Let them read Captain Underpants

As an act of blogging, I’m cheating today by posting something I wrote last week. Click here to read my column that appeared today in the Hattiesburg American.

Or just keep reading. Here’s the column:

Give a fun reading gift

LATELY I’VE BEEN reading a comic book about quantum mechanics, mainly to annoy my brother who has a degree in physics by talking about his field as if I think I know something.

It’s all a great game, but the thing is I’m really learning about physics this way. Trust me. I wouldn’t have learned it any other way. I certainly didn’t learn it in school.

Unfortunately, schools are very good at sucking the fun out of all sorts of learning. Mississippi must be especially good at making learning tedious since we consistently fall at the bottom in reading, math, and science.

We only have Third World countries to thank for making us look better.

If you want to do something about this, give a kid a comic book for Christmas. There’s plenty of evidence to show that comics really do improve literacy, and what’s more they make kids want to read.

I’m basically a kid myself, so I tested the theory on myself by reading a book my nephew liked when he was younger: “Captain Underpants and the Attack of the Talking Toilets.” Funny stuff. And it sneaks in lessons on irony, word play, logic, and consequences for wrong-doing. Plus, both I and my nephew were motivated to read.

As a friend recently pointed out, “Mary Poppins had a point. A spoonful of sugar does help the medicine go down.”

Though perhaps we should ask ourselves why we’ve turned reading into medicine for kids. Why can’t we just let it be candy until they are a little older and already know how to read for fun?

Another great book, “Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days,” covers this issue when Greg’s mother tries to start a Reading is Fun Club for neighborhood kids. Greg has a bad feeling that she’s going to make them read classics like the ones at school in which either a kid or an animal is bound to die by the end. She picks “Charlotte’s Web.”

I’m all for reading the classics, but Shakespeare wrote comedies too, yet it’s always the tragedies that show up in school books. And if Shakespeare is hard for you to understand, maybe you should check out the Classics Illustrated graphic version of Hamlet.

Give the kids a break. Give them something fun to read this holiday season.

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