IT WAS ALWAYS Melissa Lewis-Gentry’s dream to run a comic store. Growing up on the adventures of superheroes such as Stan Lee and Steve Ditko’s Amazing Spider-Man and the angsty, cosmic Silver Surfer, her tastes grew to include the likes of Neil Gaiman’s layered Sandman series and other titles that took their stories — and readers — more seriously.
She worked 10 years in finance then took the chance to follow her dream. She’s been managing Modern Myths Comics & Games in Northampton for nearly a year and enjoys spending her time in a wide, bright, rich, beautiful — and sometimes shadowy — world where anything can happen.
Often that involves helping families and libraries help kids get into reading.
“I’m really big into education and using comics as education. Whether it’s for family members or through the Springfield library system, I provide comics and give recommendations at different reading levels,” she told the Flow.
She also said she’s “really big into having comics where the content crosses any kind of gender stereotyping,” so kids can feel free to enjoy the adventure without being told it’s for them or not for them.
Asked for her top picks for elementary and middle school readers, Lewis-Gentry makes a bee-line for a colorful section devoted to all-age readers.
Here are a few of the titles she said kids, families, and teachers have told her they’ve enjoyed:
Amulet, a graphic novel series by Kazu Kibuishi published by Scholastic in six volumes since 2008, offers what Lewis-Gentry calls “a lot of life lessons and beautiful, lavish art. It’s not the comic strips you’re imagining from being a kid,” she says.
Bone, a critical and commercial smash, is an independently published comic series written and illustrated by Jeff Smith. There were 55 irregularly released issues from 1991 to 2004.
After being run out of Boneville, the three Bone cousins — Fone Bone, Phoney Bone, and Smiley Bone — are separated and lost in a vast, uncharted desert. One by one they find their way into a deep forested valley filled with wonderful and terrifying creatures.
Lewis-Gentry hails this as a new classic especially awesome for younger readers struggling to read.
“There are a lot of words but you can tell what’s going on with the story [through the art] and it really encourages kids to keep reading.
“It’s a fantasy story, a quest. He’s this silly kind of kids’ cartoony creature but he’s going on this epic adventure, meeting dragons, fighting monsters, and making friends. There’s a lot of text and a lot of context clues as well.”
Lewis-Gentry cites academic studies that she says show comics engage different parts of the brain that stereotypical or standard reading does not.
“So people who might have difficulty reading, whether it’s a learning disability, dyslexia, or anything like that — can read comics and understand the same level of content as someone who’s reading just prose. Books like Bone are really, really great for things like that.”
Raina Telgemeier delights with Sisters, her Eisner Award-winning companion to her comic memoir, Smile.
“This is awesome. The art is interesting; it’s about family dynamics; there’s a decent amount of reading level in it; and the content is great,” Lewis-Gentry says.
And her store does sell superhero titles by the shelf-full, as well as games and gaming modules.
“But,” she says, “not everyone is interested in superheroes. And there’s this stereotype that graphic novels for girls have to have princesses in them; that’s gone away. Now there are more expansive options out there. There’s lots and lots of good stuff.”
For more information visit modern-myths.com.