Thursday, October 25, 2012

Format, Not Genre

We are working hard in fifth grade to be more specific in our identification of genre. Knowing that a book or story is fiction or nonfiction just isn't good enough anymore! We have identified the qualities of fantasy and science fiction, historical fiction and realistic fiction, and more. 

One of the first hurdles we had to cross was that "graphic novel" is NOT a genre. We have seen graphic novels that are fantasy, science fiction, biography, memoir, and mythology. So a graphic novel is a FORMAT for presenting a story, rather than a single GENRE.

The same is true for wordless books. It might be a fun informal assessment to give a group of students a stack of wordless books and ask them to sort the books by genre!

Here are two you could include in your stack -- one fantasy, and the other historical fiction.

The Night Riders
by Matt Furie
McSweeney's McMullens, 2012
review copy provided by the publisher

In this fantasy, Frog and Mouse go on a journey together. They meet a scary dragon who turns out to be friendly. Dragon and his underground video-game-playing friend join Frog and Mouse and their journey takes them all the way to the ocean.

One of the best things about this book is the dust jacket -- it unfolds into a big poster with the characters on one side, and parts of the setting on the other!

Unspoken: A Story From the Underground Railroad
by Henry Cole
Scholastic Press, 2012

The silence of a wordless book is perfect for UNSPOKEN. When the girl discovers a runaway slave hiding in the outbuilding, she keeps his secret.

Henry Cole uses well-chosen details to evoke the setting (both time and place), to build suspense, and to give the story a satisfying ending. For those with background knowledge about the Underground Railroad, such images as the lantern, the Big Dipper, and the quilts will resonate. This gorgeous wordless book belongs in classrooms at all levels. It will prompt great discussions, and perhaps some will want to try to write the story with words.


  1. You are so right about graphic novels and wordless books! Thanks for sharing a new wordless books. We love reading books using the pictures right now in our room.

  2. This is one genre I have really explored nearly enough. Unspoken will be perfect for ourclass when we get to studying this period in history. Thanks for making note of it!

  3. I too have been on the lookout for wordless books. October always brings it out in me. Wordless books offer such great details for my little illustrators. Thanks for these titles. I just found another new one, to me, at the library yesterday, BEAR DESPAIR. The illustrations are all done in pen/pencil and it's about a bear that keeps "losing" his teddy bear. After a little investigating I found out that it is the sixth in a series of a "Story Without Words" series through Enchanted Lion Books.

  4. Love me some wordless books. Great post, though. Our 5th graders are doing genre studies and I'm having to remind them of what makes certain genres. I've made them aware of the "graphic novel" as format distinction, but it's good to hear again!


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