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  Comics won’t rot young minds

Picture books help children develop literacy, academic decide, so there’s no need for parents to prohibit them

Donald Duck and Mickey Mouse have been rehabilitated by German educational experts who have found that comics are not so bad after all in positively influencing the reading habits of children.

“There is no evidence of the common prejudice against comics,” says Bodo Franzmann of the German Reading Association.  “It is quite normal for children to look at comics when they are still too young to read.”

He argues that the combination of image and short text in a comic is ideal for children learning to read and “does not deter them from reading at a later stage”.  Even teenagers who still read comics need not be losers. The debate for and against comics 20 years ago is no longer an issue, says Franzmann.

A similar view is held by Dieter Schormann, chairman of the Association of German Book Trade in Frankfurt. “When I was five years old I had my first Mickey Mouse comic. My parents were not amused,” he recalls.  “Parents today need not be concerned,” Schormann says. “Comics are now passed from generation to generation and we have not seen any signs that text is becoming more hollow.”

An expert in children’s literature, Simone Leinkauf, says “if children want comics it is no problem. Many eight-year olds in this way learn to read books”.

The principle of combining pictures with words is common among publishers of children’s books. “Children first look at the pictures and then at the words,” says Lena Schaegel of Ars edition books in Munich, explaining why in some of her company’s books single words are placed with pictures in helping children learning to read.

Reading researcher Franzmann says this is an ideal way of training. But there are huge quality differences between comics.

An expert on children’s literature at the Carl-von-Ossietzky University in Oldenburg, Joerg Steitz-Kallenbach, says: “Some have really complex text while in the others the dialogue is very flat.”

Leinkauf says some picture stories have subtle hints that are not understood by the children “but that does not mean that the children do not find them fascinating”. The stories of Asterix and his Gallic friends are eagerly ready by both the children and adults, who may interpret them differently.

Franzmann does recommend that adults should monitor what comics their children read. Some Japanese mange comics, he says, should not be read by teenagers because of their violent picture content. Violence should generally be a taboo, says Simone Leinkauf “but that is a problem not just found in comics but in media in general”.

Courtesy Deutsche Presse-Agentur

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