How Comics Can Help Reluctant Readers

May 10, 2013

[On May 11 and 12, 2013, the Toronto Comic Arts Festival welcomed more than 10,000 visitors to its two-day celebration. One of the events was Librarian and Educator Day, where blogger Nataliz Diaz spoke to teachers during the Owlkids Coffee Break. Her blog below discusses the growing popularity of comics in the classroom.]

Comics for kids are growing more popular than ever, thanks to renowned author/illustrators like Jeff Smith and his beloved Bone series, and author Raina Telgemeier and her graphic novel adaptation of The Babysitters Club series (plus original titles like Smile and Drama). Part of the reason for this boost in popularity is simple math: publishers are making more comics for kids, and discovering there is a real audience and niche market for comics. Comics have also been embraced by educators, as teachers see merit in having comics in school and classroom libraries, as well as integrating comics in class as literacy and drama extensions. The medium lends itself well to visual literacy and active learning since the reader has to engage and interpret the text, as well as the art, and the story that lies between the panels.

Jennifer Johnston, a Grade 3/4 teacher with the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board, has been using comics in her classroom for seven years. She uses single issues, graphic novels and compilations. Says Johnston, "I use them as resources for direct lessons. Owly by Andy Runton is perfect for teaching usage of punctuation. And this year, I branched out and used comics to teach the higher order reading skill of inferring. Comics are almost all inferring as you need to put together the visual information with what the character is saying, monitor the scene changes, and remember key information about complex character backgrounds and lineage." Johnston has also had great results using comics as a writing tool. "I often use the program Bitstrips for Schools to assign reading responses, where students can add alternate endings to something we've read in class, or publish a piece of writing," says Johnston. "It's powerful, especially for reluctant writers."

From character development to storyboarding concepts to prompting critical inquiry, there are many uses for comics in the classroom. Plus, comic books make learning fun.According to Andrew Woodrow Butcher from Little Island Comics, Canada's only comic book store for kids, the biggest reason comics for kids are on the rise and getting attention from both teachers and parents is because comics get kids excited about reading. "The most popular comics for teachers and librarians are also the most popular for kids and parents. Things like Adventure Time and Raina Telgemeier's latest book, Drama, get kids (and grown-ups) excited about reading, and that's what teachers and librarians want," he says.

Woodrow Butcher believes comics can serve a variety of functions in the classroom. "A lot of teachers use comics because they offer a level of access to kids who struggle with text, with language learning or with reading in general," he says. As well, comic books come with built-in visual cues that can help kids decode writing and help to develop visual literacy skills.Woodrow Butcher thinks comics can also be less intimidating for emergent or struggling readers than chapter books, but argues they are just as valuable, educational and integral to a school library collection. "There are comics about almost any topic you can imagine: science, history, journalism, social justice, even plain old arithmetic! There's a comic for every class, not just English and Art," he says. What's more, Woodrow Butcher argues the real draw for buying comics is the stories. " think the most important reason teachers are using comics today is that there are truly great stories being told in the medium," he adds.

Parents and teachers can visit Little Island Comics for specific reader recommendations."If kids aren't reading comics, they're missing out on some of the best books, the best characters, the best stories that are being written today," says Butcher.


Natalia Diaz is passionate about education and raising readers. She has been working in media education for the last 10 years as senior editor at Scholastic Education, as editor of, and as writer and producer at TVOntario and the Independent Learning Centre (ILC). Currently, she is the editor of chickaDEE Magazine. She lives with her family in Markham, Ontario.



Add New Comment

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Submission Policy

Note: The CBC does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comments, you acknowledge that CBC has the right to reproduce, broadcast and publicize those comments or any part thereof in any manner whatsoever. Please note that comments are moderated and published according to our submission guidelines.