Early reading love provides lasting lessons for life

Published 9:07 pm Friday, August 2, 2019

Just a handful of pages in, I was hooked. It was like I was literally — rather than just figuratively — snared in a web.

The brilliant colors, dramatic depictions and clever dialogue from vintage comic books captured something in my 7- or 8-year-old imagination.

From that day on, no one ever had to ask me twice to read. My love for reading started there and continued on into adulthood.

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I devoured anything put in front of me and really enjoyed material well beyond my reading level. While many kids were seeing Spot run, I was spellbound by Spider-Man swinging through New York City.

Want proof that promoting reading early can pay dividends later? I am a perfect example of that and this is just one of the reasons that I so strongly believe in reading programs, and in newspapers.

Growing up on a rural and isolated farm in southern Ohio gave me ample opportunity to entertain myself. Cold winters on a country road that rarely ever got much snow plow attention left plenty of time for indoor playtime.

So, off to the attic I went at every available chance to visit places my youthful imagination could scarcely envision without some help. My father’s stacks of 1960s comic books provided the doorway to worlds filled with superheroes, cowboys, soldiers, monsters and so much more.

Many of my first-grade peers were working their way through words like “dog” and “cat” and “apple” and “orange.” I was trying to decipher “diabolical,” “nefarious,” “responsibility” and “radioactive.”

Each time I couldn’t figure something out, I knew where to turn: the dictionary.

The pages of that old Webster’s became tattered and worn before it was replaced with newer and fancier versions.

The comic books led to real books — lots and lots of them. Mysteries. Science fiction. Biographies. Non-fiction. It didn’t matter. I read anything I could get my hands on.

Reading things completely — in print or digital format — seems to be a dying art. Children and adults alike want the video or think they can get everything they need in 280 characters.

School is almost back in session, and that is a good thing when it comes to literacy.

I have had the pleasure of participating in a host of reading programs over the years at many different schools. The rewards are priceless.

Teachers say “thank you” over and over. Children share their wide-eyed smiles of joy. Principals look on proudly.

An emphasis on reading will always trump standardized tests and memorization.

There was one phrase that has stuck with me all the years since those chilly winter days discovering the wonders between the covers of comic book.

Long before it ever made the big screen, I was intrigued by the mantra Spider-Man carries with him: “With great power comes great responsibility.”

Something about that always resonated with me.

School reading programs — where newspapers have a role — have the power to help educate our youth on the importance of reader. We have all have that great responsibility, too.

Michael Caldwell is publisher of The Advocate-Messenger and Danville Living magazine. He can be reached at (859) 469-6400 or by email at mike.caldwell@centralkynews.com.