Many children and teens hate reading because they are taught early on to read only the literature that adults deem important, not necessarily what the child might deem interesting. Comic literature, as it turns out, is a very important bridge to helping children read traditional literature because of the duality of text and illustrations. Because the medium is met with skepticism from adults, children are left hiding their interest in reading, stuffing their comics inside other pieces of traditional literature, or hiding them under their beds. Worse yet, they abandon reading altogether, believing their interests are childish. To educate the love of reading out of children and teens is to repudiate our own educational goals.
And by teaching early-readers that their interests are childish broadens the gulf between the kid and parent, when his or her interests solely revolve around being with or in the adult’s favor, of being approved and accepted, and having a friend. So yesterday when a highschooler and his mom wandered into BCPL and asked, broadly, for “four books set in either England or France,” I inadvertently rattled off the Victorians, then heaped it on with the Romantics while this kid’s eyes glazed over. Ooops. He did not like to read, when he thought the abridged Picture of Dorian Gray was too long (“What!? You’re in trouble if you think that’s long”). And remember, this one was a highschooler, no early-reader; his mom made him check out Wilde, but I had to give him the Marvel Illustrated adaptation to make him at all eager to read it.
So – and this is a bit politically incorrect – but the students in Bradford County are, er, dumb. Yeah this is the result of NCLB and a high turn-around for teachers, the lack of funding, the consistent moral reproach from parents (parents don’t belong in the classroom [for the most part]), and so on. But summarily, these kids are dumb. I haven’t met a highschooler in the library who can spell worth a damn, and they come there to hop on the free internet. But, more than anything else, they gravitate to the graphic novel collection [put together by yours truly!] because of how readily accessible and entertaining the stories are. The themes and lessons are little different:
Like any literature, there are comics and graphic novels that directly and indirectly address important subjects and genres such as: the hero’s journey (monomyth), history, communication arts, civics, mathematics, biography, science, art, economics, sports, love, birth, death, divorce, kidnapping, war, discrimination and much more. The same literary devices and themes present in traditional literature are also represented in comic literature. The genre, despite current stereotypes to the contrary, consists of much more than superheroes, although some superhero stories, such as Spider-Man, can be very complex and profound. Most importantly, children, teens and adults are interested in reading comics.