Booktalks for Children's Graphic Novels: a Teacher and Librarian Resource for Book Talks for Kids Grades 3-6
Get Kids Reading with Graphic Novels
We all know that kids have been drawn to comic books for decades, even if parents and teachers sometimes cast a disapproving eye.
The hottest new trend in children’s books has been the rise of the comic book’s cousin, the graphic novel, which basically uses comic book form to tell longer stories and bind them into a book, similar to a novel. (The term “graphic” refers to the illustrations used to tell the stories, not any graphic sex or violence.)
Graphic novels are a great way to entice reluctant readers into a story since the writing is broken into manageable chunks and the pictures help the reader visualize what is going on. They also appeal to accomplished readers who would like a quick read or intrigued by the circumstances of the characters. (We’ve seen more semi-autobiographical novels that share the childhood challenges of the authors.) They also provide a great group reading experience in a classroom or book club since all levels of readers can keep up with the story and many of them are providing interesting themes to explore. Even in college, literature professors are using graphic novels as a vehicle for class discussions.
Don’t worry about whether graphic novels are “hard enough” for readers. According to literacy expert, Stephen Krashen, children get the same benefits from reading comics and graphic novels as they do other kinds of reading. His research shows that they improve in reading fluency, spelling, grammar, and vocabulary. Most importantly, if they enjoy the reading they do, they will be more motivated to continue reading and improve their skills.
And so, here are booktalks for some of the best graphic novels I’ve come across in recent years.
Princeless by Jeremy Whitley
If I say “Once upon a time…” you probably have some pretty good ideas about how the rest of the story goes.
For instance, there’s the one about the fair maiden who was locked in a tower and guarded by the dragon. Until one day, the brave knight comes and slays the dragon with one blow. Then the knight and the princess get married and they all live…well you know the last words. “Happily ever after.”
Well, this is a different kind of story. Meet Princess Adrienne. Even when she was a little kid, she thought that kind of story was “complete hogwash.”
“What kind of dragon dies with one blow?" she asks.
“And how did the prince get down from the tower?” When you think about it, how was he able to get the helpless princess down from the tallest of towers without using any magic?
Here’s the unexpected part—Adrienne’s father is one of those people who does put his daughter up in a tower guarded by a dragon. And that’s where she finds herself when she turns 16.
But Adrienne isn’t just going to wait around. She plans to do something about her predicament and show that you don’t have to wait for a prince to come by. She intends to show that you can do just fine if you’re—Princeless.
Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong
I like to use visuals and audience participation to pique children's interest when I present a series of book talks. for this one, I use a little robot made from Legos and a cheerleading pom-pom. If you don't have those thinks at hand, you can always print out pictures of them and have children come up and pull the pictures out of a bag to show the group.
Interest Level: 4th-6th grade; AR Reading Level: 4.3
Once upon a time there was a robotics club. They wanted the student council to give them money for a national robotics competition.
Once upon a time there was a cheerleading club. They wanted the student council to give them money for new uniforms.
Only one of them could get the money. Who do you think should have it? If you said, “the robotics club,” Charlie and Nate would agree with you.
But how are they going to convince the student council? One of them could run for student council president.
Is it true the “Nothing can possibly go wrong”?
Does this book have robots? Sure.
Chainsaws? Why not?
Running away from home on Thanksgiving? Yeah, that too.
How do they all fit together? Pick up this quick-read graphic novel and find out.
Sunny Side Up
Interest Level 3rd-6th Grade; AR Reading Level 2.4
This graphic novel is following a popular trend in which authors write semi-autobiographical novels using comic book conventions. Raina Telgemeier kicked off the trend with her book Smile an account of a girl dealing with orthodontia after she severely injured her front teeth. This one features a girl named Sunny who is sent to stay with her grandfather while her parents deal with her older brother's substance abuse problem. Through a few flashbacks, we see Sunny confused about her brother's behavior, but the book doesn't dwell on him at length. It's mostly about the challenges of staying with a grandparent and meeting new friends in a different town.
