Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Ghosts of FCBD Past: Raising a Reader! (2014)

"Not only are comics fun, they're an incredible tool for helping to create a 
genuine love of reading."~Jennifer L. Holm

I've posted previously about the positive impact my own lifelong appreciation of comic books has had on me from instilling an understanding of the value of a good vocabulary (as a child) as well as reinforcing the application and analysis of literary strategies (as a high school English student and, later, teacher).

Last May, on the annual celebration at my local comic shop that is Free Comic Book Day, one of the four books I selected from the table of offerings was a Comic Book Legal Defense Fund publication entitled Raising a Reader: How Comics and Graphic Novels Can Help Your Kids Love to Read! by Meryl Jaffe, Phd. While I can attest to the personal positive impact of comic book reading, I am often on the lookout for publications or online articles that corroborate what I already think: comic books can engage non-readers in a way that few other things can. Despite my own extensive personal experience with the medium, Raising a Reader did present some excellent suggestions for helping those unfamiliar with how to read a comic book as well as offering some very well articulated affirmation of the medium's larger potential as a gateway to reading. As suggested in the introduction by Jennifer L. Holm, also quoted above, "from verbal and visual literacy to critical thinking and memory, comics are a great tool to give young readers a head start."

Though I love buying and reading comics weekly (New Comic Book Wednesday makes the dreaded "hump day" a favorite day of the week), my wife has always insisted that comics were "too busy" for her to follow. After reading Raising a Reader, it occurs to me that her feeling may be largely due to her never having learned how to read them properly (a skill by now she has little willingness to cultivate). I have been reading and collecting comic books for so long that I instinctually understand how to walk through the narrative, focusing on panels in sequential order whereas she simply sees the singular page made of multiple colorful panels.

As an educator, especially of English Language Arts, I am often inundated with edu-speak around college-and-career readiness in the context of the not-so-new-anymore Common Core curriculum. I love the page below as it addresses in a very logical, and well-stated, manner the potential positive impact of the comic book /graphic novel genre on the development of valuable communication skills in readers. Though I am the first to call "b.s." on those who validate the regular showing of television shows such as CSI in science classes and Numbers in math course, movies frequently in high school classes, I find the assertion (and the analysis provided) that "graphic novels foster and strengthen  multiple learning skills" to be credible and spot on... I only wish I'd thought of it sooner!

Raising a Reader! also reminds that comic books and graphic novels not only engage readers, but have some valuable lesson for writers as well. The severely uniformed may suggest that the medium is less thought out in its construction than say novels or poetry. Quiet the contrary, as we are reminded that "[graphic novel] creators are thoughtful when designing their pages and panel arrangements, carefully guiding their readers' eyes and attention." This level of intention that is important to carefully constructing any communique is an important element of developing skill as a writer that is too often taken for granted or, in an age of templates and stems, even less clearly taught as a skill unto itself.

As the page below suggests, and given the publisher, in addition to promoting how to raise one's child to love reading through the enjoyment of graphic novels and comic books, Raising a Reader also informs regarding the dangers of ignoring assaults on the First Amendment.

The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund exists primarily as "a non-profit organization dedicated to the protection of the First Amendment rights of the comics art form and its community of retailers, creators, publishers, librarians, and readers." In this capability, the CBLDF provides "legal referrals, representation, advice, assistance, and education in furtherance of these goals."

Many of the larger comic book publishers will use Free Comic Book Day to tease upcoming mega-events, but the CBLDF offering from last May is worthy of re-issuing each year. When it comes to issues of the power of the medium and the subtle intent by some to subvert free speech, there is no better primer. At my local comic shop, in addition to each years new FCBD offerings, extra copies from years' past are also available for $1. Should you come across a copy of Raising a Reader, I strongly recommend picking one up and (after reading it yourself) passing it along to an educator for sharing at their place of employ.

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