It goads me, this stack of books —March’s theme, “Graphic Novels: More Than 1,000 Words.” Getting this monthly young adult video blog together is more work than I ever imagined. My husband is a former video producer, so our collaboration on Shelf Life has been a learning experience. He calls me “difficult talent”—think Dustin Hoffman or Russell Crowe on steroids—and then imagine what our filming days can be like.
Today’s the day I must begin my script. One certainty I’ve gleaned: a production is only as good as a script. Even if ad lib becomes part of it, establishing a clear idea of what I will say is imperative. The better the prep, the better the shoot, so before I address #SOL2018, I begin drafting my introduction. “This edition of Shelf Life highlights graphic novels…”
Taylor, a laidback neutral-about-most-things-except-music eighth grader I taught several years ago, had not embraced reading. The rest of the kids, for whatever reason, were galvanized by the 40-Book Challenge (thank you, Donalyn Miller), but not Taylor. When I sidle up to him during reading conferences, he glances up from Brian Selznick’s Wonderstruck. The splayed notebook on his desk shows his Reading Record, and I see that he’s been with this same book for more than the two week period we’ve decided is about right if the kids are going to meet the Challenge.
“So, Taylor, how’s it going? What d’ya thing of it?” A languid look pulls his eyes to mine. “Oh, I’ve finished it, but now I’m reading it again,” he explains.
“Hmmm? Really?” I’ve got that skeptical teacher thing down. Have you ever worked with eighth graders? I would love to take everything they say at face value, but experience has jaded me a bit, I’ll admit. I ask him why this book bears repeating, and so soon.
Selznick’s story is told in two parallel narratives, Ben’s that is initially disclosed in text and Rose’s that is told in masterfully evocative, detailed and complex drawings. At the climax of the book, their stories intertwine as do the methods of storytelling. Rose and Ben are family. Taylor unerringly turns to Rose’s retelling, pointing out aspects that I had never noticed that have led him to revisit his earlier reading. He specifically cites nuances new to me and looks at me quizzically when I ask him how he knows what he knows.
Almost tenderly he answers, “Ms. Emerson, you need to read the pictures more carefully. Without them, Rose doesn’t have a story.”
And now I have it, the key to my introduction. Thanks, Taylor.