I like Polo because it starts with the letter P [this is the first letter of Mushroom’s name] and it’s a comic book. Polo is a dog. He goes on adventures and he meets new friends. But he always returns home. It’s kind of like on Toot and Puddle when they say that “a boomerang flies but always returns where it belongs.” They take adventures a lot too. Polo lives in a tree on an island. He uses a boat to travel. He travels on other things too. And sometimes his journey is magical. Like in Polo and the Magic Flute, he came and this Panda gives him a magic flute and the Panda has one also. The magic flute makes things turn magic, like a flying carpet. These are so easy to read because they don’t have any words at all! Only like one or two words that are really noises.
[I thought Mushroom could sum up the appeal of these wordless books better than me. I’ll add that they’re French and the cartoony style is both appealingly simple and surprisingly imaginative. The first volume is much longer, but in the last two years Polo’s shorter adventures have been published here in smaller volumes.]
Okay, anyone reading this is going to think I’m obsessed with Toon Books, but I just think they’re so darn innovative. Poking around on their website, completely without me, Mushroom and BalletBoy discovered that they run a Benny and Penny blog that’s made specifically for emerging readers. It’s a blog for BalletBoy! There’s a new comic every week and a caption contest as well.
I got so excited by this idea that I went in search of other blogs for emerging readers. I could subscribe to the feed for BalletBoy’s email (yes, my kids have email addresses that they use to send messages back and forth to grandparents, mostly) as he’s always wanting more messages in his inbox. It felt like this was the same sort of excitement that would inspire him to read more the way that a magazine coming in the mail does.
Sadly, that was the only blog I found geared toward early readers. If there are more out there, my Googling was too limited to find them. I did find some cool blogs for older kids, such as the one National Geographic Kids runs. However, now I’m imagining all the different things you could do with a blog for 4-7 year olds who are just learning to read. Poems, coloring sheets, links to online reading practice games, nonfiction stories, book reviews of early readers… My imagination went wild.
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.