Saturday, March 20, 2010

Kid Konnection: Artsy-Fartsy & Guest Post

Welcome to Kid Konnection -- a (hopefully) regular weekend feature about anything related to children's books. Today, I am going to feature a great new graphic novel for middle graders! I am also excited that the author is stopping by with a fantastic guest post.

Summary: Aldo Zelnick is the star of a new comic novel series for children by author Karla Oceanak and illustrator Kendra Spanjer. Ten-year-old Aldo lives with his family in Colorado. He's not athletic like his older brother, he's not a rock hound like his best friend, but he does like bacon. And when his artist grandmother, Goosy, gives him a sketchbook to "record all his artsy-fartsy ideas" during summer vacation, it turns out Aldo is a pretty good cartoonist.

In addition to an engaging cartoon story, Artsy-Fartsy includes an illustrated glossary of fun A words used throughout the book, such as absurd, abominable, and audacious. -- Bailiwick Press

I can't rave enough about ARTSY-FARTSY by Karla Oceanak and illustrated by Kendra Spanjer. ARTSY-FARTSY is a middle grade graphic novel which is just perfect for young kids! I admit that I had my doubts when I learned that the story was about a young boy and the word "fartsy" was in the title. I was worried that the book might have some instances of potty humor (not that young boys wouldn't love that), but I am thrilled to say that this book was very clean and appropriate for kids of all ages.

ARTSY-FARTSY has a little bit of everything -- fun pictures, interesting storyline, a little mystery, and memorable characters. And it also has a something that will appeal to parents -- a good message. Oh yeah, and the book is also educational in that it teaches new words and even has a glossary in the back. As a mom, I really can't ask for much more from a middle grade novel.

ARTSY-FARTSY is a fun graphic novel, but it's not your typical cartoon. The book actually reflects 10 year old Aldo Zelnick's sketchbook. Aldo receives this sketchbook as a gift from his artsy grandmother for "recording all of your artsy-fartsy ideas!" (Aldo obviously gets his creativity from his grandmother who is an artist.) The book has text, drawings, cartoons, lists, etc. and there is always something interesting on each page. In many ways, ARTSY-FARTSY is Aldo's summer journal with all of his insights and reflections (as well as his artwork.)

One of the things that I enjoyed most about this book was the character of Aldo. Aldo is a 10 year old boy who is a little chubby and not very athletic, but he just happens to be a great artist and very creative. He thinks of himself as uncool and actually finds that he doesn't fit in with many of the kids because he is a little different. I have no doubt that a lot of kids will relate!

Many of the supporting characters in this book were terrific, but I especially liked Aldo's neighbor Mr. Mot who encouraged Aldo to develop a love of words. (Besides introducing new words to Aldo, he also helped to build Aldo's confidence and self-worth.) I liked how the author tied Aldo's use of "bigger" words in his sketchbook to the glossary at the back of the book; and I really thought Aldo's definitions were funny and very easy for kids to understand.

ARTSY-FARTSY is the first in a series of Aldo Zelnick's comic novels. Since the words in the glossary were all "A" words, I guess I can assume that the next book will feature "B" words. The next graphic novel in the series is called BOGUS, and I can't wait to see what adventures Aldo faces in this book. It's scheduled to be released in May 2010.

ARTSY-FARTSY is a fantastic graphic novel for middle graders (and their parents!) I thought it was highly entertaining, and I'm pretty sure that kids are going to feel the same way. Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy of this very fun book! And now for a few words from the author about....

How Graphic Texts Help Kids (Boys, Especially) Become Better Readers

by Karla Oceanak, author of Artsy-Fartsy, first in the Aldo Zelnick comic novel series for kids

I’m a reader, I’m a writer, and I’m a mother of three boys. My house is atumble in books in general (not to mention dirty socks, Legos, hockey gear, etc.), but I bet you’d notice straightaway the preponderance of comic books and graphic novels littering every surface.
My boys like graphic texts. Yes, they read “plain” novels and nonfiction, too, but the in our house the books with the most tattered covers and cracked spines have titles like Calvin and Hobbes, The Far Side and The Wimpy Kid.

Now you’ve gotta understand that I’m an English-major type. Perhaps like you, I’ve been trained to believe that “literature” (in a British accent) is by definition dense and difficult. Frothy, simple books might be fun reads, but they don’t count, really.

Or do they? When I started writing Artsy-Fartsy and working with illustrator Kendra Spanjer on our particular take on the graphic novel concept, I was pretty confident kids would like the book. But would it be “good” for them?

