Comics as a Gateway Drug

Art Spiegelman famously said, “Comics are a gateway drug to literacy.”  I can attest to this as it seems my daughter is hooked.

Embarrassingly, it all started because one day I was too busy to read to her when she asked for a story.  Being a resourceful sort of parent, I set her up on my computer with the TOON Books web site, where she could have the stories read to her. I could do my thing, and she could do hers. It quickly became her favorite place on the web (overtaking the #1 spot long occupied by PBS Kids). There are only a handful of stories, but she happily “reads” them again and again.

On a recent Saturday afternoon at the library, she was positively delighted to discover the TOON Books are “real books too” when she happened upon Stinky by Eleanor Davis.  We took a Benny and Penny book home that day, and I put the soon-to-be published Benny and Penny in Lights Out on hold for her.  My daughter has loved books since she was tiny, but I’ve never seen her so excited about them until these comics.  You want to know the best part of being a parent? Watching your child find something they love.  Best thing ever.

Connecting with these books has Ladybug drawing and writing more. She is making up stories and putting on puppet shows based on the characters she loves.  These books have inspired a theatrical storytelling from my four-year-old that is kind of exhausting but mostly awesome. She is currently of the opinion that all books should be read very dramatically with different voices for each character.  She’s happy to play Penny in any reading of a Benny and Penny book.  She recites from memory of course. :)

My daughter’s entry in our library’s summer reading program illustrates Benny and Penny in the Toy Breaker.

Since I’m now the graphic novel guru in my office (or I try to be anyway since our real Graphic Novel Guru left us for another job) this TOON into Reading guide landed on my desk.  If I was ever in doubt of the value of comics before, I certainly have been won over to them now.

The activities page in TOON into Reading with my daughter’s comic.

Now if you will excuse me, my daughter is about to put on a puppet show with her Benny and Penny popsicle stick puppets.  I don’t want to miss it.

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How to Cat-sit (Picture Book Preschool)

We are cat-sitting, so it seemed like a good time to revisit one of Ladybug’s favorite books: Take Care, Good Knight by Shelley Moore Thomas.  In this story three little dragons take care of their friend’s cats.  Their friend left a note with instructions that included pictures, but the little dragons can’t read and they try to guess from the pictures what they should do for the cats.  Hilarity ensues.

For us the book was a way of talking about what cats like and don’t like.  The little dragons learn that cats do not like swimming, for example, and I had Ladybug come up with things that cats do like.  But you might also have kids try to interpret a set of instructions with just the pictures like the little dragons did.  Find other ideas here from the United Way’s Ready for School Initiative.

See the author read the story in this video:

Also, here are some tips from Cats International for those considering introducing a cat to a household that includes kids.

You may also be interested in my previous Picture Book Preschool post.

FCC Disclaimer: Take Care, Good Knight reviewed from personal copy.  Amazon links are affiliate links.

Last Chance for the Alphabet Forest (until next year)

Today is Last Chance Day at the Minnesota State Fair.  It’s your last chance to eat state fair food on a stick, to ride the rides on the Mighty Midway, or wander through the giant sea of fair-goers until next year.  Perhaps most importantly for families with young children, it’s the last day to win a blue ribbon by collecting fair words a la The Fabulous Fair Alphabet by Debra Frasier.

Ms. Frasier started the Alphabet Forest at the 2010 fair as a way to highlight literacy at the fair.  She writes on her web site,

“I write and illustrate books for children but my real work is to spread the joys of literacy everywhere I go. Developing innovative ways to strengthen vocabulary acquisition for young people is at the heart of my mission. “

I was privileged to work in the Alphabet Forest this past Friday afternoon & evening.  I watched families make banners with fair letters, color alphabet ferris wheels, and get their photos taken in the alphabet photo booth.  It was awesome.  The best part, though, was getting a chance to talk about books to parents and teachers who came to the Forest with their kids.  We paged through the picture books excitedly talking about how they could be used in a classroom and the amazing group of local children’s book authors we have right here in Minnesota, including the featured author of the day Catherine Thimmesh, whose book Friends: True Stories of Extraordinary Animal Friendships is very adorable.  Today’s author is Catherine Urdahl.  Her book, Polka Dot Fixes Kindergarten, is a great choice for new kindy kids.


My little one enjoyed the activities:


She also enjoyed “helping” me sell the books:

All in all, it was a great day at the fair.  :)

See more about the Alphabet Forest in this video or read about my adventures at last year’s state fair.

Wildly Happy Read-Alouds

Ladybug helped me out with my Books in Bloom post last week, which featured Read-alouds for Your Littlest Listeners.  I wrote,

In Reading Magic Mem Fox advises parents to “Spend at least ten wildly happy minutes every single day reading aloud.”

With this quote in mind, I set out to find some happy picture books to recommend as read-alouds to Books in Bloom readers. My three-year-old very graciously agreed to help. Her job was to listen and weigh-in on the “read-aloud-ability” of the picture books I chose. You should know that she is very serious about the “wildly happy” aspect of reading.

We shared a couple of our favorite authors, Karen Beaumont and Marsha Wilson Chall, along with a few others that were new to us.    Check it out, and be sure to tell us what some of your favorite read-alouds are.

Teachers, librarians, and anyone else who reads books to groups may also be interested in my list of Great Picture Books for Groups.  They all have big, bold illustrations that work even from a distance.  Most are fun–perfect for a group storytime at a library or preschool.

As I said in my Books in Bloom post, “Whatever you choose for your next read-aloud, be sure to enjoy it. Don’t worry about counting the minutes. The important thing is the ‘wildly happy’ part.”