reading level

Superman Family Adventures

You know… for kids… who can read!

I may have mentioned this before, but I love comic books and so does my five-year-old daughter. Our bi-weekly trips to our local comic book store are among my favorite rituals we have. And, almost every time we go, my daughter gets to pick out a comic book for herself. Sometimes it’s a Scooby-Doo comic. Sometimes it’s a Simpsons comic or The Incredibles or The Muppets or a Looney Tunes comic. She loves all kinds of comics. That being said, the only superhero comics that she buys that I know she can read all on her own are created by two men – Art Baltazar and Franco Aureliani, the creators of Tiny Titans and Superman Family Adventures. And, in my opinion, they’re one of the few creative teams that are currently creating old-school, monthly, serialized superhero comics for developing readers. And I think that’s awesome.

(“Aw Yeah” is recurring catch-phrase in Tiny Titans, and Baltazar and Franco are two of the founders of Aw Yeah Comics, a comics store in Skokie, Illinois – hence the title of this post.)

Tiny Titans

They’re cute AND super-friendly for developing readers…

Don’t get me wrong – there are lots of great kids’ comics being created today. Last year, I wrote a totally mushy love letter to Toon Books, a groundbreaking comics publisher that creates comic books that are specifically designed to meet the needs of developing and emerging readers. They design comic books that kids can read themselves, which really shouldn’t be revolutionary, but it is. And, while I adore Toon Books, their comics come in these beautiful hardcover collections and it makes buying one a week a bit prohibitive on the monthly household budget side. Toon Books are both comics and books – the kind of books you could find in a brick-and-mortar bookstore. (And they’re amazing.) However, at the moment, my daughter is really into the kind of monthly serialized comic books that you buy off a rack somewhere. The kind you can roll up into your pocket and whack someone with. Old-school, paper-and-staples comic books.

But, while everything Toon Books publishes is top-notch, clever, and gorgeous, it’s much, much harder to find monthly serialized comics for kids that show the same craftsmanship – particularly when you’re talking about superhero comics. Bongo Comics does some remarkable monthly Simpsons comics and Roger Landridge‘s sadly-no-more Muppets comics deserved all the accolades they received, but SUPERHEROES are the new pre-occupation of my five year old. And, while superheroes can be just as problematic as princesses for young girls (check out my earlier post on Wonder Woman to see what I’m talking about), I knew there HAD to be some great, age-appropriate superhero reading material for a five-year-old girl somewhere in the world of monthly comic books.

Unfortunately, I didn’t find much.

In my post on Toon Books last year, I very begrudgingly confessed that:

Reading comic books with a kid can be a huge pain in the ass.

Oh, how it kills me to admit this, but most comics aren’t made to be read aloud, which makes it incredibly difficult to sit down and read them with a pre-reader child. My daughter was so excited to have me read them to her, but, as I began, almost immediately, we both realized just how dense and confusing comics can be. My finger was constantly bouncing around the page, trying to show her where to read next. The text was super-small and my daughter – who loves being able to identify words on her own – simply couldn’t read the tiny print. The jumble of thought balloons, narration boxes, and sound effects baffled her and, even when we tried to read through a whole comic, at a certain point, she’d get impatient and frustrated with my pace or with being lost all the time. She LOVED flipping through the pages and pouring over the art, the facial expressions, the action – but she’d completely abandoned comics as something she could READ.

[read the rest of the post…]

{ 1 comment }

Charlie Cook's Favorite Book

Is that book appropriate for a child to read? What about a pirate? Should I be worried about an alien being offended by the content within?

I’ve started to get some questions from readers about how I cite “age ranges” for certain kids’ books and whether or not, when I talk about “age ranges,” if I’m actually talking about “reading levels.” I understand how the distinction between the two can be confusing, so I’m going to try to clear things up a bit.

(Note to Readers: There is a 95% chance that, in the act of trying to “clear things up,” I will, in fact, make things “infinitely more confusing.” The best thing to do is probably just sit back and enjoy watching me dig myself into a hole.)

So, when I list the “age range” in one of my book reviews, what exactly am I talking about? In my interpretation of “age range,” I’m talking about whether or not the material in the book is appropriate for a child of that age. When I state a certain age range – let’s say “3 and older” – I’m saying “it should be fine to READ THIS BOOK to any kid who’s three years old or older.” (And I’m also implying that it’s OK for your child to browse the book on their own.)

Since I have a five-year-old kid, almost every book I’ve profiled on the blog, in my opinion, is appropriate for any other five-year-old and most should be fine for any kid younger than five too. The only books that I’ve written about so far that I wouldn’t share with my own daughter right now are the books I’ve labeled “Books My Kid Will Read in the Future” (that should’ve been insanely self-explanatory).

However, don’t think that “age range” means the same thing as “reading level.” To me, “reading levels” are all about independent reading. A reading level is an estimation of “a child this age should be able to read the text of this book on their own without much help.” While most of the books I’ve profiled fall within my daughter’s “age range” – i.e. the material is appropriate for her – far, far less fall into her “reading level” – i.e. she’d be able to read the entire book on her own.

Is that clear?

In my opinion, age ranges are fairly easy to identify. It’s basically you, as a parent, asking yourself, “When do I think my kid would be old enough for me to read this book to them?” But, to me, reading levels are much, much harder to calculate. Maybe it’s because my daughter is relatively new to independent reading, but I’m not much good yet at looking at a book and estimating whether or not my kid will have trouble with the vocabulary. [read the rest of the post…]