I am taking a week off from discussing the Oklahoma Legislature and politics to share some important news: May 6 is Free Comic Book Day in the United States!
As a collector of comics, I am excited about this day for obvious reasons. But as the CEO of the Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy, I am excited about the way in which it can be used to jump-start our children’s interest in reading, their imaginations, and ultimately their literacy levels.
If you were not aware before, you are now: I collect comic books. When I was running for governor in 2014, my staff was actually afraid it might cost me votes. Apparently, they lumped comic books in the same politically undesirable category as wearing a pocket protector on the campaign trail.
The truth is, comic books are more popular and read by more people than ever. Just last year, the record was set for the most comic books ordered in a single month: over 10.2 million issues sold. There are not enough Big Bang Theory-style “nerds” in the country to generate those sales; they are being read by millions of “normal” people (and voters, so take that, campaign team!). I am excited about their increase in popularity, because I know first-hand how important they can be at engaging young minds.
I first started “reading” comics before I could actually read. My parents discovered at a very early age that I loved these magazines. Mom would sit with me and tell me what the words were in the word balloon and what they meant. They would buy a few issues each month at the various flea markets and garage sales, which we enjoyed visiting as a family. We were not wealthy, so in later years, I got a small comic books allowance every month. That inspired me to constantly read and helped better prepare me for school when I went to Kindergarten.
Unfortunately, many children arrive at school without ever having been introduced to books or magazines on that level. In Oklahoma today, statistics from our KIDS COUNT Data Book, a product we publish with assistance from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, show that 67% of 4th graders in our state are not proficient in reading at grade level. Many of these children begin their schooling with no exposure to books and do little or no reading outside of school.
I was one of the fortunate kids who had a mom who would read to me, then later read with me when I started to develop the skill myself. I also have parents who encouraged me to learn more and keep reading. I might have started with super heroes, but I moved on to the classics with all kinds of different champions and antagonists that let my imagination run wild.
If you are a parent, a guardian or a collector, think about bringing a child with you to the local shop this weekend and inspire them with their own adventures by reading with them (you can find your closest participating retailer at freecomicbookday.com). You never know, that might be one of the reasons that child might someday be a doctor in theoretical physics or a guy who advocates for children each and every day!