Saturday, October 16, 2010


By Chris Wilson

I cannot believe I am going to state this but … I really loved reading this textbook. Who says stuff like that? I mean really! But it’s the truth; I had the best time reading this book and thinking about all 500 students I see per week and especially my struggling and reluctant readers in grades 3-4. ADVENTURES IN GRAPHICA resonated with me in ways I did not anticipate.

In my neck of the woods, the law states that fourth grade students will be held back if they cannot meet basic reading competencies. So reading is serious business. My 92-year-old retired grandmother-educator says, “If you can read, you can do anything.”

I take my role as educator very seriously and I consider my school’s Hall of Heroes comic book club a significant factor in the student body’s literacy. My principal does as well. In fact, we have talked about the Hall of Heroes as a Tier 2 intervention. I have observed how reading comics can change a student’s lifelong reading habits, and the results have piqued the interests of other teachers in my building.

So yeah, this textbook lit my teacher-brain up like a Roman candle.

ADVENTURES IN GRAPHICA is penned by Terry Thompson, a literacy coach at a Title I school in Texas. His experience is varied: classroom teacher, basic skills teacher, Reading Recovery teacher, reading intervention teacher and state testing coordinator.

Thompson does not offer elusive ideas or present ivory tower discussions; he is nitty-gritty. Obviously a practicing teacher, Thompson puts the kitchen sink onto paper, giving specific strategies and approaches to the educator who wishes to use comics in the classroom to enhance student literacy. He shows pictures of anchor charts, student work, and specific comics covers. He details how the progressive and excited teacher can use comics to teach the necessary literacy skills (inference, fluency, vocabulary, etc.) in ways that can then be translated to the traditional chapter book and other types of reading.

What he does is simple. Thompson demonstrates in no nonsense terms how to teach struggling readers to visualize stories in any form and internalize concepts and strategies so they can apply those skills in any situation. He simply uses comics as a vehicle –– a supercharged street racer.

It is nothing short of brilliant, and the approaches are simple and easy to incorporate into the classroom. If there is a down side to his book, I think it could be said that it is overwhelming for the comic-teaching beginner. With all the strategies and approaches, where does one begin?

Inferring. I think teachers should start with the basics of the comic structure and how to read a comic. Once that is complete teachers should, in my opinion, move directly toward teaching inferring. Many assessments, such as the Scholastic Reading Inventory (SRI) are inference-based exams. If students cannot make inferences they will continue to fail their reading assessments.

Thompson’s seventh chapter addresses the student’s ability to 1) create mental images of the story and 2) infer. I found this chapter to be the most powerful as it gives the students strong strategies that will impact their reading ability and confidence. The best part is that Thompson gives specifics on transferring the strategies to traditional texts including read-alouds, which I found particularly helpful.

He not only provides reading strategies. Thompson also offers websites, of which The Graphic Classroom is listed, as well as suggested titles, selection guide, comic sketch templates and others items.

I do offer a word of caution regarding his history chapter, however, thanks to a fantastic colleague who mentioned to me that he does not allow his students to cite Thompson’s history chapter because of problems. That section is not the purpose of the book so skip it. There are more in-depth sources out there.

If you are looking for an outstanding text to help you teach literacy to all elementary students, including your most struggling and reluctant readers, then this is the place to start. If applied, these strategies will change your students by exciting them and helping them.

Author: Terry Thompson
Publisher: Stenhouse Publishers
Genre: Textbook (not comic format)

Format: Paperback
Pages: 200
ISBN-13: 978-157110-712-1

Preview available here.

Highly Recommended

1 comment:

Adrian Neibauer said...


I, too, have stumbled upon this book and loved it! In fact, I am using this book, along with Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics, as textbooks for a grant proposal I am writing. Keep your fingers crossed!