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Carole Marsh Tips for Parents

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I hope your child/children are enjoying James Bone and friends.

I never really “got” graphic novels until I wrote one and watched it come to life through the artist’s drawings.  It was magical and made me see “teaching reading” in a different way.

My goals in writing the James Bone series in graphic novel format:


  • Provide a short, super-fun read for new, challenged, and reluctant readers.

  • Let fewer words, in dialogue form, entice readers to work their way from page to page and think that is fun and fulfilling, as in “Hey, I can read!”

  • Help readers learn to comprehend meaning through illustrations and well as through the written word. 

  • Provide a short book, so that even a reluctant reader discovers that reading a whole book is not a challenge, it’s an adventure, and feel that “I finished it!” reward. 

  • Encourage readers to learn they love to read and want to read more.


What follows are some tips and tricks to help your readers, of all ages and abilities!



Reading a book is not a contest!  There should be no “score.”  You don’t get points for knowing all the words, or pronouncing them right the first time, or knowing their meaning.  That’s what you get from reading, not what you bring to reading!


Here are ideas that may be helpful!

  • A page is a world!  There’s no rush.  If your reader wants to dawdle over the cover, ask questions, imagine, speculate, etc., that’s just fine.  There lots of details in a graphic novel and they may want to enjoy and savor them—not dash through a story.

  • There is no special order in which to read the dialogue balloons.  Let your reader read what attracts them first.  They may be curious what the little emojis have to say, or the big, loud dinosaur.  They’ll get the gist of the story and figure things out as they go along.

  • Don’t make reading a chore.  If you are reading with your child and they want to “be” a character,” let them read that part aloud; you can read the rest.  And if they want to look at the pictures first, then go back and start reading, great!  Remember:  There are no rules!



If your reader wants to identify with one of the characters, let them go for it!

Being interested and engaged is a big motivation to wanting to read or read better.

Trust me:  there are no “age limits” on reading interest.  That’s why I picked dinos!

If you love dinos, you love reading about them at any age.


In a graphic novel, a reader may want to follow one character through the entire story, then go back and read the other “parts.”  That’s ok.  A reader may read a few pages, then return to a prior page.  Books don’t have to be read in order!  That a reader is involved and curious is the most important thing.  If your reader can imagine themselves as a character, they will get hooked quickly on seeing what they are about and up to!


A graphic novel is a bit like a puzzle.  If your reader wants to ask a million questions about James:  “What kind of hat is he wearing?”  “Why does he have dirt on his face?”  “Why does he have a shovel?” stop and answer or explore those.  Reading should be rewarding—the way the reader defines it.  No rush.  No stress.  Enjoy the process!



As a long-time writer of children’s books with lots of words, I had to learn a new trick with graphic novels.  It does not really matter whether your reader wants to explore the illustrations first, on a page, or read the dialogue balloons first.  After all, part of the fun of a graphic novel is that there is a lot going on and pages can be topsy-turvy!  Allow your reader to set the pace and focus of what they want to pay attention to.


I write the story in order, just like a regularl book.

But when the illustrations come back from the artist for me to add the dialogue in the balloons, I find myself doing them in all kinds of order!  I might start left to right in a row, or I might just go around the circle, or skip all over the place.  Let your reader do the same!


Be sure to encourage readers to read the “sound effects,” signs, and other information.

Part of the fun and challenge of a graphic novel is that there is a lot on the page.  There may not be so many words, but there is just as much meaning and things to comprehend.  Art gives a “depth” to the page, so help your reader see what’s going on in the background, foreground, and in all the nooks and crannies!



Books are great; movies are great, but a graphic novel is a creative combo of words, art, and action!  Help your reader:

  • Consider what’s NOT on the page.  How did the characters get from here…to there?  There’s a giant dino’s head—where’s the rest of him?  Turn the page!  Helping readers to “see” three-dimensionally helps them comprehend all kinds of things and to be reading-aware.

  • Each panel is like a screen.  Help your reader discover transitions, why there might be a “close-up,” or a long pan of a scene.  This not only helps them understand the story, but also helps their writing.  After all, a book or movie writer has to think about all these things!

  • Help your reader anticipate what might “happen next.”  In a graphic novel you try not to “give the story away” by putting part of the action on one page…and the “what happens next” on the next page or spread.  Anticipating helps you see if your reader is comprehending well, or even has a better idea than the writer!



One reason we have reluctant young readers is that the interest level of a book and the vocabulary do not match up!  Just because a reader reads at a lower reading level, or reads English as a second language, or any other reason, is NO reason they should have to struggle through boring books with childish language. 


Of course, the alternative is that you write to the story and to the reader, but not down to the reader.  In the James Bone books, your reader will know a lot of words by sight.  They can figure out some of them in the context of the story and art.  And they can enjoy the story without knowing what every word means—even as they learn new words.


Do not criticize your reader for any word or term they can’t sound out, are not familiar with, or don’t know the meaning of.  Let them enjoy the story and the art, the action and the fun.  They’ll read the book over and over and learn new words all the time!


Just look at all the places you find words in the books:  In letters, headlines, signs, tee shirts, dialogue balloons, as sound effects, and more.  Readers will enjoy reading all these and begin to choose to read street signs and road maps and soup cans and anything else that helps them become better readers!

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