels and into chapter books? Here are three possible reasons:

  1. Parents don't like to see kids re-reading the same books over and over again when they could perhaps benefit from exposure to a broader array of titles.
  2. Graphic novels are different from the books that we grew up with, and we aren't as comfortable reading them. I personally don't much like reading graphic novels. I prefer the linearity of straight-up text. I find it distracting to have to look at the whole picture in each panel, and figure out what comes first. This bias on my own part makes it more challenging for me to support my daughter's graphic novel passion. But I do it anyway.
  3. The more academically-focused parents probably want their children reading more words, instead of looking at pictures, so that they are on a path to better test scores, etc. 

WrinkleInTimeGraphicTo reason one I say: try to find more graphic novels, if you can. Perhaps look to graphic novelizations of traditional chapter books. Did you know that there's a graphic novel version of A Wrinkle In Time? Ask librarians for help. And then maybe very gently offer things that stretch the child's reading zone. There are some nonfiction graphic novel-style books coming out - maybe these will lead into actual nonfiction on the same topics. For my realistic graphic novel-obsessed daughter I'm quietly mixing in some fantasy. I don't push, but I grab things from the library and offer them. If they are rejected I can return them easily enough. 

To reason two I say: try to get over your own feelings about graphic novels. Your child does not have to like the same books that you liked. I think it's ok to explain to your kids that you aren't as much of a fan as they are, as long as you respect their reasons for liking graphic novels. You can also learn more about graphic novels via resources like the CBLDF booklet linked above. Some extremely fine authors are producing simply fabulous books in this area. It's ok to take graphic novels seriously. They are much more than the old Archie comics from when we were kids.  

ReadAloudHandbookTo reason three I say this: our goal as parents should be to help our children learn to LOVE books. If we are successful at this, then they will read books. As they read more books, they will get better at reading, and they will want to read even more. We'll have a virtuous cycle in which their reading skill enhances their enjoyment, and vice versa. (See Jim Trelease's The Read Aloud Handbook for more about this).

I believe that if you have a child who loves books, she will eventually want to read MORE books, and she'll more than likely branch out from graphic novels. Maybe she'll move to notebook novels like Dork Diaries. Maybe she'll move to series books like the Rainbow Fairies. Maybe she'll go straight to the non-graphic version of A Wrinkle in Time, if she's old enough. Because that's what real readers do. As an adult, I like to read mysteries. If there's nothing new by any of my favorite mystery authors, perhaps I'll pick up some nonfiction, or science fiction, or re-read a classic. Readers find a way to read. Our goal should be to nurture readers. 

Shawna Coppola writes about this topic in "But they only read graphic novels". She links to some background on "the myriad of benefits that reading comics and graphic novels offer readers of all ages" but concedes that there can be a valid interest in teaching kids to have a more balanced reading diet. She suggests that we mine this food analogy to encourage kids to read different things, with different benefits. She also suggests for teachers "Perhaps we ought to simply let our students read what they want to during independent reading time–including as many graphic novels as their charming little brains can handle, for Pete’s sake–and be incredibly mindful about offering multiple opportunities for them to read and engage with other kinds of texts throughout the remainder of our time with them."

LunchLadyFieldTripMy personal belief is that this is what we should be doing at home - letting kids read what they want to read, to nurture their love of reading. What I also do is read aloud a more challenging work with my daughter, and talk her through the details, as a way to expose her to more complex plots and substantive vocabulary words. I feel like if she is listening to Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, she's more than welcome to read the Lunch Lady books 10 times over on her own.

I've never personally been a big reader of graphic novels. But I will defend to all comers my daughter's right to prefer them. First, because there are many benefits to graphic novels, and second because I truly believe that one of the most important things we can do to nurture young readers is to give them choice in their reading. 

© 2017 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook

Groundhug Day: Anne Marie Pace & Christopher Denise

Book: Groundhug Day
Author: Anne Marie Pace
Illustrator: Christopher Denise
Pages: 48
Age Range: 4-8

GroundhugDayGroundhug Day, by Anne Marie Pace and Christopher Denise, is a charming story about holidays and friendship. It's February 1st, and Moose, with the help of his friends Bunny, Porcupine, and Squirrel, is planning a Valentine's Day party. The animals want their friend Groundhog to be able to attend. They worry, however, that he will see his shadow in the morning and go back inside for six more weeks. As they fight over various schemes for keeping Groundhog from seeing his shadow, they end up too late. But they nonetheless make a valiant effort to convince Groundhog to stay aboveground and to learn not to be afraid of shadows. Although things don't turn out quite the way the animals wanted, they do end up with groundhugs all around, and the chance to celebrate other holidays going forward. 

