If this article does nothing else, the title will please the only three people guaranteed to read it – my husband and our two daughters. It’s not something they hear often from me. So I’ll repeat it; I was wrong.
I was wrong about graphic novels. I spent a long time turning my nose up at them, refusing to acknowledge them for the valuable resource that they are. I’ve learned my lesson. I promise to never again judge a book by its format. Graphic novels are not glorified comics that exist for lazy readers. Nor are they kid’s stuff or a literary fad.
Instead of simply explaining this change of heart, I’ll tell you what’s so great about graphic novels. First, we need to make sure we’re on the same page as to what a graphic novel is. Graphic novels combine original artwork and text in comic book style to convey a fictional story or factual information. As explained by the website getgraphic.org, graphic novels are not a genre. Rather, the graphic novel is a format that can be applied to any genre.
When giving any thought to graphic novels, many people think of superheroes like The Avengers or Justice League, but superheroes have had to make room on the shelf for other types of graphic novels. Of course there are science fiction and fantasy. But you can also find history, biography, realistic fiction, historical fiction, and even adaptations of classic literature.
While we’re changing perceptions, forget any age or gender notions. This is not strictly the domain of adolescent boys. Female authors, illustrators, and protagonists are becoming more prevalent in this format. Goodreads.com has a list of 470 adult graphic novels (though it does contain some middle-grade and young-adult titles). For children in primary and intermediate grades, longtime favorites like Captain Underpants, Fone Bone, and Wimpy Kid have been joined by a parade of new favorites like Big Nate, Cleopatra, and Squish. You can find many more here.
Graphic novels have found their place in classrooms and school libraries, and it’s not shoved on an out-of-the-way shelf far from the so-called real books. Always on top of developments in children’s literature Scholastic, Inc. began publishing its own line of graphic novels under the Graphix imprint ten years ago. Around that time graphic novels began to gain popularity among educators as a way to entice reluctant readers to pick up a book, or as a resource for ESL programs and ELL students. Studies endorse this use of graphic novels, including one that states that “…students appeared to have a better understanding of the storylines when reading graphic novels, and seemed more enthusiastic about learning.” (“Graphic Novels Support Reading Comprehension Strategies.” Neuronetlearning.com. March 20, 2013)
As they started gaining popularity with teachers, graphic novels also expanded their student audience. In our school, they are enjoyed by children of all abilities. About seven years ago (mostly thanks to Jeff Kinney’s Diary of a Wimpy Kid series), I began to change my opinion of graphic novels when I began to see their universal appeal. Previously I dismissed them as brain candy — a quick, entertaining read of little educational value. I heard the reasons why our students enjoy them, and they are the same reasons for enjoying any literature. Our students find them funny or exciting or scary or touching. They love the protagonist. They despise the antagonist. Most importantly, they want to read more. And that’s really the goal here, to find something a child wants to – loves to – read.
I included two of our newly-acquired graphic novels on my personal summer reading list. Both are autobiographical in nature. I read Cece Bell’s Newbery Medalist, El Deafo and The Dumbest Idea Ever by Jeff Gownley. Of the 10 books I’ve read so far this summer, those two are in my top five. Both stories are witty, moving, and relatable.
I won’t go into all the ways graphic novels can benefit young readers. You can read some of that here. Maybe you still have reservations about graphic novels for your child. The crass humor some of them contain, though hilarious to 7-year-olds, can be off-putting to adults. If that’s the case, consider starting out with classics. In our library we have Black Beauty, The Pit and the Pendulum, The Hound of the Baskervilles, Swiss Family Robinson, and many more. If nothing else, a graphic novel may lay a good foundation if your child has to read the traditional novel later in life. Or maybe it will make him or her want to read it!
Until next time, keep reading!