Part of the Aldo Zelnick shtick involves fun but challenging vocabulary. So yes, that vitamin-fortified component would meet with both Mom- and English-major approval. (It’s like sneaking wheat germ into their cupcakes.) But the silly story and drawings? The sprinkles of illustrated potty humor?

These questions nagged me. So I did some research. Here’s what I learned.

Kids need to read to become good readers.
In a study by the National Endowment for the Arts in 2007, researchers found that the highest reading scores on standardized tests correlated with the frequency of reading for fun. For fun! Another classic study of 5th graders showed that total daily time spent reading—regardless of what was being read—predicted reading scores. Kids who read about 90 minutes a day tested in the 98th percentile on reading tests. By contrast, kids who read just five minutes a day tested in the 20th percentile.

In other words, when it comes to reading, volume matters more than that esoteric, subjective criterion we call “quality.” If our goal is to get and keep kids reading every day, we need to let them choose books they enjoy. This includes graphic texts.

Visuals increase comprehension and recall.
In her book Teaching Visual Literacy in a Multimedia Age, Glenda Rakes points out that combining visuals with text increases comprehension. Using PET scans, researchers have seen that the left brain lights up when exposed to verbal information and that the right brain lights up when shown visual information. Combine visuals with text and you get connectivity. Graphic texts feed both halves of the brain. And because visuals are stored more readily in long-term memory, we remember better when text is accompanied by visuals.

Boys, especially, may need visuals.
In Connecting Boys with Books 2, Michael Sullivan says that the corpus callosum—the bridge of nerve tissue that connects the brain’s two hemispheres—is, on average, 10 percent larger in girls than in boys. What’s more, functional MRIs show that when boys read, the left hemisphere of the brain lights up, but when girls read, both hemispheres light up. Girls visualize earlier and better than boys do, which means that boys, especially, benefit from text illustrated by graphics.

I could go on and on, because I wolfed down lots of research on the reading brain, the reluctant reader, vocabulary acquisition, etc., and I find it all fascinating. (Get Proust and the Squid by Maryanne Wolf if you want a geek-peek into how the brain reads.)

But suffice it to say that I felt vindicated. Graphic texts “count!” Even though Artsy-Fartsy and the Aldo Zelnick comic novel series is “a fun read,” it’s good for kids because it keeps them reading. Children who are taught that only some reading “counts” are being set up to think of themselves as reading failures. Besides, it’s not true. And it’s an attitude that, over time, may well quash their reading altogether.

Mark Twain said that the person who doesn’t read is no better off than the person who can’t read. Lifelong literacy means continuing to read, for self-education as well as for pleasure. I’m sure I’m preaching to the choir here, but let’s keep our kids reading for fun, so they’ll grow into grown-ups who revel in the pleasures of a good book, and who one day live in their own houses with kids and books atumble.

Thanks to Ms. Oceanak for her very important and informative guest post!

If you'd like to participate in Kid Konnection and share a post about anything related to children's books (picture, middle grade, or young adult) from the past week, please leave a comment as well as a link below with your name/blog name and the title of the book! Feel free to grab the little button too!


Beth F said...

I knew this would be a great series when I first heard of it. I'll definitely keep it in mind when I have gifts to buy.

The Many Thoughts of a Reader said...

I reviewed a book for youngin's again this week. My new Scholastic Book Order came in and I can' wait to jump into them.

rhapsodyinbooks said...

This series looks like it couldn't help but appeal to kids. The titles alone would have every kid I know wanting to read them!

bermudaonion said...

Vance would have been drawn to this one for the title alone, so I'm guessing a lot of other boys will be too. Glad to see it's a winner.

Sherrie said...

Hi Julie,
Sounds like a great book. I'll have to watch for this one at the library. Mine is posted. Have a great day!

Just Books

Dawn @ sheIsTooFondOfBooks said...

Julie - I had the same reservations (re: FARTSY in the title), and the same glowing response to this great new comic series - my middle kids (7 and 12) loved it - the illustrations, the story/mystery, the characters, and the subtle new vocabulary words.

We're looking forward to BOGUS, too.

Very interesting guest post, thans for hosting Karla here!

Debbie said...

We will have to look for this one for my grandson. He would love it.

Melissa Taylor said...

After reading your review, I can't wait to get this book. I particularly loved what Karla had to say about visuals and boys' literacy. Great post(s)!! Thanks so much. :)