Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Comically classic 

Teachers are beginning to use comics to teach literature.

At Oneida High School in upstate New York, Diane Roy teaches the students who failed ninth-grade English the first time around. Last year, on the heels of "Hamlet," she presented her class with a graphic novel - essentially a variety of comic book....

Roy's experiment with the graphic novel as text struck gold when she assigned Art Spiegelman's "Maus," the story of his parents' experience in the Holocaust told as a cat and mouse allegory - a highly regarded work that won the Pulitzer Prize. From there, some students moved to graphic novels about Hitler, and finally made their way to traditional books about the Holocaust.

Each student was required to read five graphic novels. But "there wasn't a single student in this class of kids - nonreaders who don't enjoy reading - who didn't read double that number," Roy says. "They would read them overnight ... they were reading them at lunch, in the hallway."

Roy adapted her curriculum on graphic novels from a series developed for teachers by the New York City Comic Book Museum.

My Uncle Licky (a nickname, short for licorice) worked at the Dover News, a distributorship that put up comics in the magazine racks of small grocery stores in southeastern New Hampshire, southern Maine and northeast Massachusetts. When we'd visit Dover, where my parents were both born and raised and where most of my dad's family remained, I would always ask to go to with Uncle Licky to the News, wherein I could grab magazines and comics that were returned. All they had to do was cut off the cover and send it back to get credit from the publishers.

And it was there I discovered Classics Illustrated. My dad saw the interest and started buying up the older ones, two copies of everything, one for me and one to store. They'll be worth something some day, he said. He was right.

Most of my knowledge of classic literature when I arrived at college came from those comics and later from moving to Readers Digest condensed classics (and the Best Loved Books for Young Readers, which my parents bought for us to read). So if you're in New York (hi RP!) maybe you should check that museum out. Sounds like the kind of place Uncle Licky would have loved.