CM . . . . Volume XVII Number 30 . . . . April 8, 2011
As a child I remember experimenting with backwards text and maybe had the odd double-bubble comic strip that required a 'mirror read'. In those instances, the task seemed simple, and the feedback was immediate - a mystery solved or a good chuckle. However, in these texts by Shelagh Robinson, I'm afraid I found the task of exploring 'mirror reading' rather awkward. I anticipated the process being more fun and engaging. I even tried it out with a 7-year-old and an 11-year-old to see what their feedback might be. The 7-year-old was quickly frustrated as he is still consolidating his knowledge in the areas of concepts about print and letter/sound relationships. He isn't flexible enough with his foundational literacy skills to be playful with print. The 11-year-old is a proficient reader but found the task cumbersome after awhile and the stories themselves not very engaging. The novelty of the mirror waned quickly and completing the text became tedious rather than enjoyable.
The one story, Mr Puff and Mr Peeve, is about a dog who gets into mischief and is described in a variety of corny ways. A strength is that the illustrations are real photos and depict realistic shots of dogs in a variety of expressions. In terms of the actual text, on one page you read, "They are a little dog. One of them is nice and soft...the other smells like frog." This line gives you a hint of the language and structure used throughout.
My Middle Name is Truck is a longer text and has a more inviting story. A boy is greeted by different trucks as he is going to school. The boy is wearing a t-shirt that reads, 'My middle name is truck', and so as he passes each truck, they notice his t-shirt and shout out a comment. For example, the cement truck responds in this way: It growled at him, "Is it true? Is TRUCK really your middle name?" This time he had his answer: "Yup", he said. "I love trucks!" Once again, the illustrations are real photos and show each truck with great detail. This particular story seemed more engaging than the other; however, it still requires a level of skill on the part of the reader to navigate and construct meaning.
Both texts can be described as 'awkward fun' for fluent readers. Rather then turning the pages left to right, the pages are flipped upwards, like a flip book. For emergent readers, this format may challenge or complement lessons in 'how books work'. In addition, I would hesitate to use this method (mirror reading) to teach decoding and letter sound correspondence. More research is required in terms of which learners would best suit this type of text for learning.
Perhaps a richer story line that includes a series of characters, a left-to-right page turning format and/or a graphic novel approach may have held my attention (and the children who read with me) and sustained my/our curiosity to continue unlocking meaning through 'mirror reading'.
Recommended with reservations.
Carrie Subtelny, who lives in Winnipeg, MB, is an ELA consultant, reading clinician and tutor.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.