Archie Comics

Comics are a touchy subject with parents. Kids love them; parents view them as beneath the reading level/intellect of their child.

A word to you, parents: never worry about your child’s reading level, so long as they are reading. I’m not saying don’t push or encourage them, but if they enjoy reading comics, don’t freak out. Comics are still valuable in their own way.

I believe this comic-hatred is a throwback to the parents of the 50s. My father wasn’t allowed comics as a child; one time his parents found a collection he’d borrowed from a friend under his bed and threw them out despite his panicked protests (no word on if the friendship survived that incident). While the standards were relaxed for my sister and I, I do not think my dad loved us reading comics; in his mind we could do better, and we were pushing ourselves enough. Mostly because we looooved Archie comics. Well, I say we but it was mostly me, myself, and I. Every time we went to the grocery store I would grab a new one and beg my parents to buy it for me.

For being the worlds oldest teenager, Archie still speaks well to a young audience. The core five (Archie, Betty, Veronica, Reggie and Jughead) each represent a general stereotype; you’ll always find someone to associate with.

I couldn’t tell you why I loved these comics so much as a kid. Probably because they were short, sometimes funny, occasionally touching or education. When you’re young, short little tidbits will help hold your attention longer then a well-thought, lush and beautifully executed plot. Sad but true.

When it was new (to me), I don’t think Archie comics set out to be multicultural or educational. It’s largely Caucasian-centric (just look at the main group), with a less then 3 African-American supporting characters (or other nationality). The vocabulary was largely easy-access, and the stories focused on comedy. In recent years, however, Archie Comics has made a change towards consciously inserting a new vocabulary word per book as well as inserting a larger multicultural cast. A good idea, to be sure, but the characters are entirely superfluous; there are so many of them that they cannot be characters on their own.

While each character has a basic personality, there was no consistency from story to story. In one, Veronica can be a rich kid with a heart of gold, willing to share and just wanting to be loved; in another she can be cold and heartless, out to ruin her best friend. Spread this out over several decades of stories (since Archie comics often reprint stories; in recent times I have not seen a single book that has given me entirely new content) and perhaps hundreds of authors, and you understand the inconsistency. It does make it hard for the children to follow, howver.

These comics are a good idea for younger children. Whatever you think about comics, Archie is a great introduction. It can innocently teach your child vocabulary and other important lessons while entertaining them at the same time. Don’t go overboard; try to find them at old fairs or yard sales, since they are expensive. I found that I outgrew them in my teens, but they were still a large and valuable part of my childhood, and certainly contributed to my reading ability later in life.

Suggested for ages 6+

Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Sea of Monsters

By Rick Riordan

To see Percy Jackson & The Olympians: the Lightning Thief here.

Percy Jackson returns in his second book, The Lightning Thief. Another quest, a new family member, and the return of old favorites.

Trouble is brewing in Camp Half-Blood again. The tree that keeps the Camp safe, Thalia’s tree, has been poisoned, and the camp activities direction, Chiron, has been accused of this travesty and been fired. Amongst all this, Percy is having dreams of his friend Grover, dreams that include conversations. Realizing they’re real, Annabeth and Percy realize that Grover has found the Golden Fleece, which can be used to heal Thalia’s tree. Requesting that someone be sent to find the Golden Fleece (and Grover), the new activities direction elects to send Ares’ daughter, Clarice, rather than Percy and co. Not about to be left behind, Percy, his half-brother Tyson and friend Annabeth to help their fallen friend.

If you enjoyed The Lightning Thief, you’ll love The Sea of Monsters. It has all the same trademarks of humour, wit, mythology, and action. Sea of Monsters is a fast-paced adventure, with a deadline (the demise of a tree), a recurring villain (Luke and Kronos), traps, interfering Gods, and tribute to various Greek gods, demigods, titans and monsters.

For children roughly 9-12, this is a great book for boys. If you’ve read this site at all, you’ll understand that it can be hard to find books for boys; when you find one, hold onto it and make sure they read it all. The Percy Jackson is great because it targets all the things boys enjoy which still being accessible and enjoyable for girls. If you’ve enjoyed these books, I’m going to throw in a quick recommendation to look up Rick Riordan’s The Kane Chronicles (starting with The Red Pyramid). They are similar to the Percy Jackson books, only they focus on Egyptian mythology and feature a brother-sister team.

The Going to Bed Book

By Sandra Boynton

It is a testament to the durability of board books that I still have my original copy of The Going to Bed Book. It’s one of my mother’s favorites, and she can recite it to me perfectly without even glancing at the cover.

Sandra Boynton’s books, which include other classics like But Not the Hippopotamus, and Moo, Baa, Lalala are still widely available in stores 30 years after they were first published. They are probably still among the first books read to a child, and they make perfect little board books. The words are simply and rhyme without being complicated. They have a certain repetition in the pattern that’s wonderfully mnemonic, which is probably why my mother can remember it 20 years after she stopped reading it to me.

