By Chris Wilson
Walk into any major bookstore and you will find feet of shelving dedicated to manga, the Japanese comic art form. For some reason most of my students have yet to discover the gems that so many other pre-teens, teens and adults have found. I set out to change this and expose my students to manga in hopes of bringing more kids to the bountiful table that is reading enjoyment.
When my huge box of manga from Viz Kids came, I quickly catalogued them and moved them to the front racks of my comic book carts. I have multiple volumes of each title:
- Dinosaur Hour
- Dinosaur King
- The Legend of Zelda
These are all traditional manga: black and white art, fast-paced story, and are read back to front and right-to-left. Knowing most of my kids had not read manga before, I was concerned they might struggle with the backwardness of it all. For two students it was a barrier. For the rest, they took to it easily, teaching one another how to do it.
What I noticed is that kids checked out the manga and often had it read before the end of the day. They would return at second recess and check out another, blowing through the entire collection within two weeks or so. Of course, that was quickly followed with "Do you have any more?" "Did you get volume 5 yet?" Can you get more of this?"
They liked it. They liked it a lot. I suspect this has to do with the approach. Kids find themselves being easily sucked into the story, most of which has a lot of action. It holds their interest and allows them to move quickly through a book giving them a sense of accomplishment. I hypothesize that this may provide differentiation for students who have short attention spans (ADHD) or just struggle to keep interested in longer stories. Accomplishment leads to confidence, which can be used to help kids develop a taste for slower-paced stories. It also helps that the kids are reading stories they are already familiar with. Targeting books for a specific audience also helps kids get into the books. The titles are designed with key demographics in mind (boys ages 7-10 or girls ages 10-13). I found that most of my kids picked titles within those gender demographics, although that certainly was not always the case.
My only regret is that I did not bring more manga into the Hall of Heroes comic book club and my classroom earlier. I am on the hunt for volumes to add to the wonderful collection. When this many students are interested in reading, then I cannot help but find more of what they love, and they loved this.
Chris’ Rating: Ages 6-12
Publisher’s Rating: All Ages
Most manga publishers place age ratings on the back cover. Manga age ratings are very important to the teacher. There is a lot of adult manga that utilizes childlike artwork. To the untrained, it can look like a book for kids or teens, when in fact the book is very mature. Never look at the art and make assumptions about the content.
IN THE CLASSROOM
I always categorize my comics by genre and not by reading level. Always. The comics listed above would fall into several categories: action/adventure, fantasy, animals. I took my lead from major booksellers and I no longer shelve manga with the other comics categories. I have a special bin just for manga. I have found that it gets checked out more if I do that. As my collection grows, I may purchase more bins and subcategorize into Manga (action/adventure), Manga (fantasy), Manga (animals), etc.
As for using to meet curriculum, manga’s pacing lends itself to whole class readings. My students move through these pretty quickly, so it would make it easy to use them in a lesson or unit.
Publisher: Viz Kids (a division of Viz Media)
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