A Case for Graphic Novels: Have You Studied What They Offer Our Readers These Days?

     I have a list of topics I want to blog about and they're all important!  But, tonight I want to share some thoughts on graphic novels.  Why?  Because I can't believe how they fly off the shelves of the library at my school, how my fourth grade son devours them (and has for years), and because the depth and breadth of what is now offered in graphic novel form is utterly astounding. 

     Just a few years ago, I didn't hear much about graphic novels.  Now, it seems, they are the rage.  And, of course, the industry is responding with more and more publications in this genre.  Within the last year, I noticed our local library went from one shelf of graphic novels to five (still, I'm sure, not enough to meet demand).  Luckily for our readers, the librarian at my Title I school listens and responds to what students really want to read and she is now constantly updating our graphic novel collection.  We've found there is a growing number of graphic novels offered for a variety of readers--from beginners (check out The Flying Beaver Brothers by Maxwell Eaton III) to advanced (Max has just finished reading the entire Bone series by Jeff Smith, some 1,300+ pages, and I'm now reading the epic adventure (and loving it!).
Blog post by Janiel Wagstaff:  The Case for Graphic Novels

    Not only has students' pure excitement and motivation to read graphic novels caught my attention as an educator, but I'm truly impressed by the topics and quality content now available in this format.  For example, this summer, my son Max (again 4th grade), read Where Do Presidents Come From? by Michael Townsend and learned about the process of electing presidents, their duties and everyday life, and much more (imagine a kid voluntarily picking this title as fun summer reading!).  He laughed all the way through!  He also picked a graphic novel about Houdini (by Jason Lutes) thus learning about the life of this historical figure.  All the while, he was reading the Amulet series by Kazu Kibuishi which prompted repeated trips to the library to pick up books in the series as they became available (we had to put each one on hold and wait for them to come in since they are so popular).  Additionally, he was attracted to the intrigue of the title The Dumbest Idea Ever (by Jimmy Gownley), but was delighted to learn it was the true story of how Mr. Gownley wrote his first comic book at fifteen (Max loves writing his own comics).  In addition, check out these finds:
Blog post by Janiel Wagstaff:  The Case for Graphic Novels
(Pictured:  The Mad Scientist Academy series and the Survive! Inside the Human Body series) Oh the topics, oh the learning, oh the building of background knowledge; all within an engaging, can't-turn-the-page-fast-enough, kid-thrilling format!  Oh, the miles on the page!  Oh, the joy of reading!

     Two last points:  I'm thrilled to see what is often included in the final pages of these books--interesting facts, history, context, relevant extensions--rich content that builds upon what was read in the graphic novel itself.  Here are two examples from Houdini:  the first some history and interesting information, the second how a comic is created and published.
Blog post by Janiel Wagstaff:  The Case for Graphic Novels
Blog post by Janiel Wagstaff:  The Case for Graphic Novels

     Lastly, we need to address the bias against graphic novels.  I've heard teachers say they don't want their students reading 'useless comics.'  Sure, there are some graphic novels that don't have the quality story or content that others have, but this is true of all genres.  Also, I hope I've shown you above how many graphic novels have content that is anything but useless. Indeed, there are many jam packed with enthralling stories and characters while others offer information presented in ways that hook readers. I hear teachers who won't allow students to read graphic novels because, at times, it's difficult to find their lexile levels.  What?  Do you, as an adult, pick what you read based on the lexile level?  Why would we limit our readers' choices?  Why limit the development of our readers' identities (and our writers' identities, for that matter)?  Why deny access to what this format has to offer our readers? For more current talk on the idea of limiting students' reading to their lexile or other reading level, see:  this October, 2017 interview with Irene Fountas and Gay Su Pinnell, this October, 2017 article by Donalyn Miller, this October, 2017 blog post by Pernille Ripp and a post I wrote in November, 2015.  These are just a few references that may help teachers rethink practices that limit readers.  (*I must note here, however, it is critically important and a well recognized efficacious practice to scaffold beginning readers with appropriate texts.  This does not mean we limit these readers to only "just right" books, though.  They need choice as much as other readers and can take away all kinds of literacy learning from a variety of levels and types of books.) 

     I look back at my summer with Max in awe.  I cannot believe the sheer volume of what he read AND the content he was exposed to.  This makes me think about how, last Christmas, he asked for the entire Calvin and Hobbes series.  Looking through these comics, remembering reading them in the newspaper myself as a teen, I'm amazed at the complexity of the vocabulary and concepts included.  What a rich experience those 1,400 + pages were, and will be, when he needs a good giggle and joyfully revisits these books again. 

   Now, go check out the graphic novels available in your local or school library.  I guarantee, if you haven't looked lately, you'll be surprised at what you find! 

   I welcome your comments and look forward to blogging again soon!

P.S.  What a funny anecdote!  As we were preparing for bed tonight, just after I had finished writing this blog, Max picked up an old book of Disney stories, likely on the second grade reading level, that I had set aside to give away.  It was a book we'd read together when he was five or six.  He crawled into bed with it, pulled up the covers, and dove in.  I asked, "Hey, why did you pick that book tonight?"  He answered, "I saw it here, remembered reading it a long time ago, and just wanted to hear these fun stories again."  Well then, reader, good enough, good enough! 

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