June Newspaper Column – Learning with Comics

According to my new blog schedule, I am not supposed to be posting today but I wanted to post my June column I wrote for The Upper Bucks Free Press.  To read the original online article click HERE or just READ ON (my blog article has a little extra information that wouldn’t fit in the article)! 🙂

Learning with Comics

People often ask me how I became such an avid reader. Comics were the first books I wanted to read. I spent a lot of time looking at my Mom’s Calvin and Hobbes books and I got my first comic book subscription when I was four (Marvel Kid’s Avengers). Comics were easy to read and fun so they made me want to read. 

People don’t often think about comics as helping kids learn to read or the huge variety of comics out there, like books, novels and digital comics. Toon Books has developed a comic book reading program for beginning and reluctant readers. The books are divided into 3 reading levels from pre-school to 3rd grade. The program’s design gets kids reading while keeping them interested with the comic book format.


Examples of Reading levels 1,2 and 3 of Toon Books Reading Program

Jesse Post, Marketing Director for Papercutz, a publishing company with a wide variety of comics, told me how they choose which comics to publish. 

“We do want kids to love our books, so part of how we accomplish that is to publish books about characters they already love, like LEGO Ninjago, Disney Fairies, and Power Rangers. But, as you’ve noticed, we have a lot of other kinds of books that may be less familiar, and this is because we want to keep introducing our readers to amazing stories, regardless of the characters. If we see a new book idea for kids that we can’t stop thinking about, we’ll want to publish it, and then it’s my job to let everyone know about it. As for age ranges, our main audience is 2nd through 6th grades, but we do publish some younger books and some older books.”

“We almost never tell our writers and artists to make something specifically for a certain age; we let the story tell us who should be reading it!”  

Some Papercutz comics. The Three Stooges comic here is actually a collection of republished original Stooge comics and is awesome! 

I also asked Mr. Post how he thinks comics help kids learn to read.

 “I can tell you from my own experience that nothing is better than comics for getting kids interested in reading; the first thing I ever read in my life was a comic, and I’ve been reading books every night since! Comics tell a full story in pictures, which is a little different from picture books that only illustrate some of the actions. A kid learning to read already knows the story from seeing it drawn, and that helps support the tough work of sounding out the words. And for kids who already read well but may not like to read, well, comics are just plain fun! The artwork is as dynamic and exciting as a movie or TV show (often even more so!) and this makes for a “gotta turn the page” effect that all the best books have. Once kids are interested in comics they’re much more likely to go back and forth between them and all other kinds of books, just like I did.”


Reading with Pictures is a nonprofit organization that promotes the use of comics in classrooms. Josh Elder, an award-winning graphic novelist, founded the organization in 2009. They’ve developed a comic book textbook to improve learning in schools. Mr. Elder told me how comics help kids not only learn to read, but also learn about history and science.

“Reading skills are fundamental to learning all subjects. The stronger your reading skills, the stronger your performance will be in all your subjects. The reason? Teachers can only tell you so much. It’s up to you to learn the rest through studying, and we study by reading. Comics makes reading more fun and more effective since you’re more likely to understand and remember what you read with words & pictures than with words alone. Finally, it might also help to think about comics as a kind of diagram when it comes to presenting information. Diagrams do a great job of using words and pictures to demonstrate all sorts of big ideas and processes that would be incredibly confusing if you tried to describe them using words or pictures alone. Comics can do the same thing. That is, they can literally be diagrams for scientific or mathematical concepts, but they can also use words and pictures together to more effectively convey narrative, or story, information. When used properly, comics can make learning anything easier and more fun than by using words alone.”

So, I say, parents, next time you’re in a bookstore, don’t walk past the comics!

Here’s a great speech given by Mr. Elder where he talks about how comics can really help some children learn.


Categories: Comics / Graphic Novels, Other Stuff Related to Books and Reading

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25 replies

  1. Great post, Erik. My son, age 11, would agree with you wholeheartedly. Like you, he got his start on Calvin and Hobbes. The pairing of funny pictures and short text is why I think comics do indeed work for beginning readers.

  2. Great post Erik! I totally agree with every word. The first thing I read as a youngster was comic books (Archie & Veronica and Beetle Bailey) and I am now an avid reader. Well done!

  3. This was a very informative post Erik. I have always said, it doesn’t matter what kids read, as long as they are reading. My son, when he was growing up, had a slight learning disability and couldn’t get through a book but he loved comics. He reads a lot now as an adult and reads to his children. Thanks for spreading the word about the importance of reading comics.

  4. Great post/article, Erik. I love Calvin & Hobbes, and The Far Side :), but other than that, I was never really a comic fan. Maybe I should give some others a try! And I can definitely see how comics would appeal to kids learning to read!

  5. Have to forward this to my son – a manga reading freak!

  6. WoW! I will never look at a comic book the same way. I have an entirely new perspective on them! I never read many as a kid. But, I see the value as an adult — particularly for a reluctant reader. There is actually some science in all of this. Great post!

    • I think it is cool how publishers are trying to help make their comics into things for reluctant readers! There are a lot of adult comics that aren’t appropriate for kids but there are a lot of comics written for kids too. Thanks Ms. Tilton!

  7. I forget about comics, I ought to get Matthew interested. Super post, Erik!

  8. Interesting post, Eric. I never would have thought of comics as a way t get someone to read. The things I learn from you.

  9. Great post, Erik. I have a similar one in the works that I’d like to guest post on a large blog this fall after my launch is done. I was actually going to look at how comics can be considered a form of literature and include some of the techie terms like setting, plot, rising action, etc. There’s certainly more to comics that it would seem at first glance.

    • I can’t wait to read it! I know that some novels are made into comic books. I like the regular book better in this case, but I can see some kids reading them instead of the whole book. Thanks Mrs. Isenhoff!

  10. Great article, Erik. I’ve always been a fan of comics too.

  11. Cooper’s already been reading my husband’s Calvin & Hobbes, as well as Snoopy. I can’t wait until he’s old enough for Tin Tin. He also loves the Toon Books, thanks to your recommendation. I find it interesting how many boys love comic books, and it’s a wonderful way to get them to read.

  12. It was nice talking to you about comics, Erik! And thanks for the great article — it’s all true and I think it’s important for adults to hear the perspective of someone your age on the subject. 🙂

  13. When I was younger I was also hooked on Filipino/Tagalog comics – there is one that specifically caters to a younger audience not older ones. They’re the cheap kind and mass produced – definitely not the graphic novel caliber, but they were fun and they got me into reading. Now that I’m older, I can see intersections between graphic novels, picture books, comics – which I find to be infinitely fascinating. This post is such an informative read and very helpful too. Congratulations also on having your work published in a paper! Great work, Erik.

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