SupermanOn the same day the story about library fines appeared in the New York Times, there was another story on the same page: “Superman Finds New Fans Among Reading Instructors.”

It’s kind of funny. As a male children’s librarian in the late 70s and 80s, I always thought (although I kept it to myself) that lots of my colleagues should have been buying comic books and having them available for the reluctant boy readers who needed something less threatening than chapter books to ease them into the more challenging stuff.

Now, of course, comics and graphic novels are huge in public libraries. But in many schools, they’re just beginning now to take comics seriously as educational tools – mostly because it’s one of the few ways to get reluctant boys children engaged during the mania for statewide testing.

I smiled as I read the following quote from the story, though, from someone who obviously never hungered for comics as a child:

Still, skeptics fret that in the wrong hands, comics could become simply a vehicle for watering down lessons.

“If you’re going to use comics in the classroom at all, which I have serious doubts about, it should be only as a motivational tool,” said Diane Ravitch, an education professor at New York University. “What teachers have to recognize is that this is only a first step.”

That’s right; we need more tough books that will make those kids sweat. Not.

(I find it interesting that although all the examples they give here are of reluctant boys, nowhere does the word “boys” appear in the story. It’s always “students” or “children”). I enjoyed this example of what’s really going on in New York public schools:

At Public School 59 in the Bronx one recent afternoon, students clustered around tables, plotting out their own comic strips at one of the Comic Book Project’s after-school programs.

At one table, Jamie Collazo’s and his friends’ faces lit up when asked about their favorite activity: video games like Ultimate Spider-Man, Super Smash Bros. and Wolverine’s Revenge.

“I’m a game freak,” exclaimed Jamie, 11, saying that this was “when you collect a lot of games and you can’t stop playing them.” Reading, he said, “is kind of boring to me.”

But there he was, brainstorming a tale of three powerful gods who land on Nerainis, a planet between Neptune and Uranus.

Gabriel Cid, 10, agreed that “reading is kind of boring,” but said comics were different.

And that, my friends, is the extremely cool secret – for these kids, comics are not reading. They’re way too great to be merely something adults want you to do. We need to be working harder to take advantage of that.

Books can be cool as well – but we need to be presenting them correctly. We need (yeah, yeah, you’ve heard this before from me) doing more live commercials – I mean booktalking – in the schools for kids in grades 3 – 8. We need to figure out how to get more adults to read aloud to kids in those grades. And more projects like the Comic Book Project described in this story wouldn’t hurt either.