A Minute With...

Carol Tilley, library and information science professor

6/27/2012  8:00 am

Some kids love to read, and some don't. If your child falls into the second category, odds are that you have an even tougher time coaxing him or her to read during the summer, when school isn't in session. Carol Tilley knows how to handle this type of reluctant reader. A former school librarian, Tilley is a professor in the University of Illinois Graduate School of Library and Information Science, where she teaches courses in youth services librarianship, comics in libraries, and media literacy and youth. Tilley shared some suggestions with News Bureau news editor Dusty Rhodes.

What advice do you have for parents whose children are capable but uninterested in reading?

Carol TilleyAliterate kids − those who know how to read, but choose not to do it - can be a conundrum for parents, teachers and librarians.

First, recognize that reading isn't always about someone getting lost in a novel. Look for "hidden" reading − websites, text messages, baseball cards, magazines, cereal boxes, whatever − acknowledging and encouraging it when you notice it.

Second, go with your kids to the library or a bookstore regularly; make it part of your family's time together. Maybe your child won't select the books you would, but remember, it's not about you and what you like.

Third, find other ways to make reading a family activity. Make sure your child sees you read − whether for work or for pleasure. Talk about what you're reading. Read aloud to your child: That's an activity that often stops when your child learns to read on his or her own, but it doesn't have to! Listen to audiobooks on family trips or even while running errands around town.

Parents tend to regard comics as the "candy" of the reading pyramid - treats to be consumed sparingly, and only after reading "real" books. Should parents worry if their kids gravitate toward comics?

My short answer is, no.

For many decades, librarians, teachers, parents and other folks who care about kids and their reading have relied on metaphors that books and reading are like food or ladders or steppingstones. These metaphors are easy but not always accurate ways of thinking about children's literacy development.

Most contemporary scholars of reading argue − and I concur − that reading is reading, at least in terms of gaining fluency, which is an aspect of reading that involves expression and understanding. Comics, gaming websites, sports pages, text messages, novels and any other kind of reading you can imagine help develop a person's reading fluency.

Beyond that, it's important to understand that comics aren't all funny animals or superheroes − not that either of those genres is bad or suspect. This medium comprises a wide variety of styles, genres and formats that can also help readers of all ages develop empathy, learn new ideas and more.

In a lifetime of reading comics, this medium has challenged me to consider what makes the American political mythos both inspiring and troubling (for example, Mark Millar's "Superman: Red Son") and what lies at the heart of friendship (for example, Andy Runton's "Owly" series). I've learned about important events in history (Jim Ottaviani's "T-Minus: The Race to the Moon"), gained insights into life in little-understood realms (Guy Delisle's "Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea") and relived not-always-pleasant moments from adolescence (Mariko and Jillian Tamaki's "Skim"). And I've been enchanted by the worlds I've encountered in comics such as David Petersen's "Mouse Guard" series, Shaun Tan's "The Arrival" and Linda Medley's "Castle Waiting."

And no, not all of those titles are for kids!

How did comics get such a bad rap?

Comics have a long history of being considered questionable reading. When newspaper comics first became popular in the early 1900s, many adults feared that children who read them would become disrespectful toward elders, incapable of using "proper" grammar and unable to enjoy "good" literature. These fears were so great that women's groups, religious leaders, librarians and educators launched protests − sometimes successfully − to get newspapers to cease printing comics.

When comic books entered the American cultural landscape in the mid-1930s, some of those same fears were resurrected. In the years following World War II, comics became one of the many scapegoats for a perceived increase in juvenile delinquency, leading to sustained public outcry and, subsequently, restrictive self-regulatory actions in the comics industry. Although more than 95 percent of American kids read comics regularly in the 1940s and early 1950s − a higher percentage than uses the Internet or even plays video games today − our collective concerns stifled this readership, and comics have never regained their appeal among kids.

Are some comics more "nutritious" than others? What are some of your favorites?

Well, if you think of reading in those terms, sure, some comics are more nutritious than others, just like some TV shows or films or novels or magazines are more nutritious. But don't we all need a little cotton candy every now and then?

Some comics for younger readers that I think do an admirable job of helping support a more balanced reading diet include Matt Dembicki's edited volume, "Trickster: Native American Tales, A Graphic Collection," Doug TenNapel's "Ghostopolis," Chris Duffy's edited volume, "Nursery Rhyme Comics," Nik Abadzis' "Laika" and Barry Deutsch's "Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword." The Toon Books imprint of Candlewick Press has lots of other great comics for early readers as well.

How does manga rank compared to other comics?

Manga is a Japanese form of comics, although Korea and China also produce similar styles of comics. Just as there's a great diversity of styles and genres in American (and European and Latin American and all other sorts) of comics, manga comes in many shapes and sizes. In the past 15 years or so, manga has become increasingly popular among young readers, especially girls, in the U.S. Because comics embody the cultures in which they are produced, it's important for adults to know that some manga titles, even those popular with younger readers, have a more carefree, less rigid, attitude toward nudity and sexuality than US comics; if that's an issue for you as a parent, then you'll want to be even more involved in helping your younger readers choose their reading materials.

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