Thursday, October 8, 2015

How Little Robot Changed a Life

Ben Hatke's Little Robot has been on bookstore and library shelves for just over a month and while I don't know sales or circulation statistics, I have inside information on something far more valuable. This 144 page graphic novel changed a life.

Little Robot is a mostly wordless graphic novel, and that is mostly what made all the difference. It is also a page-turner of respectable length, and the full-color illustrations look cool. (Yep, that's my professional description of Hatke's remarkable artwork.)

You see, I have a 7-year old student that reads far below grade level and it can be a struggle to find something for this child to read. I have guided reading books for her during group time, but let's be honest, a second grader does not want to walk around carrying those for fun. She wants to read a chapter book like many of her peers. So she carries around My Weird School books and Judy Moody, and flips pages during independent reading time. Even though I promote picture books for all readers, and remind students that we all have different "good fit" books, I don't blame her for grabbing Miss Daisy Is Crazy. She is tired of the easy readers that are still too hard, of her life being limited to 32 pages or less when her friends are dabbling in the 100-plus page pond. However, when she holds a chapter book filled with lines of text she cannot decode it's unlikely she will fall in love with reading. Perhaps Ben Hatke knew all about these types of readers when he set out to create Little Robot.

After reading Little Robot, I knew my students would love it, but I never dreamed of where it would lead. When I handed it to this child and told her that I had a brand-new book I thought she would like, she accepted the invitation to be the first reader. Upon finishing it, she shared her favorite parts with me, she brought it home to share with her family and she shared the beginning of the graphic novel in front of 50 students. My developing reader suddenly became the reading star! Now EVERYONE wants to read Little Robot and she is sharing in authentic book conversations with her peers.

She is in no hurry to put the book down and I am not one to pass up opportunities for learning so when she drew a scene from the book, I asked if she would like to write a sentence to describe it. I hope it leads to a collaborative effort where she creates more pictures, we edit the sentences, and eventually create a mini Little Robot book that she can read again and again. As a teacher, I think this would be an excellent learning opportunity and a chance for her to practice writing and reading, but as a lover of books, I know I won't push it farther than she wants. The real goals have already been scored. She fell in love with a book. She shared it with her peers. She felt reading success. Thank you, Ben Hatke.