What's the best way to make your kid comics literate?

The inspiration for this post comes out of my own life, but I’m really interested in a bigger question.

My daughter is 2 and a half. She loves to read – well, be read to, at this point. But the reading will come. The progression from picture books to I-Can-Read books to harder books to stuff that’ll shock her parents is pretty straightforward.

But it got me thinking: I love comics. I’d like her to love comics. What’s the path to teaching her to become comic book literate?

By “literate,” of course, I don’t mean “intimately familiar with Spider-Man’s backstory.” I mean teaching her how to read comics, and, perhaps more importantly when to start showing her comics and (the biggest mystery) which comics to read.

It seems to me that picture books are, in fact, a common starting point. Many elements of comics show up in picture books – read Mo Willems’ books about the Pigeon or Piggy and Gerald, and they’re as much (or more) comic as they are literature, for example. And when you teach a kid to read text-based books, you gradually reduce the number of pictures and how they relate to the text.

But what’s the next step in comics? And when to introduce them? I’ve got Sandman and Preacher at home, but I figure she can find the equivalents when she’s 16. Calvin and Hobbes and Peanuts are great, but still not geared toward a single-digit individual.

In the meantime, is there something other than Little Lulu? And what age is Lulu geared towards, anyway?

Recommendations are welcome. General discussion of comics literacy is welcome, too. What are your thoughts?

There used to be a comic book series based on Batman the Animated Series that would be perfect for a kid with single digits in her age. The violence and storyline was on par wit the animated series and each issue was a self-contained story. I believe they switched the title to Gotham Adventures but the title has since been discontinued. They also came up with a similar series based off the Superman cartoon and Justice League. You might be able to find them in comic stores that stock back issues, check Lone Star Comics online site to see how much they might cost. I bet they’re cheap.


Is Little Lulu even still around?

Anyway, I’d start with Archie - kid friendly, fairly amusing (especially for a kid) and a buttload of titles at the supermarket checkout so you can always get her something to read.

If you want to get her into Superhero stuff, both Marvel and DC have kid-friendly lines. DC’s Johnny DC is mostly tied into their TV series, but they’re good reads, anyway. At Marvel, I’d specifically suggest the recent Power Pack series - a series of minis, each quickly collected into a digest. (Or at least they were…I’m not sure if the recent series have been collected.)

To the extent that this is for me, I’m not attached to superhero stuff. Genre isn’t important (to me, anyway – she may have preferences).

And I suspect I wouldn’t really start in earnest on this until she’s a bit older than she is now – probably introducing comics about the time we’d introduce books she can read herself.

So far as Little Lulu goes, they may not be publishing it now, but I know our local library has collections.

I can’t believe I forgot my favourite kid-friendly book - Lions, Tigers and Bears. Stuffed animals are really an army that protects their children from kid-eating trolls. It might be a little scary for very sensitive kids, but no more so than, say, Wizard of Oz (wonder where I came up with that comparison… >_>).

Both volumes have been collected, so it should be possible to track them down.

Tell them No.

My daughter started to read Tintin and Asterix soon after she learned to read (partly from Calvin and Hobbes). I don’t know what I would read aloud to a 2yo in the way of comice, though. Even Don’t let the pigeon drive the bus is geared towards slightly older kids, though I’m sure she’s like it anyway.

Read them to her. It doesn’t matter what they are…at that age they are geared to the vocal performance, not the content. Then as she gets older you can cycle in the stuff she’ll understand.

In my experience, telling my kid no is a shortcut to a meltdown.

But in a couple of years, that advice will be gold.

I cannot recommend Owly highly enough. Various lighthearted adventures of Owly the Owl. It’s one of the cutest things I’ve ever read, but it’s also really clever. Lots of examples online that you can look at.

Somewhat similar but a little more realistic in style and more challenging is Gon, which is one of my favorite comic series ever. A little dinosaur named Gon has various adventures with other animals and more often than not winds up wreaking havoc in the jungle, in the ocean, on a mountain, etc…

There’s also Gumby. Yes, the little clay green guy. There’s a recent collection of Gumby comics written by Bob Burden, creator of the Flaming Carrot, that won the Eisner award for best series for younger readers. It’s amazing.

How about Uncle Scrooge and the rest of the Donald Duck clan? No scary stuff, and smartly written.

Shy Guy beat me to it; I was going to mention Owly!
Really cute, almost no words, just expressions.

Or Flight Explorer #1 from the same publisher as the Flight series of short graphic story anthologies…

Read her Bone. It’s a wonderful fantasy story with great characters. There’s a bit of violence (equivalent to a Disney movie) but it’s the best kid-friendly comic I’ve ever read that adults will enjoy as well.

As for her reading comics on her own, I’d say wait until she has a decent grasp on how to treat regular books, then buy her a couple of cheap comics that are “hers,” so that she can look at them whenever she wants. I did this with my son - now 7 - when he was younger, and now he’s moved on to reading my good stuff.

Kudos to you for starting the comic love at an early age!