Even better are the illustrations. Given that this book is targeted for newborns-3 years old, everything has to be simple. There are no clever little details; everything is very clean and simple in lines, with simple colours. Board books are small, and Boynton makes great use of what she has; her characters come down the stairs and run to the bath when the text says “Now everybody goes below/ to take a bath in one big tub/ with soap all over – SCRUB SCRUB SCRUB”. It’s a great tool to help children associate up and down and other vocabulary.

Another great quality of a board book is just that – it’s a tough, sturdy book made out of cardboard. They’re small, tough, and portable. Your baby is going to want to touch and yank; regular paper is not going to stand up to their grabby little fingers. A board book, for the most part, will. Like I said – I still have mine, and it went through two grabby youngsters. The edges are worn, but there is nothing else wrong with it.

I highly recommend these little books, especially by Sandra Boynton. They all save the same rhythmic narrative, with similar schemes. This makes it nice for baby, who will learn to predict the rhyme. Repetition repetition repetition is key key key.

A Horse Called Starfire

By Betty D. Boegehold

I had a conversation at work the other day, telling my coworker about my blog and how hard it was to find materials for boys. “I feel bad,” I told him, “that my blog is primarily female-centric.” Because I am, in fact, a girl, using a lot of my own books as materials. “What about the authors?” He asked. “Are they primarily women too?”

I paused.

“I’m not sure.”

“Has it always been this way, traditionally? Have books always been targeted to women?”

His questions got me thinking about the demographics of the books on my blog, and I resolved to try harder to find materials that were written by men or for boys. I tried; really I did. And yet, I present to you A Horse Called Starfire. Umm, it has male secondary main characters?

The book is set in the early days of British North America, when Europeans were just starting to come over and explore, and the Native Americans were relatively isolated from the white man. A Horse Called Starfire tells the story of a golden horse, Estrella/Starfire, who crosses over from Spain. Her master dies in the New World and she is alone. Luckily, it isn’t long before she’s found by a Native American father-son duo, Lone Owl and Wolf Cub, who adopt her and take her to their village.

Not much to the story, really, but then, this book is designed to help young readers make the leap from picture books to real novels (quote/unquote). It’s a level 3, so the highest level of transitional novels. Interestingly, for such a high level, there are a lot of illustrations; every page, in fact. If pressed, I would say it reads more like a picture book with more pages and text. But the illustrations are beautiful, rendered in colour pencil. I remember liking this book as a child simply for the illustrations, which are almost breathtaking. Especially well-done are the background scenes.

This book is a tad outdated, especially for its Native American themes, with the father-son listening to the ground to tell them where the animals are, or Wolf Cub communicating with the spirit of the horse. You probably wouldn’t see much of that around nowadays, for better or for worse. Regardless, any little girl will love this book. What’s not to love, after all? It has beautiful illustrations, pretty ponies, and beautiful illustrations of ponies!

Boys might be a little disappointed.

Suggested reading age 6-9.

Mr. Bach Comes to Call

By Susan Hammond

The basic premise is this: A young girl is practicing Bach on the piano, despite any desire to do so. Mr. Bach then appears and teaches her the value of the piano, while simultaneously telling her of his life and music.

Mr. Bach Comes to Call is a great mix of back-from-the-dead autobiography and concert CD. Many of Bach’s most famous musical works are played within the story, both in the background and featured on their own without any interruption. I don’t really remember what I enjoyed most – the story or the music. But I don’t even have to choose, because Mr. Bach Comes to Call gives us both in one.

Suggested Ages: 4+

Hammond, S. (1990). Mr. Bach Comes to Call. The Children’s Group.

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There Were Monkeys In My Kitchen!

By Sheree Fitch

By far one of my favorite books from when I was a child. Sheree Fitch, if I was to be asked, is one of the best children’s author out there, especially when it comes to her poetry. Books like Toes in My Nose, or Mable Murple are classics. If you do not have a book by Sheree in your collection, you need to run out now and read one.

There Were Monkeys in My Kitchen! is a zany tale about Willa Wellowby who wakes up and find her house has been invaded by a myriad of different types of monkeys (including, but not limited to, gorillas, orangutangs, baboons, and chimpanzees), who are busy causing ally types of mischief. They’re bouncing basketballs, playing bagpipes on her bed, taking bubblebaths! And no matter how many times Willa calls the beloved Canadian institution, the RCMP, no one seems around to help her.

The entire book is written in rhyming couplets, which makes it a complete joy to read aloud. It’s bouncy, fun, and flows. The whole book follows the same tempo, without the need for awkward gear shifts.

