Motivating Teens to Read with Free Comics

One of the many comics offered to students

Comics For All

On the cover is a girl sitting in a haunted library. There are tentacles lifting her chair and skulls peeking out from in between the books. Titled The Cursed Library, and part of the Archie Horror series, this comic intrigued students. It was one of many in this year’s collection offered at our annual Free Comic Book Day.

Our main display table with a backdrop for student photo ops

Started as a way to motivate teens to read, Free Comic Book Day @ the Library has become a favorite among students, teachers, and other staff members at our school. One of the most frustrating parts of being a high school librarian is seeing how academic work interferes with teenagers’ motivation to read for fun. When my comic-book-loving colleague in the special education department proposed this event a few years ago, I was all in. Based on the national annual May event that promotes comic book stores, it’s always a hit in our school library.

Yes, They Count as Books

A sign for the event

Though parents and teachers remain skeptical about the value of comics, studies have shown that there are benefits to reading comic books and graphic novels. Karen MacPherson, a teen services librarian in Maryland, points out that not only do they help reluctant readers but “these books also offer all readers a way to practice important reading skills such as building vocabulary, understanding a sequence of events, discerning the plot of a story and making inferences” (2020). Judging by the way students in my school library engage with them, I can attest to the fact that comics are valuable tools in raising reading interest.

Nothing Wrong with Last Minute Planning

After May slipped away from us, we decided to plan the event at the last minute instead of waiting until next year. With these quick steps we were able to pull it off:

  • My colleague visited his local comic book store and secured around 200 comics for a nominal fee. 
  • I gathered the signs, gadgets, and decorations we had from past years. 
  • We contacted the appropriate custodians to schedule the setup of a long table in the school library. 
  • I sent out an email to staff members with the event information and this list of resources .
  • We posted flyers on our Canvas pages. 
  • On the morning of the event, we set out the comics, hung up the decorations, and welcomed students.

A cart of graphic novels

Teens Just Wanna Have Fun

Teenagers who walked  into the library lit up when they noticed the comic-themed area. The delight on the faces of the too-cool-for-books crowd was priceless. And, of course, all students loved getting something for free. Last year we held the event in the main school hallway so that middle school students in the lower school could join in. This year, we limited it to our high school library. Not only did this allow us to display books with more mature themes, but it also prevented the chaos that comes from mixing middle schoolers and free merch. An age appropriate Free Comic Book Day is exciting for middle grade students but with the vast differences in these two populations, it’s sometimes important to cater to each age group.

A display of graphic novels

These days it’s not easy to compete with the technological distractions in teenagers’ lives. A flashy, colorful display of comic books is a way to get their attention. It may not turn them all into instant readers, but at least it’s a start.

Work Cited

MacPherson, Karen. “A librarian makes the case for graphic novels for kids.” The Washington Post, 27 February 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/entertainment/books/dont-be-afraid-to-let-children-read-graphic-novels-theyre-real-books/2020/02/27/ed374b92-4dd7-11ea-9b5c-eac5b16dafaa_story.html. Accessed 21 June 2023.

Author: Karin Greenberg

Karin Greenberg is the librarian at Manhasset High School in Manhasset, New York. She is a former English teacher and writes book reviews for School Library Journal. In addition to reading, she enjoys animals, walking, hiking, and spending time with her family. Follow her book account on Instagram @bookswithkg.



Categories: Literacy

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1 reply

  1. I loved comics as a teenager and couldn’t get enough of them. Little did I know they could spark a reading interest, and now I love them even more!

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