This is the final article of our series on comics and graphic novels. This article was written in collaboration with Asiapac Books to promote the value of local comics in Singapore and highlight the potential role comic books can play in children’s education. We hope you have enjoyed the series.
There is still a common misconception in Singapore, especially with titles geared for children, that comic books are not ‘real books’ and are therefore not worth reading.
What concerned parents may not know is comic books are increasingly being embraced by young readers for their personal reading needs. Educators are similarly opening up to the idea of involving comics in their lessons. If planned well, the benefits of comic books towards literacy, history and general knowledge education can be very far-reaching.
So what can comic books do for your child’s education? Here are a few things:
Comics Get Kids Interested in Reading, Which Helps Improve Language and Literacy
For kids that find walls of text in a book daunting, starting them off with comics might entice them to give reading a try. Sentences are shorter and quicker to the point, but traditional grammar and language rules still apply. The sequential format of comics also introduces narrative storytelling and structure in a way that makes it fun for kids to learn while the visual cues can help children decode unfamiliar vocabulary.
Additionally, children with learning disabilities like dyslexia might find it easier to parse a comic page than the pages of a traditional book, and may even feel more accomplished doing so.
Comics Are Great for Keeping Students Engaged with Difficult or Academic Topics
Don’t consider a comic-reading habit as a hindrance. Consider it as a medium for academic instruction.
A combination of visual graphics as well as textual information can actually help children better process the topic at hand. A MOE study in 2016 funded by NIE revealed a marked increase in class engagement when students were taught mathematics using specially developed curriculum materials that included comics. The comics talking about calculating percentages for the Singapore Sale actually helped make maths more relatable for the kids!
Kids can also be encouraged to embrace topics they perceive as dull in a more creative manner. Some children may have a harder time engaging with a literary text because of its density. In this case, graphic novel adaptations can be included during the teaching process to make the text more accessible because the same literary conventions such as plot development and characterisation are involved. Young learners can thus feel a deeper sense of connection with the story through the graphic novel, before delving into further analysis.
Comics Encourage Kids to Branch Out and Explore Different Topics
Educational topics in comics do not have to be limited to academic subjects. Nowadays, comics are also an excellent medium for the teaching of culture, history, welfare, positive relationship building and other social topics. Such subjects may not naturally appeal to most children purely on a textual basis. What comics can do here is entice them to explore these ideas in a narrative setting by playing on the strengths and immersive quality of storytelling.
Graphic novels like Once Upon a Singapore… Traders, by artist Alan Bay and writer Tina Sim, is an excellent example. The 141-page graphic novel showcases how stunning visuals and a robust character-driven story can create an engaging book about Singapore’s trader history for children. This book was a finalist for the Singapore Book of the Year in 2019.
Eisner Award-winning comic artist Sonny Liew also recently released a new comic titled The Antibiotic Tales, in collaboration with Hsu Li Yang from the Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health at National University of Singapore about the myths and misconceptions of antibiotics, a topic we wouldn’t usually expect to see in comics.
This shows that the more topics comics explore, the more holistic a child’s education supplemented by them can be. Increasingly, comics are seeing more diverse representations in terms of subject matter and characterisation. Graphic novels like American Born Chinese depicts the struggles of immigrant Chinese children peppered with Chinese cultural icons like the Monkey King. In this case, realistic human stories and cultural spotlight come together to weave a compelling story not unlike the pages of a traditional novel.
There is no limitation on the subjects comics can explore. And after all, education is never only limited to a classroom. Comics — with their combination of story, text and visual imagery — can be an excellent way for kids to make sense of the world around them and leaving them coming back for more.
To learn more about comics, check out the new season of How to Fall in Love with Classics, the literary programme series by Dr Gwee Li Sui, poet, artist and literary critic that focuses on graphic novels. For more information and registration, click here.