The illustrations, provided by Marc Mongeau, fit the story perfectly. The colours are fantastic, and the linework is wonky and silly – which is a perfect fit for this story. The scene were Willa winds up in the bath with such a silly look on her face is priceless, and has to be one of my favorite illustrations ever.

There Were Monkeys in My Kitchen! won the Mr Christie Award in 2002 for Best Children’s Book (ages 8 and under). I would recommend this book for 3-5, though there are some vocabulary that will undoubtedly stump your child. The vocabulary never seems forced, and you get to pull double duty: entertaining and educating your young one! Without them knowing it, even! Seriously, parents, does it get any better then that?

If you want to hear the poem before you rush out and buy this eloquent tome, here’s a youtube video of Sheree Fitch reciting There Were Monkeys in My Kitchen!

Eyeshield 21

Written by Riichiro Inagaki, Illustrated by Yusuke Murata

Eyeshield 21 is a multi-volume saga in manga (comic) form. Specifically, Eyeshield 21 deals with American Football, a sport that does garners about as much enthusiasm and understanding in Japan as it does among North American women.

The hero is bullied Sena Kobayakawa, a tiny, blindingly fast boy whose idea of success is just being accepted to high school. Tricked/bullied into joining the two-man American Football team by the demonic Hiruma, Sena becomes the star of the team with his lightning-fast reflexes and speed.

The pace of the story is excellent, as is the character development is exquisite; and all of it built around the development of an underdog football team.

Suggested Ages: 12+

Inagaki, R., & Murata, Y. (2005) Eyeshield 21: Volume 1. Viz Media LLC.

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And Tango Makes Three

By Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson

I was speaking with a co-worker the other day, and the topic of banned and challenged books came up. She was shocked to learn that not only are books routinely challenged, nor that occasionally a book is actually banned, but that most of these books are children’s books. Parents have this belief that reading a book will automatically put ideas in that child’s head and turn them into a gay/satanic/drug-using/etc. monster. Mostly these challenges are to school library, where they are not protected by a iron-clad collection policy, and it is there that most challenges win.

One of the most challenged books of the last decade is a small children’s book called And Tango Makes Three. Written by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson, it’s based on real-life events at New York’s Central Park Zoo, between two male penguins named Roy and Silo. In the book and in real life, they formed a pair, built a nest, even nursed an egg-shaped rock. One year, they were given a real egg from another pair, and the two penguins successfully hatched and raised a female chick named Tango.

The story is simple,  the artwork equally simple and effective. There is nothing offensive about this book; it could equally be a book about any form of adoption. If anything, it’s heartwarming, two penguins unable to reproduce getting a chick to raise. If it wasn’t for all the controversy and the fact the two penguins were male, this book would probably be lost in a sea of other children’s literature.

I like books with a message, and this book would certainly be among the books I read to my child. I don’t think there’s a single thing wrong with portrayals of the gay community in literature for children – if anything it’s necessary. Parents may want to believe that their children will grow up like them, and in most cases they will. But some won’t, and encouraging them, and letting them know there’s nothing wrong with being different, is important to instill at an early age. To me, there’s nothing worse then alienating your child or forcing them to hide because you never told them it was okay to be different.

Targeted for ages 3-5, I recommend reading this book, with or without your child. Read it, then make a decision if you think it should be banned. The worst thing about banned books is the lemming effect it seems to have – one person complains about the subject matter, and everyone joins in without even having laid eyes on the book. Don’t let this be you – be informed, and give challenged books a chance.

Smoky Night

By Eve Bunting

The story of Smoky Night is set during the Los Angeles Riot, and is from the point of view of an African-American child named Daniel. He lives with his mother and cat in an apartment building located in the heart of the riots. The main plot revolves around Daniel’s family and their apartment neighbour, an Asian woman (Mrs. Kim). This dislike is reflected in the way their two cats fight.

Smoky Night tells a story of racism without overtly touching the race button. The setting of the Los Angeles Riots provides an interesting backdrop that is easily overlooked if you are young and unaware of what the name “Rodney King” involves.

The artwork is incredible. The heavy oils on one page, and the scattered mosaic of random household objects or rubble on the other. It will be one of the things you remember most about this book.

Suggested Ages: 5-9

Bunting, E. (1999). Smoky Night. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt More

Sesame Street (SesameStreet.org)

Sesame Street does a bad job designing a site that is brightly coloured, sparkly, and contains both sound and animation. This is a great start – something to catch and hold your child’s attention. All the big links are along the top of the bar, where children will find and click on them.

Sesame Street has been a definitive force in children’s media education for 45 years and counting, and this site is clearly targeted to kids. Depending on how much you teach your children about how to use websites, your child might be able to navigate this website without issue and get the full impact of everything. I do suggest parents vet this site for themselves and watch to see how your child handles this site before leaving them to have at it.

Suggested Ages: 4+

Sesame Workshop, (2011). Sesame Street. Sesamestreet.org More

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