For the hook for this book, put a few items in a bag that could be associated with Florida: a small beach ball, an orange, swim goggles, any type of Disney memorabilia (mouse ears, or even a printout of Mickey Mouse if you don't have anything else.)
Take a look at the picture on the cover of this book. That's Sunny. She looks relaxed and happy, doesn't she? She's in Florida, staying with her grandfather.
At first she was excited. Florida. Sunshine. Orange juice. Swimming pools. And--most exciting of all--Disney World!
This picture, however, doesn't tell the whole story. When she gets to her grandfather's house, she finds out he lives in a whole neighborhood of old people.
Not all of them like to have a kid swimming in their pool.
She has to sleep in a squeaky fold-out bed.
And it doesn't look like her grandpa is going to take her to Disney World. His idea of an exciting day is to go to the post office.
And, little by little, we find out why Sunny is in Florida in the first place. It has to do with a family secret. Shhh...
But maybe things are starting to look up for Sunny. She's met a boy who is into comic books. And he shows her how to have some adventures of her own.
Interest Level: 4th-6th grades; AR Reading Level: 2.8
This is a sweet story about navigating your way through all those awkward situations that turn up in middle school. Peppi has moved to a new school and on the first day she managed to trip and fall in the hallway. A boy stopped to help her pick up her books, but when the mean kids started teasing her that “Nerder found a new girlfriend,” she becomes embarrassed and pushes him away without so much as a “thank you.”
She feels terrible about it, but can’t seem to make herself bring it up and apologize to him. And, of course, the longer she waits, the more awkward it is to bring it up.
Against this backdrop, the two of them turn out to be on rival student clubs: she is in the art club and he attends the science club. The principal pits the two of them against each other to see which one will be allowed a table at the student fair, and one awkward situation after another ensues.
In the end, the story shows children how to make amends for things they’ve done and how to solve problems creatively by working together.
For this booktalk, I came up with the idea of soliciting a volunteer to come and write something on the board, and then have them write with their non-dominant hand to get across the idea of “awkward.”
I need a volunteer that likes to write to come and write a word on the board for me. (Choose a child.)
All right, here’s the marker. (or the piece of chalk)
Are you ready for the word?
Oh, I forgot. There’s something I need you to change. Which hand do you have the marker in now? (When he/she answers, say) I need you to switch hands.
Ready? You can do it. I have faith in you. I’ll tell you the letters to write: A-W-K-W-A-R-D.
Tell me, was it comfortable to write with your left (or right) hand?
I think most people would say that it is—well—awkward to write with your other hand. And, what a coincidence, the next book I’m going to talk about is entitled Awkward. (Thank the child who came up.)
Well, from the picture on the front, you can probably tell it’s not about writing with the wrong hand, though Peppi does like to draw.
It’s about those awkward situations you get into sometimes. Like Peppi. You see the first day in her new school, she managed to trip and fall in front practically everyone. One nice boy stopped to help her pick up her books, but right away some mean kids started to say mean things like “Nerder has a girlfriend.”
Now, Peppi knows some rules for surviving in a new school. And one of those is “Don’t get noticed by the mean kids.” So she yells at the nice boy and pushes him away.
You’ve probably guessed who the nice boy was. This fellow here on the front. Peppi fells terrible for pushing him. He was just trying to be nice, after all.
She knows she should apologize, but it seems, well, awkward to bring it up.
That’s just the start of it. Soon she finds out that they are members of competing clubs. And when those clubs go to war, well, everything gets –awkward.
Interest Level: AR Reading Level: 3.2 For girls in 3rd-6th
Roller Girl is about roller derby, yes, but it’s mostly about how friendships can change. Thirteen-year-old Astrid is entranced when she first sees a roller derby match, but it turns out that her best friend, Nicole, wants to pursue ballet. The two friends grow apart, and Astrid has to deal with feelings of betrayal and revenge when Nicole starts hanging around with another girl that Astrid considers her enemy.
