Good literature is more than books

Sometimes I get rather irked by the attitudes of those who teach my children. In this case I’m rather disappointed by the attitude of one of the senior teachers at my son’s school.

Recently it was World Book Day in the UK, celebrating the value of reading and promoting reading to children and their families. Great stuff. However the one thing that brought me up short was this excerpt from the letter to parents.

Children can come to school dressed as a book character from a children,s
book or from a traditional tale. We are asking that children stick to these two
categories rather than including comic heroes or film/cartoon characters. We
are aiming to use the day to promote reading good children’s books as much
as possible.

My italics!

So just what is wrong with comics? I can’t think of anything so I’ll state a few things that occur to me.

The comic form teaches narrative. There is an order to the frames and the frames contain speech bubbles and action. Sometimes the story is conveyed without any speech bubbles at all. We learn, visually, that there are many ways to tell a story. The Beano is so brilliant for this as there are so many different kinds of story there, especially when they run ‘Billy the Cat’ which is for the older kids.

Stereotypes and Archetypes appear throughout cartoons and early on introduce children to them in a visual manner. Whether you are looking at Spiderman and Superman comics or the Beano these characters are there. Super hero or super ordinary there is a metaphor for behaviour in there to learn from and discuss.

Exploration of Mores and Morals.┬áThe Green Goblin fought Spiderman, The Fantastic Four fought Doctor Doom, Superman took on Lex Luthor and Roger the Dodger continually tests the patience of those around him. Each time hero meets villain or naughty schoolboy tests his parents we see the characters exploring the outcome. Think bubbles are so good at helping us explore motivations, after all we can’t always be sure what the other person is thinking. Life isn’t like an episode of The Mentalist so the visual metaphors in comic books help us learn our way round relationships and means of communication.

The Comic Strip is one of the greatest storytelling forms ever created and has been around since before the written word. The stories told on the cave walls at Lascaux in southwestern France tell us the stories of Paleolithic hunters and their dreams and escapades.

I realise this is a rather boy-centric view from the titles I’ve mentioned but I’d be interested in knowing what you think of comics and their place in the literary pantheon. There’s probably a thesis in here somewhere…


3 thoughts on “Good literature is more than books

  1. Lola says:

    Reminds me of how the BBC ignored comics and.graphic novels in the illustration edition of The Beauty Of Books. Harmful and ignorant elitism, if such a phrase makes sense.


  2. I agree as well, and I think becoming a parent of a boy has definitely opened me to different types of reading! Comics and comic-style books (Dav Pilkey for example) have such great appeal to perhaps otherwise reluctant readers, and the vocabulary can be just as rich. Rob Vollmar is doing a series on reading comics on BDCWB right now, and he pointed out too the use of silence and timing in comics. I think there is more there than many of us realized.

  3. I agree with you. Comics and graphic novels draw so many kids into reading. Yet teachers — as a general rule — don’t get it. And teachers influence parents. Just last week I “lectured” a mom who kept telling me, “But I want him [my son] to read real books!” Comics and graphic novels are an important and much loved genre of literature. Those who squash a child’s enthusiasm for reading these risk squashing their enthusiasm for reading period. It’s like telling them that reading can’t be fun — e.g. “If you like it then it can’t be reading.”


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