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Back to School: Comic Books and Literacy

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Cover images from left to right: Walt Disney’s Huey, Dewey, and Louie Back to School, no. 49 (1961); Walter Lantz Woody Woodpecker’s Back to School, no. 2 (1953); Tom and Jerry’s Back to School, no. 1 (1956).

“It’s too boring!” Have your kids said this about their reading homework before? To get kids interested in reading, they need to be engaged with the story. And that’s where comic books come in.

There is an increased acknowledgement in the teaching and library communities that comic books and graphic novels can be a great way to get kids (and people of all ages) to increase their literacy skills. There are comic books now for almost every genre and almost every audience. If they are just getting started, there are comics and graphic novels available for very early readers. For younger audiences, just entering the world of superheroes and super villains, there are comics about younger heroes.

Owly: Stories of a Little Owl (2003) SPX Collection.
Tiny Titans, no. 1 (April, 2008).











Children’s comics are not new, of course.  Jumbo Comics and Mickey Mouse Magazine started back in the 1930s, in the Golden Age of comics, around the time that Superman and Batman came on the scene. For more mature readers, classic stories have been retold in comic book form for decades, catching the interest of children with their vivid illustrations.

Cover images, clockwise from upper left: Classics Illustrated, no. 64 (1949); Marvel Classics Comics, v.1, no. 26 (1977) ; Classics Illustrated Junior, no. 535 (1957); Classic Comics, no. 7 (1946).

Now comics and graphic novels are also being recognized as a medium for teaching history. Non-fiction and historical fiction stories are being brought to life more frequently through illustration, and those resources are making their way into classrooms. Here we have just a few examples from our collections.

March: Book One (2013), SPX Collection; March: Book Two (2015).
Boxers & Saints, volumes one and two (2013), SPX Collection.
Nat Turner, no. 1 (2005); The Plunge: a True Story (Sept. 2016), SPX Collection.

Are you using any comic books to learn or teach this school year? Tell us more about it in the comments.

For more resources on using comic books in education, take a look at these websites and articles:

Comics in Education, Gene Yang

“Comic Books Promote Literacy, Diversity: Celebrated authors speak at ERT/Booklist forum,” American Libraries (January 31, 2015)

“Comics in the Classroom,” Usable Knowledge, Harvard Graduate School of Education (December 5, 2017)

History Comics and Comics in Education, Tim Smyth


  1. Thank you so much for linking to my website as a resource. Comics in the classroom are such powerful resources for engagement, as windows into our global society, as societal artifacts, and for close reading skills. Visiting the LOC and seeing some of the amazing comics in the collection is on my bucket list. I love the work you all do at Awesome Con in DC – thank you for all you do! If anyone wants help, please feel free to reach out!

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