Promoting Illustrated Literature for Middle School
One might think you would not encounter opposition promoting illustrated literature for middle school students. Who don’t like pictures? Yet I know there are some educators who believe unadorned print on the page is the best way to hasten the progress of adolescents into the full responsibilities of adulthood. Well, maybe. But I’d keep anybody longer in the drudgery of adolescence if it were up to me. Those were some pretty good times for the most part, looking back.
Seriously, this debate about the content of books for kids who are leaving childhood highlights an anti-picture attitude that some folks have, an attitude that annoys not only me but important people as well. Me has a bias. I am a book maker who bet that educators would agree illustrations add to, not detract from, the introduction of classic literature to middle school students. I waged a complete line of books on that bet. So I am biased. But experts without bias in the matter of illustrated books for adolescents support the belief behind my bet. Since I am a book maker at risk, I am grateful for their support.
One such expert is Deborah B. Ford. Ms. Ford, the Director of Library Outreach for Junior Library Guild and an an award-winning teacher/librarian, has almost 30 years of experience as a classroom teacher and librarian in K–12 schools. She has used picture books with middle and high school students since the mid-’80s. She says today’s picture books uncover amazing stories about real people, historical events, and exciting discoveries, so there’s no reason why older kid’s education shouldn’t include picture books. Yet Ms. Ford knows that many educators dismiss illustrated books as strictly for little kids and useless for adolescents.
But hold on. Let’s back up. The stories covered in our Adapted Classics line of books are not about real people, historical events, or exciting discoveries. We illustrate short literature, and Ms. Ford did not include literature on her list of picture books with amazing content. We believe she would have included illustrated literature had she thought about it, so we will mark her down as a supporter of our mission. Regardless, her main point is that educators should not automatically reject books with pictures for middle and high school students. We definitely agree with that.
We live in an era where reading for pleasure or information is not as popular or practiced as it once was. That pertains to all age groups. And reading literature? As a popular pastime for youth, that falls approximately in the same area as collecting stamps. Yet students in secondary schools will have to read literature, or they’ll have to fake it. Curriculum directors will make reading literature a core requirement for a long time to come. Probably forever.
So where do Adapted Classics books fit in? We fit in nicely at the very beginning of the adolescent journey toward intellectual enrichment. Middle school students are transitioning from childhood to young adult, and we want to ease their way. Their minds are ready but reluctant to be challenged, and illustrated literature of the short variety makes for a smooth roadbed at the start of their challenging journey. If middle schoolers get off to a smooth start reading illustrated literature, they will be better poised to cruise through the remainder of their lives as accomplished readers and thinkers.
Easing the Middle School Transition
The illustrated literature in Adapted Classics books eases the middle school transition in multiple ways. To begin with, we are adapting short forms of classic literature. Short stories are the best way to introduce literature to youth. Why start out middle schoolers with long forms of literature? Make their first excursions into literature quick, easy, and enjoyable—not overtaxing. Short, illustrated literature is just the ticket for their first and early trips down literature way.
Moreover, the stories that we select to adapt for illustration will appeal to youth. All contain at least some humor, and almost all have an ample amount. In addition, we choose stories that move at a brisk pace, stories that don’t stall as characters ponder or muse. Modern middle school readers live in an era of action. We specifically chose Adapted Classics stories that will capture the attention of busy young minds in these bustling times.
In addition, we priced Adapted Classics books around what you would have to pay these days to buy a comic book. We hope that will make them fit into the budgets of schools with curriculum directors who might want to distribute them to students for reading during and after classes. We have also donated cartons of Adapted Classics books to literacy organizations that distribute them to underprivileged kids and under-resourced schools and libraries. The idea is to get illustrated literature into the hands, eyes, and minds of as many young readers as possible.
Finally, the illustrations! Who don’t like pictures? Especially the fine art illustrations of Marc Johnson-Pencook. I say, without fear of contradiction, that Marc Johnson-Pencook ranks among the finest pen and ink illustrators alive today. No one surpasses his exquisitely-detailed skill with pen and ink. And his imagination? Free, wild, and perfectly suited for the visually-alive Adapted Classics stories he illustrates. Everyone who appreciates illustration will marvel at his talent.
Right from the first glimmering of the Adapted Classics idea, we envisioned books that would attract middle school students and entice them to read short, content accessible, classic literature. Besides accomplishing the attraction goal we envisioned, Marc’s illustrations have added an artist’s visual interpretation to these timeless stories. More than anything else, Marc’s illustrations support our mission to make reading classic literature enjoyable for middle school readers.« Back