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Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Jerry Craft: Getting Kids to Read, by any means necessary!


Whenever I do a radio interview or am part of an author's panel, the thing that surprises my listeners the most, is that for most of my early life, I didn’t like to read. And I don’t mean just in my Tweens and Teens, I mean all the way into adulthood. Even after I had already had comic strips and articles published, I still didn’t like to read. Even though I had already started doing school visits, in which one of the most important things that I shared with kids was how important it is– I didn’t like to read.  After years of trying to get to the root of the problem, I think I’ve discovered the reasons.

DR. SEUSS: After my early childhood, I never remember any books picking up where Dr. Seuss left off. Books that were entertaining and fun, and made me want to read them on my own. 
1. As I got older, Marvel comics started to fill the void. But past that, there was nothing. For years! And now as an author, I can see why. Many publishers don’t think that teen boys, especially boys of color, read. So they do not put a lot of effort into that market. But what I always ask is, "do you not make books for them because they don’t read?" OR "Is the reason that they don’t read, because you don’t make books for them?" That's the biggest reason why, not only do I publish most of my work myself, but I work with other authors to help them publish their work. 

2. MARVEL COMICS: I have to say, that for folks my age, especially the men I know, nothing got us to read like Marvel Comics. Spider-Man, Fantastic Four, Silver Surfer, you name it. They had as much to do with my vocabulary as any teacher I have ever had. The MACABRE Man-Thing. The UNCANNY X-Men. And every issue was a potential ARMAGEDDON! I had to look those words up in an ancient book called a dictionary just to know what he was talking about. 

3. BUT TEACHERS HATED COMICS:So not only did they take away our comics, the books they gave us to read were totally uninteresting. Maybe subconsciously, this was starting to shape my opinion that reading should not, or maybe could not be fun. More teachers are embracing comics and graphic novels at both a middle-grade level as well as high school and college.

4. I NEVER SAW MY PARENTS READ BOOKS: I saw them read the daily newspapers, I saw them reading magazines, but I never remember seeing them curl up with a good book. So I never thought of doing it myself.
Me and my boys during a little family reading time.
So, when I had kids of my own, I wanted to make sure that they were readers. I started with reading the Dr. Seuss. Once they were older, it was important for them to have something that I didn’t have.  What I mean is that they needed books that they wanted to read on their own.

One day, I came home and saw him reading. It was a book based on the Bionicle toys. He read the entire thing. Next day, he brought home the sequel. Read that, too. Now for my younger son, it was much easier. Since his older brother was now an avid reader, he had his Reading Role Model. I DID still read to them at night, though, but it’s not the same as them seeing me read on my own.  Another great opportunity is when we take our yearly family roadtrip. Sure, they bring along the DVD player and the video games, I don’t want them to feel like they have to choose, but we also take books on tape. Get them free from the library. The coolest things about books on tape is that we all get to listen at the same time AND although they are not reading it, it’s still a book. And it’s another way to add to the whole "books are fun," theme.

Okay, so with that said, here is my advice for getting kids to read.
  • Read TO them!
  • Read WITH them!
  • Let them see YOU read!
  • Help them find books that they WANT to read. Just like they can’t eat unless you keep food in the house, they can’t read unless there are books in the house.
  • If there is a movie version, read the book, too!
  • Listen to books on tape. Either in the car, or maybe before bed.
  • Don’t judge what they read. Now obviously, you don’t want them to read something that’s inappropriate, but that’s not the same thing. Don't look at my book and think that since it is a comic book, that it is worthless.
  • Here’s a good one: Plug into things that they already are passionate about. If they like video games, then have them read Game Informer magazine, not just look at the pictures.
  • Show that you want them to read by picking out books with them. 
  • Even day-to-day things, like if you’re cooking, have them read the recipes out loud to you. Get it?
If you have your own suggestions, write me at


Blog, Getting Kids to Read:

Jerry Craft is the creator of Mama’s Boyz, an award-winning comic strip that has been distributed by King Features Syndicate to almost 900 publications since 1995; making him one of the few syndicated African-American cartoonists in the country. He has illustrated and/or written a dozen children’s books and games and has won four African American Literary Awards. His work has appeared in national publications such as Essence Magazine, Ebony, and two Chicken Soup for the African American Soul books.

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