The bickering between the four well-intentioned friends follows a pattern throughout the book, sure to be reassuring to young listeners. Groundhug Day strikes me as more of a book to be read aloud to a child than for the child to read himself, with words like "silhouette" and "thundered". It would be fun for a parent or librarian to read aloud, doing distinct voices for the various animals. Here's a snippet to show the different voices:

""But you're not afraid of shadows
anymore," Moose protested.
"Now you don't have to miss my
Valentine's Day party."

"I may not be afraid,"
Groundhog said,
"but it is cold up here."

"But there aren't any balloons in your hole," said Squirrel.
"Or Valentine cards!" said Bunny.
"Or Valentine hugs!" said Porcupine pointedly."

Little snicker at: "Porcupine said pointedly." One can see that Anne Marie Pace (author of the Vampirina books) has put care into every work. I also like that she doesn't overly spell out details about Groundhog Day or the other holidays. She lets the details flow from the text, or from whatever auldt is reading the book aloud to young listeners.

Christopher Denise's digitally created illustrations lend both warmth and humor to the story. Each animal's personality comes through via details of their representation, with the paternalistic Moose wearing a sweater and glasses, and Porcupine thoroughly pouting when he laments the lack of hugs. When Groundhog emerges from his den in a St. Patrick's Day outfit near the end of the book, he's practically a different animal from the one who wasn't really ready to face the winter in early February. 

Groundhug Day is a fun addition to the ranks of holiday picture books - covering Groundhog Day, Valentine's Day, St. Patrick's Day, and even Easter. It would be a nice selection for any library serving preschoolers. My seven-year-old read it on her own and pronounced it a book that I had to write about. And so I have. Recommended!

Publisher: Disney-Hyperion (@DisneyHyperion)
Publication Date: December 5, 2018
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2017 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through affiliate links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

Further Evidence that It's All About Choice

My daughter regularly grumbles about her math homework. It's not that she usually finds it difficult, but that she resents having to do it at all. When it's easy for her she resents it more, because she sees her time as being wasted. Luckily for me, she usually does her math homework at her after school care (where all of the kids are expected to do homework at the same time), so I don't have to listen to the complaints.

MathWorkbookImagine my surprise the other morning when she asked to cut short our breakfast reading session so that we could work together on "math facts". She pulled out the workbook from a previous math module (they get to keep them after the module is completed) and started filling in unused pages. The next morning she asked to do the same thing.

So, when it's homework, she is annoyed and irritable about having to do it. But when it's her choice, she will happily pull out the same workbook and do the same activities.

It is possible that some of this difference stems from the fact that I'm sitting snuggled with her on the couch doing this "math facts" activity, vs. her sitting at Kids Club or at our kitchen table on her own. I could test this theory by doing her math homework with her on the couch (though this runs counter to my goal for her to learn to do her homework independently).

But I think it mainly boils down to free choice. When we're playing "math facts" she picks which pages look interesting. She stops to sketch on the unused backs of pages. She stops mid-activity if something is boring. When it comes to homework, it's not doing math that's the problem. It's doing a particular set of math problems that someone else expects her to do at a certain time, regardless of her own mood and inclination. The parallels to required reading are obvious here. 

This makes me wonder: if her teacher were to assign her to read graphic novels every day as homework, would she grumble and complain and stop enjoying them? This is an experiment that I do not wish to undertake. Because it is quite possible that the answer would be yes.

It's all about free choice. Which is not to say that teachers don't have to follow a logical curriculum, or that my daughter won't have to learn that sometimes you have to do things on other people's timeline. But it's also true that self-directed inquiry is more engaging for her than assigned work, particularly in that outside of school time that she considers her own. This is probably the case for most of us.

© 2017 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook

Links I Shared on Twitter this Week: November 3: #KidLitCon, #Cybils, #Halloween + Growing #Readers

TwitterLinksHere are highlights from the links that I shared on Twitter this week @JensBookPage. First up, while I'm not sharing the related links, the Kidlitosphere Conference is taking place today in Hershey, PA. I was unable to attend (travel is pretty difficult for me these days), but I hope that everyone there is having a fabulous time!! Follow the #KidLitCon hashtag on Twitter for updates. I'll be retweeting as my schedule permits.

In other news, I have posts about #AcceleratedReader, #BookLists, #DiverseBooks, #GrowingBookworms, #Halloween, #math, #PictureBookMonth, #PictureBooks, flexible classrooms, grades, reading for pleasure, schools, teaching, the #Cybils Awards, and gender.

