Tuesday, November 4, 2014


Nicholas has a shelf in his bedroom that he arranged soon after we moved to this house.  He calls it his graphic novel collection.  I secretly call it his falling in love with books collection.  On these shelves are the books that were chosen first by me, and then eventually by him, books we collected at bookstores on vacations, from used book sales, and ones that were gifted to him by us on birthdays.  If you look closer, you begin to see the individual titles.  And, closer still, that each book holds two stories, the one on the pages and the one of our reading of it.  Many of our personal stories for each book center on something clicking for him about how reading a book is a gift, is enjoyable, and in its best moments, hilarious and difficult as you make so many points of connection come alive in your mind.

Nicholas was, entering second grade, an adequate reader.  But not a child who loved to read.  I made it my mission to change this.  I threw stacks and stacks of carefully and not so carefully chosen books in his direction when it came time to choose our next book to read together.  Trying to give him a book frenzy of options, so he could dig through, choose what looked interesting, and sit with it.  And even, sometimes, get up from his seat, toss one back into the pile.  And choose again.

On this shelf in Nicholas' room, are the ones we own, so many good ones returned long ago to the library.  I can pull out individual books.  And each has a story of Nicholas as a reader.

The Choose Your Own Adventure book he found at the tiny lending library in the common room of the town hall at the end of the lake where my family has a summer camp years ago.  He borrowed it.  Read it under the quilts on his bed in the sleeping loft bed that night while the rain dampened the roof above his head.  And, in the morning, asked if we could drive to town to see if they had more.  

Or this one:

A text heavy graphic novel if you will, the first chapterish book that he and I slogged our way through each night for reading homework, so taken was he by its story.  Wanting to read on despite how difficult it was.  Taking breaks from the text by discussing the pictures and the clues to the futuristic mystery they held on each page.

I have been here, at this place where your child's mind is ready to be told stories, is drawn to stories, that are far beyond their reading ability.  And I feel as though this is a place where children can teeter a bit, not find the right stories and therefore miss a chance to develop a healthy habit of reading for pleasure, reading to find out what happens next, in any truly good story.

* * *

Elliott, now the same age and a similar reader in some ways to Nicholas at this age, started having his assigned reading homework this week.  And he was...skeptical.  He has watched his siblings go through this process.  He watches them do their own versions of homework now.  And he is not really all that impressed with this nonsense.

What I do see him grabbing though, when it isn't his jar of fine tipped Sharpies and a piece of scrap paper, is one of the titles from his collection of Owly books.  He loves these books.  Books he can tell himself the whole story of, an internal picture reading process he so enjoys without needing to painstakingly struggle through that bothersome text.

So, knowing this, and wanting to get this whole shebang started well, I headed to the library while he was at school.  I was headed toward the ill fated, for both Julia and Nicholas, learning to read section.  Don't get me started on that collection.  I have thoughts, many of them not productive, but know this.  They center on my musings on books that all have some version of puddle ducks...puddles and everybody smiling and being swell friends.  About happily wet ducks.  And children being asked to read this banality, page by arduous page, bookmarks tucked between one page of fluffy yellow ducks and the next page of, if they are lucky, surprised fluffy yellow and wet ducks, for months.

Anyhoo.  I was taking a deep breath and starting fresh, hoping for some new Mo Willems, having gone through this process with both Julia and Nicholas.  And suddenly, I took a hard left and turned toward the graphic novel section of the children's collection.  I dug deep.  I slid the books that Nicholas is drawn to there over.  And glanced through a few that Julia recently enjoyed and decided they were not quite right.  Skipped over a few Elliott has already devoured.  And then I saw them.

Two new to us Flying Beaver Brother's stories, by Maxwell Eaton, III.  I snatched them up.  I was high on the thoughts of flying beavers.  So I skipped my way over to the circulation desk.

Later that day, Elliott walked out of school with his classmates.  Many were clutching their new reading journals, some of them already decorated.  Elliott's was stuffed and a bit soggy under his Boggs in his backpack.

Once home, I mentioned that we needed to find a time to do his reading.  I expected an entirely comprehensible to me but otherwise inarticulate response, like a growl or an ugh.  I pulled out the new books.  He actually gasped.  Can I look at the pictures now?  grabbing the book and trying to run from the kitchen.

Realizing I was going to lose any battle I waged about waiting until I had done a few things in the kitchen and that I wanted to ride the wave of enthusiasm, I dropped everything else and we snuggled up on the couch and jumped in.

It was the most fun we have had reading together in a long time.

