Saturday, May 21, 2016

5 fun "Toon Books" for reluctant readers

It's a fact: comics are under-appreciated.

We'll read our kids picture books and think it a great way to get them started reading. But what are picture books but an enticing pairing of words with pictures? And isn't that a good description of comics too? That's why I'm a big fan of good comics - the best can be used to hook readers, even reluctant readers, in much the way that picture books do.

Now some of the bias against comics - particularly in school libraries - is due to the relatively small supply of great comics books. Archie Double Digests and Superman are not great literature! But there are good ones out there. With that in mind, here are a few very fun comics (aka graphic novels) for kids who are just learning to read. Students in Kindergarten through maybe Grade 2 will really enjoy these.

These are all "Toon Books," a brand that has a good number of good books. But I did want to note that not everything they touch turns to gold. Among their others Toon Books are some boring books and, more troubling, quite a number showcasing a bratty hero or heroine. For example, Maya, from Maya makes a Mess, knows she knows better than her parents, and Patrick eats his Peas is actually about how Patrick tries tricking his mom so he doesn't have to eat his peas. It's not the end of the world if your child finds one of these other Toon books at the library and reads them - this is still a kinder, gentler sort of brattiness than happens in many other books. But it sure would be a shame to waste money buying lousy books when there are so many good ones to get!

Like these....

Benjamin Bear in Brain Storms!
by Philippe Coudray
27 pages / 2015

Benjamin Bear is a series of fun one-page comics that all present humorous solutions to problems. One example: Benjamin wants an apple but it's too high on the tree. So he kicks the tree, sending a shower of apples falling to the ground. So, of course, he stacks these up so he can stand on them to reach the apple that was just out of reach before.

There are 27 of these one-page comics in the book, and Benjamin is the star of most of them, but he also has a rabbit friend making appearances, as well as a lady bear friend. They are charming, and silly in just the sort of way that kids love. I'd recommend them from 3 (though they won't get them all) to maybe 9. There are two others to enjoy: Benjamin Bear in Fuzzy Thinking (2011), and Benjamin Bear in Bright ideas (2013).

The author Phillipe Coudray has also teamed with his brother Jean-Luc to co-author a similarly-themed book, A Goofy Guide to Penguins (2016), in which there are 30 one-page comics, all about penguins. It’s another very fun one.

You can pick up Benjamin Bear in Brain Storms! at here or here.

Little Mouse Gets Ready
by Jeff Smith
28 pages / 2009

The best way to describe this would be as a 28-page joke. I don't want to spoil that joke, but the set-up involves a mother mouse telling her "Little Mouse" that he needs to get ready, because they are going to the barn. So Little Mouse gets busy, buttoning, and pulling up his socks, and figuring out how to get his shoes on. The illustrations are cute, Little Mouse is just like a little kid, so any child who still has problems with buttoning their shirt will sympathize with this little guy as he puts in the tough work of getting them all done right. So that's the ideal age range, maybe from 3 through Grade 1, but after that kids would see this as just a "baby book."

The only downside is that it doesn't stand up to repeated use - kids will enjoy reading it the first few times, but afterwards, when they see the joke coming, it does lose some of its charm. So this would be better as a library pick-up, rather than as a purchase.

That said, if you do want to buy it, you can get it at here, or here.

We dig worms!
by Kevin McCloskey
30 pages / 2015

This is as boy a book as you'll find – a book about all sorts of worms, from small to one that is ten feet long (and there's even a bit on the gummy sort).

We learn that worms have no eyes or nose, and that they have cold blood. We learn they do important work, eating, leaves and bugs and bringing air to plant roots. We even get a peak inside worms and see they have 5 hearts!

And there are oodles of other facts about worms. It's a book any little boy would find fascinating, all the way up through Grade 2.

You can pick it up at here and here.

Otto's Backwards Day
by Frank Cammuso
28 pages / 2013

This is a clever story about palindromes - words that are the same backwards as forwards, like the name "Otto." It's also about a little self-absorbed boy named Otto, who thinks birthdays are all about the presents (and who cares about the people!?). In other words, this bratty little boy has it all backwards! 

When Otto is told by his Dad that he has it all backwards, he ends up in a backwards world, where everything is "topsy turvy." It's fun to visit a world where you get in trouble for picking up trash, and where Otto has to ask the Ogopogo's three questions and if he gets them right Otto will face his wrath. It's all mixed up, with backwards spelling, and a robot friend who can turn into just about anything, so long as it is a a "kayak" or a "race car." By the end, Otto learns his lesson and realizes that the best part of any birthday is the people you get to spend it with.

Lots of goofy fun, with just one caution: there is an instance of "pottyesque" humor - in the backwards world everyone wears their underpants on the outside, so Otto has to as well. There is nothing immodest about it - only silly in a way that might not be the sort of thing we want to encourage among some more rambunctious boys.

Otto has another adventure, in Otto's Orange Day. It's fun too, but features a genie, and I don't quite know what I think of genies – an all powerful, supernatural being – for this preschool to Grade One level. Hmmm...what do you figure? Otto uses his wish to turn everything his favorite color, orange. He likes the orange world at first, but it turns out orange lamb chops are not that good, and when he wants to change things back he realizes there is a problem: the genie only gave him one wish!

You can pick up Otto's Backward Day at here, or here.

Tippy and the Night Parade
by Lilli Carré
32 pages / 2014

This is a nice one for girls. The story begins with Tippy's room in a big mess. Her mom wants to know how it happened, but there's a problem: even Tippy doesn't know. There's a snake under the bed, a pig in the sheets, a turtle on the carpet, and bats flying overhead. How'd they all get there?

Tippy and mom get to tidying up, and Tippy heads to bed, still wondering how her room got so messy. That's when we see how it happened - Tippy, it seems, is a sleepwalker, and so off she goes, on a trip through the woods, picking up friends here and there, before they all head back and she tucks herself back into bed with a zoo's worth of animals to keep her company. It is a quiet little story, that might be perfect as a bed time story to girls from 3 to 8.

You can pick it up at here, and here.

RELATED REVIEWS: other good children's comics for reluctant readers

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