Book Lists

LovelyBadOnes5 Creepy Books Set in New England for Chilly Nights - by via

Historical + Contemporary Middle Grade Books, a from

Roundup of 2017 Best Books Lists started at w/ 's picks


EmptyGraveToday's featured REVIEW: Lockwood & Co., Book 5: The Empty Grave by , review by

Today's featured REVIEW by of nominee Chef Roy Choi and the Street Food Remix

Today's featured REVIEW: Circle, Triangle, Elephant: A Book of Shapes and Surprises, review by Tiffa Foster

Easy Readers/Early Chapters Nominations w/ links from Jennifer Wharton

Full list of Elementary/Middle Grade Nominations w/ links to chair Jennifer Wharton's reviews

Events + Programs

LegendRockPaperScissorsSome of the best -themed costumes from over the years according to

Speaking of costumes, Bookmark Wishes You a Happy Day

founders share tributes to Dianne de Las Casas , + more


I’m 10. And I Want Girls to Raise Their Hands. OpEd in @nytopinionabout girls + confidence

Growing Bookworms

ReadingUnboundThe Benefits of for Pleasure. How + can help via

"We need to be connecting kids with books" by

The benefits of wordless (esp. for pre-literate kids) by Hilary Hawkes

How Samantha Goodger is treating work in high school recovery courses as a "do over" to develop lifelong

Book Buzz: How Elementary Principal is Promoting a by Letting Students Shine in videos

On Reading, Writing, Blogging, and Publishing

In the quest for also include positive portrayals of / interactions w/ white characters says

Schools and Libraries

ReadingStrategiesRT The 18 Reasons Not to Use Accelerated Reader | Pennington Publishing Blog

A defense from of when implemented effectively | "If you don't like it don't use it"

[I rounded up other posts about Accelerated Reader, and added my own thoughts, in this post.]

How Can We Expect Students to Focus on When Educators Only Care About ?

RT @MindShiftKQED: Answers to some of the logistical questions that come up around flexibly classrooms

KickStartKindergartenSchool Readiness AND Developmentally Appropriate Practice? How to Get on the Same Page with Parents

Thoughts on Meeting Where They Are, and what can + can't control from


Jeannie Curtis urges to have More Talking about problems in Class

© 2017 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook.

The Little Girl Who Didn't Want to Go to Bed: Dave Engledow

Book: The Little Girl Who Didn't Want to Go to Bed
Author: David Engledow
Pages: 40
Age Range: 4-8

LittleGirlDidntWantThe Little Girl Who Didn't Want to Go to Bed is the first picture book by photographer David Engledow. The story itself is pretty straightforward picture book fare: little girl doesn't want to go to sleep because she feels like she is missing something. She ends up staying up all night, and is so tired the next day that she misses the real fun that she could have had. And so she decides that she will sleep at night after all.

What makes the book much more than that storyline, however, are Engledow's over-the-top illustrations, digitally manipulated photographs full of kid- and parent-friendly details. These are juxtaposed against text that is generally much more ordinary. For example: 

"Every night, she'd make up excuse after excuse...

"Just one more story. PLEEEEEEEEEASE?""

We see a picture of the little girl perched atop a teetering stack of picture books, surrounded by other stacks, and clutching a copy of "War and Peace." Small alphabet blocks spell out "ONE MORE STORY."

The blocks, as well as the girl's pink stuffed animal (in matching pajamas to her own) are in many of the illustrations, with the blocks spelling out key phrases. Then there are the parents. 

"Even after the lights were out, the little girl would lie awake imagining all the fun that must have been going on without her."

Here we see the parents, dressed up in fancy clothes, mom wearing a pink and white tiara, doing fun things like piñata, jigsaw puzzles, and bobbing for apples. At the very end of the book, when the girl is finally asleep in her own bed, there's a tiny hint that maybe that is the sort of thing the parents do.

But my favorite illustration is one where the girl sneaks out of her room at night and hides in the kitchen trash, banana peel on her head, apple in her mouth. The ones where she is tired and does things like put her arms through her pants are also pretty cute.

My seven year old thought that this book was hilarious. As for me, I thought at first that it would be a bit too gimmicky for me. But I have to say that The Little Girl Who Didn't Want to Go to Bed won me over through a combination of entertaining plot and humorous details. This would make a fun baby shower gift, in that it speaks as much to parents as to kids. It's definitely worth a look. Recommended. 

Publisher: HarperCollins  (@HarperChildrens
Publication Date: October 17, 2017
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2017 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through affiliate links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

Growing Bookworms Newsletter: November 1: #PictureBooks, Family #Reading, #Homework + #AR

JRBPlogo-smallToday, I will be sending out a new issue of the Growing Bookworms email newsletter. (If you would like to subscribe, you can find a sign-up form here.) The Growing Bookworms newsletter contains content from my blog focused on growing joyful learners, mainly bookworms, but also mathematicians and learners of all types. The newsletter is sent out every two to three weeks.

