Parents and teachers struggling to get kids to read often overlook a major weapon in the literacy arsenal: comic books. Yes, “Archie,” “Superman,” “The Avengers” and “The Adventures of Tintin” are all great vehicles for getting a reluctant reader to learn to love the power of the written word.

And since today is Free Comic Book Day, and the movie “The Avengers” was just released, it is as good a time as any — and probably better — to make this point. Today, more than 3.5 million free comics are being given out at events around the world that are designed to boost the love of the genre.

Ron Ackins, 29, of Philadelphia, checks out back issues of comics at Fat Jack’s Comicrypt in Philadelphia on Friday. Like hundreds of other comic specialty shops in 46 countries, the store is participating in Free Comic Book Day today. (Matt Rourke/AP)

Librarians and reading teachers know that just about anything that entices a child to read is a good thing — and that includes graphic novels and comic books.

Bonny Norton, a researcher in Vancouver, conducted a study oft how “Archie” comics lure kids into reading and wrote a paper about it called “The motivating power of comic books: Insights from Archie comic readers.”

The paper concludes: “Comic books have had a motivating power in literacy development for children, especially young boys, since their introduction in the 1930s. This nontraditional type of literature — often dismissed by educators as superficial and shallow — is highly visual, contains complex literary elements, and lends itself to critical examination of moral, ethical, and social issues.”

For those adults who cringe at the idea of comic books as a literacy tool, consider this, from a 2007 interview given by Nobel Peace Prize laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa to the Academy of Achievement:

“One of the things that my father did was to let me read comics,” Tutu said. “People used to say that’s bad because it spoils your English, but in fact, letting me read — I devoured all kinds of comics — fed my love for English and my love for reading.”

Literacy acquisition expert Stephen Krashen wrote in the Teachers College Record in 2005 about using comics as a reading motivator.

“A popular criticism of comic book reading and of ‘light reading’ in general is that children, once they start to do light reading, will never move on to more serious reading,” he wrote. “Reassuring evidence comes from the case histories mentioned above as well as the finding that readers gradually expand their reading interests as they read more.”

Here are some things adults should remember:

* Children are more likely to read things they want to read and therefore should have freedom to choose what they want to read, rather than what adults think they should read. There will, of course, be certain texts in school that have to be read, but choice should be employed whenever possible. It matters.

* Novels are not the only reading material worthy of a child’s time. Nonfiction books, graphic novels, audio books, magazines, online articles and good old comic books work, too.

The Library of Congress has a lot of information on its Web site about getting kids to read, including some on its national ambassador for young people’s literature, who, for 2012-13, is Walter Dean Myers, author of works that include “Sunrise Over Fallujah,” “Fallen Angels,” “Monster,” “Somewhere in the Darkness” and “Harlem.” Myers has received two Newbery Honor Awards and five Coretta Scott King Awards, among many other honors.


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