"If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales." Albert Einstein

27 January 2013

Comics for Young Children

I really enjoy reading comics that are designed for young children. The illustrations are fun, the stories are easy to follow, and it's easier for me to read things in the right order.  I can very easily see children who can read just a little, or who don't enjoy reading print materials, enjoying graphic works where there are relatively few words.

More graphic works are being published for young children now; I don't think I had nearly this many options when I was just learning to read.  The only graphic works I had access to were Chick Tracts. Chick tracts, created by Jack Chick, are small comic books which attempt to convince people to become born-again Christians.  They cover a wide range of evangelical and fundamentalist hot topics such as evolution, Islam, and homosexuality. My family had a copy or two of each tract, and I read every one of them, even the ones conveniently marked by my parents as "not suitable for children."

And while some of these were definitely aimed at children,

some others weren't, or at least shouldn't have been.  Some of these images are downright scary, and I frequently had nightmares after reading these things.

When I was a child, I didn't know I was reading propaganda.  I was simply drawn to the comic-book-style of the small pamphlets, as well as the fact that I could easily read through several in one afternoon.  Had I been exposed to other graphic works at the time, I could easily have evolved into a comic book fan.  But I never saw comic books in my classroom or in the school library, never checked any out at the public library or was in place to purchase them myself.  At that time, comics still had the reputation for being, at best, "less than" print works, and at worst, dangerous propaganda.

It is true that young children focus a major portion of their schooling on learning to read. It's also true that learning to read traditional print, and being proficient at it, leads to greater school success and, one hopes, greater success in life. But this does not diminish the artistry or value of graphic works.  Just as I often encouraged my students to read books outside of their preferred genre, it is also beneficial to read things outside of one's preferred medium.

When I taught 7th grade, one of the things my students need extra assistance with was basic reading comprehension, especially when it came to approaching their textbooks.  I discovered that many of them did not know to look at bold words, captions under pictures, charts, graphs, maps, headings, or the other helpful information a publisher places in a textbook. 

My students might possibly have been better attuned to the other information on pages like this one if they had first read graphic works where the text and the picture are essential to understanding the page.   It takes a different kind of reading to work through a page with a mixture of graphics and print, and although many of my students could read a print work and parrot back correct answers, some of them struggled with pages like this one.  If my students had been exposed to increasingly complex graphic novels the way they were exposed to increasingly complex print works, would they have been more successful in interpreting this page?  Perhaps, in our rush to make students ready to read, we have forgotten that there are different types of reading and that they are all needed and useful.


Michael Turpin said...

I never thought about graphics in textbooks and being able to understand them better if there was already some exposure with graphic novels. Back in school, I always remember understanding the graphics more than the text, but I guess the reverse is true for others. I am not sure if there is a study concerning this. Would be an interesting read.

Sherwood Family said...

I consider that children nowadays are certainly more lucky in terms of the variety of materials they can read and check out at the public or school library. As a matter of fact, one of the things that I have found out is that more and more school libraries and public libraries are more willing to open up part of their budget to buy graphic novels and children could use them as part of their reading materials to understand certain types of genres. Thee are many graphic novels nowadays used to help students with readings, would be interesting to find out if similar effect works on literacy skills gaining for children in non-fiction materials.

Morgan R. said...

As far as using graphics in combination with text to helps kids with their literacy skills, have you ever heard of Weekly Reader? I remember going through and reading them every week. We had to underline main words and circle word that went with the accompanying photos/illustrations. There was also usually some sort of comic and joke page.

Unknown said...

Wonderful post. I’ve come across these types of comic book pamphlets before, and some are in fact down right scary. And of course a popular there is also wartime propaganda – when countries use comics to not only to convince their own citizens of their ideals but used to convince their enemies’ children as well. An interesting (if though heavy handed) website for examples is http://www.psywarrior.com/PsyopComics.html.

I had a comic when I was a kid that took me through the steps of the catechism. I really don’t remember it much because I thought it was lame. But I wasn’t afraid of it, as you shared from your similar religious comic pamphlets. The power of comics!