Newsletter Update:  In this issue I have four book reviews (picture book and middle grade) and one post about my daughter's latest literacy milestone (seeking comfort from favorite picture books). I also have a post about the emotional benefits of family reading and another about drawbacks to computerized reading programs like Accelerated Reader. I also have two posts with links that I shared recently on Twitter, and one post with more detailed quotes from an article about homework

Reading Update: In the last two weeks I somehow finished four middle grade books and five adult titles. I read/listened to: 

  • Michael Northrop: Polaris. Scholastic. Middle Grade Science Fiction. Completed October 21, 2017. Review to come.
  • Paul Noth: How to Sell Your Family to the Aliens. Bloomsbury. Middle Grade Fantasy. Completed October 22, 2017, print ARC. Review to come.
  • SunnySideUpJennifer L. Holm (ill. Matt Holm): Sunny Side Up. Graphix. Middle Grade Graphic Novel. Completed October 23, 2017. My daughter had me read this one to her, after she had already read it herself. I was glad that I did read it, because there are topics worthy of parent/child discussion here. 
  • Kazu Kibuishi: The Stonekeeper (Amulet, Book 1). Graphix. Middle Grade Graphic Novel. Completed October 24, 2017. My daughter insisted that I read this one, after she had finished it. It's not really my sort of thing, but I was glad that she liked it. 
  • Joy Ellis: Stalker on the Fens (Nikki Galena, Book 5). Joffe Books. Adult Mystery. Completed October 18, 2017, on MP3. I still like this series... 
  • Lea Waters: The Strength Switch: How The New Science of Strength-Based Parenting Can Help Your Child and Your Teen to Flourish. Avery. Adult Nonfiction. Completed October 18, 2017, on Kindle. This was an interesting read, and I am trying to be a bit more strength-focused in dealing with my daughter as a result. 
  • Brett Battles: The Destroyed (Jonathan Quinn, Book 5). CreateSpace. Adult Thriller. Completed October 21, 2017, on Kindle. These are popcorn books, almost entirely plot, but I enjoy them. 
  • Dan Ames: A Hard Man to Forget (The Reacher Files, Book 1). CreateSpace. Adult Thriller. Completed October 22, 2017, on Kindle. This is kind of a Reacher spin-off, and this one I didn't really care for. The conclusion came much too quickly, without the plot being fully formed. 
  • Joy Ellis: Captive on the Fens (Nikki Galena, Book 6). Joffe Books. Adult Mystery. Completed October 25, 2017, on MP3. I think that this series continues to improve. 
  • Harlan Coben: Don't Let Go. Dutton Books. Adult Mystery/Thriller. Completed October 31, 2017, on MP3. I found this standalone (with cameo from Myron Bolitar) satisfying, though one scene was a bit disturbing. The trouble with audio is that one can't easily skim... But I enjoyed it overall. 

AmuletBook1I'm currently listening to The Empty Grave (Lockwood & Co., Book 5) by Jonathan Stroud and reading iGen: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy--and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood--and What That Means for the Rest of Us by Jean M. Twenge. My daughter and I are still reading Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire together at breakfast. We're up to the scene in the graveyard and expect to finish fairly soon. For her own reading, she is currently working her way through the Amulet series by Kazu Kibuishi. She didn't think that they were books she would want to re-read, however, so we got them from the library. The ones she reads over and over again are more realistic and character-driven (Real Friends, Babysitters Club), whereas the Amulet series is fantasy and apparently more plot-driven, so this makes sense to me.

She's also still re-reading the Lunch Lady series on a regular basis. The other night we played a couple of family rounds of Clue (her first time playing, except for an attempt with friends a couple of years ago). She got bored waiting for us during our turns, and started reading a Lunch Lady book while playing. Despite this, she somehow managed to win the second game, to my husband's and my astonishment. So much for our telling her that she needs to pay attention.

PomegranateWitchWe've also been re-reading some favorite picture books, and reading new and old Halloween-themed books. We had assembled a box of books to donate to a friend's school library, and I think that this sparked a renewed appreciation for the books that we wanted to keep. Also, though I didn't bother to log them on her reading list, she sat down the other afternoon and read all of our Elephant and Piggie books in one sitting (maybe 10 titles or so). I think she's getting a pretty good variety these days. As am I. 

Thanks for reading, and for growing bookworms. 

© 2017 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook