I went to my first “Con” this weekend, IllogiCon IV in Cary, NC. This Science Fiction and Fantasy Con had much more to offer than I was able to partake. (Including belly dancing! So sad I missed that.)
After four hours, I was home in bed sleeping off a headache. But Saturday morning I was able to attend a fabulous session about introducing Science Fiction and Fantasy to the next generation. This is a topic of great interest to me, since I not only A) write speculative fiction, but B) occasionally write it for the younger generation, but C) read it passionately, and D) can’t figure out why my children don’t want anything to do with my stellar collection of books.
I learned many things. Not only from the panelists, but especially from the lone teenage audience member. Who spent half the session browsing her father’s smart phone.
One of the things she said that I took note of, as a parent: “I like science fiction, but I’d rather watch it on TV.” To be fair, many of the adults present admitted they preferred some stories in visual format (Japanese director Hayao Miyazaki’s name was mentioned in this context, creator of fantastic animated films such as My Neighbor Totoro). Many others admitted to a secret love of fan fiction (Twilight) or accessory novels in a well-known universe (Star Wars or Star Trek). Certainly if the goal is simply to introduce the genre of Science Fiction and Fantasy to a younger generation, the television and movie industry is doing it remarkably successfully.
As a sci-fi fan, that’s great. As I writer…part of me died when this girl said next, “I don’t like to read. There’s too many distractions now. Why is it that important to read anyway?” She admitted that if she does read at all, she prefers comic books.
For the next five minutes, a room full of writers tried to answer that question diplomatically. “Reading stimulates the imagination.” “You can take a book anywhere.” “You could be reading right now, and none of us would mind.”
I doubt we convinced her.
But then one of the panelists convinced me, comic books and graphic novels are under-valued as a reading resource. They are a great way to ramp up reading skills—some have just a few words, some have full paragraphs of text. I’ve seen this with own daughter, who is reading “Chi’s Sweet Home”, a Japanese comic about an adopted kitten. At first she wanted me to read it to her, but the text is literally, “Whattizzit? Meow? Oh look, Chi’s hungry!” Sure enough, she’s figured out this is one book she can read on her own—a huge boost in her reading confidence.
So when the panel ended, I went straight to the table selling used books. Sadly, no comic books. But I did pick up Captain Underpants, Bunnicula, and three Star Wars chapter books.
My kids might never love the same books I do. That’s okay. For the first time last night we had to say to my daughter, “Seriously, put down that book and come to dinner. We mean it! You HAVE TO STOP READING!” For that alone, Captain Underpants is MY hero.