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Confessions Of A Former Literary Snob

Archie Andrews taught my kids to read. And now he’s gonna die! Not because he taught my kids to read, but because in the series Life With Archie, the red headed teenage comic book icon takes a bullet for a friend. But all is not lost, I’d quickly relayed to the girls, the regular teenage Archie is still very much alive and kicking.

I hadn’t wanted a comic book series to be the vehicle through which my homeschooled girls were compelled to read. Books were all over the house, but there were certain favorites, and they demanded that they be read over and over. Eventually I instituted a rule: if I don’t like reading a book, I’m not going to read it aloud. My thought was that I could avoid the mind-numbing monotony of some books and direct the girls to literature of high quality. This rule worked, for a time. Then the period arrived when our girls seemed to struggle to read on their own, and I was forced to drop all pretense of my former snobby ways.

Our older daughter, the more visual learner, found an old, dog-eared, French language Archie comic while we were on holiday in Quebec. The colorful pictures attracted her attention, and she was keenly interested to find out what these characters were saying in those bubbles over their heads. She studied that comic for so long that I gave in and bought an English one I found at a second-hand store for a dime.

 Around this time, at age 7, she was resisting my attempts to encourage her to read on her own. We had followed a reading program I liked, and she had completed it successfully. However, she didn’t transfer what she had learned in the program to a book of her own choosing. Although she could read up to two large print pages from the resource, she struggled to open any random book and read it. One day she asked me, “Mom, what does 'bats in the belfry' mean?”

“Where did you hear that expression?” I asked her.

“I read it in the Archie comic,” she replied.

I was stunned. Despite my delivery of resource-based reading instruction and all those years of quality-only literature in the house, my daughter was learning to read from Archie comics. I lost any sense of pride right then and there, and prowled the second-hand stores for old copies of Archie and Jughead comics.

The stack resided beside her bed for months, and she went through them until she pleaded for ​newer ones. The old ones were passed on to her younger sister who learned to read from them as well. And, from the Archie comics, the transition to other reading material occurred.

At first, I reluctantly accepted the Archie comics method of reading instruction as a necessary evil to encourage them to read on their own. However, my daughter opened my mind to the quality lurking in the Archie comics. First, as Canadians, we were impressed to find that the Archie comics, as American publications, once devoted an entire issue to Canadian geography, culture, language, and politics. This same daughter also pointed out to me, “Look, they use 100% post-consumer waste recycled paper.”

I began to change my mind about the whole deal. The clincher for me occurred on another vacation in Quebec. We’d spent two summers there so that the girls could learn some French. Naturally, a stack of Archie comics came on vacation with us, including the original French-language issue, now taped together in several places.

Their language skills were really coming along after spending a few weeks at a francophone day camp. One night, I lay between the girls on the large bed to read bedtime stories, a habit we continued even while on vacation. I insisted we read at least one French book before defaulting to their favorites in English, and out came the French Archie comic.

I went through the stories reading bubble after bubble aloud in French, but came upon a phrase with some vocabulary I was struggling with. “Hmmm, I’m not sure what is happening here,” I admitted.

“Archie must have a squirrel living in the engine of his car because look,” my daughter said, pointing to the pictures of acorns in the air filter. The visual clues cleared it up for us, and we continued with the story.

That night in Quebec, I realized that Archie was becoming the vehicle by which our daughters were also learning to read in French. I bet there are parents out there, whose children devour comics, who agree that reading is reading. No point in looking down our noses at the material. Archie had accomplished in two languages what all of my reading instruction resources could not do in one.

- Janet LoSole and her husband of 20 years, Lloyd Stringer, use the communities of the world to homeschool their two girls, who, when they are not traveling, read books and sing show tunes.

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