Comic books and graphic novels definitely “count” as quality reading material, says Diana Noonan.
Please don’t tell anyone, but once, when I was an English Literature student at university, I skipped the longer version of Macbeth in favour of a quick read through the comic edition. If my exam result was anything to go by, no harm was done!
I don’t know why people view graphic novels and comics as somehow detrimental to a child’s reading progress. As a nine-year-old, my son, now well on his way towards completing a PhD in linguistics, devoured Asterix comic books until they were coming out his ears and as a result, from an early age, bombarded me with questions about the Roman Empire I couldn’t hope to answer without an encyclopaedia.
Comics will not turn your child into an imbecile. On the contrary, numerous studies have shown that not only does the genre encourage more reluctant readers (who find text broken up with pictures less demanding than a solid page of print) but it also builds a sophisticated vocabulary in those who are already proficient readers. This isn’t surprising given that, with a picture alongside to help interpret the text, it’s possible to include more complex words in a comic story. And while the actual reading is going on, a child with a comic is also scanning illustrations for text clues, interpreting a range of emotions being depicted visually, and very often devouring one or more subtexts as well. If anything, comics are infinitely more demanding of a reader’s attention than a straightforward story.
In many ways, comics develop the skills now required to watch television news or scan a website and, indeed, many comics have now transitioned into the live-action world of film and TV. In both cases, moving images and, often, several texts at once bombard the viewer with independent pieces of information that must be simultaneously absorbed. Comics teach children to divide their attention between text and pictures in order to absorb the full impact of a story.
If you’re concerned about the trivial nature of comic books, stop to consider than many great classics have been the subject of comics, and if my son’s knowledge of geography when he was only nine or 10 is anything to go by, Tintin comics (where the hero adventures around various parts of the world accompanied by his small dog, Milou) were responsible for most of his knowledge of various parts of the planet! In fact, for children who have a wide range of interests, comics can encourage a curiosity in subjects as diverse as politics and dinosaurs.
Perhaps one of the biggest concerns parents have with their kids reading comics is that it will take away the “reading together” pleasure. But nothing could be further from the truth. Comics really come into their own where shared reading is concerned because your child’s giggles will soon have you dashing over to see what it is that’s providing them with so much amusement. Or you may find your child constantly interrupting you to share a joke. Best of all, because comic humour frequently crosses the age gap, you’ll find yourself genuinely happy to join in the laughter.
If your child does want you to read a comic to them, don’t hesitate. Just be sure to choose comics that have a good-sized font so you’re not both squinting at the shared page. Move your finger from panel to panel as you go to help your child follow the story, and don’t be afraid to enter into the spirit of the genre by making all the silly noises in the balloons and adopting a different voice for each character.
From time to time, even the best of readers can “go off the boil” for a period, and the fun and attractive nature of comics can be the very thing to bring them back to books. What’s more, there are comics to suit every taste. And there are even blogs dedicated to comics, like Flashback Comics and Games, so you can keep up to date with latest releases and trends. Comics are not be feared, but are to be embraced as a genre that suits almost everyone of every age at some time in their reading career.
Top tips for comic reading
Not all comics are kid-friendly just because they contain pictures. Flip through a comic before allowing your child to buy or borrow it, and check out with your librarian age-appropriate titles. If you are looking for the right comic for your children, you can visit this source here which talks about different comic book characters from Marvel and DC. You can also search online or visit your local library to do your own research.
Just like books, comics suit different reading ages.
If you’re not sure a particular comic suits your child’s ability, get them to read a few sections to you before deciding, together, whether it’s what they’re looking for.
Try reading a comic together with your children as if it were a play, allocating different characters to different children. With help, even the youngest of children take responsibility for “reading” the “noises”.
Catlins author Diana Noonan is one of New Zealand’s best-known writers for children. A former editor of the iconic School Journal, she writes for a wide range of educational resources, and takes a strong interest in the NZ Curriculum.