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The Lure of a Fun Summer Read!

by Wally Clark on 2020-06-25T09:46:34-07:00 in Book List, Graphic Novels, Students - Middle School, Literature, Kids/Children | Comments

I have read studies recently that have stated that reading comic books makes you smarter. If so, I have been on the right track for a long time!

I’ve always liked comic books. I like the action, the bubble captions, and the beauty of the art. I like the variety of story lines, the way they are constructed, and their ease of use. I’ve been a fan of comics for many years. When I was a boy I was given a dollar allowance every week from my grandfather. With that dollar I would pick up a half dozen comics at the corner store and still have enough change left over for a candy bar or two. With those comics in hand I was ready for an afternoon of fun-filled reading and relaxation. I loved “real” books, too, but around the time I hit fourth grade I found that I was bored with reading. Comics offered me a reprieve from the classics and helped me to avoid summer slide.

Comic books and graphic novels are two great tools to keep reluctant readers engaged and reading throughout the summer. By immersing yourself in the comic art form you find that you not only gain a new appreciation for how a story flows, but you also get to dip into an infinite universe of illustrative style and technique. Thanks to the free-flowing intermingling of text and art, many readers find that comics immerse them in an active, participative, yet easy-going form of reading engagement without worry or concerns. Comic books are, simply put, pure reading pleasure.

Nevertheless not everyone finds reading to be easy, let alone a pleasure. Reading is a fundamental skill that many kids struggle with. A mastery of reading helps to promote success in school and throughout one’s life. Having been a parent of school age children, I can understand the worry and concern when a child is recognized as having a reading deficiency. When faced with that concern, many parents rush to pair those struggling readers with lengthy, important, classic books. I have shared with many parents booklists filled with titles that have aged well, that have earned awards, or that are distinguished works of literature.

Nevertheless my experience as a children’s librarian has lead me to believe that the last thing most children want to read at the height of summer is Tom Sawyer, or Black Beauty, or even a volume of Harry Potter’s adventures. And for parents, surprisingly, they are discovering that their kids are not shying away from reading. Instead, what kids say they want and are asking for are books filled with wacky, effortless fun. And to that end, I am pleased to say that Jackson County Library Services has plenty of material to offer that just might please everyone.

I mentioned the allure and pleasure of reading comics. There are plenty of chapter books that are currently being published that straddle that comic book/chapter book divide and offer an easygoing, comic book appeal. They are thinly disguised fare, filled with cartoonish illustrations, packed with funny stories and easy-to-digest characters. What is great about these books, written by authors such a Rachel Renee Russell (The Dork Diaries), Jeff Kinney (Diary of a Wimpy Kid), Jennifer Holm (Babymouse) and the like, are that kids find that they want to read them not just once, but over and over again. And unlike many of the more serious books found on summer reading lists, they are irrepressibly silly, lightweight, and easy to toss aside - a perfect match for a hot afternoon.

Then there are graphic novels. They are the perfect tool to capture those third and fourth graders who are showing serious disenchantment with reading. Graphic novels are impressive, attractive alternatives to chapter books. There are many types of graphic novels to choose from, from compilations of familiar superheroes like Spiderman and Superman to simple, lovable, character-driven stories like David Petersen’s Mouse Guard. Some of the best are classic books, like Jane Eyre, that are splendid and newly-illustrated or truly complex original series like Alex Alice’s Castle in the Stars, a complex, thrilling steampunk saga that is meant to be savored, explored, and read, time and time again.

Like so many of our best picture books, graphic novels are a showcase for art, too. Some utilize simple illustrative styles, like James Kochalka’s Johnny Boo, to help tell their stories, but others, like Lily the Thief by Janne Kukkonen, are exquisite, elaborate masterworks of art. Over and over again it is the artwork that draws the reader in and helps to make them accessible, exciting, and approachable to readers of all ages. Looking for something that reads like a chapter book, but looks like a graphic novel? Give the Dinotopia series by James Gurney a try. Just teaching a child to read? Toon Books publishes titles that specialize in supporting not only advanced beginners but brand-new and emerging readers as well. They are colorful, wonderfully-illustrated, and award winning.

And lastly, comics and their ilk offer another benefit: studies have shown that reading comics helps to unify both hemispheres of the brain through the process of image and text synthesis. So, yes, reading comics can make your smarter!

There are many ways to engage the reluctant reader. Be sure to visit your local branch of Jackson County Library Services and find a silly chapter book or graphic novel (or ten) to help while away a day this summer.

Here is a list of some graphic novels you might enjoy, as well as a list of light, fun summer reading, as well as a short essay on the importance that comics play in brain development.

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