Chris Wilson, editor of The Graphic Classroom, recently introduced a classroom of second-grade students to the educational tools found in the TOON Book Reader. Chris and his students read Otto’s Orange Day with the aid of the Reader’s voice narration, discussed their reactions to the book, and posted comments anonymously on their classroom blog. We were so thrilled to read Chris’ thoughtful, intelligent account of comics use in the classroom that we just had to find out more:

We really admire your successful marriage of engaging comics and educational classroom time. What led you to combine your interests in teaching and comics?

It was luck, really. I was not a comic reader growing up for three reasons: (1) Reading was slow and hard for me. I avoided it at all costs, (2) I was turned off by a lot of the art style and colorings of comics [and] (3) I fell prey to the “comics are not real reading” stereotype…I didn’t want to read anything as a kid. It was too hard…

As an adult, I had a good friend, Larry, who [had] read Spidey and Teen Titans from early childhood…Larry was a reader of traditional books because of his early engagement with comics. When my daughter was born, it occurred to me that I wanted my daughter to love the things I enjoyed, I wanted her to become a better reader than I had been as a kid (or adult for that matter), and that I harbored many unfair and untrue perceptions about comics.

…Years later, I decided to become a teacher and I relied on my personal experience to guide my interests…I went back to school to get my teaching certification and my master’s degree in education. I knew what I wanted to write my graduate paper on. The first thing I did was meet with the graduate advisor and ask permission to write my thesis on the use of comics in the classroom. She approved excitedly and I enrolled and started The Graphic Classroom immediately so that I could build a knowledge base.

How much support does your school’s administration extend in the use of comics as classroom tools?

My principal, school board, superintendent and other administrators are very supportive of my use of comics. The research regarding comics and reading motivation is solid and I used that information to support my endeavors. I was assured that I would be able to use my comics in my classroom so long as our curricular standards are being met. Upon being hired, I immediately asked for permission to start the Hall of Heroes comic book club for fourth graders. The effect that club has had on the students is significant. [The] impact of comics has been significant enough that grade level teachers have asked to use my comics in their classrooms. I’ve even had teachers from other buildings ask me to come to their classrooms and teach their elementary students about comics.

How did you first find the resources available in Professor Garfield and the TOON Reader Library?

We at The Graphic Classroom have been dyed-in-the-wool, unapologetic supporters of TOON Books and Professor Garfield. When I first heard of TOON Books, I could not wait get my hands on them. Emergent reader comics were hard, if not impossible, to come by at the time. After reading my first TOON Book, I knew I had to read all of these books and get them into the hands of early childhood educators.

In the fall of 2009, I received a phone call from a Professor Garfield staffer about the website. He sat on the phone with me and took me through the site. It wasn’t a week until I started using it with grades K-2 in my building. We started reading the TOON Books comics, but expanded to using the extensive phonics and story sequence activities, and the comics creators.

You wrote on your blog that your thesis research led you to believe that kids have a high reading motivation for comics. Why do you think comics provoke this response in children?

Research also demonstrates when students choose their own reading, comics consistently rate in their top three choices. Choice, it turns out, is a significant factor in the reading motivation of students. Interestingly enough, many educators are highly reluctant to allow students choice in reading. I suspect this is because we educators have our own notions of what consists of “real reading”.

Entire chapters and books have been written on the subject of comics and motivation, but when we boil things down we have a duality of image and text that allows students more than one way to decode the story. Comics are less daunting (although not less difficult or important) and they are more engaging to a visually stimulated population. Comics lovers tend to be prolific readers of traditional books…Why? Comics promote a love of reading in kids and adults. When a person falls into the honey pot of reading for love, then an entire world of literature (prose, poetry, newspapers, magazines, blogs) comes alive. When kids have a reason to read, they will seek out engaging stories in nearly any format.

As a parent, how do you encourage your daughter’s appreciation for appropriate and educational comics?

My daughter has her own comic box in her room. She gets her own comics from the comic shop. I talk with her about comics and I entice her by selling her on stories I think she will connect with. I also talk with her about and promote the reading of traditional novels, poetry, magazines and other forms of word and story. We also see a lot of movies and watch some television shows together. We love quoting movies and TV shows.

My daughter also sees my wife and I read weekly if not nightly. I read comics, poetry and fiction, while my wife reads mostly nonfiction. When she was born, my wife and I were committed to a home that promoted reading. I do seek out female-oriented comics for my daughter and my students. It is important to me that girls are equally represented in my educational efforts. I read those comics, too, and talk with the girls about them.

It was fascinating for us to hear Chris, both as an academic and as an involved father, share his thoughts on kids’ comics. As much as we love hearing from bloggers, parents, and teachers, though, nothing beats hearing kids themselves comment on TOON Books. We’re so grateful to Chris for giving his second-graders the blogging platform to publish their thoughts, and we gathered a few of our favorites to share with you:

I liked Otto’s Orange Day it was fantastic. Because I like orange to. I liked his singing. I liked the genies bling –bling. I recommend this book for all second graders.

I liked Otto’s orange Day . I liked Otto’s song. I liked the Genie because he is tricky. I liked when the lizard was orange .I recommend this book for all students.
by FrogMan

I liked his song. Every thing was orange. Alert be awere for the orange crime. I Recommend.
By. Underdog.

I like wian otto sat wat pashsikl. I ilke ant Sile iee swrieha. I like that gene to. Ta gene hat pesa
(No name listed)
(Translation: I liked when Otto said “what popsicle”. I like Aunt Sally Lee’s …. I like that genie, too. The genie ate pizza.)

Here’s an adorably ambivalent one:

I don’t like Otto’s Orange Day. I like genie. I like bling bling. I like otto. I don’t like it but want all kids read it.
by freddychainsaw

Well, we can’t please them all, try as we might, but I suppose we’re satisfied with the compromise of having “all kids” read this book. Still, we’ll have to go with second-grader “Weirdo500″‘s review as the final word on this book:

I thought Otto’s Orange Day was fabulous. I liked how the genie wanted pacific words. I thought that the song was funky. I also loved how Otto was coloring the future. I recommend that teachers should get Otto’s Orange Day.
by: Weirdo500



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