4 Burning Questions About Literacy

Key literacy questions with answers from our experts.

By Anna Bardaus




1. Are graphic novels and comic books okay for my kid to read?

Yes. If you’re unfamiliar with these two genres, you may jump to the conclusion that they’re fluff. But good graphic novels and comic books have real value. In fact, they can be just as effective as chapter books at introducing kids to literary devices such as satire, irony, foreshadowing, flashback, and parody.

They’re also great tools for teaching children about sequence and character development, because kids can follow the stages of a complex story through the illustrations as well as the words. Comic books, with their bold illustrations and innovative storytelling styles, often entice kids who may be intimidated by chapter books into reading advanced stories. Graphic novels offer some of the finest illustrations in modern literature — they’re a wonderful way to expose your child to a wide variety of art and inspire imagination. There are even nonfiction graphic novels — such as the Magic School Bus series and the Max Axiom series — that relate to school curriculums. The strong visual element in graphic novels can make challenging topics more accessible to students, especially those who have trouble visualizing what they’ve read.  

Laura Robb, author of Teaching Reading in Middle School and Teaching Nonfiction Writing


2. My child once loved learning to read. Now he has to read to learn for school, and he hates it. What can I do?

The joy of reading slips away from many kids when school assignments make the activity feel like work instead of pleasure. This seems to be especially true for boys. When it’s time for your child to do his reading homework, help him to find material on a subject that truly excites him — whether it’s a book about soccer or a newspaper article about frogs — if his teacher permits him to choose his own. If he has assigned reading, take advantage of the fact that most young children are “social readers.” That is, they like to read with others. Try cozying up with a snack and reading together, or you could get a copy of your child’s assigned reading and read it at the same time he does. This way, you can ask thought-provoking questions and have meaningful discussions that will help him sink his teeth deeper into the story. Try easing your child’s burden by offering to read a chapter or section aloud to him, letting the words and ideas wash over him. Reading aloud is a profoundly powerful tool to help draw children of any age into the text.

Many kids think that “real” reading means novels and that other material doesn’t count. Outside of homework time, encourage your child to read whatever age-appropriate material he wants — blogs, magazines, cereal boxes, or baseball cards. You might try connecting reading to physical activities, such as taking a nature guidebook on a hike. By capitalizing on your child’s natural curiosity and enthusiasm, you can help reading to learn feel meaningful again.

Finally, share your hopes that your child will fall in love with reading again with his teacher. Take a positive approach. With a true partnership on behalf of your child, reading both inside and outside of school can become fun again. 

Pam Allyn, founder and executive director, LitWorld, author of Best Books for Boys

3. My child is spending a ton of time reading on computers and e-readers. Is that all right?

These days, everyone’s reading on screens more and more. For children, stories and informational books in any form — even on-screen — that get them excited about reading are a good thing. But it’s important to make sure that your child is engaging with high-quality interactive material that piques her interest while also expanding her knowledge of words. (Games and apps that are tricked out with rote exercises are engaging, but do not support a child’s love of literacy in the long run.)

In general, look for language or stories that create a sense of wonder, such as The Artist Who Painted a Blue Horse, which you can find online. You also want to choose digital reading experiences that offer unique interactive elements that are not part of a traditional printed book. And keep in mind that digital reading for children should not take the place of you reading with your child. You want to remain involved. Discussions about things you’ve read together create a shared set of references that last all your child’s life. The list of documented benefits that children gain from adult read-alouds is miles long, including increased vocabulary and attention focus. A final note: Don’t feel compelled to turn your early reader into a tech expert; no studies support that idea.  

—Elfrieda Hiebert, president and CEO of TextProject, Inc.


4. Academic pressure is causing parents to move their kids from picture books to chapter books very quickly — perhaps too quickly. What’s your advice?

  Resist the rush; both types of books are hugely important in helping kids learn to read and inspiring them to love reading. Take the RA, RA, RA reading approach at home:

  • Read Aloud: Continue to read picture books together for as long as your child is interested. Look for increasingly complex titles as your child grows.
  • Read Along: Side-by-side reading encourages new readers. Deepen the experience by finding picture books that encourage your child to chime in on a refrain or echo a sentence after you read it. With chapter books, take turns reading pages or chapters.
  • Read Alone: Read side-by-side but separately (each of you with your own book). Independent reading ensures that your child will develop that reading habit. It also improves skills like fluency and comprehension, and, additionally, finishing a book on his own can give your child a deep sense of accomplishment.

—Francie Alexander, chief academic officer, Scholastic

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Photo Credit: Noemi Galera Ribera/Getty Images

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