Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Books with TV Characters

Are you enjoying our summer book study? I must admit that I'm a little behind on my reading. has started for me so my reading time has been reduced greatly!

It's time for another author Q&A. Today, Jim Trelease answers a question about books with popular culture characters.

Our youngest readers are attracted to picture books portraying characters they are familiar with from television and electronic sources such as SpongeBob. Do these types of books have a place in the classroom?

The last time I looked none of the characters on TV needed promotion elsewhere in order to be successful. One of our jobs with children is to broaden their horizons, to introduce them to places and people they haven't met yet. SpongeBob needs no introduction but Corduroy does, especially to the child who comes from a home where the TV blares incessantly but there isn't a book or library card within a mile. One last thought: Children like candy and French fries but we avoid making those the daily choice in school. Good idea. Children will always find the commercial junk in our culture. They must have built-in magnets to junk. Our job is to introduce them to the stuff that is better than junk.

Jim's response to this question surprised me a little; it seems a little contradictory to his book. In the book he supports reading - no matter the reading material type. Reading is the most important thing. Here he seems to say that books with pop culture characters should be avoided. But I think the key difference here is the word classroom in the question.

In the classroom teachers should be advocates for quality books, books that will challenge kids to think and imagine. And I agree. We should read books about Corduroy and Skippyjon Jones and Pete the Cat. We can help kids fall in love with the language of Dr. Seuss as well as the characters.

But I think we should also encourage kids to read what connects with them personally. I have read aloud a Spiderman book in my class...and we talked about prediction and inferences and new words. But we don't read those books every day. The importance is balance. Draw kids in through their interests and capture them with new books and ideas.

(I've been rereading The Book Whisperer, too. It's a great companion to this book - focusing on independent reading in elementary/middle school. She is a strong supporter of kids reading materials based on their own choices.)

What are your thoughts? How much, if any, should we use books based on pop culture and TV characters?


  1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this topic Scott. I was the one who posed this question to Jim and my thinking behind it was based on my experience in the classroom. I have found on the first day of school in pre-k or kindergarten that kids won't even look at a book unless it has a tv character on the front. Unfortunately those types of books are usually very poorly written and not what I would consider "high-quality" books. I always have to try 10 times as hard to get kids to fall in love with the "good stuff" like Chicka Chicka Boom Boom, Llama Llama Red Pajama etc. Each book that I choose to read aloud to my class is precious so I try to choose only the good stuff, and it works- they become instant fans of Llama and Chicka, but there are always those few who want me to read whatever the latest tv character book is. And if you look at the books their parents order from the Scholastic book orders it's very scary, they order the "junk". I think the key here is classroom too, but I also think it's about the child's first experiences with books at the very early level. As a teacher of pre-k I am often a child's first teacher and it's a big job, I have to build oral language, instill a love of reading, build phonological awareness skills etc. So my take on this topic is that with our very youngest learners, with whom we are building a strong foundation for future reading success, we avoid the junk and go for the good stuff to support our goals. Once they have established that foundation of reading and become readers, then they can make more broad choices. So I don't see it as contradictory, I see it as being different based on the age of the child. Think about it this way, what do you learn by watching 60 minutes vs. The Bachelor? Does one have more quality and substance than the other? For any teacher out there struggling with this issue I suggest first looking at the anthology Jim has compiled at the end of The Read-Aloud Handbook for book suggestions. Then I also suggest searching for "mentor texts"- these are read-alouds (at the primary level) that can help you when planning lessons to address specific standards or goals.

  2. I enjoyed your thoughts Scott and Vanessa. Reading is such an integral part of our day in PK, but thinking back to the beginning of school, I don't remember my young ones asking for books about TV or storybook characters. I do see those types of books being bought at the book fairs tho! Yes, getting children to love reading should be about making choices and if the child is so inclined to read those types of books, it is then my job as the teacher to read other selections to ignite a love for other genres. I think too the key word is "classroom." It's important to educate our children and their parents about quality books.

  3. As a home school mom and wife of a Head Start preschool teacher, we steer away from the cartoon books. Just as in the grocery store when our kids may ask for a candy bar or sugary snack, we offer a healthier alternative. We typically steer clear of book fairs, or don't take the kids with.