Newbery Honor Author, New York Times Bestseller, Time Traveler
Thank you, Colby Sharp, for introducing me to wicked good librarian, Cathy Potter. I’m so hoping to meet Cathy in person at ALA midwinter (it’s in my backyard, Seattle! If you’re coming, let me know) but her passion for connecting kids and books is one that transcends the weary bonds of time and space. Cathy’s the school librarian at Falmouth Elementary School, in Falmouth, Maine, serving 907 students in grades K-5. Sit back, sprinkle some blueberries on your oatmeal, pull on some L.L. Bean wool socks and get better acquainted with today’s amazing featured librarian.
Let’s take a quick peek at Cathy’s past:
Looking forward to her first book talk
Favorite school lunch as a kid: Fried bologna cups with mashed potatoes in the middle (I’m not kidding. They’re really yummy.)
Best friend in grade school: Kim (We stayed friends through high school, and we were college roommates. We still keep in touch.)
Times you were the new kid in school: 0 (I grew up in a very small town and stayed with the same group of kids from Kindergarten through high school.)
Teacher that inspired you to stretch: Mrs. Wentworth in fifth and sixth grades. She was so great, I stayed in her class for two years. She allowed students to choose their own books and had us keep track of the number of books we read over the course of the year. In fifth grade I read 100 books and received a reading award from Mrs. Wentworth. I made a lot of visits to the school library that year! A Wrinkle in Time, Tuck Everlasting, and Bridge to Terabithia were some of the books I read that year.
The one thing you always wished you could do in grade school but never achieved: I wish I could have made it into the advanced swimming level. I was a weak swimmer, and I didn’t pass my swim test one summer. I ended up being the oldest kid in the beginners’ class. I quit swimming lessons after that year.
Cathy, you told me about your dual passions: a desire to help older readers feel good about reading picture books and sharing your love for graphic novels. Let’s talk more about both of these topics!
What brought you to the realization that some older readers avoid picture books? A number of the upper grade (gr. 3-5) teachers at my school ask students to read picture books as part of their literacy programs. The teacher and I sometimes hear students make comments about not wanting to read picture books because they think they’re for younger children. I occasionally have students tell me that their parents don’t want them bringing home picture books from the library because they’re not challenging enough. That’s when we realized we needed to do some education about the power of the picture book.
Why do you think there is a stigma about picture books?
There’s a false perception that a 32-48 page book doesn’t contain the substance that a 200 page chapter book does. Also, sometimes people assume that if a book has illustrations the book must be easy or that the kids are just looking at the pictures.
What do you think older readers can gain from picture books?
When students read picture books, they employ visual thinking skills, learn new vocabulary words, improve their fluency, learn to appreciate art and learn about the world around them.
How have you encouraged your students to dive in to this genre?
In our library, we don’t use the term “Easy” to describe the “E” (picture book) section. “E” stands for everybody, and picture books are for everybody. I use a lot of picture books in my library classes, and I point out to students when a picture book is aimed at an older audience.
Last year our school took part in Picture Book Month which was founded by Dianne de Las Casas. One of my third grade classes created a video about how picture books are for everyone, and we posted it on the library web site and Dianne posted it on the Picture Book Month site.
Can you share a few picture book titles that have worked well for older readers?
Dear Mrs. LaRue, Letters from Obedience School, by Mark Teague
David Wiesner’s wordless picture book requires higher level thinking
Probuditi! by Chris Van Allsburg
Small Beauties, by Elvira Woodruff
Irena’s Jars of Secrets, by Marcia K. Vaughn
The Boy Who Drew Birds, by Jaqueline Davis
Jon Klassen’s book is great for inferring, predicting and using visual cues
You also have a passion for graphic novels. Can you first define, in your own words, what a graphic novel is?
A graphic novel is a format for telling a story using comic book elements: illustrations, speech bubbles, thought bubbles, captions and panels. Graphic novels encompass all genres: fantasy, mystery, biography, realistic fiction, informational, etc…
Tell us what you enjoy about them and what you see your students enjoying about them.
I enjoy seeing stories represented in both visual and print ways. The text and pictures equally important, and the reader must rely on both to understand the story. Many of our students are visual learners, and having the visual elements helps them understand the story. Students are able to immerse themselves in the story and enjoy the book. The more they enjoy reading, the more they read!
Can you recommend a few titles to add to the classroom/library?
Amulet series by Kazu Kibuishi
Babymouse series by Jennifer Holm and Matt Holm
Lunch Lady by Jarrett J. Krosoczka
Sidekicks by Dan Santat
Binky the Space Cat by Ashley Spires
The Olympians series by George O’Connor
Tell us about what happened when you brought a comic book illustrator to your school and what you saw your students gain from that experience.
A couple of years ago I worked with the art teacher at school, and we brought a comic artist into third and fourth grade art classes for a month. The artist taught students about the elements of graphic novels, and he worked with students to create their own graphic novels. Many teachers embraced this project and continued the work in their classrooms.
During the art residency, the art teacher, comic artist, and I offered a workshop for parents about graphic novels. We also encouraged families to attend the Maine Comic Arts Festival. That year, I noticed that students and teachers read more graphic novels than ever before. Out shelves were empty because all of the comics were checked out. It was a turning point in our school. Many teachers and parents began to embrace graphic novels as a valid form of reading.
It’s interesting to note that you see a high value in the visual component of books, whether picture books or graphic novels. What skills and abilities do you think these visual genres promote in your students?
Even though there are illustrations, graphic novels do not spell out everything for readers. Readers must infer as they read. Terry Thompson (Adventures in Graphica) explains that readers are must infer what happens in the gutters or spaces between the panels. Students als
o learn to use their visual thinking skills to notice details from the illustrations in picture books and graphic novels. Last year I read Grandpa Green by Lane Smith to third and fourth grade classes. Smith’s illustrations are quite detailed and include a lot of symbolism. It was interesting to see each class pick up on different details from the illustrations.
What else would you like to share on this topic?
Support your local comic book store. I shop for the school library at an independent comic book store in the area, and I’m always amazed at the selection of books available. The owners of our local shop are really knowledgeable about comics. I always leave with a smile on my face and a bag full of books!
Thank you, thank you, Cathy. I think I’ll let Winston the Wonder Dog have the last word here!