Mike Sado, owner of Enjoy Comics at Prince Kuhio Plaza in Hilo, fights every day to build a better future, much like the superheroes in the books he sells. He’s creating not just a place for collectors and fans to buy comics and related merchandise, but a community with reading at its core.
Sado has offered a youth literacy program since opening the comic book store in 2015. The program gets kids to read by offering those 17 and younger with a Hawaii library card a 10% discount on all purchases of regularly-priced reading materials, including comics, graphic novels, trade paperbacks and hard-cover books.
Keiki also can receive store credit based on their grades. Students who get straight A’s or the equivalent can receive $10 in store credit and students who get B’s or better, or the equivalent, get a $5 credit. That credit can be used toward any merchandise in the store. Students have 30 days after receiving their report card each quarter to bring it into the store, along with their library card, to take advantage of the offer.
Sado also expanded his $2 Tuesdays promotion after reopening in May, following a seven-week closure because of the pandemic. The program applies to back issues older than seven or eight months. Children can pick up a book for just $2, no matter the original price.
“When Covid hit, families were tight for money and we didn’t want to see the kids not get stuff for reading, so what we did is we extended our $2 Tuesdays to every day of the week,” he said.
Sado believes imagination is the birthplace of all creativity.
“So, without that imagination, we don’t invent, we don’t innovate on things that have already been invented,” he said. “We don’t build. We don’t make.”
He said art, music and recreational reading, especially when it involves science fiction and fantasy, stimulate and encourage creative minds. And getting reading materials into children’s hands is fulfilling a need in Hawaii.
According to Amy Truong, giving and operations director at Hawaii Literacy, an organization that promotes literacy among children and adults, more than 155,000 people in the state — or one in six adults — are considered to have low literacy. The literacy rate in Hawaii is 85%, on par with the rest of the United States.
“The ability to read and comprehend text as well as write are critical skills for students to successfully navigate school and beyond,” said Esther Kanehailua, superintendent of the Hilo-Waiakea Complex Area.
Mandatory assessments of Hawaii students in grades 3-8 and 11, aligned to the Hawaii Common Core Standards, are designed to measure whether students are on track for college and careers. Results from the 2018-19 school year show students in the Hilo-Waiakea complex, for the most part, met or exceeded English language arts/literacy achievement standards. The lowest level was for seventh graders, with 48% meeting or exceeding standards, compared with 65% of high school juniors.
However, scores from other areas on Hawaii island were mostly lower than those within the Hilo-Waiakea complex. The lowest was for fourth-graders in the Ka’u-Keaau-Pahoa Complex Area, with just 26% meeting or exceeding standards.
When it comes to reading, a student’s interest in a topic is very important — which is why comic books have a role to play.
“Some students may find the topic not interesting or have no prior knowledge on the subject to give them a picture in their mind of what is happening” when they come upon a difficult word, Kanehailua said. “That is why comics are so great!”
Sado encourages people of any age to read comics. “There’s really good stuff out there,” he said, with plots and storylines involving politics, society and other topics relevant to current events. Comics are not just a fun escape, he said.
The 55-year-old has a master’s degree in social work with a behavioral mental health focus and a bachelor’s degree in sociology from the University of Hawaii. Because of his lifelong love of comics and reading, he wrote a lot of papers about comics while completing his degrees.
“The reality is, as I was studying things, I realized that the reason why (comics are) still popular and so prevalent in our society currently, is because they speak to something that’s super foundational for us,” Sado said.
Ever since humans started gathering in social groups, he said, they have been telling stories of creation, the evil acts of men and gods and the consequences of our behavior. Superhero stories are not much different.
“We need to keep telling these stories,” Sado said. “We need to keep introducing next generations into these wonderful stories that are just fun and awesome.”
It’s important for him to pass on those stories and a love for reading to the next generation, which is why he offers the literacy program.
“These programs are wonderful,” Kanehailua said. “The more we can connect with the community, especially with literature that students love, connect with, and enjoy, the better.”
Truong said community initiatives can be very effective at helping increase literacy rates.
“When the message that reading is important and fun is found in different venues, not just where people expect it, it will reach a broader audience,” she said.
But while Enjoy Comics offers these programs and many other community events to get keiki interested in reading, it needs community support.
“I tell people all the time that ‘shop local’ is a practice, it’s not a slogan,” Sado said. “And I’m not telling people don’t go shop at Target, don’t go shop at Walmart … What I’m asking is come see us first.”
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