Me, Myself, as Mommy: Reading is reading, no matter the material
I met my husband when I was 16 at a Halloween dance inside Northridge High School. Brian was one of those Layton kids, growing up in the expansive metropolis with a mall (the only place that really mattered to a teenage girl), or at least it was compared to Clinton with its fields, Russian olive wood trees and train tracks. But we were both wearing spandex at the dance so the relationship just made sense. Years later in college, we attended a party where the organizer’s teenage brother was hanging out, preparing for one of those amazing summers you can only have when you’re 15 with no responsibilities, just free time. Brian reminisced over his boyhood summers with night games, swimming at Hobbs Pond, fires in Fernwood and clandestine dirt biking through farmers’ fields. The kid then turned to me and asked what I did during my teenage summers. I replied with, “I did a lot of reading. I read 20 books one summer.”
“Oh, you were a loser,” was his reply.
Reading has always been a central part of my life. Both my parents read, my grandfather is the iron man of books, my siblings read all genres, my daughter puts all my reading records to shame and my cousin/best friend’s claim to fame is getting me hooked on “Harry Potter” despite me initially calling them “baby books.” Never mind I waited in line for hours to get my copies only to read them through the night. For my birthday, my childhood friend still sends me books in the mail. Reading books is central to who I am. I viewed books as a spine you cracked, pages with hundreds of words, hefty weight in between your hands and nary a picture in sight. Then I had two sons who made me rethink how I viewed reading.
Graphic novels are sweeping the libraries. (Note: Graphic novel and comic book are not synonyms.) While both are illustration based, only one uses the word “novel,” meaning it has a complete story — a beginning, middle and end. Most often, a graphic novel is more substantial. Comic books are serialized, basically one long “to be continued” spread over various books.
If you’ve stopped into your school’s annual book fair, parents will glimpse rows of graphic novels. “The Babysitters Club” series was one of the most popular when I was a kid, with the only picture being the cover. Now making a comeback, the series is done as graphic novels with a picture accompanying each page. Because of these illustrations, graphic novels are shorter than the novels that came before; this leads to a lot of pushback from parents and teachers. Critics claim that graphic novels are not real reading. My boys loathe to pick up a standard book, but throw those illustrations in and the pages become palatable.
“To Kill a Mockingbird,” “The Hobbit,” “A Wrinkle in Time” and “Animal Farm” were voraciously consumed by boys who viewed books as smallpox — except they don’t know what smallpox are because of vaccines. Purists may say they haven’t read those books. I view these graphic novels like I view Pampers Pull-Ups — make the process easy and less messy then eventually switch out the training pants for real underwear. Graphic novels are a great way to get kids interested in reading so we can eventually switch out the books for real stuff. Reading is reading.
Each mind is different, learning and retaining, focusing and digesting information differently. Graphic novels, even audio books, answer to what we hope people grasp from literature — education and perception shifts.
The skills we use when we read a novel without illustrations is the same used when a person reads a graphic novel. They still analyze the worlds, context and characters. For someone like my child with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), decoding the language and emotion is more clear when accompanied by a picture showing the emotion on a character’s face. Visual cues make the experience of reading more vivid. The learning is twofold, putting the words together with the emotions of a face, something difficult for kids with ASD.
I pushed back against Kindle, wanting only the weight of a book. I pushed back on audiobooks, wanting to see the words and grammar. I pushed back on pictures in books, believing people needed to use their imaginations to picture the story. I was wrong. Graphic novels and audio books are the answer to getting our reluctant readers more educated, more experienced. I write it again — reading is reading.
Required reading was pushed throughout my education, I haven’t seen it pushed as often with my kids. If it is, I would ask educators and parents to accept that graphic novels certainly have a place. This coming school year, make sure policies are in place where we embrace our students reading whatever they can get their hands or ears on (unless our elected officials decide to play Dad and ban books on behalf of parents).
This conversation over the contrast of how we spend the summers of our youth still makes my husband and I laugh because we still view a great summer the exact same way. He likes the wind-in-his-hair freedom the season brings, even with a full-time job, and I like to be left the hell alone to read. The only thing that makes my time to read better is when I’m surrounded by a bunch of kids reading their own novels. Sometimes they even show me the pictures.
Meg Sanders worked in broadcast journalism for over a decade but has since turned her life around to stay closer to home in Ogden. Her three children keep her indentured as a taxi driver, stylist and sanitation worker. In her free time, she likes to read, write, lift weights and go to concerts with her husband of 17 years.