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You won’t find many comics on the reading list at your child’s elementary school. The school library may not have any comic books or graphic novels at all. But comics might be what your child likes to read. Is that okay?

Well, of course, any reading is good reading. Reading comic books is better than reading nothing at all. But more than that, comics provide experience with skills that might not be so available if the only thing your child reads is “the classics.” Comic book reading might add opportunities your child otherwise might miss.

Whether your child reads traditional comics, graphic novels, or newspaper cartoons gathered into book form (like Garfield or Calvin and Hobbs books), understanding what’s going on in this reading material requires a unique set of skills. Let me list some:

Decoding skills. Comics are full of nonsense words like “Biff” and “Shazam” and “Argh.” Kids who encounter these words have to sound them out – these are not words they will have encountered in their school texts! And the ability to sound out strange words is a key reading skill.

New vocabulary. Besides nonsense words, comics book writers usually aren’t worried about sticking to the first grade word list. A quick glance at a Garfield cartoon book revealed words like “adhesive,” “permission,” “strolls,” and “inferior.” The child who reads this book will add a host of new words to her reading vocabulary.

Comprehension skills. This is really a biggie. Most of what children read is obvious. The implications of the characters’ actions are spelled out pretty clearly. But in comics this isn’t so. Because comics and cartoons don’t have space for a lot of explanation, readers have to use their brains to “get” the joke or to understand characters’ motivation and feelings. The skill comics offer in understanding implied meanings develops children’s comprehension skills. And that’s a good thing.

Comics and cartoons are meant to be fun to read. They have a lot of action and dialogue, the storylines are short (especially in cartoon books), and the characters are colorful, heroic or just plain funny.

Most adults have memories of reading comics in their younger days but you might have hesitated to endorse comic books for your own children. Hesitate no longer. Not only are comics real reading material they provide unique experiences that can strengthen your child’s reading skills.

© 2013, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved.