Top 15 list for Reluctant Readers, and how to ‘Comics Jam’!

Here is another letter from a school media person:

I’m planning on introducing a reluctant reader group to graphic novels and I am thusly wondering what would be your first 15-20 buys?  

I am planning on introducing the titles and then letting the boys select one title then maybe next session having them report on their book.

Do you have any experience with reading groups, and if so does this seem like a format that would work, or should I run it differently?

For reluctant readers– and, well in general– one of our most
successful programs is our ‘Comics Jam’.    This is a monthly
read-aloud book club where we project comics onto a big screen using a
document camera, then allow kids to help read selections with me, out
loud to the group.  This can be a few comic strips, or a couple pages
of  a graphic novel, whatever they pick (well, so long as it is basically
PG  rated or gentler).

I encourage them to read in character voices, etc. and since they are
reading with me, and since the rest of the group is focusing on the
picture not on the person reading, and since they are encouraged to
use  funny voices, it’s less a referendum on whether or not they are doing
it right and more about the experience of the book.

After a few readers I usually take over and read a section of a
longer-form story, to allow the readers to really get into the flow of
the book and develop interest and desire for what happens next.
Usually this means we have a mad scramble for the few copies of the book we
have on hand.  Still, the fact that the book is projected on a screen means
we don’t need to have 20 copies of the same book (as with a
traditional book club).

And the sneaky thing is, since kids are comfortable and familiar with
watching screens, we use the medium of the projected image to funnel
them back to the actual page.  Suddenly the book is the movie star.
Pretty cool.

So, Okay:

A quick list of great read-aloud books for the middle grades.  Good
action, good humor, good story pace, entertaining for both boys and

  • G-Man. (series, 2 volumes) by Chris Giarrusso
  • Bone (series, 9 volumes total in the main series) by Jeff Smith
  • Amulet (series, 4 volumes) by Kazu Kibuishi
  • Franklin Richards (Series) by Marc Sumerak and Chris Eliopoulis
  • Zita the Space Girl, by Ben Hatke
  • Ghostopolis, by Doug TenNapel
  • Missile Mouse, (series, currently 2 volumes) by Jake Parker
  • Usagi Yojimbo (series , 25 volumes so far) by Stan Sakai
  • Meanwhile, by Jason Shiga (very interactive, it’s a visual choose-your-own-adventure type of book, surprisingly fun to have the players help make the choices, make sure you mark the last change with  a sticky note or the like since ‘players’ will want to back up and change their answer).
  • The Three Thieves, Book One: Tower of Treasure, by Scott Chantler (series, but book two is a bit more talky).
  • Pang, The Wandering Shaolin Monk, by Ben Costa (– on order, not yet in our library, I couldn’t surrender my signed copy)
  • Dungeon, Zenith, Vol 1: Duck Heart by Joann Sfar and Lewis Trondheim (but not successive volumes in the series which are appropriate for older readers).
  • All-Action Classics No. 3: The Odyssey, adapted by Tim Mucci and Ben Caldwell
  • Spy vs Spy by Antonio Prohias.  (This is wordless, but you can have the kids get used to narrating the action and making up their own dialogue).

Quite often with reluctant readers you find they are eager to read comics that have media tie-ins (Simpsons, various Disney properties, Marvel Adventures Spider-man, Teen Titans Adventures, Dragon Ball Z and Naruto) — and that’s all fair.  Familiarity reinforces the idea that books aren’t completely foreign objects.

However with the list of choices above I try to isolate the idea that you can find some great stories in books that you won’t be able to find in a movie or TV show (yet).  Again: the book is the star.

If anyone is interested in checking out how it works, we run our Comics Jam on the first Tuesday of the month, at 4PM afterschool in the Kids Room. (Next up: this Tuesday October 4th!  Come check it out!) .  You can usually find it advertised on the Library Kids room blog:

For school media folks in the area:   I’d be happy to get you started with an initial Comics Jam to demo the concept and give ideas of tricks and tips for making it work well.  (There are some tricks to keep the story flowing and ways to catch their attention up front).   Just contact me and we can try to set up a Jam!

davidb at takomagov dot org


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