Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Read Below Grade Level

As a parent, I've had a few run-ins with my kids' teachers. Occasionally, one will insist that the kids select books from the library that are at or above their tested Lexile level or their grade level or something. While I understand wanting to challenge them, if you're going to let kids choose I feel that they should be allowed and encouraged to read what they enjoy. There will plenty of "challenging" reading forced upon them in the future.

After all, I point out, I often read below my "grade level," and sometimes way below my grade level. I'd get pretty annoyed if someone made a bunch of judgments about how I wasn't challenging myself because I love reading children's stories even when there aren't any children around.

The Graphical Canon of Children's Literature, edited by Russ Kick provides another way for readers to enjoy some below-grade-level literature. Each of dozens of children's stories--mostly popular classics--is newly presented as a comic or graphic visual story. The art runs the gamut from laid-back R. Crumb inspired strips to graphic novel or anime-style treatments to text-free graphics, paintings and collages. Though many of the artists are familiar to me from illustrations in the New Yorker, Mad Magazine and elsewhere, many others are welcome new introductions.

The stories themselves are largely true to the title and canonical in nature. The collection features a number of Aesop's fables including two illustrated by Peter Kuper whose graphical treatment of the Metamorphosis I reviewed for GLW some time ago. A few Grimm's fairy tales make an appearance along with a number of Hans Christian Anderson's stories . Peter Pan, Alice in Wonderland and The Wizard of Oz are all given new and startling graphical treatments. And there are a few surprises including an enchanting and frightening work by Leo Tolstoy. Many multicultural folktales, some which will be new to most readers, are represented. Finally, clever single page comic versions of the Harry Potter novels are even included near the end.

Be forewarned. None of the stories in the collection is Disneyfied. Red Riding Hood is taken advantage of and consumed, like her grandmother before her. No huntsman arrives to save the day. The Little Mermaid dissolves herself in sea water as an alternative to murdering her prince. Pinnochio hangs (though he at least is cut down). Appropriately, the dark side of these stories is deliciously accentuated by the artists treatment of them.

Of course the murder and mayhem are a good chunk of the real fun of reading below grade level.

For more grade-level appropriate reading, there are actually three preceding Graphical Canon volumes which present adult literary classics as comics or visual stories. If they're near as good as this one, I can imagine a lot of literary graphical reading in my future.

FCC disclaimer: This review was based on a copy of the book that was given to me by my very awesome brother-in-law for Christmas. I can only assume he properly purchased it.


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