Toon Books has recently come out with its latest in the Benny and Penny series. I was initially not in love with Benny and Penny. While they’ve won me over, they still aren’t my favorite titles in this series. That honor belongs to Eleanor Davis’s Stinky, a book that is nearly perfect in my mind. They’ve also just issued another new one called Zig and Wikki, which is a about science and at a slightly higher reading level. I already touted it to all my homeschool friends, but Toon Books has an amazing website with lesson plans, a way to use the characters to make your own comic panels and an online reader that will read the books aloud in multiple languages, including Chinese. No, really, genuine 中文! 真的!
I enjoy comics myself and my kids seem drawn to them in a way that they aren’t to other books. With the way that they integrate visual cues and written language, they seem like the perfect medium for teaching early readers. They’re also a wonderful incentive to read alone because they’re so difficult to read aloud without feeling somewhat awkward or doing a lot of voices. (I get embarrassed to read with too many silly voices. Also, it’s easy to lose track of how you’re doing each voice. Does anyone else have this problem?)
I really wish there were more series of comic book style early readers. There are a few beautiful wordless picture books, like The Adventures of Polo by Regis Faller. And, of course, there’s Mo Willems’s amazing Elephant and Piggie books, which are like very simplified comics. However, the only other early readers I know of are the dreadful Phonics Comics, which are the sort of early readers that seem to assume children don’t deserve decent books. The middle grades and YA markets are increasingly filling up with graphic novels. Even the chapter books section is getting more, such as the Lunch Lady novels by Jarrett Krosoczka. I can only hope that the trend is going to filter down into early readers and give us even more options.