Friday, February 18, 2011

Pokemon Literacy Connections

Another burgeoning area of interest for that daughter of mine is Pokemon. Last July, My brother-in-law got a bunch of Pokemon cards for Solana and her cousin to trade on a hot summer evening in Chicago. They spread out the cards and got involved in some very intense trading. Then I kind of forgot about it. But recently, Solana has been scrutinizing her cards, giving us cards to trade with her, reading and requesting Pokemon books, and watching the television series.

I remember the whole Pokemon thing when I was working in what was then district six in Washington Heights. Even sixth graders were completely obsessed with it. I thought of Pokemon as some cute marketing ploy to get kids to buy the cards. Now I’m thinking I missed out on a teaching opportunity: I didn’t realize the literacy potential for this interest. As I read the Pokemon books or watch the show with my daughter, I’m seeing parallels to reading non-fiction, especially the idea of classification in science. For example, the Pokemon Junior Handbook series has stats on each page, with a pronunciation guide and the Pokemon’s type, weight and height as well as a sidebar “fun fact," much like the structure of early science readers. The more advanced Sinnoh Hall of Fame has quite a bit of text, with topics and subtopics such as “Who’s Who in Sinnoh.” The whole idea of “Sinnoh,” this alternate imaginary world, could also be a precursor to fantasy books when Pokemon fans get older.

I have always felt reluctant to promote books that are written for commercial content because they’re so poorly written and are basically the company's marketing extensions. I remember last year a teacher was reluctant to buy Bakugan books for the Bakugan-crazy boys in her classroom for the same reason. Of course, I’ll always prefer well written children’s literature and nonfiction to a commercial series. But if a young reluctant reader is obsessed with Bakugan and that’s going to get him into reading, shouldn’t that be an important part of the equation? And shouldn’t we be looking into the potential of student interests to expand them as readers of both fiction and nonfiction?

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