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REVIEW: La Casa de la Dentista Graphic Novel

October 18, 2017

If you haven’t heard by now, Wooly’s new graphic novel has made its way into the hands of a few teacher-bloggers scattered around the country. (Thinking about starting a blog? You should do it before Wooly decides to write a third graphic novel so you can get a sneak peek too ;-)). He sent them out on the condition that we blog honest reviews—and so an honest review you will get! (Also check out reviews from Maris, Cynthia, Arianne, and Allison--and I think more are coming.)

As soon as the novels were available for pre-order (paperback or hardcover), I snagged 10 for myself and 30 for a giveaway. Without even seeing the novel, I was confident that it would be well worth the money spent. Señor Wooly is committed to excellence, and each of his projects outshines the last in quality and creativity. A teacher through and through, he strives to make each project—whether video, nugget, or novel—even more useful and engaging to students than the last. The pre-ordered novels are printed and expected to arrive to giddy teachers in November.

My copy of LA CASA DE LA DENTISTA arrived on Friday. My kids have been on serious books-in-the-mail withdrawal since moving to VT where we can’t receive Dolly Parton Imagination Library books (a MAJOR bummer). So when they saw me walk back to the car with a padded envelope and heard the word “book”…well…the package was open and my three boys were huddled over the open pages of the book when I came in from unloading the girls from the car. Sheesh!

I read the book in English to my boys (ages 3, 4, and 5…okay, this might disqualify me from the Parent of the Year Award). I translated all of the text from Spanish and we examined the images together. Here is what I think:

  1. It’s definitely scary. My boys see me when I wake up each morning, and the Dentista wasn’t any worse than that, but for any student that a) has frequent nightmares, b) has a fear of the dentist or doctor, or c) has parents that never have bad hair days, this book is not going to be a great choice. The images are really graphic (awesome! it’s a graphic novel, after all!) and the plot is twisted, so it is important to know your audience. I never could have taught this at the Christian school that I was at because some parents would have FREAKED at the images alone. I would have used it at my 6-8 public middle school; probably just with my 7th and 8th graders.
  2. My kids LOVED it, and so did I. It is visually captivating and the story is intriguing and moves along at a good pace. All weekend, the boys kept it in our playroom and just laid on the floor looking at the images over and over and over again, and they BEGGED me to read it.
  3. After reading the first page or two, I was very skeptical about the comprehensibility of the text. There was quite a bit of specialty vocabulary related to teeth: brushing teeth, taking out teeth, clean teeth, etc. As I read on, my opinion changed. Instead of glaring at each new word, thinking “Wooly, what are you doing?!”, I began to marvel at how he masterfully provided repeated exposure to each unique item. Each word appears in narration, in dialogue (in 1st/2nd person forms), in past tense narration, in present tense action, in subjunctive and indicative contexts, isolated and in detailed sentences. Comprehension of each instance is supported by strong visuals, so the end result is an incredibly comprehensible text.
  4. There is a per-page glossary at the end of the book (meaning that when you don’t understand a word, you turn to the back of the book, look up the page number that you were just reading, and locate the translation of the word). I don’t love this. It is nice to not have a glossary at the bottom of each page, distracting from the visual appeal and perhaps tempting the reader to look at the glossary when in fact it is not necessary, but it is a little tedious to look up words in the back of the book by page.
  5. Personally, I would not use this book as a whole class novel. I would buy 10 copies and put them in the class library for free reading OR I would buy 30 copies, put 10 in my class library, and sell the rest to students at cost when they inevitably ask if they can have a copy. Because they WILL ask. I wouldn’t teach it to the whole class or even read it to the whole class because I HATE the experience of reading a graphic novel aloud to an audience. My kids love comic books and graphic novels, and I can’t wait for the day that they can read them to themselves. Reading them aloud always feels awkward to me. I think a graphic novel is most engaging when you work through it at your own pace, spending as much or as little time as you want looking at each of the images. There are many images in the novel that have NO text—entire pages, even—and on those pages I just point to each image and either describe what I think is happening or make a sound that matches the emotion that I feel. The problem with that is that I am putting my predictions and my emotions on my kids. Who KNOWS what they think is happening when they see any given illustration, or how they feel when they look at it. Many teachers bought class sets of Billy y las botas and taught it as a class novel—Wooly and my dear friend and teacher idol Carrie Toth even made a series of 18 instructional videos designed to help teachers know how to teach a graphic novel—but if it’s my choice…I would let students read it on their own. It’s too good, too rich, too beautiful to ‘teach’ it. Just let them enjoy it—because enjoy it they will!

Why Free Reading, and Why Graphic Novels?

"Free voluntary reading...means reading because you want to: no book reports, no questions at the end of the chapter. In FVR, you don't have to finish the book if you don't like it. FVR is the kind of reading most of us do obsessively all the time." The Power of Reading by Stephen Krashen, 2nd edition, Page 1

"In Stokes, Krashen, and Kartchner (1998) [...] the only significant predictor of the ability to use the subjunctive was the amount of free voluntary reading done in Spanish" The Power of Reading by Stephen Krashen, 2nd edition, Page 10

"[...] including self-selected reading is important because it ensures that reading is understandable and is for genuine interest." The Power of Reading by Stephen Krashen, 2nd edition, Page 52

"Children who participate in [in-school free reading programs] are more involved in free voluntary reading after the program ends than those in traditional programs." The Power of Reading by Stephen Krashen, 2nd edition, Page 81

"Trelease (2001) has suggested that a single very positive reading experience, one 'home run book', can create a reader". The Power of Reading by Stephen Krashen, 2nd edition, Page 82

"Perhaps the most powerful way of encouraging children to read is to expose them to light reading" The Power of Reading by Stephen Krashen, 2nd edition, Page 92

"[...] light reading can serve as a conduit to heavier reading. It can help readers not only develop the linguistic competence for harder reading but also develop an interest in books" The Power of Reading by Stephen Krashen, 2nd edition, Page 103

And if that doesn't have you convinced...well...check out this book review from my 3yo:

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