Kids of my generation (the 50s/60s) didn’t need any help to become comic book literate. In fact we were positively discouraged from reading them. We read them anyway, in spite of, and indeed in great measure because of, adult disapproval.

I’m sure subsequent generations of kids also found their way to comic books without any help. In short, leave the kid be. She’ll find her own way.

I have 9 year old boy who is getting really into the Superhero comics now. It just kind of happened - Comics were actually hard to read (which is good IMHO) so that even when he knew the words by 5-6 & he could read a little above age appropriate books, he struggled reading comics. We got in a cycle that by the time he could read some he was too sophisticated for them. But about 7ish it evened out.

As a guide:

In the upper right corner of the DC Comics is a little man space alien man - can’t miss it. This signifies it is for the under 10 set (I think - it probably has a specific meaning but the truth is that little man is my guide). From DC:

Cartoon Network Block Party and Looney Tunes, Scooby Doo might be good tries when she is ready to start reading them - (probably not younger than about 5 I think for Scooby). We got to the point we would read a page - ask him to read.

Archie is a wholesome thing for younguns’

Marvel - don’t know much about their titles.

There’s been good advice but I want to add that the news paper is an obvious place. New stuff daily, usually quick to read and kid friendly.

And if I may throw out a strong negative recommendation 95% of current manga is to be avoided if you’re trying to have them grow into better comic reading skills. Since the manga fans throw larger temper tantrums over which hand people hold things with than they do about how the panels and word balloons flow the art is not flipped for English reading. Which means that it screws up the eye tracking since you have to go upper-right, locate the upper-left for the first word balloon and then repeat. Since you have to go in this odd pattern you take in the wrong portion of the image at the wrong point.

Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean’s The Day I Swapped My Dad For Two Goldfish isn’t stictly a comic, but utilises a lot of techniques of the genre, and is huge fun to read aloud.

David Wiesner’s books such as Tuesday, Flotsam, Sector 7 and Three Pigs are fantastic for kids and adults: purely visual, sumptuously illustrated and anarchically imaginative storytelling with no text but a wonderful narrative flow. Great for improvising your own words and dialogue: Three Pigs, the tale of what happens when the Three Little Pigs decide to escape their own story and go wandering into other fairytales, is an absolute delight. And Tuesday, a tale of what frogs really get up to at night, is just a hoot.

I have successfully pulled off this stunt with our oldest (an eight year old girl, for the record). Tickles me plenty, it does.

I started reading to her from comics at a young age (maybe three or so). I told her the story of Episode IV on our walks to school (about 5-10 minutes each) during her year in Kindergarten. I started getting her comics and reading them to her.

Not the harder stuff, of course. But I read to her from the Clone Wars comics. And the Mouse Guard comics. And some Ranma 1/2 and other chop-socky comedy manga.

Now, she appears to be self-sustaining and has her own pull list at the LCS. She also knows when free comic book day falls and makes certain she gets to go.

Also, discuss them with her. Not just about the fighting and plots but how things work. Like discussing whether Kitty Pride would feel hot/cold while phased and paying attention to her thoughts.

Good luck! Produce fan girls! We need more of them!

This is how I learned to read actually- I loved to go over the Newspaper Comics with my family. Just do that, and take stock of which ones she enjoys a bit more than others- then its a trip to the freindly library where they have often have the older comic books (Peanuts, calvin and hobbes, etc) and she can go from there.

I remember as a Kid I enjoyed reading Peanuts alot, and Calvin and Hobbes, even when the jokes weren’t always apparent to me. Same with single panel cartoons like “The Far Side”, those “onesys” have lots of good gags and stuff in them that if you don’t get 1, you can always move on to another one to read.

The key is first just to foster the love of reading that sorta stuff. THEN to explore it further- so once she starts to just enjoy reading comics, then get her to look at the more complicated stuff that may be “artsier” or plot heavy- but just focus on the single panel gags and get an appreciation for the medium first before the full out and out.

Though I totally agree with “Bone” it’s a WONDERFUL story- but def. one that you should read TO her, but it’s one that she could grow to love as a teenager even.

I dunno, Calvin and Hobbes was always a favorite when I was a little kid—you start by enjoying the transmogrifier and (Insane Killer Mutant Monster) Snow-Goons arcs, and work your way up to appreciating the biting theological and artistic satire.

Later-year strips are better, as Waterson was finally allowed to move beyond the fairly rigid panel layout he’d started with, to essentially one big panel that he could subdivide at his whim.

Hmmm…is there any Manga you could try her on? Granted, you might run into trouble if it’s stuff that hasn’t been “flipped” to read left-to-right, but the sheer diversity of genres and titles might make it easier to find something a little kid could get into without warping them.

Say, did has anyone here ever read “Krazy Kat”? I’ve never had the pleasure, myself, but I’ve heard nothing but good things about it.

Tintin was always fun, from what I remember. They had an animated series based on some of the books, awhile back, too. Maybe you could use that as a “hook” to get her into the books, if you need. Like a gateway drug! :slight_smile: