Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Reading IS Thinking: Developing our readers' skills with Judd Winick's HILO (ages 7-10)

I have been having so much fun reading aloud Hilo: The Boy Who Crashed to Earth with 3rd and 4th grade students. The kids are loving the laugh-out-loud moments, and I'm loving how much active thinking they're doing. Comic books are terrific fun, but they also engage readers as they build a sense of the story, the characters and the author's voice--just like readers do with any type of fiction.

A parent recently asked me what questions I ask while we're reading aloud, so I thought that I'd share a little here. I start before we even open the book and ask: What do you notice on the cover? I wonder what this story's going to be about? Do they notice Hilo's hands and think he might have superpowers? Do you think all three kids fell to Earth? This sort of wondering is important to start kids thinking, to start making predictions, to hook them into the story.
Hilo: The Boy Who Crashed to Earth
by Judd Winick
Random House, 2015
Google Books preview
Your local library
ages 7-10
DJ's story starts right in the middle of a chase scene, the first day he meets Hilo. My students love Hilo's energy and his optimism--and they totally love Winick's jokes about how Hilo doesn't know anything about life on Earth, because he's just fallen from another world.

After we read the first two chapters, I pause to ask my students: What do you already know about the characters? What are you noticing? This helps them pull together some of their ideas and set some groundwork for predictions. Here's some of what they said:
  • Hilo is funny! He shouts, "Ahhhh!" whenever he meets someone and loves burping!
  • Hilo has superpowers in his hands -- he absorbed DJ's vocabulary.
  • DJ misses his friend Gina--he said that the only thing he was good at was being her friend. I think that Hilo is going to be DJ's new best friend.
  • DJ seems like a good friend, because he offers to help Hilo right away -- reaching his hand down to help him out of the hole.
"Do you need a hand?"
At a few points, we stop to talk about specific language that Winick uses. For example, Hilo says that his memory is like a "busted book" with pages ripped out. This helps readers understand why Hilo is so naive, why he doesn't remember his name or where he came from.
"My memory is a busted book."

It's important to acknowledge when kids are inferring, or reading between the lines to build meaning. When Hilo has a dream, the story quickly switches to the lab with Dr. Horizon. We pause, and I tell my students: Wait, I'm confused. Who is this new character? Why is he wearing a white coat? Why does the border look different here? What's happening?

As we build the story in our minds, it's important to retell parts of the story. Today, we looked at the first page of the chapter and then actually turned back a page to look and think. I asked: What just happened here? How is DJ feeling? Why? Empathizing with a character helps readers keep tuned into the emotional elements of a story. Sometimes we do that with our voices when we read the dialog. Sometimes we sigh when a character looks like they're sighing. Sometimes we shout, "Whoa!" when a character is surprised.

As we get into the story even more, we develop a more complex understanding of the character. We ask ourselves: Why is Hilo doing this? What is he feeling? I wonder if DJ and Hilo are changing at all? We pay attention to what the characters are trying to achieve, and what gets in their way.

When we read aloud with developing readers, we need to give specific signals that it's time to pause and think. Building meaning is even more important than figuring out what the words say.

Parents often share their worries that their children are only reading graphic novels. I want to encourage parents to read the comics their children are reading, and dig into some of the deeper, layered meanings in graphic novels. Merle Jaffe said it so well in her article, "Using Graphic Novels in Education: Hilo by Judd Winick",
What is so compelling about Hilo, aside from the bold art and humor, is that with each page and installment we learn more about DJ, Gina, and HiLo through the combination of text, art and page/panel design. We also grapple with deeper issues of facing responsibilities, facing painful truths, and determining right from wrong as HiLo wrestles with his nemesis Razorwork and the role they each play in protecting humans versus protecting their fellow robots from “evil.”
The review copies were kindly sent by the publisher, Random House, and we have bought multiple copies for our school library and classrooms. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2016 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

No comments:

Post a Comment