A Public Service Announcement! ;)

A Public Service Announcement! ;)

Sunday, January 15, 2012

"Son Testing" 4 TOON Books

One thing I love about being alive at this precise moment is that I have children growing up at the exact same time as the folks at Toon Books have established a line of comics/graphic novels for emergent readers. When I get review copies of their books, I know I have a perfect focus group waiting for me at home. I have a 4 year old and a six year old, and recently the wife bathed and pajama-ed them up, the beginning ritual for a good half hour or more of book reading.

Based on my eavesdropping and the wife’s feedback (my wife is a veteran teacher with over 12 years of experience at the k-12 level and has worked with kindergarteners on up to special needs high school students. She currently works with special needs pre-k/kindergarteners and holds multiple certifications in elementary education and special education and has a Masters degree in Reading with a focus on Special Education which qualifies her for IRA-approved Literacy Coaching), here are what the boys thought of a quartet of TOON titles:

Silly Lilly in What Will I Wear Today? by Agnes Rosenstiehl held little appeal for my kids. Described by wifey as a “girl power” book in which Lily tries on certain roles or future occupations during playtime sessions, this text was tolerated but not exactly enjoyed. But, it’s not a “boy’s book,” really. It is good for helping young readers know that their imagination is important and that anyone can be anything they put their mind to, but I think my boys already get that. I hope so, anyway. They have been making pretty interesting statements about boys and girls lately, and sometimes they do need to be reminded that girls and boys are equally cool. Silly Lilly might have seemed didactic to them in that regard, though. Still, if I had a daughter, I’d be sure to have the book.

Nina in That Makes Me Mad! by Hilary Knight was received with a little more aplomb. “They can relate to it,” my wife said in which the eponymous main character shares her pet peeves about her young life, like “”When you get made at me and I didn’t do it…. I get mad” and “When I try and it doesn’t work… I get mad.” To be frank, I think anyone can relate to Nina’s perturbances (instances of being perturbed). Therein may be the rub for these first two titles and my boys’ reactions to them, though: they’re important books for reasons adults might get but that some kids might not care for.

Of course, TALKING THROUGH things with your children as you read is essential, and I can see this text’s utility in helping the boys feel connected to others. While it is a strange aspect of human nature, it really does seem to help us, old or young, to know that other people suffer frustration and aggravation and failure just like we do. So, Nina is another one of those books to keep in reserve for when the times are right for it.

Patrick in A Teddy Bear’s Picnic and Other Stories, another Geoffrey Hayes offering from the publisher (see the Benny and Penny books), was one of the two big winners with my kids. How do I know for sure? Because they asked for my wife to read them again the night after their first exposure to the titles. “Read that one with the bear and the one with the bear and other animals” was how my oldest put it (my youngest is sort of the Chester to the oldest’s Spike at this point, mostly saying, “Yeah, yeah!” when he wants the same thing). Perhaps they take after me in that I’ve always liked anthologies and collections, but it seemed to be the multiple stories in one book that appealed to them most about this one. They liked seeing an involved daddy character, a streaking Patrick, and a bully get his comeuppance. I was intrigued to see an explanation for TOON Book’s leveling system at the back of this text (it is also in the other titles, save for Silly Lilly). That’s a welcomed and needed addition for the line. I appreciate transparency and feel like most other parents do too.

Benjamin Bear in Fuzzy Thinking by Philippe Coudray was the runaway favorite, though. My boys have been devouring the Mo Willems books lately, and the mix of humor and meta-narrative seem to be what gets them chuckling. In both Willems’ Elephant and Piggie books and Fuzzy Thinking, for example, the characters know they are in a book and discuss it and make use of the tropes and limitations of being bound in paper and pressed between cardstock to great effect. “I am a bear in a comic!” starts one adventure.

As well, both my boys enjoy visual and verbal puns, which makes me happy for two reasons: 1. That’s a sign of high intelligence in little kids. 2. It gives me more evidence that they are my kids after all! :) This little gem of book is full of them through a series of self-contained minis. My kids love how rabbit escapes a snow storm, for instance, and how bear one-ups him in a fishing contest. They haven’t laughed so hard since reading the aforementioned Willems books and, of course, Walter the Farting Dog. What can I say?: They love highbrow and lowbrow funny.

My wife says this one was good for kids who like “filling in the gaps” between what the words and images provide, which is where many of the puns develop in this book. Furthermore, if what she says is true, then Benjamin Bear in Fuzzy Thinking might be a perfect primer for more advanced comics reading.

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