Let Kids Read Comic Books . . . D’uh!

Instead of “Let Kids Read Comic Books,” I almost titled this entry, “Don’t Be an Idiot.” Because I can’t believe this needs to be discussed anymore.

Over at Imagination Soup, they ran a good piece with a solid message: “8 Reasons to Let Your Kids Read Comics.” Check it out, there’s a lot of worthwhile links attached to the article.

Here’s their list of “8 reasons” in brief.

1. Comics are fun to read.

2. Comics contain the same story elements and literary devices as narrative stories.

3. Comics provide built-in context clues.

4. Reading a comic is a different process of reading using a lot of inference.

5. Readers need variety in their reading diet.

6. We’re a visual culture and the visual sequence makes sense to kids.

7. Reading comics may lead to drawing and writing comics.

8. The selection of graphic novels is bigger, better, and reaches a wider age-range than before.

Yeah, feh, okay. I get that. We have to establish that comics are credible resources, that they’re valid in the classroom, so there’s a perceived need to throw in a lot of pedagogical goobledygook. But I don’t care. Because one thing I know is that many (many!) professional authors began their childhood love of reading with comic books. And that those authors are frequently men (AKA, ex-boys).

They read what they wanted to. They read what they liked. They read, period.

This dismissive notion of “boys reading junk” must be addressed. As well-meaning adults, we need to become sensitized to our bias against certain types of reading. We have to become aware of the messages we send to boy readers, the disapproving way we view their personal choices. Some of these boys pick up a comic book to read — TO READ! — and the message they get is, “That choice is stupid and you’re a dummy.”

We must trust in the process.

When I was working on my belly-up blog, Fathers Read, I received written contributions from several children’s book authors, including Matthew Cordell, Lewis Buzbee, Michael Northrop, Eric Velasquez, and Jordan Sonnenblick. One recurring strain in their reflections on their lives as young readers was the love and appreciation they felt toward comic books and, I should add, books that in general would not be considered literary. Yet somehow, despite reading what they liked, these boys became avid readers and skilled writers. Hmmm, go figure.

Here’s an excerpt from one such author/illustrator, my pal Matthew Cordell:

Five Things About Me as a Young Reader

1. Picture books I most remember liking were Dr. Seuss and Richard Scarry. And, sad to say, crappy series books like Berenstain bears. Hoo-boy.

2. I remember liking superhero comics very early on. Maybe even before I could actually read. It lasted til around middle school then tapered off. Quite significant here, being comics that made me want to be an artist.

3. I also was obsessed with Archie comics. They were easy to get because the Archie digests were at the grocery store checkout. These I liked for the gags and the weird 50’s vibe. Not so much for the cool factor. But I loved hanging out with these funny, upbeat, wholesome characters.

4. I loved Beverly Cleary books. The Ramona stuff, but especially the Henry books. I remember liking that it wasn’t over in just one book. Like you could still hang out in that world with these characters for the follow-up and so on. I guess like I did with my pals back in Riverdale.

5. There was this book, The Fledgling by Jane Langton, that was burned into my memory for years. I didn’t finish this book (it was required reading in 5th grade, which never really worked for me as a reader… I even fudged a book report on the thing). But I actually liked it and had always regretted never finishing it. Years went on and I eventually forgot the title and wanted more and more to go back and finish it. Last year, I finally sleuthed it out and remembered the name and re-read it. It was very surreal.

Matthew Cordell is a Chicago-based illustrator (and sometimes author, too!) of many terrific books, including: Justin Case (Rachel Vail), Toby and the Snowflakes (Julie Halpern) . . .

Mighty Casey (James Preller), Trouble Gum . . .

.———-

Like Pickle Juice on a Cookie (Julie Sternberg), and more.

2 comments

  1. Liz S. says:

    There’s a great comic store near work, and last week they were having a blowout sale. I frequent this store for me (good indie graphic novels and everything by Los Bros Hernandez, who I’ve followed for the last 20 years…) and I like this store for the kiddo. The store was packed and…I was the only woman in there. The guys ranged from skater-types to business-types and everything in between. I stood in a long line while the guys around me dug into their reading before even checking out at the register. The pile I brought home that night was devoured over the next several hours, except for one humongous Batman compendium (such a deal!) that is being savored so as not to be finished too quickly. It’s a beautiful thing to watch the kiddo — who is a good reader — take such pleasure in comics. And, btw, we rec’d his standardized test scores yesterday and he is so above and beyond in “language arts” (brag, blush, brag) that the husband and I had to double- and triple-check the document. Anyway, Matt, I LOVED Archie comics too, and appreciated their accessibility at the checkout of grocery stores and drugstores. If I could persuade my mom to fork over the 25 cents or whatever they cost, I could make those comics last and last thru many re-readings.

    P.S. Comic stores are a great place to get boy readers’ attention — I love watching the cool guys who work there (cuz it’s usually guys in my neck of the woods) take boys around and recommend stuff to them. My kid is always eager to ditch me and interact with the clerks.

  2. jimmy says:

    Great to hear from you Liz, good story.

    As a college student, I was super into poetry and enjoyed a correspondence with a respected poet for several years. More than a dozen letters. He was kind and encouraging. Again and again he had one message, and it was a message that I gratefully received:

    FOLLOW YOUR ENTHUSIASMS.

    As a writer today, I think of that basic message everyday. Trust in the things you like and enjoy. Don’t worry about the marketplace, what other people are doing, or any of that outside stuff. Follow your passions, your interests. As an artist, and as a reader, only good can come out of that.

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