Why Comics? While I know I read comics as a kid (how I got them I really don’t know) there was a small stack of well read comics at my grandmother’s house, and there are photos of me reading them, the first comic I really remember reading was Alex Raymond’s Flash Gordon.  My father had bought volume one and two for my brother and me as we moved from San Francisco to Los Angeles as a way to keep us quiet in the car.  Since then I have found that comics are a great way to motivate those reluctant readers… duh!  They also are a great way to present more difficult concepts in reading.  I reacll listening to Orson Scott Card (Ender’s Game) talk about teaching a literature course and while the other classes used Shakespeare he started off with The Princess Bride by William Golding (before the film).  By using accessible text his students were able to grasp the concepts he wanted to teach without having to deal with wading through olde English.  This has stuck with me and as I look at a book for my classroom if it is a classic which is more important exposing my class to the book or the reading skills I need them to learn.  Sometimes the classic trumps the skills.

So where do comics fit? We start teaching kids using picture books then somewhere in around second grade we stop and those wonderful stories become “baby books.”  This is kind of sad since a great deal of picture books have a reading level well into middle school.  That said, we push the kids into “chapter books” and the pictures vanish.  There is no transitional text.  I have heard many present (and I agree) that the comic book fills this gap.  Not all comics are kid friendly and just because they have pretty pictures doesn’t mean the concepts in the story are the best (especially at the elementary school).  I choose my comics wisely and like any adult read them before handing them to a child.

When presenting at the 2010 Lilly Extending Teacher Creativity Workshop I talked to some people about using Comics to help promote reading in the classroom.  I am definitely not and expert and the most frustrating thing I have found is like many great all-ages comics, the links to informational sites disappear (or the sites never get updated). Here are a few good links that are updated regularly.

The Graphic Classroom – A great blog about what is out there in the comics world for the classroom.  I decided instead of just cutting an pasting stuff from this site, I should just link to it. Updated constantly with news and reviews.

Good Comics for Kids – This blog is part of the School Library Journal they also post on Twitter as new things come out.

What’s in my classroom “Graphic Novel” Library?

Bone – Jeff Smith

Amelia Rules – Jimmy Gownley

Leave It To Chance – James Robinson & Paul Smith

The Dreamland Chronicles– Christian Scott Sava

Franklin Richards: Son of a Genius– Chris Eliopoulos

Mighty Marvels & GMan– Chris Giarrusso

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz– Eric Shanower & Skottie Young

and a whole lot more…

While there are hundreds of titles I have tried to stay away from the ones that are based on cartoons.  That way I know my students have never really encountered these characters.  What is your best resource?  Your local comic book shop.  Ask them, they might know.  A number of comic shops across the country have realized that teaming with schools and libraries is good for business. The other players that have started to understand the power of comics are the publishers… Scholastic is just one that has started to create an entire line of comics, Random House is another.  Besides these giants there are hundreds of small publishers who have been doing all ages comics for years.

What does the future hold?  Who knows?  I know I am reading a number of comics on my iPad and enjoying the experience.  There is a non-profit being formed “Reading with Pictures” to promote using comics in classroom, they publish and anthology in the fall of 2010 but their site has been pretty quiet.

Click here for a .pdf of the slideshow I used on November 6, 2010 at Indiana State University that is barebones and definitely needs some “prettification”