I’ll just come out and admit it, I have been a snob about books based on television shows, especially shows found on Noggin and Nick Jr. The teacher and the English major in me has run away from the rotating shelves at Borders that display the Dora, Diego, Blue’s Clues and Backyardigans books and I have, until now, never recommended any of these books to a reader.
But the time has come to swallow my pride and say it: these “character” books are not bad. More than that, they can be an incredibly powerful hook for kids, a way for them to engage with books that they might not have found otherwise. Additionally, for struggling readers, these books based on T.V. can be a great help as they grow into more confident readers. But I’ll slow down here, explain how I got from one extreme to the other.
My son is 21 months old. I have been reading to him for his whole life – literally from the day I found out I was pregnant. He loves books and he loves listening to my husband and I read to him. But – and this is when I began to revise my thinking on this one – when he was old enough to pick out his own book from the bookstore, when he could crawl around and show me what he wanted (because I never steered him to the character books) he went right for a Backyardigans book. That was at 10 months (yes, I know it’s an entirely different story about why he knew and loved the Backyardigans at only 10 months old), and he still loves that book and the others we have about his favorite television show.
Kids want all kinds of things that aren’t always good for them, but these Backyardigans books seem to be great. Ethan sits with them for long chunks of time turning the pages, looking at the pictures and, now, saying words and short sentences that make sense for each page.
After I realized how much Ethan loved these books, we began to give him free reign at the bookstore, where he will almost always pick a book based on a television show that he watches – Dora, Diego, Blue’s Clues, Sesame Street. And he loves them. And he “reads” them. Over and over again.
And then I began to talk to other mothers and other, older readers about these character books and the consensus seems to be in line with what I saw with Ethan – kids like these books, and they like to read them. And in an age where television-watching seems to be taking up lots of time in the day, isn’t it far “better” to have kids read books based on their favorite characters than passively watch them on T.V. all the time?
So I got to the point that I was comfortable with these books as a mother, but the teacher in me wanted more. I came to understand that kids who are familiar with certain television shows will be more successful at reading books that are familiar to them. I often recommend that struggling readers work through a series of books so that characters and settings are familiar to them. Isn’t this the same but on an even more visual level? Hmmm… I never would have imagined that I might recommend Dora books to a struggling reader, that they might actually be just the thing to pull her back into reading.
I gave all of these ideas another run with Wow, Wow, Wubbzy. This is a show on Noggin that I had never watched before. I had decided that it was not worth my time or Ethan’s time – after all, if he’s going to watch T.V. than we might as well both get something from it. So I sat down with a Wubbzy DVD, A Tale of Tails, and watched it straight through with Ethan. And it was good! It was about learning to accept others, friendship and problem-solving. It was also funny, sweet and fun for Ethan to watch – the ultimate litmus test in my mind.
After the DVD we moved to two books. The first was based on one of the episodes in the DVD, A Tale of Tails. The book was very true to the show in that it captured the plot, characters, setting and tone perfectly. Ultimately, it tells the story of Wubbzy, who has a very long, bendy tail. He is ostracized by some kids he wants to play with because he is different, until his friends help him realize that his tail is cool and he should be proud of it. At the end, the kids who ignored Wubbzy in the beginning are eager to play with him. (From a plot point of view, the book is slightly predictable – but that’s my adult opinion, kids seem to love Wubbzy and, therefore, will love this book.)
For a child who may struggle with reading or who is learning to read, the fact that the book so closely mirrors the show is ideal. The knowledge that she already has from watching the show would help with reading the words and following the story in print. (This book also comes complete with stickers, which were a huge hit in my house!)
The second, and final, Wubbzy book that we read is called It’s Wubbzy! This is a book that works as an introduction to Wubbzy and may be best for younger readers. It’s a board book that talks when you press a button, saying “Wow, wow, everyone! My name is Wubbzy!” Each page introduces readers to a character in the stories with little text and bright, colorful illustrations. This one was a huge hit with Ethan!
So after getting over my wrong judgment about Wubbzy in general, I was able to learn something myself. These character books are engaging, fun to read and easy to understand – especially if your child is familiar with the show. Finding television in books is not such a bad thing after all. . . .
Jenny is the editor of Ethan’s Bookshelf, a children’s literacy site, and writes her blog Read. Imagine. Talk. When not in front of her computer, Jenny can be found chasing after her son, reading a good book, or watching really bad reality T.V.
Editor’s Note: Shortly after Jenny pitched this idea to me, we were contacted about doing a Wow, Wow, Wubbzy DVD and book set giveaway. I had the review copies sent to her so that she could include them in her review. Now three of you have the opportunity to win the books and DVD mentioned in this post. If you click over to 5 Minutes for Mom, you can enter to win over there, too!
Leave a comment, and we’ll draw the winners on October 1. Try to keep your comment on topic: what’s your opinion of these kinds of TV tie-in books?
This giveaway is closed.