I believe comics are vastly under-rated as reading material that can engage kids and perhaps motivate them to read more. Whether in the form of syndicated comics in newspapers and magazines, graphic novels for all ages, web comics, or comics in magazine format, they're loved for their humor, stunning visuals, and readability.
It wasn't always like this. Some adults have dismissed books with any sort of illustrations as "babyish" or "not worth reading." The implication was that an image devalued the text. The very fact that kids LOVED to read comics was somehow seen as evidence that they were not to be valued. Kids loved to read them, therefore they must be bad.
Luckily, views like that are slowly changing. Lots of parents and teachers can see that there's room for all sorts of reading material in a child's life: print books and comics, magazines and e-books, graphic novels and poetry.
Comic books are often in magazine format, are usually inexpensive, and tie in to children's loves and obsessions. You'll find themes like superheroes, humor, and the perennial favorite of good versus evil. They're colorful, dynamic, and definitely not text-heavy. This can make them ideal for reluctant readers. Kids may be able to afford to buy a comic book, whereas a print novel is out of their price range. This can mean a comic book gets read over and over, and becomes a book friend.
Graphic novels usually have a more complex storyline than comic book. A graphic novel can make an excellent next step for kids who like comics, but think they don't like books. The panel format they're used to, the speech bubbles and captions, and the artwork reassure kids.
Educators hope to develop visual literacy skills in kids. We want them to think about what they are seeing as well as what they're reading. A while back I mentioned that children's picture books worked well for visual literacy activities. So do other graphical formats like comics. By encouraging our children to look carefully at the images in comics, we can help them work out the intentions of the comic's creator. Questions like: How does the use of color affect the mood? and Whose perspective do we see the bear from? help kids comprehend what they see.
Scholastic has produced many graphic novels. I like Bone and other books by Jeff Smith. I've also been very impressed with the graphic novels I've seen from US publisher First Second. One comic book I've read great reviews of is the UK comic The Phoenix. You can find lots of thorough reviews at Graphic Novel Resources.
So why not encourage your kids/students to include comics and graphic novels in their reading diet. You might find children embrace this kind of highly visual reading material with delight. And it may mean your kids widen their reading options still further, and go on to explore many more formats and books. Art Spiegelman once said, "Comics are a gateway drug to literacy." Let's not think of them as a drug, but as an opportunity!
Do your kids read comics or graphic novels? How do you feel about that? Let us know on the Scholastic Parents Facebook page.