The Misadventures of Salem Hyde: Spelling Trouble
Written and illustrated by: Frank Cammuso
Format: HC/SC, 6 x 8, 96 pages, Partial Color, $4.95/$6.95
ISBN: HC: 978-1-41970-803-9/SC: 978-1-41970-804-6
It's one of the most well-known and often referenced terms in early reader Language Arts education. It's also a key conceptual skill noted in the Language Arts Common Core Standards for grades 1 – 5. And, last but not least, it's a term that I – a professor of early childhood education – am often asked to help explain to teachers themselves.
To help aide teachers, librarians, parents, and students better understand the term "homophone" it is best to find authentic literary texts that creatively and engagingly use storytelling techniques to illuminate and ease the teaching of this term. Frank Cammuso’s new early reader graphic novel The Misadventures of Salem Hyde is the most recent, and best text for teaching students about homophones.
With characters sure to excite early readers, like Salem Hyde herself and her animal companion - a cat - named Percival J. Whamsford III, Cammuso sets up a witty plot that is both educational and hilarious. To start, the two main characters could not be more different from each other. If given the option they certainly would not choose to be friends. But friends they must be, for Salem's parents have charged Percival (whom Salem insists on calling "Whammy" despite all of his objections) with untangling Salem's spelling problems at school. Knowing that spelling is not her strong suite, Salem thinks that because she is a witch she will be one step ahead of her competition in the school spelling bee. She'll just use her witch talents to cast spells and fix any of the words she might spell inaccurately.
But if you misspell the words in the spell you cast you might just create some unintentional spelling-challenged chaos. With Percival to help her Salem must somehow figure out not only how to get along with her new, pestering, yet helpful cat companion, but also how to fix all the confusion that ensues from her spells misspellings.
English Language Arts Elements of Story
Plot: Salem Hyde seems to have many misadventures, most of which revolve around her being a witch able to cast spells. When she decides she wants to win her school's spelling bee, however, her magical spells intended to get the trophy in her hands cause much more chaos than she could have ever predicted. With her new companion, assigned to her by her parents, Salem and Percival the cat must untangle the chaos Salem has caused by casting spells on her misspelled words.
Major Characters: Salem Hyde, Percival the cat (aka "Whammy"), Shelly, Mrs. Fossil, Mr. Fink, Principal McCobb, Aunt Martha, Fergus, the Captain Ahab, and the white whale (aka: Moby Dick)
Themes: Problem-solving, Friendship, School Life, Homophones, Misunderstandings and Clarity
Traditional and Contemporary Literary Pairing Suggestions: Otto's Backwards Day and/or Otto's Orange Day by Frank Cammuso, Dear Deer: A Book of Homophones by Gene Barretta, How Much Can a Bare Bear Bear? by Brian P. Cleary, Eight Ate by Marvin Terban, Suzy Nose/Knows Homophones! By Ph.D. Rebecca Miller and Nicolas Peruzzo
Some Teaching Recommendations Using the Common Core Standards For Elementary Readers in Grades 1 – 5
Craft and Structure*
4. Interpret words and phrases as they are used in a text, including determining technical, connotative, and figurative meanings, and analyze how specific word choices shape meaning or tone.
* The numbers referenced above correspond to the numbers used by the Common Core Standards (www.commoncore.org)
Lesson Idea for Elementary School Readers:
Directions: As students read, ask them to fill out the following two circle graphic organizers explaining how Salem understands the word "spell," and conversely, how Percival / "Whammy" and the school's teachers and students understand the word "spell."
Salem's understanding of
the word "spell"
and the school's
understanding of the
After students are done reading the entire graphic novel the class can work together to suggest and share the ideas they put into their own two circles. Finally, ask students to write a paragraph explanation about how Salem and Whammy/the teacher's/and the student's different misunderstandings change or merge together at the end of the story.
Dr. Katie Monnin is an Associate Professor of Literacy at the University of North Florida. Besides the joy that comes with reading comic books and graphic novels, Dr. Monnin enjoys a Peter Pan-ish life of researching and writing her own books about teaching comics, graphic novels, and cartoons: Teaching Graphic Novels (2010), Teaching Early Reader Comics and Graphic Novels (2011), Using Content-Area Graphic Texts for Learning (2012), Teaching Reading Comprehension with Graphic Texts (2013), and Get Animated! Teaching 21st Century Early Reader and Young Adult Cartoons in Language Arts (2013); Teaching New Literacies in Elementary Language Arts ( in press, 2014). When she is not writing (or sitting around wondering how she ended up making an awesome career out of studying comics and graphic novels), Dr. Monnin spends her time with her two wiener dogs, Sam and Max.