What We Bless by Cindy Minnich
I can tell who my graphic novel fanatics are as soon as I make a point of telling my classes where to find the graphic novels in the high school library (741.5, along the wall by the hallway, near the bottom of the shelf) – they look relieved.
I suspect, though I don’t know, that somewhere along the line someone (a teacher? a parent? a classmate?) told them that those don’t count as reading.
I know I felt that way when I was in high school – I borrowed my brother’s comic books and read them carefully before returning them to their protective covers without anyone knowing. It was an underground reading habit and I can’t even imagine teenage me asking the librarian if there were books like those for me to read.
I have my college professor to thank for that information. I took a German culture course and one of the assigned texts was Maus. I was stunned. This. Was. Amazing. I think I shared my copy with everyone I could find who might listen to me when I got home. “Can you believe how brilliant this is? To put the story together with pictures like this?”
After I graduated from college and started reading again, I realized that our public library at home had quite a growing collection of graphic novels and I ripped through them with glee. Some I would read and return before even leaving the library. Many I would revisit and find that I noticed so many more things a second and third and fourth time because there are just too many things to see on a first read.
By the time I was teaching, I knew that I wanted to be able to share graphic novels with my students. When it was time to order new textbooks, the one I chose had an edge over the others I considered because it actually had an excerpt from Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics. There is nothing so awesome as watching the kids (and adults) in my room read over this graphic novel and realize just how amazingly complex reading a graphic novel actually is.
I take care to remember that my attitude and my words carry weight with my students and my son – they notice what we bless and they will follow our lead.
So I’m glad to see those relieved faces. I’m glad to know that I’m not turning them away from the books they love. And I’m even happier to see that I have some help in spreading the love of graphic novels to their peers.
I checked in with some of my current and former students to compile the list of their favorites below.
Raina Telgemeier’s Smile, Sisters, and Drama
These are almost a perfect gateway for the students who aren’t quite sure whether they’d like graphic novels because they aren’t full of super heroes or characters that don’t look like them. They are just great stories that appeal to such a wide range of readers.
George O’Connor’s Olympians series
These books are in constant rotation as soon as the first one goes off my shelf. Even if the stories are familiar (many of my students are more knowledgeable about mythology than I am thanks to their dedication and devotion to Percy Jackson), the artwork and the writing are so rich that these bear reading and re-reading.
Page by Paige by Laura Lee Gulledge
Even if my students have never moved, they can relate to Paige’s need to figure out who she is. My writers and artists can latch onto her quest and her example with their own sketchbooks.
Macbeth and King Lear and Beowulf and The Odyssey by Gareth Hinds
How could you go wrong with making these bloody tales into graphic novels? As a teacher, these are excellent places to start before studying the original pieces of literature, but as a reader, these are fast-paced page turners.
In Real Life by Cory Doctorow
This book appeals to both gamers and those interested in economics and social justice. Anda loves her gaming life – the chance to be something more than what she is in real life. When she starts to talk to one of the gold farmers there – instead of reporting him – she starts to realize that life online, even in the game, is just as complicated as real life.
This One Summer written by Mariko Tamaki and illustrated by Jillian Tamaki
This book is just perfect for starting all kinds of discussions about where we get our ideas about gender and our expectations about relationships. Rose and Windy are observers of the adult behavior around them – the fighting of Rose’s parents, the talk around the boy at the video store where they rent their horror flicks. Through their eyes we get a chance to examine our own thoughts and words.
Friends with Boys by Faith Erin Hicks
If you think navigating high school is difficult, try starting public school for the first time…with a ghost hanging around. This satisfies the paranormal fans and my artsy students alike.
Dogs of War by Sheila Keenan and illustrated by Nathan Fox
If you have students who are history buffs or just really into dogs, this is the book for them. In fact, two students are insisting that this book be on the list. These stories are all about the service dogs and their soldiers during wartime.
100 Girls by
Imagine being a clone. Imagine being one of 100 clones, all with different powers. And one day you realize that you can read the minds of all of the rest of them. This book comes with Trinity’s highest approval.
Anya’s Ghost by Vera Brosgol
Anya fell down a well…and found a friend. Her friend happens to be deceased and incredibly clingy – but that might have been because she’s been stuck in the well for a hundred years.
Cindy Minnich teaches 9th and 12th grade English at Upper Dauphin Area High School in Central Pennsylvania. You can find her on Twitter as @cbethm and on her blog chartingbythestars.wordpress.com