As Julia Phillips reviewed here in a blog post last week, there has been a lot of press lately about the educational benefits of comics. We are glad to see this happen — with the help of parents and educators, soon more kids will 'TOON into reading!' But to better understand how massive a change is needed before comics are widely accepted as a tool for literacy, it may be helpful to remember the past...
Comics in the classroom? We're slowly getting there, but it wasn't always thus. Back in 1954, at the prompting of Dr. Wertham and his bestselling Seduction of the Innocent, there were Senate Subcommittee Hearings into Juvenile Delinquency, with a special focus on Comic Books.
Many TOON Books fans recently shared their personal experiences with us, and some vividly remember the stigma attached to comics. Growing up in the 50's, David Wade Smith met the response typical at the time: "I started first grade early, and I had trouble with reading. During the summer between grade 1 and grade 2, however, I suddenly caught on. That fall, my teacher, the same one I'd had in grade 1, remarked on the improvement in my reading skills— I was reading at 4th-grade level. She asked me how I'd learned to read over the summer, and I said, "Comic books."
[My teacher] asked me how I'd learned to read over the summer, and I said, 'Comic books.'
--David Wade Smith
"Teachers told me that they could not figure out how to get my son to read - they said he had a "learning disability." I started reading him X-Men comics at bed time- when i wasn't available to read to him, he would read them himself by sticking it all together by memory. Now he reads with no problem."
"Teachers told me that [my son] had a "learning disability." I started him reading X-men comics at bed time."
The mother of three young readers, Cheryl Urasaki was one of the lucky ones: "I love the concept of graphic novels for early readers. My oldest son was a reluctant reader, but enjoyed the Diary of a Wimpy Kid and Captain Underpants books. My daughter likes the Geronimo Stilton books... I think anything that captures kids' attention and gets them reading is a good thing. I discussed this with one of my kids' teachers, and she feels the same."
"I think anything that gets [kids] reading is a good thing. One of my kids' teachers... feels the same."
Some parents have always loved comics and eager to share their passion with their children. Tyler Giesa is a case in point: "My son is a hyper literate 7 year old. I read him comics... and he drew comics before he could write. He "cracked the code" of reading pretty much by himself. I credit comics with connecting those pathways in the brain (the visual and verbal)."
"[My son] 'cracked the code' of reading pretty much by himself. I credit comics with connecting [visual and verbal] pathways in the brain ."
Comics can inspire such love for reading that they often shape an enthusiastic reader's future. In the words of David Wade Smith, who had to be careful about confessing his love for comics, he concluded his post thus: "For 35 years I've worked in literary publishing, before that for 10 years I managed bookstores. Dell and DC deserve a lot of credit for my life's path."
"For 35 years I've worked in literary publishing, before that for 10 years I managed bookstores. Dell and DC deserve a lot of credit for my life's path."