Want to Get Kids Reading? Try a Comic

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Guest post by author, Michael Spradlin.

Does your child suffer from The Kid Who Doesn’t Like To Read Syndrome?

Comics for Kids

The answer to why kids contract TKWDLTR Syndrome is multi-layered and complex. I meet many during school visits who come from homes where the parents don’t read themselves, not even a newspaper or magazines. (Note to parents: children will pay much more attention to what you DO than what you SAY. If you don’t make time for reading, visit the library or bookstore and make it seem important, fun and beneficial, how can you expect them to?) For some it’s a learning issue such as dyslexia or ADD. But for most the answer is much simpler. And more terrifying.

As Chief Enforcer of the Intergalactic Collective of Authors Trying To Get More Kids, Especially Boys, To Read More I often ask kids why they don’t read more and the answers are numerous: Sports, Reading Isn’t cool, Books are boring, Video games are better, I’d rather watch TV, Surfing the Internet, IM’ing my friends, Downloading music that I’ll never listen to again to my IPod, Spending time on MyTwitterFace, or my underwear is too itchy and I can’t sit still long enough to read. (A real answer from a 4th grade boy during a school visit in Texas. Still not sure if he was pulling my leg.)

What is the solution to curing TKWDLTR Syndrome? As we fight for our reading lives, teachers and librarians are stuck in an endless cycle of testing, most of which requires reading materials that would make a statue fall asleep. I don’t have the answer to our testing obsession. But it would seem the obvious first step would be to give kids stuff they want to read first and worry about the tests later. If you enjoy doing something, you naturally get better at it, so shouldn’t the same thing apply to reading? Why don’t we give kids more latitude in making their own reading choices? Because, you know, sometimes, they actually make good ones. Like Harry Potter and Lemony Snicket and Percy Jackson and The Youngest Templar (Ha! Snuck that one in there, but it’s my blog post).

And that’s where comics come in. We’re in a war and we’re losing. So let’s use every weapon we have. And I’m starting a crusade on www.michaelspradlin.com/stuffmikelikes to inspire more parents (and teachers and librarians) to help get kids hooked on reading. Especially boys who are reluctant readers.

Why comics?

Why not?  As I kid, I devoured every comic I could get my hands on. From the age of five on, my father believed my hair should never be allowed to grow more than 1/36th of an inch from my scalp. So I visited the barbershop with him every other Saturday. Luckily, Sam the barber would ring open his cash register and hand me a dollar to get ten comics from the drugstore. (Yes they cost $.10 apiece then) I started with Richie Rich and Archie Comics but soon moved on to Batman and Spiderman and The Fantastic Four. They improved my vocabulary skills immensely and as a writer, helped me learn how dialogue moves a story along. The stories were exciting, suspenseful, epic, funny and full of drama. As a pre-teen and young adult I could identify with Peter Parker and his awkwardness with girls when he wasn’t in his Spider-Man guise. I understood the X-Men and how they felt as if they didn’t fit in anywhere. Sound familiar? Hello? High school, anyone? Frankly, I don’t know why there isn’t a spinner rack of comics in every school library in America.

And I know what some of you are going to say. “If my kid is going to read something, I need to make sure it’s ‘quality reading’…blah, blah, blah.” My advice to you as an author (and really most of you reading this have probably never heard of me and I sincerely hope you’ll check out my books because I think you and your children will like them) is, “Give me a break.” Reading is reading. Any reading is good reading. (See: 8 Reasons Why Your Kids Should Read Comics.)

My mother, who did everything she could to foster my love of reading, once expressed alarm at the number of comic books I read each week. I didn’t argue back, just went to the dictionary and wrote out all the definitions of the big words used by “The Beast “ in the X-Men comic I was reading at the time. I handed her the list and she never mentioned it again.

Use the power of popular culture to your advantage. Did you take your kids to see the Iron Man Movies? Does your child know Iron Man is based on a comic book? Have they read one of the Iron Man comics? If not get them a copy of Iron Man: Extremis by Warren Ellis. It’s a brilliant piece of writing. Have them read the Matt Fraction Iron Man series. My guess is they’ll be hooked and come back for more.

