Written by: Julie Provencher
Sound familiar? You may be wondering what to make of this reading preference. You see the book is open but is he actually reading, or just looking at the pictures. You don’t want to discourage his reading habits but feel you should encourage other types of books. Perhaps a novel would provide more of a challenge?
In today’s society, comic books or graphic novels, although gaining in popularity, are often undermined as reading material. And yet, this is a rich literary genre for which young boys seem to have a particular preference. It’s time to debunk some common misconceptions and learn what the comic book has to offer.
Just like the novel, the comic book has a basic narrative storyline with a beginning, middle and end. There’s also usually a lot of dialogue between the characters. However, rather than the detailed descriptions found in novels, comic books have illustrations which involve a lot of visual thinking to guide the reader. The reader has to assimilate two levels of reading: the words that are written and panels that portray the story’s different scenes. Without all the descriptions, the reader must fill in the blanks and make sense of the story’s chronological panels rather than merely see a series of isolated, disconnected illustrations. What may seem like an easy read at first is in fact an experience with an advanced level of complexity.
For greater clarification, in real life, if a father says to his son: “That’s amazing!” Is he being serious or ironic? This child will use the clues that go beyond words to determine his father’s meaning, such as context, facial expression, tone, etc. Comic books are filled with these clues; just think of the lettering to emphasize shouting or whispering, sound effects, captions (“Meanwhile”), thought balloons and much more.
For the story to be as short as possible, comic books are fast-paced and stick to the essential. As mentioned earlier, not everything is explicitly written; the reader must discern the missing information through a developed strategy of reading between the lines to extract meaning from the illustrations and text. For example: John is running towards the office, and when he gets there, his boss says: “Well, you’re not early!” The reader will be able to guess that John is late to work.
Another strategy good readers have is the ability to predict and anticipate the panels’ info. With comic books, children are constantly trying to guess the adventure’s outcome: “What will happen? What will they do to get out of this situation? Wow, I didn’t see that coming!” Comic book reading requires, as it is the case with novels, effective strategies that involve active reading, questioning and the same level of focus than one would need to read a novel.
Furthermore, since culture and humour can both be found in comics, it’s common for children to link the stories they are reading with their own life and environment (or even recent events); in doing so, they can better understand what they read, and even relate to it. Their family and personal experiences are often used as references, and the ability to link what is known to what is read is another commonly used reading strategy, whether the child is reading a regular or graphic novel.
Moreover, subconsciously your children also develop their artistic style: every panel is like a piece of art! By reading comic books, children learn more about the author’s style, his choice of colours and the use of space, thus initiating him to a unique type of art.
Your son loved reading Spiderman and followed all of his adventures? Suggest another series; there are countless to choose from! Remember, every moment spent reading contributes to your child’s development.
Graphic novels might also interest your child, as these are a perfect mix between comic book and novel. With popular series such as Scott Pilgrim, Bone, The Adventures of Captain Underpants, Batman and the well-known Diary of a Wimpy Kid, children of all ages will appreciate how the authors play with text and imagery to create amazing worlds.
To encourage diversified reading, try subscribing to a magazine. While the images hold a place of choice, the content constantly changes and has great informational value, which is fairly different from the narrative style of the comic book.
You could also try books which won prizes or were selected by youth literature experts! Every year, the Canadian Children’s Book Centre recognizes Canadian authors with its eight major children's book awards. Click here to view this years’ selection!
Once your kids know what books they like, their love of reading usually follows. Like their toys, what your kid reads will vary over the years, so just be supportive and remember that any kind of reading is good!
Ever heard of the Montreal Comic Art Festival? You should check it out! This free event reaches out to all family members, with activities for both the younger and older kids!
For more reading ideas, check out my book Trucs Lecture, published by CARD edition, or visit my website pouvoirdelire.com and my Twitter page @Pourvoirdelire! (Only available in French)
Julie Provencher, Mother and Teacher