Raising a reader in digital days: Comics galore!

Following up on his blog post about summer reading, Dr. Craigan Usher extols the benefits of reading comic books and makes some recommendations for families looking to dive into the world of comics.

Connecting with (and through) comics

For reluctant readers, comics (also called sequential art) can be read in bite-size pieces, rather than whole chapter meals. Because they’re less text dense, comics can be read in one sitting or over the course of a few days. Further, comics can be shared among kids while on trips – with younger children perhaps enjoying “reading” the images, while more mature readers engage with the text.

Since large comics (often referred to as graphic novels) can be ready very quickly, the price can add up. This inspires young readers and families to share with one another or to borrow from the library. This is a great excuse to connect with people in your neighborhood or make your way to the local library.

Comics invite readers to be transported into the story in a way that animated features may not. Simply put, most comics invite readers to imagine what occurs in the space between panels – requiring less intense effort than pure text formats, but certainly more than TV and movies.

Encouraging empathy

Comics encourage empathy by spelling out the ways we experience the world, with cognition as thought bubbles, verbal communication as speech bubbles, reactions creatively marked by stomach butterflies or sweat beads flying off one’s face, and so on. Further, graphic literature has blossomed to include many titles that help school-age kids imagine how to successfully negotiate bullying or deal with “drama,” and they encourage children to consider the thoughts, feelings and experiences of others who may be different than themselves. These include titles like Raina Telgemeier’s tale Smile, which depicts her struggles with dental trauma. Jennifer Holm and Matthew Holm’s Sunnyside Up about a young girl sent to live with her grandfather in Florida is also particularly moving. Finally, even space and otherworldly adventures like Ben Hatke’s Zita the Spacegirl, Jeff Smith’s Bone series or Kazu Kibuishi’s Amulet adventures help readers consider the often conflicted emotions and motivations behind character’s actions.

Storytelling through comics

Reading comics often inspires us to draw our own, working through exciting moments by distilling these BIG experiences into brief, but short stories. For example, a child might take a fun experience they had over the summer and want to remember it to tell friends or a teacher about it later. However, some of the usual ways we commemorate trips or experiences may fall short. For example, your child may not want to journal capturing all of the details of a particular experience and maybe you didn’t want to buy the commemorative tchotchke. What better way to preserve the experience than to distill a fun trip to the river than to draw a three-panel comic? One fun activity I encourage parents to do is to sit and write these with their children. For example, you might set a timer for 10 minutes and, sitting alongside your child, both write your own 3-4 panel comics with various prompts:

  • “The best thing about this summer was…”
  • “One thing I wish I could have changed about this summer…”
  • “The summer of 2017 will always make me think about…”

After you complete your comic, share them with another and put them up on the fridge or wall for a sequential art show.

We’d love to hear your thoughts! Was this helpful? What comics are you and your children reading? Leave a comment below to let us know!


Craigan Usher, M.D.
Clinical Associate Professor of Psychiatry
Program DirectorChild & Adolescent Psychiatry Training


2 responses to “Raising a reader in digital days: Comics galore!

  1. Comics are great for everyone! There’s so much more to them than superhero comics now–there’s a ton of terrific graphic novels for adults too, across genres from fiction to history. If you find yourself without a lot of time for reading or want to learn about a really dense topic, there are some great options out there.

    Also! If your kid has a favorite TV show, many of them have companion comics nowadays, like Steven Universe or Over the Garden Wall. For especially reluctant readers this might be a really good starting point–with something they’re already interested in. 🙂

  2. Dr. Usher: Thank you for this wonderful story. My husband, also a physician, is an avid comic book fan and cartoonist himself. I was giving him a hard time for all the comics at home for our son. Our son, Avi, has already read The Bone, Amulet, and yes he does love lots of the Marvel comics too. However, he has created diaoramas, drawn comics and created whole strips of stories. I can see now that it has been a great benefit to our son to have this exposure.

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