« hulk-a-mania! | Main | Bill's state mottos and open mic day »

they don't call them comic books for nothing

It's the end of the school year around here and that means it's time for the library reading program to kick off.

Every summer, our library (and most others, I'm sure) run a program that entices children to read during the summer in exchange for prizes. Some people have a problem with this; bribing children to read is evil, they say. Some people, like myself, don't care how you get a child to read, as long as the end result is the child has read when you might not otherwise done so.

There's a theme every year, with a clever title and accompanying decorations and themed prizes; Blast off with Reading, Read around the Seasons, etc. That stuff is great when the kids are young and easily swayed by a plastic ruler or some fuzzy stickers and the chance to scrawl your name on a star that will hang from the ceiling of the children's room.

I think (and this is just from my experience working in the children's room at the local library) that fourth grade is the telling year - it separates the bribed readers from the natural readers. The kids who are bored with superfifcial prizes wander off, never to darken the insides of the library again that summer. The kids who read for pleasure, who find treasures within the words of a good book, will still sign their stars every week, prize or no prize.

So how do you get the children that think reading is a chore to change their minds? How do you entice them to open a book? It's a tough challenge, getting a a child like that to find enjoyment in reading. I know, I have one.

The American Library Association has a series of Read posters, using celebrities or famous fictional characters to open kids to the idea that reading can be a wonderful thing. I saw this poster, featuring DC Comics superheroes and realized that solution was here all along. Here, meaning the bookshelves in my own house, which are crammed full with graphic novels and comic books amongst the classic literature.

I started DJ with the book Strange Stories for Strange Kids by Art Spiegelman. After he finished that he started asking for comic books. He likes the superhero stuff; Justice League, Spiderman. He's reading. What difference does it make that he's reading his words on pages of color and ink, the dialogue in word balloons? To some, it makes all the difference in the world; there are people who will never accept comic books as actual reading material. To me, it makes no difference at all. He's reading. He's interested in something that doesn't have a controller. He's discovering characters and other worlds and he's enjoying it.

There are a million ways to get kids to read. Using comic books is just one of them. Using their heroes as reading role models is another. If fuzzy stickers and plastic rulers work for your kid, then more power to trinkets. You could read aloud and make the funny faces and silly noises necessary to convey the fun of making a story come alive.

Comic books and bribes are what works for my kid. This gets me stares, looks of horror and the shame, shame wagging of fingers in my face from library purists, who think 10 year old boys should spend their summer reading Huckelberry Finn because they want to. I get parents who sit around at Little League games bragging that their daughter, at nine, has already finished the entire Harry Potter collection or mothers who claim their ten year old sons spend every waking minute reading biographies of great Americans and when I tell them that my son is clamoring for the next issue of Young Justice, or that I'm reading Neil Gaiman's Sandman aloud to my daughter, they roll their eyes and shake their heads and I'm sure they are thinking about calling the Library Police to come and confiscate my card and my right to choose my son's reading material.

He's reading. He's going to finish the summer reading program this year. And frankly, Mrs. PerfectScholaryDaughter, I'd rather have my kid whiling away the summer with characters fighting for truth and justice than reading MaryKate and Ashley's Adventures in Using Cuteness to Get Away With Causing Trouble.

[addendum: I should have clarified that the trouble lies not with DJ's reading skills - he reads and comprehends on a 6th grade level and he's in 4th grade - the problem is that he just has no desire to read anything but what is required of him in school]

TrackBack

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference they don't call them comic books for nothing:

» Blankets from Blogcritics
A review, and more evidence of the graphic novel as literature... [Read More]

Comments

Sometimes just the sight of a book can be intimidating. I was a pretty good reader, but soooo slow. Took me forever to finish a book (still does). A comic book is entertaining and you can finish it in an afternoon. The plots and character development can be just as complicated as a novel, but with the added bonus of artwork.

The drawback is that they will eventually make him read Wuthering Heights or some such which will be slow torture compared to reading the Watchmen (well, WH is slow torture for just about anyone IMO).

What's Peter Murphy doing on that poster?

Heh.

I feel spoiled. My daughters learned to read before kindergarten and have always (well, at least until their teen years) preferred reading to other pursuits. Both went through the library summer reading program several years before becoming volunteers themselves. I can't recommend these programs enough.

I've had the "look" from my ex on more than one occasion when wee-elf was smaller. He fought reading for the longest time, he had his memorized books, but when it came to sounding out words and actually putting forth the time, he wanted none of it. He was hooked on pokemon at the time, and between the cards and the gameboy games he was reading because it was something he was interested in. He's since gone on to be one of the mutant children who lives in books just like his mom. Our latest is the Spiderwick series with lots of cool faeries and magical critters. We also have comics and other non traditional material around and he's actually gone as far as to write some of his own Captain Underpants stories complete with illustrations. I know his dad is cringing because he's not reading all the classics and "proper" children's books, but like you, I don't think it matters as long as they get something out of it and enjoy the process.

