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Right now my 9 year old daughter and I are in the middle of a fight. We both want to buy a box of five books in the wings of fire Series by Tui T. Sutherland. However, I want to buy the original novels while she wants to buy the graphic novels with art by Mike Holmes. After writing this article, I think she could win – but on the technical side, I’ll do all the research and prep for her. I mean, I have nothing against comics and graphic novels. We may or may not have shelf space for more comics (rather *not*). The thing is, I’d love to read this wings of fire series With my daughter. And like many parents and caregivers out there, I don’t always feel comfortable or safe how to read comics with kids. It’s a bit silly because the rewards of reading with kids are received regardless of the style of book you’re reading. However, comics and graphic novels always seem to start with a bad rap despite the many amazing benefits. It’s somehow related to the idea that pictures can’t make sounds and therefore can’t be ‘read aloud’. And now, that’s wrong.
I assume you already know how great it is to read to your kids. Colleague at Book Riot Katie covered it in her latest article here. And we’re a little overdue for our annual reminder that graphic novels are “real” to read (thanks, Molly). So why do so many parents avoid reading comics and graphic novels with their children? Let’s break it down into a few steps and bust the myths about comics. Oh, and for the sake of writing cadence, “comics” now includes both “comic books” and “graphic novels.”
Step 1: Not all comics and graphic novels wear capes
Before showing your child a comic book or graphic novel, PLEASE make sure it is age appropriate. Pawcasso by Remy Lai is adorable. saga by Brian K Vaughan and Fiona Staples is equally brilliant but less appropriate. It doesn’t have to be superheroes or anything from the Marvel or DC franchises. There are many great books that are suitable for children AND can be read to children. My advice is to start with a topic that interests you.
Step 2: My goodness, what big eyes you have! All the better to see you, my dear
There’s no shame in pulling out the magnifying glass. Make sure you choose a book with clear graphics and illustrations. The idea behind reading comic books and graphic novels with kids is to show them how to use the illustrations to bring context to the story. Creators want to pack a lot into each panel, even if it comes at the expense of font size. Here the layout is important.
Step 3: Set everything up
It’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with the comic’s layout to aid in reading flow. There are traditional comic book layouts, and then there are creators who take a completely different approach. Western comics traditionally flow left-to-right, then top-to-bottom, while manga flows top-to-bottom, then right-to-left. Speech bubbles or characters often flow into the next panel to convey a sense of movement or momentum. And then there are those narrative blocks that fill a whole page and leave you with some eye candy as you search the hidden mysteries for clues.
Step 4: Bring in your best award-winning performance
Reading to children is fun. Even if you follow the words as simply as possible, there’s always an opportunity to vary the voice between characters or to suit the scene. But here comics take it up a notch.
Speech bubbles are dynamic! They independently create a flow of dialogue within the storytelling. These can be normal speech bubbles or thought clouds. Add another character and we have speech bubbles that intertwine to show conversation flow… and breaks when someone’s speech crosses over into another. Essentially, speech bubbles can be a character in their own right. This is your moment to shine! Bring out your character voices, bring out your passion and bring out your panache!
This works just as well with sound effects. Remember the 1960s TV show Batman with Adam West in the character role. Remember the great POW! and BAMM! spread across the screen during fight scenes? You want to create the same impact, since these words are part of the storytelling’s emotional environment.
The same applies to the use of color. I remember reading an editor’s note in an Archie comic in the 1980s. The whole page was about the use of color to detail the mood and atmosphere of the scene. The example included two images of Archie’s head – one with a red background and one with a blue background. By using different colors, the creators can give more ideas of what is happening in the story. Red can represent action, fear or excitement. Blue can be more thoughtful.
Step 5: And Pause for Effect
Don’t worry: you don’t have to keep those emotional highs for the entirety of the comics. Just like reading novels with children, there are natural places to stop and breathe and absorb the visual beauty. When the panel or page is saturated with images, this is your moment to pause and appreciate the art. Take your time and let your young readers really appreciate the images, the colors, the facial expressions, and the “lines of motion” added for dramatic effect. They’re ready to move on to the next panel when you think you’ve fully understood where you are in the story.
This is an area where comics have an advantage over general novels. Do you remember the comprehension exercises in school? That’s what comics are about. Comics often require us to deduce information that would otherwise be told in a novel. The visuals are there to set the scene (literally) and mood (often figuratively). Inference is one of the most important reading skills and often one of the most difficult for children to get the hang of. It is the ability to draw conclusions from what we read. By pausing to look at the picture, we can encourage children to understand all elements of the story and not just the dialogue. When you reach that point in your reading time, slow down and really let them see the artwork. Ask her to point this out to you, and then ask her how it fits into the story.
These are the basic steps to reading comics with kids. Once you’ve read through a few comics or graphic novels, you’ll find your own rhythm and style. The more you read together, the more comfortable you become. You can take turns reading, or maybe one does the dialogue while the other does the sound effects and scenery. The goal is reading: reading together and reading aloud.
If you’re still looking for some books to read together, Book Riot author Hannah has a list of 15 of the best comics for kids. Each of these books delivers on all of the advice above: there’s a good variety of genres, they’re easy to spot, the layout is easy to follow, the dialogue is easy to follow, and there are natural places to stop and deepen your understanding can expand . Feel free to add your favorites to our social media chats.
And yes, I bought them wings of fire Graphic Novel Set. What can I say? That was a very convincing argument. We’ll read it together tonight.