I’ve always tried to make a big deal about certain text features when we see them in fiction that we’re reading, especially bold and italics.
I’m cool like that.
There’s something about bold and italics that make me feel like they give us a teeny glimpse into what the author really wants us to understand in the text. Or maybe I just can hear the characters’ voices more clearly when I can see what they would be emphasizing during conversations.
Or maybe I just tend to use them a lot so I’m happy when I see them on someone else’s page.
Whatever it is, Cora and I had an interesting conversation about italics last night before bed, and I thought it was worth sharing.
If we had this chat, certainly other parents are having the italics chat as well.
. . . or maybe we’re just a strange family.
Either way, it’s worth taking a look at if you do any read-alouds with your readers at home.
Here’s the skinny. . .
- Understanding Italics in Fiction–Text Features and Meaning:
Cora was reading a book to me when it all started.
It was a book from her Media Center that she picked up yesterday called The Witch Who Was Afraid of Witches, by Alice Low, illustrated by Jane Manning. Very cute book geared toward readers in grades 2-4, about a little witch who is afraid of her two older, bossy and nasty sisters until she discovers her own magic one Halloween night.
Like I try to do during read-alouds, I let Cora’s first time reading through the italics and ignoring them go.
She didn’t alter the meaning of the text; she just ignored the text feature. It’s all good.
But when she finished the book and we were talking about it, I said, Man, I liked how fluently you read that story. You really do a good job of paying attention to the punctuation, especially when people are speaking. I showed her a few places where she did this, pointing out specific examples.
One thing I’d love for you to do next time you read it, though, is keep your eyes open for certain text features–like italics. I personally love italics and bold when I see it in books. Do you want to know why?
I like italics and bold because it kind of lets you know what the author wants the reader to emphasize.
Like here: (I flipped back to the beginning of the book.) I read, ‘Her oldest sister, Polly knew everything’. See how ‘knew’ is in italics? The author wants us to say it with more emotion to make a point–that the oldest sister had a brain full of information.
Cora stopped me. She closed the book.
Confidently, she declared: Well I don’t care about italics. The author is not the boss of me.
I honestly felt like I was in a bad sitcom. I have not a clue where she ever heard that phrase, but not much surprises me from my tiniest.
Well that’s fine, I said. You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to when it comes to reading. We really just want you to find good books that you enjoy and like reading. But the thing with italics and bold is–that they help ‘complete’ the story. Sure, you can read anything on the page–the words–and look at the illustrations–but if you ask me, text features like italics just take it a step further. They take the reading up a notch. Like beginners may just read the words, but experts may read it all–italics, bold, the whole thing. Because they want to get the whole picture.
I showed her two other places in the text where the author used italics, focusing on the part when little witch Wendy was sad in her bed, hugging her broomstick. She says, ‘At least I have you. . . you give me a little witch power’.
We talked a bit about that statement and how it sounds different when a person reads it without emphasizing ‘you’ and with emphasizing ‘you’.
She wouldn’t budge. I didn’t convince her of the power of italics. . . but at least I got her thinking. I hope.
Is this skill imperative for young readers’ understanding of a text? Must they be able to respond to every text feature they encounter in fiction or non-fiction texts?
Honestly, it’s not the hill I want to die on. (Notice deliberate use of italics, please.)
If kids are decoding the text in a book like this, and if they understand and appreciate the story, it’s all good. However, Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts, grade 2 requires that students understand how text features are used in nonfiction (CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.2.5).
And if you jump on over to the fiction side of CCSS, you’ll see that students need to acknowledge different points of view of characters which they can express by reading in a different voice for each character when reading aloud (CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.2.6)–so this is where understanding the text features in order to best understand the characters would come into play. Or when ‘integrating knowledge and ideas’ students have to use information gained from illustrations or words in a text . . . in order to demonstrate understanding of characters, plot, or setting (CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.2.7). So does this count as ‘information gained from words in a text’? Hmmmm.
So there you have it. They’ve got to understand how text features like this are used, but if they choose not to read it that way, it’s their choice. Kids just have to show that they understand what’s going on. And clearly, my kiddo gets that the author isn’t the boss of her.