Comic Books and Booth Tarkington’s Penrod

31 Oct


Teachers often discourage children from reading comic books, but in our experience, comic books have been a stimulus for further reading. We remember devouring a ‘Dennis the Menace’ comic book in our youth.  Around the middle of the book where the staples were, there was a page of quiz questions.  The questions were difficult for the age group that comprised the publication’s target audience.  For example, one question was “This author had an unusual middle name: Makepeace.”  The answer was William Makepeace Thackeray.  Another was “He wrote books about a boy named Penrod.” We had to look at the answer to know that it was Booth Tarkington.

We completely forgot these facts until one day in the 4th grade during Library period, where we were expected to check out a book and actually read it.  When the books were due, our teacher would ask if we’d read the book we’d checked out.  There was no penalty for answering in the negative, but it was a point of pride for a student to proudly report having read the book he or she had chosen.  That’s when we discovered the school’s copy of Penrod, complete with a jacket illustrating a scene from the novel. We checked the book out and dove right in.

It didn’t take long to realize that Penrod lived in a different era then we did (the book was first published in 1914.)  We also understood that the novel was a bit of a stretch for us.  The dress and behavior of the characters in the novel seemed utterly foreign to our modern world of television and Silly Putty.  Nevertheless, we persevered until we finished the book.  The next Library period saw us back for more, checking out the sequel, Penrod and Sam.  


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