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Sunday, November 08, 2009

Comic books found to increase childhood literacy

Comic books and graphic novels - once derided by "experts" as being the bane of adolescence and moral society in general - are now receiving praise for encouraging a love of reading while also greatly increasing the range of vocabulary in children.

According to a new study published in the journal School Library Monthly, comic books are just another form of literature that demands the same amount of reading comprehension as traditional novels or any other written material. Professor Carol Tilley of the University of Illinois notes that...

"Although they've long embraced picture books as appropriate children's literature, many adults – even teachers and librarians who willingly add comics to their collections – are too quick to dismiss the suitability of comics as texts for young readers. Any book can be good and any book can be bad, to some extent. It's up to the reader's personality and intellect. As a whole, comics are just another medium, another genre. If reading is to lead to any meaningful knowledge or comprehension, readers must approach a text with an understanding of the relevant social, linguistic and cultural conventions. And if you really consider how the pictures and words work together to tell a story, you can make the case that comics are just as complex as any other kind of literature."
I've written here before about how I grew up reading Marvel Comics' G.I. Joe. And there's no doubt that my own vocabulary was greatly enriched by reading that and other comic books (I should credit Larry Hama for being one of my favorite writers!) as well as starting off my interest in modern world history at an early age.

When you consider that much of written literature is description and exposition, adapting it into a visually-driven story that retains the depth of dialogue does make a lot of sense. And I've of the mind that it makes for much more compelling absorption than watching a movie version of the same material. Marvel's current adaptation of Stephen King's The Stand, f'rinstance. While I'll always be fond of the 1994 television miniseries, the comic version is vastly superior in so many ways. If it had been around when I first read The Stand, I'd likely be that much more enticed to read the original novel afterward.