I didn’t enjoy reading as a young child. I remember, at around six, belligerently refusing to read the word ‘bottom’ aloud in front of the class. I stood up there for ages sounding it out but never managing to join it up. Think of Joey learning French in Friends. I was expelled at around seven. They cited rowdiness on a museum trip. I think it was because of bottomgate. Anyway, the point: I had no love of books. Comics on the other hand were bliss, a weekly promise of escapism, lunacy, badness, rebellion. I was all in! I read them cover-to-cover, back-to-back, over and over, the enjoyment replenished with every read. My weekly allotment of sweets – toffee bonbons, natch – and my comics are some of the happiest memories of my childhood. Ironic that I went on to study English and that books are now my passion. Or is it?
In those small fast strips of chaos; noisy colours, onomatopoeic words, speech bubbles, drawings and copy boxes, we find complete vignettes of stories brilliantly told with minimum words, narrative-moving dialogue and muscular drawings. Within the familiar speech notes of characters we anticipate the drama to come, a short-cut to the meat of the event. We see the hero’s momentary journey, the arc of the story, the complete satisfaction of a tale told and the sure certainty of future tales to come.
The reader is involved in building the story and fleshing it out, using our knowledge of character, visual clues and past scenarios to anticipate and predict events. We are rewarded for knowing our characters, guessing right, choosing the winning side. These are active reading and thinking skills in the making and the process is developing a love of active reading.
As we were touring primary schools for our son, we were struck by the library at the most academic school on our list. It was tantalizing. A large, rectangular room, bright and full of the colour, each section clearly marked with lots of space around to meander and sit. It was a room that said, Come! And in the library of this most academic of schools, arguably THE most academic of schools, what did they have right front and centre? A large carousel of COMICS!
If you have a reluctant reader at home, might I suggest you try a comic?