When I was about 10 or 11 years old I can remember going to my school library and taking out a copy of Encyclopedia Brown: Boy Detective for about the sixth or seventh time. I can remember the librarian telling me that I was very good reader and that I should challenge myself with some more difficult books rather than the assortment of mystery stories and Choose Your Own Adventure books that I was voraciously reading.
When I give talks at conferences, I often share with my audiences my most distinct memory of this incident, and I think it's this memory that most profoundly shaped who I became as a reader and academic.
I remember thinking that the librarian was giving me terrible advice.
Even at a young age I knew that the secret to having a lifelong love of reading was to read books that I loved. How else was I supposed to do it? Besides, my parents encouraged me to read whatever I wanted and there was no way the librarian was going to know better than them, right?
I mean, I loved Encyclopedia Brown and Trixie Belden and Fighting Fantasy gamebooks and Dungeons and Dragons manuals, and so it was impossible for me not to also love comics. Now, I'm sure at a tender young age I could have read Poe and Hawthorne and Dickens and Austen, but I sure as hell wasn't going to read any of that when I had Tomb of Horrors or the final issue of Omega the Unknown to get to.
I'm sorry, but the classics would have to wait.
And as it turned out, my formative reading experiences didn't compromise my learning and I didn't leave reading behind once I "grew out" of the books I was devouring. Instead, I just grew into other books when fancy struck me, which was a bit later than it is for most. And I still continued to enjoy mystery novels and comic books and adventure stories and fantasy role-playing games even as I was tearing through The Divine Comedy and Martin Chuzzlewit.
And then I proceeded to do a B.A., M.A., and Ph.D. in English literature, and a B.Ed. in English and Mathematics education. I wrote my dissertation on Anne Bronte, Thomas Hardy, and Lewis Carroll, published papers in academic journals in the field of game studies, and undertook a career in education. Since then, I've worked as an editor, reviewer, and consultant, and written nearly 100 books for children and young adults, many of which have been part of award-winning series.
So why read comic books?
Well, I guess it's so that when someone tells you that you should be challenging yourself, you can tell them that they're an idiot and don't know what they're talking about...
Or you can just think it, like I did.
Dr. Glen Downey is an award-winning children's author, educator, and academic from Oakville, Ontario. He works as a children's writer for Rubicon Publishing, a reviewer for PW Comics World, an editor for the Sequart Organization, and serves as the Chair of English and Drama at The York School in Toronto.
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