2014 NERDY AWARDS FOR GRAPHIC NOVELS BY KATHERINE SOKOLOWSKI
I am honored to be writing about the graphic novel winners for the Nerdy Book Club awards again this year. See, if you came to visit my classroom you would find a welcoming place—some comfortable old furniture, tables scattered around, and bookshelves encircling the room. We have a lot of books – over 3,000 – but if you ask any one of my students where the books reside that are checked out the most, every one of them would take you to the same spot: the graphic novel section.
Without question, graphic novels are the books most often circulated in my classroom. They are also the books that I have to replace the most frequently. Whether because they are loved so much they fall apart, or loved so much they don’t return to my library, I am frequently repurchasing these books.
Graphic novels are also the books I have to defend the most.
Whether it is to well-meaning teachers or parents, graphic novels still have some misguided reputation as not “real reading.” Why is that? Is it because we fear the children are only “reading” the pictures? Are we still under the false assumption from the 1940’s and 50’s that comics might lead to a life of crime? Or are we convinced that anything kids love as much as these books cannot be good for them? This has to stop.
Every year at parent night I beseech a new set of parents—support their children. Support what they love to read. Encourage it. Graphic novels, and comic books for that matter, are wonderful. The graphic novel Maus won a Pulitzer Prize—a Pulitzer—for Pete’s sake. My boys read them. My husband reads them. I read them. It’s time for the marginalization of these books and the children who read them to stop.
When we tell students that graphic novels don’t count as a book for their “real reading” in the classroom; when we tell them that graphic novels are good for fun, but then they need to turn to “real book” later; what messages are we sending? A message that we don’t value their choices, that what they like isn’t good enough. What can we possibly be hoping to gain?
It is not an understatement to tell you that graphic novels have saved students in my classroom. I remember *Amy* who entered my room as a non-reader. As a fourth grader she looked at me with these deep tearful eyes and told me she couldn’t read any of the books in my room. She was reading around the first grade level. I introduced her to Jennifer Holm and Matt Holm’s Babymouse series. At first, she just “read” the pictures. Then, the words began to come. She read, and read, and even reread that series. She became a reader. Five years later when I see her in church, we still talk about Babymouse and how that one series turned things around for her.
Graphic novels don’t only help my non-readers. They help my dormant readers. My readers like Matt, who was perfectly able to read, but hated it. To start the year he informed me he wouldn’t be reading and I couldn’t make him like it. Enter graphic novels. After reading 227 graphic novels in my class in fifth grade, he grew tremendously on every assessment I could throw at him.
Graphic novels are the format of choice in my classroom for both boys and girls of every reading level. They read fiction and non-fiction. We talk about how with acceptance of this format; the walls are being broken down. Do we need to have a graphic novel section anymore? Should they just be shelved with the genre that they are written in? That is a decision I have left up to my students. I want the books to be where they will find them. That means right now, almost all graphic novels are in one section, with the exception of the mythology books that are in their own basket. Where these books are housed in our library doesn’t matter to me, only that they are allowed to be read. That the children reading them know that it is “real reading” and what they are doing has value.
The time for the discussion on graphic novels being “good” for children is over. We need to value these books and we need to value our students’ choices. The books on our Nerdy Book Club Top Graphic Novels of 2014 are all excellent choices. These would make a great addition to your classroom libraries. From books for our elementary readers such as Comic Squad: Recess to books for our older readers like The Shadow Hero, the thirteen books on this year’s list are an excellent example of the plethora of books out there in this format. Congratulations to the authors and illustrators of all of these wonderful books! We’re thrilled to honor you here.
THE 2014 GRAPHIC NOVEL NERDY AWARD WINNERS
Amulet 6: Escape from Lucien by Kazu Kibuishi
Bird and Squirrel on Ice by James Burks
Cleopatra in Space #1: Target Practice by Mike Maihack
Comics Squad: Recess! Edited by Jennifer L. Holm, Matthew Holm and Jarrett J. Krosoczka
Happy Birthday, Babymouse by Jennifer Holm and Matthew Holm
Hidden: A Child’s Story of the Holocaust by Loïc Dauvillier, Marc Lizano (illustrator), and Greg Salsedo (Ink)
Lowriders in Space by Cathy Camper and Raul Gonzalez
Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales: Treaties, Trenches, Mud, and Blood (A World War I Tale) by Nathan Hale
Return of Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke
The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew
The Stratford Zoo Midnight Review Presents Macbeth by Ian Lendler and Zack Giallongo (illustrator)
This One Summer by Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki
Through the Woods by Emily Carroll
Katherine Sokolowski has taught for fifteen years and currently teaches fifth grade in Monticello, Illinois. She is passionate about reading both in her classroom and also with her two sons. You can find her online at http://readwriteandreflect.blogspot.com/ and on Twitter as @katsok.