And he did not want to stop.  This story, unlike other graphic novels I have tried with Elliott, has an interesting, hilarious story, told equally in pictures and by words.  And the word choice is accessible to Elliott, unfamiliar words decodable.  And also, this is a boy who does not want to read about people being too mean to each other, or at least meanness without consequence, or about sports, sarcasm, or poop.  That's just him.  Perfect him.  A Marmot who feels outshadowed by his revered older brother, moles like Minions who say nothing but yut, and two main beaver characters who are clumsy and clever, with some nods to humor that is not too adult oriented but certainly entertains the adult reader with cleverisms makes for some good stuff here.  

I have since done a bit of research into Maxwell Eaton, III...whose name and titles are quite long to write again and again each night in a reading journal, FYI.  And explaining III?  That was fun too.
MAXWELL EATON III is an author and illustrator of books for children. He lives with his wife and two dogs in the Adirondack Mountains of New York State. He has trouble elaborating.
Maxwell Eaton, III's bio on his website.  That's all. 

Oh my.  This man is funny.

Like his bio, he tells his funny escapades with the perfect level of difficulty for Elliott, and with pages and pages and pages that are just pictures and onomatopoetic sound effects.  Grunts, splats, kabooms, and glurps.  Okay, these are not real words he is decoding, and definitely not high frequency words, as the reading gurus would say if that's what you are into, but I would argue sounding out EEEEEEEErt and cropple and shoop and vrrrrrrr are just as good practice and a heck of a lot more fun if you are Elliott and tend to move about the world more creaturish than human, with more noticing of movement and visuals and the parts of the story that are subtle and unspoken.  These are words that will come in handy.  And conversations such as the one we had about an individual word being bolded meant that when you read that word aloud you should emphasize it, therefore changing the meaning of the thought expressed is certainly what I am into.

I need to hook Elliott on reading at this point, to get him to see that if he mixes his text reading skills with his visual reading gifts on one giant, explosive BLORP?  The story only gets better.  And doing it together, he and I, is going to make it an epically squwadoosh moment.

After we finished reading, Elliott asked if he could draw for a bit.  I tucked away the book with his reading journal on a shelf.  And therefore he did not have it with him when he walked over to the jar of Sharpies and gathered the materials he wanted and joined me in the kitchen with them while I started dinner.

Mid-stir, I looked over at what he was doing.  I walked to the shelf and got down the Flying Beaver Brothers and set it next to him on the counter.

Elliott had chosen the exact color palette of the book for his drawings.  Without being conscious of it.  Well, maybe that's not it.  He was obviously conscious of the limited colors of the pictures, though I am not sure I was.  But we certainly had not talked about the art of the book, the consciously limited color pallette.  We had discussed the drawing style and he had wondered with me about why the shape of the comic panels was different occasionally.  But color?  No.  We had not discussed this.

During my dinner making, he told me he was going to draw all his favorite story characters.  This is what his page looked like when I finally put dinner on the table.

It's a Beaver Brother, awaiting a fatter Sharpie to color it in.  Owly and Wormie.  Mo Willem's Pigeon.   And he was just getting started on Elephant and Piggie when I threw the tardy dinner toward the table.

I find this choice of favorite characters interesting.  These books are all relatively new, post Nicholas' learning to read.  And the authors/illustrators all tell so much of the story visually, through their seemingly simple but incredibly sophisticated line drawings.  The best parts of the story are in the humor expressed through facial expressions.  So much depends upon a raised pig eyebrow.  Just for example.

And now, half way through one of the two Flying Beaver Brother books I snagged at the library, I have discovered there are two more.  And I am, given the gift of having been through all this before, and with a shelf of books known to help a child fall in love with reading upstairs, I am thinking of what we can move to next after we have devoured this series.

And I am thinking of what will be on Elliott's shelves of learning to love reading books.  Or whatever he decides to call them.  Maybe Books of Well Articulated Splats.  He already has Elephant and Piggie and Owly on there.  I think I may need to purchase The Flying Beavers.  I wonder what books will come next.  

And eventually, though he has already read the entire series by picture and got far more out of the subtleties of the story that way than we likely will with the text, when we cropple the text and images together, we will read Amulet series together.  I can't wait.

The next morning, after we dropped off Julia and Nicholas at school and were parking the car so I could walk him into school, Elliott said quietly to me from the back seat.

Mommy?  I did something.  I snuck down this morning and read ahead in the book.  It's okay though.  I didn't ruin reading the book together.  I only read the pictures. 

It's going to be soooo good!  he moaned.  There is a ship filled with moles coming.  When can we read together after school today?

Then he caught himself and his admissions.  Is it okay that I did that?

Absolutely.  There is so much goodness ahead, at the turn of the next page.  I love that he just can't wait anymore.

No comments:

Post a Comment

we welcome comments, but please select a profile below. tree to river does not publish anonymous comments.