Another aspect of the story is how hard Astrid works to learn roller derby. She can barely skate when she starts practices, yet she has dreams of being the star player, the jammer. Like most of us, she finds out that it’s hard to get skilled enough to be a star in your first season, but she does discover that she can affect the game in the less glamorous role of blocker.
If you like, you can show the children a snippet of this video about the Rose City Rollers, the team that the author, Victoria Jamieson, skates with. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vj-UHrSHC3E
Since this book is so visual, I make use of the students coming up and drawing a few simple things as well as writing some roller derby names, which are a big part of the fun.
Ask for volunteers to come and draw things on the whiteboard. You can have as few as 4 children or as many as 7 participate in this. Hand each child a card with a picture they need to draw or a word they need to write. (If time is short, you can draw or write them yourself.)
- Friends (two stick figures together will do)
- Ballet shoes
- Socks with rainbow stripes
(Next are cards with roller derby names)
- Scream Soda
- Thrilla Godzilla
(Point to the picture of roller skates.) How many of you like to roller skate? (Have a show of hands.) Do you remember how hard it was when you started? Did you hug the walls at first? I did.
Our next book is called Roller Girl. It’s about a 13-year-old girl named Astrid who goes to a roller derby match and discovers that she loves roller derby. (Draw a heart over one of the friends.)
Her friend, Nicole, did not. (Draw a heart with a slash through it over the other friend.) She liked ballet instead.
Astrid is disappointed that her friend doesn’t want to join the roller derby team. After all, you get to:
- Skate around and bump into things on purpose.
- Wear socks with rainbow stripes
- Choose a cool roller derby name like (hold up the cards at this point)
o Scream Soda
o Thrilla Godzilla
Astrid has her heart set on being the star of the team, the jammer that tries to get past all the blockers and make points.
But when she starts, she can barely stay up on the skates. Can she really get good enough to play in one season?
And what about her best friend, Nicole? They’ve always been together, and she feels lost without her.
This graphic novel is fun to read. It has great pictures, a good story, a few bumps and bruises, and some awesome roller derby names.
The woman who writes it is on a roller derby team, the Rose City Roller, just like the ones in the book. Do you want to know what her roller derby name is?
(Write on the board.) Winnie-the-Pow!
Interest Level: 3-6th Grades; Reading Level: AR Reading level: 2.7
For this book, I do a little demonstration with the group to show them how hard it is to read lips. Make some index cards and write the following words on them: Hello!, Wow!, Vase, Face,
Cherry, Jerry, Sue, Zoo. Have volunteers from the audience come and say the words without making any sounds. Ask the group to figure out what they are saying.
This book is the story of a girl named Cece who becomes very sick when she is little, so sick that she loses most of her hearing. It’s based on the author’s life.
Now, you might think that a book about that wouldn’t be very interesting or very funny. But, surprisingly, it is.
Cece tells about how hard it is to figure out what people are saying when she’s little. Remember, she could hear a little bit, but couldn’t always make out the words For instance, once her sister asked her if she wanted cherry pop, juice, or a coke.. It sounded like her sister said, “Do you want Jerry’s mop, shoes, or a goat?” What did she answer? She said, “I’ll have a goat.”
You’ve probably hear about lip-reading. For instance, if I just mouth the word “Hello” (say the word without making any sounds) can you tell what I’m saying? The word “Hello” is easy, but some are not.
Vase and Face look the same
Sherry, Cherry, and Jerry look the same.
Sue and Zoo look the same.
And if someone has a mustache, or it’s dark in the room, then it’s impossible to tell what people are saying.
But, every day Cece learns how to understand people better.
Then she gets a special power. She thinks of it as a superpower. And she starts thinking of herself as a superhero she calls “El Deafo.”
What’s her power? Well, when she gets a special headset that is connected to her teacher, she can hear everything her teacher does, no matter if she’s in the room or not. She can hear her teacher talking out in the hall or in the teacher’s lounge. Or even, get this, when her teacher is in the bathroom.
What can a person do with a superpower like this? You’ll have to read the book and find out.