O Brave New World, That Makes You Look at Pictures AND Read

Talking about books with my kids: that always seemed like it would be one of the gut courses of parenthood to me. Not that I exactly professed to know everything about children's literature, but I figured I had a pretty good grasp, right? I am, first and foremost, a reader, and have been so since I was a kid. I remember Narnia. I memorized the Cat in the Hat.

But not only are there millions of new books out there (which I recognize as a thoroughly good thing), there are whole new freaking fields within children's books. Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you Fruits Basket.


I give you also a very sincerely grown-up befuddled shrug. How is this the so unbelievably compelling to my child?

I am finding in myself, to my dismay, a deep-seated resistance to the new and particularly the visual. I know many of my smartest friends spent a lot of time with comics when we were growing up, and I am definitely lacking now because of it (try having the whole of X-Men explained to you while you're watching; ditto The Dark Knight). But they don't pull me in somehow. I don't see in the same way that I read; I did, indeed, finish Logicomix, and Diana asked me, "Didn't you like the roses page?"

"There was no roses page."

"There was!" And lo and behold she opened it to the page where Bertrand Russell meets Frege, and Frege is cutting armloads and armloads of gorgeous roses. But what they were saying was something else all together—and that's how I read it. I don't see what's on the page, somehow. I just read through the bubbles and the text bars as if it's a regular book that's been snipped apart, and it's my job to put it together.

And I think I'm missing out. I trust Diana's taste; she has a real feel for greatness. But I don't know how to change the way I read. For me the great thing about reading is that it's unconscious. The idea of reworking the way my eyes and brain pay attention is exhausting even to contemplate. Is it a whole different sort of brain? What does it mean about my kids' brains that they read this way?

Do any of you experience this? Is it just about being old? Of never learning to read comic books (apparently a talent all its own)? Chestnut, too, always sees something in the images that I miss entirely. What am I doing wrong? And do any of you like manga? (And yes, yes: I see the value in my kids having something that is all their own, something that makes their parents say "Huh?" It's just a little embarrassing to be the lame grownup.)

14 thoughts on “O Brave New World, That Makes You Look at Pictures AND Read

  1. I don’t quite get it either so I’m probably not much help…all their expressions seem over-exaggerated…I think it’s probably a case of “what the kids are into these days” 🙂 .


  2. Like you, I grew up with prose and still prefer it, but there is a lot of variety in manga and graphic novels these days…maybe you just haven’t found the right one yet? If the story appeals more, the format might be less of a stumbling block.
    I’ve been following a couple of wonderful stories online in the form of webcomics (note: both probably too old for Diana yet):


  3. Yeah. I don’t get it either. Put me in the “old” column. However, my kids and my kindergartners taught me how to study the pictures of picture books. At one time, I would read the words and glance at the pictures. Now I see that a whole other story may be happening…and I was missing it! So, it is possible that I haven’t given it a chance. I read “The Tenth Circle” by Jodi Picoult that had a graphic novel component. I mostly glanced through, though. So. Old.


  4. I have a deep passion and a weird need to defend the existence of graphic novels. I was not a comic reader as a kid, but dated comic readers in college and so, developed at least a passing familiarity. (First rule, read the non-super hero stuff!)
    It is a whole different experience from reading. Brynna has a book (just a kid’s book, not comic) called the Teeny Weeny Mouse or something like that. Anyway, there is this little blue ball hiding on every page and I had read that book at least 700 times when I first noticed that it was on EVERY page.
    And I love that kind of thing. That’s exactly what graphic novels are about. I’ve read The Watchmen probably 5 times beginning to end and there are so many little things there that you don’t notice on your first read. I probably won’t read the whole thing again, but I have my favorite parts I go back to, just like how I read A Wrinkle in Time at least once a year.
    Some of it is training your mind, but some of it is accepting that this is stuff that was intended to be read multiple times.


  5. It might be a matter of training: To read comics as a child probably is an advantage for being able to enjoy them as an adult. Myself, I guess I never stopped reading comics, and so feel like there’s no important difference between comic books and prose – it’s a matter of quality and telling a story there as elsewhere. I’m not so into manga, though – that’s where I feel old. But I do like Usagi Yojimbo! And you might like Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis.


  6. I agree with the defense of the graphic novel– some of them are great, but they are primarily for adults. For kids, do you remember those beautiful books by Mitsumasa Anno? I spent HOURS on them as a kid. (This was in the very early eighties, don’t know if you can get them still).
    I have to say that I cannot bear manga. I think it’s the combination of everybody being nubile, and their awful, over-reacting expressions. I really, really dislike it, and I feel bad.


  7. First of all, Fruits Basket. Bleh. I mean, kids can read whatever they want, but I still give it a bleh.
    Secondly, I like the idea of reading good graphic novels to improve this. I also occasionally feel like I’m not as entrenched in the visual medium of graphic novels as much as I’d like. How about doing wordless graphic novels? My kids like Owly. Do you know that series? There’s also the Polo series – those are often shelved with the picture books, but they’re comics.
    Also, Nina, I wish I had known Mitsumasa Anno’s books as a kid. I mean, there are a lot of great Japanese picture book illustrators, but wow. Also, because many are so good for math sense!


  8. My husband calls me comic-book-illiterate. Cue the Oscar clip, “I never learned to read… comic books.” like you, I read the words and basically ignore the pictures. I think if I were more interested, I’d retrain myself to slow down and smell the roses, as it were, but I really don’t want to. This is something of a problem in my chosen profession as a children’s librarian, though.


  9. I enjoyed comics as a child long ago, but now the pages are so visually busy that they repel my eyes. I actively don’t want to have to stop and figure out what order I have to read the story in. I am old, although plenty of people my age (40’s) enjoy comics and manga, so it’s me.


  10. It might not be old, but be a real style preference. Not that you could not train yourself to really see the pictures, IF you wanted to do so. The visual in books just does not speak to you as readily. I am in that camp too- but I was as a child also. So some people are more visual/image centric and some are not. YMMV


  11. The only manga I’ve read is Star Trek manga, because I still haven’t figured out what I’d like and you can’t go wrong with Trek.
    However, I’ve been reading comics since the summer before 6th grade. (I can be that specific, because the first ones I read were part of the Superman reboot series, found at various stops during a family vacation.) As an adult, I still love the visuals and when I’m really into a story it comes alive in a way that a novel doesn’t.
    The technique of reading them seems to be like riding a bike – instinctive, once you’ve trained yourself and practiced. Reading left to right, sometimes across both pages, with multiple characters speaking (or thinking) in the same box does take practice. And sometimes multiple reads, like another commentor said.
    Even though graphic novels in general are for adults, I’ve seen a few that are all-ages. These 3 immediately came to mind, that I don’t know if you’ve seen:
    Ben Hatke’s Zita the Spacegirl (Spring 2011)
    Raina Telgemieier’s Smile
    Shaun Tan’s The Arrival


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