A Look Inside Explore-a-Story

Explore-a-Story Graphic Character Journal cover

We receive a lot of questions about our Explore-a-Story book.

  • What is it?
  • How is it used?
  • Which is more appropriate for my child—the book or PDF version?

 What is Explore-a-Story?

Explore-a-Story is an expanded, upgraded, more personal version of our original Cartooning Characters activity. We changed it in many ways:

    • We improved the directions and wrote them directly to your child.
    • We included more drawing, thinking, and writing directions.
    • We improved the layout so the directions and general "look" of the content is more "graphic" for older students who may see cartooning as too "young."
    • We put it all together in a journal so it creates a reading log and keepsake—a place to keep a list of books read within the school year.
    • There are 23 graphic spreads for creating (the same template is used for each spread), 26 content pages with directions and tips, and one final spread for students to write about their favorites based on attributes.
book page image of writing tips

Explore-a-Story character journal on Summer from the book Wonder

How is Explore-a-Story used? Well, we have so many ideas about that! 

  1. Use Explore-a-Story as a personal journal for each individual. Each student (and parent/educator too) can keep track of their favorite stories and characters. These can be characters they love, despise, fear, or celebrate! Kids can choose one character from each book they read, or from each family read aloud, and engage in drawing with bits & pieces of writing. In this way, Explore-a-Story encourages a bit more than "this book was about" and helps kids begin to understand how to analyze a story through character, conflict, and theme.

  2. Use Explore-a-Story as a family book. It can be a way to engage everyone in shared writing and drawing about any shared story—books, movies, or plays. Each person in the family can draw and write on a different character, so you can write with your kids! The character pages are divided in five sections, each with 4 spreads. In between these drawing pages are numerous drawing lessons and writing/thinking hints. This would allow a family to create their journal of the best stories of the year!

  3. Use Explore-a-Story as a way to track famous people in history, science, technology, or the arts, to support your curriculum. Every famous person faced their own conflicts and has their own story. Explore-a-Story can help you journal famous non-fictional characters! 

  4. Use Explore-a-Story to create a Shakespeare journal. Each four character section can be used to represent one of the Bard's famous plays, which are rich in character and have awesome costumes! There are plenty of conflicts to explore, character flaws to analyze, and famous lines to include! In this way, Explore-a-Story might be used across multiple years!

  5. Use Explore-a-Story to inspire your young artist to add writing to enrich their drawing. An avid artist may wish to fill the entire Explore-a-Story journal with characters from a beloved novel. This works well for novels with many characters, such as Thief Lord, The Hobbit, Harry Potter, Redwall, Pride and Prejudice, Pirates of the Caribbean, etc.  Books with many characters really spark the imagination in the visual child, so helping them to create a keepsake of their favorite book would be a fabulous write/draw project. This idea might overwhelm some kids, but those who love to fill pages with their art will enjoy turning their favorite books/movies into this form of visual fan fiction.


Should I choose the hardcopy or PDF format? This depends on your curriculum plans or on your child.  Explore-a-Story is meant to inspire, not to overwhelm. You know your child best: would they like holding their own journal or prefer to only view a page at a time? The PDF provides more flexibility in printing multiple copies for your family, whether you choose to spiral-bind the journal or use loose pages. With the PDF, you'll never run out of journal pages, whereas the hardcopy book gives more of that traditional journal feel.

If you have a strong reader, or you engage in one of the curriculum ideas listed above, your child could create one or more graphic characters a month—one for each book read or famous person studied. Kids who love to read, love to keep book logs. If they read a book a week, they may not want to create a graphic for every book they read. You could suggest a schedule that fits your child's learning style. Some children may read many books, but choose to create only one graphic per month. We want kids to enjoy bits & pieces of writing, not to become overloaded by weekly demands.

The struggling or reluctant reader could cartoon on more than one character per book (again only 1-2 times a month) over the course of the entire book. In this way, the struggling reader digs into characters as they read, helping them to track the story's plot, while encouraging writing in bits & pieces for deeper comprehension. In the end, struggling readers will have completed Explore-a-Story to celebrate their reading accomplishments . . . accomplishments measured in quality, rather than quantity.

Some students may be reluctant drawers or wish to hone their drawing skills while creating their graphic character. Our Drawing Stick Figures videos can help you support your student in adding art to language arts!

No matter the reading and writing skill, Explore-a-Story gives kids time to savor stories! It is a journal versatile enough to be used for a single book project, a year's worth of reading, or a topic/author study for years to come.

~ Rita and Tracy

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