Michele,

You're absolutely right. Reading is reading, whether it's Superman or Madame Bovary.

We're not all college professors, and this is especially true of kids. Trying to get a 12-year-old to read Moby Dick is a waste of time (hell, trying to get most adults to read MD is a waste of time).

Keep the faith, and don't listen to the assholes (not that I think you do, anyway).

Actually, Kim, even college professors are beginning to note that reading is READING, and you build the habit when and where you can...

at least, so my wife says. But she only has her masters' in reading, and is only a candidate for a PhD in applied lingustics/TESOL, so what would she know?

(hint-- a lot. g)

grinning, de Doc

you're so cool. reading is reading, and letting them do it their way is going to keep them from getting scared off. i taught myself to read when i was four, and i can't remember the last time i didn't read myself to sleep. if i had kids that didn't like to read, i'd just sit down and cry.

besides, if you get them addicted to neil gaiman, they'll probably transition to his non-graphic books when they run out of graphic novels.

the superheroes and peter murphy ones are apparently sold out already. i'm thinking this is your fault. but i'm intrigued by some of the books - i.e. christina ricci is holding the fountainhead.

I learned to read by reading Transformers and Superman comics - and by the second grade I was reading at middle school level and by fourth grade I was reading at the level of a typical high school senior. I don't know what this about our nation's typical high school seniors, but I think it certainly makes a compelling case for comics as "real" reading material. Of course I still read novels, non-fiction and the like, but my first and true love will always be comics. And that's how I'm going to raise my kids as well. You've got the right idea, Michele.

And for your son, might I suggest the Essential Spider-Man books that Marvel puts out? It collects all the original Spider-Man stories by Stan Lee in huge-ass tomes for only $15. They stand up suprisingly well, they're easy for younger readers to get into, they're fun and the violence/adult content is completely unobjectionable. And I don't know if your daughter is into comics at all, but might I suggest "Blue Monday" by Chyna Clugston-Major? Hilarious look at life through the eyes of a teenage girl. I normally hate stuff like that in general but I loved that series. Genius.

I wouldn't normally correct a post, but when you wrote, "Some people have a problem with this; bring children to read is evil," I think you meant "bribing".

And you're right about everything else. Some people would say the same thing about teens reading science fiction that they say about kids reading comic books.

I was a voracious reader and still have not read alot of the classics since they bored me to tears.

Feh. Comics and graphic novels are often better than "children's books", especially those books that have been purposely sanitized for the age group.

Might want to wait a few years before you introduce him to "Hellboy", though. :)

just a curiousity--my son learned to read via 'whole language', my daughter via phonics. She loves to read, he hates it

I asked around and found that many of the kids who hate reading learned the whole language way.

And then I got an idea why. My son 'pictures' words to get the meaning of them--he doesn't understand getting pictures of things from words--words, in whole language, ARE the pictures. He has to slog through because concepts, in whole language are, of neccessity, contexual rather than linear, as they are with phonics.

His picture of words has to get bigger and bigger to make sense, where the phonics aproach allows one to flow across a concept, building an image from the parts

just a thoiught....

To the nay-sayers: bollocks. It really doesn't matter what you read in the formative years, as long as you get in the habit. Start with the comics, later on hit the classics like American Gods and Neuromancer. Natural progression.

Amen to reading to your kids. One of my earliest memories is of my mother reading "Lord of the Rings" to us. When I started reading, those were the first books I read. Glorious language (when you're young). The only side effect was that I ended up playing dungeons and dragons, stunting my social developement. Small price to pay.

I was one of the early bookworms who was so caught up in my recreational reading, at one point, my mother grounded me from books. It was my dad's cache of X-men comics that sucked me in, too.

My little sisters were another story - they had no interest in reading for pleasure. None of them had difficulty reading - just a complete lack of interest. I managed to hook one of them on books by handing her a historical romance - which most people would gasp in horror over, but it did the trick. From Johanna Lindsey, it was a short leap to getting her to read Jane Austen. I snared the other twin by giving her Terry Pratchett novels.

I loved reading as a kid, I actually got in trouble in elementary school for reading when I should have been paying attention to the teacher. It wasn't until I hit High School that my reading habits started to decline... which is when I started making websites and programming. Reading is great, and keep your kids at it.

I just wish that I had been introduced to comic books before High School, otherwise I would have a much larger collection than I do now.

Bill,

Perhaps your college professor wife could help you find the actual point of my post.

One great way to get kids to read is to (1) set a good example by reading in front of them [duh] and (2) read to them, everyday.

One of my sons learned to read because he was (and is) a video game fan. I got tired of reading all of the words that come up on the screen all the time, and starting telling him that he should apply the few words he knew to trying to figure out what was in front of him. And those little manuals, full of excerpts and short paragraphs - they were about something that really sparked him. So he worked on it very hard.

The foundation was laid by reading to him. My toddler follows me around the house with books, requesting over and over to be read to (he says 'readit readit' or 'AAAAAAH MAMAMAMAMA').