"But all he ever reads is comic books…"

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I want to write a blog post in defense of comic books, and particularly in defense of parents reading comic books with their children. Not only do they provide less intimidating reading practice than chapter books but their content themselves can often be quite educational.
I started reading Tintin books, as well as Asterix and Obelix comics, to my children quite young. I worried a bit about the violence but didn’t let that stop us. Reading them together I could stop and explain the puns and wordplays. We can talk about cultural references. (For example in Asterix and Cleopatra, Asterix makes a comment about how the Egyptians should call them if they ever need a big canal built). Looking up the different locations that Tintin travelled to helped introduce my children to the globe. Yes, a lot of the details are inaccurate or based on stereotypes. I worry some about that but by reading the books together with the children I can ask them whether they believe certain details are true or not. I also suspect that it is probably better for the kids to understand the changes in perception. With the Tintin books in particular we end up talking about what was happening in the world at the time the books were written.My impression of the Calvin and Hobbes comics have changed while my children grow. At one point I found the books incredibly comforting in their illustration of a mischievous child. It was a time in my life where I felt intimidated by the contrast between my very mischievous children and some acquaintances more docile obedient children. At other points, particularly after being pounced upon, I worried that Calvin and Hobbes might be a bad example for my children to follow. At times I could identify quite closely with his parents! As my children got older, I found I liked the creativity of Calvin. I like that Calvin doesn’t have to like everything that happens in his life (just as my children don’t have to like everything that happens in theirs).

Comics can be intriguing doorways into good discussions. They can deal lightheartedly with serious topics and make abstract concepts more interesting to children. Reading the comics together left me explaining to the children about what political polls are, existentialism and many other things.

Today’s math lesson was inspired by Calvin and Hobbes. My son read this strip, retold it to me and agreed for me to give him a similar math question. Mine involved friends walking towards each other from a set number of blocks, and we drew it out on paper. For the first try the friends were just moving at different speeds. For the second variation one of the friends started out later. For the third variation my son asked to include traffic. Asking him to figure out how we can work traffic into the example gives him a chance to think about what traffic means. (Would it slow the person down overall? Would it slow down different sections of a trip? Would it mean that certain locations such as intersections have more or less of a cost than others?)
Last night my husband was reading Calvin and Hobbes with both boys, and they came upon this strip that husband could use to test our sons memory and understanding of the book The Space and Time of Uncle Albert, by Russell Stannard. Could the children explain why Calvin’s test would fail even if he could actually travel close to the speed of light? Comics such as these help provide easy ways to review topics.Even the Star Wars or Transformer comics have impressed me. Reading the stories together we can have serious conversations about them. In one Transformer story the title character, Hot Rod, feels guilty because of his failure to protect his teammates. When he hears that one of his teammates is imprisoned he rescues the teammate but feels a debt for the suffering the teammate has endured. The reader of the story learns what Hot Rod doesn’t, that the teammate was in fact the traitor who engineered Hot Rod’s failure and is using his guilt to manipulate him now. One son saw Hot Rod’s decision to isolate himself so as to not fail others as similar to the Jedi instructions not to form attachments. We could also have talked about guilt and appropriate levels of guilt.

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