Comics for Kids

The popularity of Super Hero movies shows no signs of slowing down. So when the Thor movie debuts, you might get your child interested in the comics first (start with the series by J. Michael Straczynski) and Norse Mythology second. When Captain America: The First Avenger appears on screen, why not use the Captain America comics as an introduction to the study of World War II and the role propaganda played in the US and German war efforts?

Not every TKWDLTR will respond to comics. And that’s okay. The important thing is your encouragement and support. If they want to read an Iron Man Movie Tie-In book, so be it. At least they’re not stuck in front of a screen. And the best thing you can do to get your child reading is to let them see you reading and enjoying a good book. Personally, I recommend you start with The Youngest Templar: Keeper of the Grail.

Bio: New York Times Best Selling author, Michael Spradlin, is the author of the Youngest Templar series and the Spy Goddess novels.  The Youngest Templar: Orphan of Destiny will go on sale October 28, 2010 and his next novel is called The Raven’s Shadow, coming from G.P. Putnams Sons in 2011. He is also known as the Chief Enforcer of the Intergalactic Collective of Authors Trying To Get More Kids, Especially Boys, To Read More

Melissa’s Note: Thanks, Micheal. Giving kids choices is so important – even if they choose something we wouldn’t pick. Comics are hugely underrated; I am a big fan of the genre!

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  1. I could quote a ton of studies that show kids who read for pleasure perform better in school, have better and more vivid imaginations and a host of other ‘positives’ gained from reading. But I believe in reading for the sheer enjoyment of it. And I don’t think we stess that enough with kids today. We’re so overscheduled we think if a kid is sitting around reading, they’re not doing something they should be doing or heaven forbid ‘wasting time’. Nothing could be further from the truth. It’s hard to be a kid today and I think they need stress free and enjoyable activities more than ever. Reading as an adult helps me unwind and relax. Why can’t it do the same for kids? As an author I’ve gotten more letters from kids growing up in very difficult situations and they write to me and say that reading one of my books helps them forget about their troubles. Nothing could make me happier. And as for comics, I’m a firm believer that any story in any medium can teach us something. In comics most superheroes are loyal to their friends, oppose evil in all it’s forms, stand up for the weak and defenseless, and a host of other heroic qualities. Sounds like some pretty good values to me!

  2. Great article and so necessary for mothers of boys to read. Growing up with 2 older brothers, I watched them devour comic books when I was younger. Seeing them made me want to try reading comic books as well, but I just could not get into them no matter how hard I tried. So, I gave up even thinking about reading comic books. Now, as a mother of a young boy, I have been reintroduced to them and you are so right about the vocabulary used in them. I have been very impressed while reading them with my son, who absolutely loves them. I have to admit, they still seem a bit silly and over-the-top for me, but my son’s father really enjoys reading them with him. They are a great way to get dads involved.

  3. Great Post! As the mother of two teen age boys I am thrilled to watch them sit down with a book rather than turn to electronic media, whatever the book is. I agree with you “Reading is Reading.”
    Thanks for sharing.

  4. Thank you Connie. It’s great that you’re trying to find some common ground with your grandson. And I think you might be pleasantly suprised at how much the storytelling and artwork has improved in comics today. And as I said. Even if he’s reading comic books, he’s STILL reading. That’s never a bad thing. And if you’re looking for some recommendations I have some on my site http://www.michaelspradlin.com/stuffmikelikes Thanks for stopping by the blog!

  5. This is a wonderful article. As a GRANDmother of 14, I often read the same books my GRANDs are reading so we can communicate. It is a great way to broach other topics that may be on their minds they don’t feel they can discuss with their parents. And grandparents, for whatever reason, have more patience, understanding, tolerance and time! If it takes a story to bridge an issue, then I’m all for it. However, I have never thought much about the comic book angle. I have one grandson who is VERY quiet and withdrawn most of the time. He does read comic books but not much else. I’m thinking I should invest in a few of his favorites and bone up on the subject matter. Thanks, Michael! It’s never too late to teach an old dog new tricks!