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Read a book (with pictures!)

Parental conversations often drift toward what our kids have (and haven’t) been reading. Friends recently told my wife and me that they were banning their kids from reading any “books with pictures,” specifically graphic novels and comic books. Their motivations were sensible: they wanted their kids to develop a love of text-only reading.  

I sort of nodded in dull agreement as they said this. But if I were in a comic book, a thought balloon would’ve appeared over my head with “WHAAAAT?!” 

You see, I’ve been a lover of comic books almost all my life. “Books with pictures” were the only way I ever developed any serious interest in reading at all. 

Our friends’ kids are over eight and under twelve, which, for me, were prime comics-reading years. If the adults in my life had instituted a similar ban, it would have snuffed out any love of reading I had as quickly as wet fingertips pinching a lit candlewick.   

This isn’t to say my mother didn’t worry about my reading. I went from reading picture books with her--Dr. Seuss and the like--right to comics, thanks to an older cousin who introduced me to everything from the Avengers to the X-Men. I never had an early-reader stage, apart from whatever teachers assigned us to read in school. When I was growing up, libraries and schools didn’t even have comic books or graphic novels in their collections. So, what I found available to read there were a lot of stories about cute animals doing cute things. Just wasn’t for me.  

My mother was so concerned that she went to Sister Helen, my second-grade teacher, about my comic book obsession. Sister Helen has likely long since passed, but I will forever honor her memory because of what she told my mother that day. The story, maybe embellished through the years, went something like this:  

“All he reads are comic books, Sister.” Ma let out a huge sigh. “I don’t know what to do.”  

Sister gave Ma a warm but level stare. “But he...reads?”  

“Yes. All the time. But only comic books.”  

“Mrs. Mari,” the sister responded after a long pause. “I don’t care if he reads the back of a cereal box, so long as he’s reading. The more he reads, the more he’ll want to read.”  

Sister Helen was pretty forward thinking for her day. She seemed to grasp that comics--or reading in general--served as a bridge between the picture books of early childhood and young-adult literature. She understood that a child reading anything (as long as it was age-appropriate and interesting to them), was usually the most important thing.  

My mother pretty much left me alone after that. And Sister Helen’s prediction came true. The comic reading eventually gave way to reading science fiction and fantasy, then to detective stories like Sherlock Holmes, and eventually toward what would be considered literature. Since then, I’ve tried in fits and starts to broaden my reading further: popular science, history, theology, biographies. But the love of genre fiction has never left me. Nor has my love of comic books, better known today as graphic novels.  

Today, blessedly, my own kids have no end of graphic novels at their fingertips, both in school and at their local libraries. And what phenomenal titles they introduce us to: Kazu Kibuishi’s outstanding sci-fi/fantasy series, Amulet; Mike Maihack’s hysterical and charming time-travel adventure, Cleopatra in Space; Ben Hatke’s sensational Zita the Spacegirl. If you’re not as fantasy-minded as my family, there’s the more realistic work of award-winning, superb creators like Raina Telgemeier and Svetlana Chmakova. The list of recent graphic novels is almost endless.  

This is my public plea to well-meaning parents: listen to Sister Helen and give graphic novels a whirl. Let your kids read them, and read them yourselves. They’re what might turn the book-gnawing toddlers on your lap into the under-the-blanket, flashlight-wielding bibliophiles of the future. 

Read more from The Horn Book on graphic novels and comics including Gene Luen Yang's Zena Sutherland Lecture "Why Do Comics Matter?"; Jerry Craft's Newbery and CSK speeches for New Kid; and "Middle-Grade Graphic Novels Make Good" by Elissa Gershowitz. See also the Guide/Reviews Database subject searches Cartoons and comics and Graphic novels.


Christopher Mari

Christopher Mari is a freelance writer and novelist. He hopes someday to be skilled enough to write fiction for kids. Visit him at christophermari.com. 

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Bridgit Goldman

AMEN!!! Reading is reading.And don't forget, 5 Worlds!!!!!Thanks for addressing this, Mr. Mari.

Posted : May 14, 2021 05:41



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