June Newspaper Column – Learning with Comics

According to my new blog schedule, I am not supposed to be posting today but I wanted to post my June column I wrote for The Upper Bucks Free Press.  To read the original online article click HERE or just READ ON (my blog article has a little extra information that wouldn’t fit in the article)!

Learning with Comics
People often ask me how I became such an avid reader. Comics were the first books I wanted to read. I spent a lot of time looking at my Mom’s Calvin and Hobbes books and I got my first comic book subscription when I was four (Marvel Kid’s Avengers). Comics were easy to read and fun so they made me want to read.
People don’t often think about comics as helping kids learn to read or the huge variety of comics out there, like books, novels and digital comics. Toon Books has developed a comic book reading program for beginning and reluctant readers. The books are divided into 3 reading levels from pre-school to 3rd grade. The program’s design gets kids reading while keeping them interested with the comic book format.

“We do want kids to love our books, so part of how we accomplish that is to publish books about characters they already love, like LEGO Ninjago, Disney Fairies, and Power Rangers. But, as you’ve noticed, we have a lot of other kinds of books that may be less familiar, and this is because we want to keep introducing our readers to amazing stories, regardless of the characters. If we see a new book idea for kids that we can’t stop thinking about, we’ll want to publish it, and then it’s my job to let everyone know about it. As for age ranges, our main audience is 2nd through 6th grades, but we do publish some younger books and some older books.”
“We almost never tell our writers and artists to make something specifically for a certain age; we let the story tell us who should be reading it!”

Some Papercutz comics. The Three Stooges comic here is actually a collection of republished original Stooge comics and is awesome!

I also asked Mr. Post how he thinks comics help kids learn to read.

“I can tell you from my own experience that nothing is better than comics for getting kids interested in reading; the first thing I ever read in my life was a comic, and I’ve been reading books every night since! Comics tell a full story in pictures, which is a little different from picture books that only illustrate some of the actions. A kid learning to read already knows the story from seeing it drawn, and that helps support the tough work of sounding out the words. And for kids who already read well but may not like to read, well, comics are just plain fun! The artwork is as dynamic and exciting as a movie or TV show (often even more so!) and this makes for a “gotta turn the page” effect that all the best books have. Once kids are interested in comics they’re much more likely to go back and forth between them and all other kinds of books, just like I did.”

Reading with Pictures is a nonprofit organization that promotes the use of comics in classrooms. Josh Elder, an award-winning graphic novelist, founded the organization in 2009. They’ve developed a comic book textbook to improve learning in schools.

Mr. Elder told me how comics help kids not only learn to read, but also learn about history and science.
“Reading skills are fundamental to learning all subjects. The stronger your reading skills, the stronger your performance will be in all your subjects. The reason? Teachers can only tell you so much. It’s up to you to learn the rest through studying, and we study by reading. Comics makes reading more fun and more effective since you’re more likely to understand and remember what you read with words & pictures than with words alone. Finally, it might also help to think about comics as a kind of diagram when it comes to presenting information. Diagrams do a great job of using words and pictures to demonstrate all sorts of big ideas and processes that would be incredibly confusing if you tried to describe them using words or pictures alone.

Comics can do the same thing. That is, they can literally be diagrams for scientific or mathematical concepts, but they can also use words and pictures together to more effectively convey narrative, or story, information. When used properly, comics can make learning anything easier and more fun than by using words alone.”

So, I say, parents, next time you’re in a bookstore, don’t walk past the comics!

Here’s a great speech given by Mr. Elder where he talks about how comics can really help some children learn.

Leave a Comment