Tuesday, January 22, 2013

On Tintin and Reading Comics

It shouldn't be surprising that our son who loves to draw so much would be in his reading drawn to comics, graphic novels, and other illustrated texts.  Nonetheless, because I am a literature snob, I have had some difficulty adjusting to this and fully supporting it.  Since I can use our extensive reading aloud to engage him in books I like, I am trying harder to help him find books he especially likes for his longer independent fiction reading, including comics and other illustrated texts.  I am really glad he still loves picture books; some favorites of his include the amazing work of David Weisener and David Macaulay.  He loves to check out picture books from the library.  He also devoured Brian Selznick's Wonderstruck and The Invention of Hugo Cabret, as I enthusiastically described here.

N. very much likes the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series even though he thinks the drawings are lame.  I am not a fan.  I don't like the boy characters.  I think there is a strange disconnect between the books' reading level and the content-maturity level; the text is at 2-3rd grade reading level but tells the stories of middle-schoolers, which don't seem especially appropriate for my naive 8-year-old.  I feel about these books the way I think my mom felt about my childhood reading of The Babysitters Club series or Beverly Cleary's The Luckiest Girl, which I remember her dismissing as "drivel."  I don't like Wimpy Kid, but of course my standards are entirely different from my son's, so I bite my tongue and buy him used copies so he can read and reread them as he loves to do. 

N. loves Calvin and Hobbes, which I also enjoyed as a kid.  Even though I know Calvin is funny, philosophically interesting, and rich in challenging vocabulary, I was a bit uncomfortable with my son's absorption in Calvin.  I don't want his sense of self to be limited to a conventional model of masculinity (see this), and I cringed when I heard him fashioning smart-aleck remarks and then explaining that he "was just trying to talk like Calvin."  However enjoyable the books, I don't particularly want to live with Calvin!  In addition, I worry that Calvin and Hobbes is appealing because it consists of short vignettes rather than a long developing narrative.  While N. reads some narrative fiction cover to cover (such as Harry Potter 1-3 [twice!], and the Clementine books), he reads many chapter books halfway and then abandons them.  (My list of books he's completed this year as a third-grader is here and last year's list is here.)  His reading habits continue to be not entirely linear.  I believe this shouldn't bother me, but it does.  Anyway, recognizing that my worries are absurd (long narratives are not inherently better than short narratives, and multiple books about Calvin must constitute some kind of long narrative anyway, and of course I must trust my son's strong sense of self and respect his right to try on personae such as Calvin's), I got him a bunch of Calvin and Hobbes books for Christmas to add to his well-worn collection, and he was thrilled.  

Also for Christmas, I got N. a Tintin book: The Secret of the Unicorn.  I've never read any of the Tintin comics, but I knew they were beloved classics and that they had long narrative arcs and beautiful drawings.  N. loved it, reading through Unicorn practically in one sitting.  I got one copy in English and one in the original French and he has enjoyed comparing them and adding fun French vocabulary to his small repertoire.  I didn't realize I was introducing him to Tintin in the middle of the series and he begged for the next book, Red Rackham's Treasure.  Our library didn't have it and I was having trouble differentiating online between the large format editions I wanted and the smaller anthologies I didn't so my sister kindly went to The Strand in New York and hunted up a couple volumes on either side of Unicorn.  They arrived on Saturday and as you can see in the photo above, N. sat right down on the front stoop next to the mailbox and began reading.  He sat there for at least an hour soaking up the book in the sun, and has since read all 4 books my sister sent.  All through the weekend I've heard him giggling to himself as he reads. 

I'm hoping to get more Tintin books for him, and I am considering introducing Asterix next.  I'd love to hear your suggestions for comics or graphic novels along these lines that N. might like and that aren't too mature for an 8-year-old.  He prefers the older-fashioned drawing style used to create Tintin or Calvin rather than the newer manga- or animé-influenced style of many graphic novels, and he prefers to comic to scary violence.

[The Rights of the Reader by Daniel Pennac, illustrated by Quentin Blake]


Alice@Supratentorial said...

If he likes to draw he might like Allen Say’s autobiography Drawing from Memory, it’s kind of a mixture of graphic novel and memoir and mixed in with photographs, cartoons, paintings and other media.

Bill Peet’s autobiography is also really great. It’s not so much a graphic novel but full of fantastic illustrations.

Megan Neal said...

Tintin and Asterix books were staple reading in our house when I was little. Of course, most of ours were in French, since we lived in Francophone west and central Africa. (Since they are available in French, they make great tools for teaching French.)
Karina is the only one of my girls so far who reads Tintin regularly. Sadly I have no Asterix books, but I need to rectify that.

Megan Neal said...

I wanted to tell you that we have the Young Reader's Editions published for kids by Little, Brown. I love this version, even though the text is quite small, because each contains a wonderful section at the end called "The Real-Life Inspiration Behind Tintin's Adventures." This 20-ish page section is customized for each adventure and goes into detail about certain cultural and historical elements in each story, providing a wonderful history lesson in a very readable format. This section, predictably, is Olivia's favorite section of the books, while Karina prefers the adventures themselves. (She's still a very visual learner.)
I'm linking to Amazon so you can see which ones I mean: http://www.amazon.com/Black-Island-Adventures-Tintin-Readers/dp/0316133876/ref=sr_1_50?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1358914658&sr=1-50&keywords=tintin

Fanny Harville said...

Thanks so much for these suggestions, Alice & Megan!

Erica MomandKiddo said...

I relate to much of what you said about your feelings about your son's choice of reading material. Kiddo has recently started throwing over fiction in favor of non-fiction sports books. Truthfully it makes me cringe and I do my best to hold my tongue. Fortunately, Wimpy Kid has not yet made its way into our home, but he does like books written in that style. There's a series about a girl called Ellie McDoodle that I find somewhat tolerable and he loves.
I remind myself of my childhood love of Sweet Valley High. I hid them from my mom because I didn't even want to know what she would say!
Thanks for sharing at The Children's Bookshelf.

Fanny Harville said...

Erica, Sweet Valley High was that kind of book for my sister and me too! I am amazed and envious that Wimpy Kid hasn't found your apartment yet. And regarding non-fiction, I hate to make essential generalizations about gender, but my son and his bookish male friends certainly read a lot more nonfiction (sports, trains, weather phenomena) than my female friends and I ever did as kids! It's interesting isn't it? And hard for us fiction-loving moms to fathom, perhaps.

Erica MomandKiddo said...

Yes, I also rarely read non-fiction as a kid. I found that as a parent to two boys I am constantly re-assessing my feelings about gender stereotyping. Of course I loathe categorizing people by gender, but I can't help but notice broad differences between my son and his female peers.

sustainablemum said...

My eldest is the same age and a boy his reading is very similar to your sons. He has been reading Tintin and Asterix for a while now, I introduced him to them as I read them as a child. We also like the Henry's House series by Philip Ardagh, the Horrible Histories series, K A Gerrard Charlie and Bandit Adventures, Usborne Puzzle Adventures, Marcia Williams books to name just a few!

Fanny Harville said...

We've got some Philip Ardaugh, but the rest of these are new to us. Thanks!