There is a place in the middle of the reading spectrum when your child has mastered the beginning books such as Henry and Mudge but then hesitates, intimidated by moving on to the next level. Chapter books, with pages of words and few illustrations can look daunting. It’s much like when your child is about ready to swim on his own. He has the floaties on, and you know he doesn’t need them anymore. He’s just scared to take them off.
I am in this middle place with my second grader. The only books that appeal to him have massive shelf appeal but are not well matched to his reading ability. He will bring books home from school about warships (can’t read them), Stephen Hawking (definitely can’t read these), and the Diary of a Wimpy Kid books (getting closer!).
Let me first throw out this disclaimer about the Diary of a Wimpy Kid books: I’ve read them all, and obnoxious or not, I do love them. (Who didn’t laugh in that movie?! Come on, admit it, it was FUNNY!) However, I don’t love the book for my seven-year-old. Not only is it too hard for him to read, some of the vocabulary is best left to a slightly older reader.
That said, I was excited when I saw him in his room, trying to read through the first page like the Little Engine That Could. He was motivated! But eventually, it became too hard for him to read, and when he began calling his sister a “moron”, I figured we needed to make a different choice.
And that got me thinking – Why aren’t there funny graphic novels for the beginning reader? Books such as Diary of a Wimpy Kid attract even the most reluctant readers. What about a “lite” version of such a book? So I set off on a mission for a “comic-looking boy book with action and humor”. Oh, and did I mention it needs to be for a seven-year-old? Pretty tall order, but at the third library, I found it. Lunch Lady and the Cyborg Substitute.
This is a series about a superhero lunch lady and her sidekick who double as secret spies and crime fighters. She enlists the help of her favorite group of unpopular students on her secret missions. Few words on each page? Check. Comic format, lots of action, and illustratons? Check! Funny and wholesome? Double check! I took home the series to give it the true test.
I casually left it on the table, and he picked it up as soon as he got home. He tried to read the title (admittedly, this was pretty hard as it had the words Cyborg and Substitute in it). He flipped through it and asked me to read it to him. Aha, a sign of weakness – he’s interested! When I told him I would read it to him at bedtime, he paused, right there at the place in the middle. And then he jumped. I held my breath. He sat on the coach and started in by himself. He had to sound out a few words on each page but he was doing it. And then I heard a giggle. And I exhaled.
I have since done some research and found that actually many stories have graphic novel versions of their books, such as Coraline, The Lightening Thief, and The Baby-Sitter’s Club. So, if you have reader that is stuck in the middle place, consider the graphic novel as a way to entice him or her into jumping into the world of reading.
One final note: a movie about the Lunch Lady and her adventures will be coming to theaters soon, starring Amy Poehler. We’ll be there, that’s for sure!