Graphic Novels are Books, Too! by Stacey DeCotis
Oh if I could count the times I’ve heard adults say that graphic novels are “too easy” or “not challenging enough” or “they don’t count as books”…
My 5th grade students this year are devouring graphic novels! Until I started reading them last year, I never understood why (I mean, yeah I got that there are colorful and interesting pictures, but what about the text?)
I fell in love with graphic novels! I started off with Raina Telgemeier’s Smile, Sisters, and Drama. Then I moved on to Ghost, then, El Deafo by Cece Bell.
Then the fantasy Amulet series by Kazu Kibuishi came out. I. Was. In. Love. Just yesterday I had a student ask if I could place the rest of the series on hold at the library (I had purchased 2 and 3 over winter break). I immediately went on my library network website and put books 4-8 on hold. That made this student’s day! (He’s already signed them out on my classroom library sign out sheet!)
Now, as a teacher do I allow my students to read graphic novels and ONLY graphic novels? No. Yes. Maybe. Actually, I’m not sure. I tend to entice my readers with books on topics that interest them, some starting with a graphic novel. I slowly add in more text until they are reading novels at their independent level. One student at the beginning of this year refused to read anything but my Calvin and Hobbes comic book. When we started our Global Issues unit before winter break, I gave her The Breadwinner graphic novel adapted by Nora Twomey. She read it in one sitting and loved it. We conferenced about the historical context, read the author’s note together, looked up Afghanistan on a map, then I moved her on to the novel The Breadwinner by Deborah Ellis. I have ideas on choices to give her next so she can continue feeling the success as a middle school reader. I am especially thankful for graphic novels in moments like these. This was a student who emphatically told me in September that she “hates reading”. I won’t lie, that broke my heart a little bit. But I’m so happy she was honest with me, and this drove me to help her see herself as a reader. Slowly, and with graphic novels, she will get there.
If you’re still not sold on graphic novels as “real” books, I encourage you to read my favorite Annual Reminder that Graphic Novels are “Real Reading” by bookriot.com. There are 5 powerful reasons that graphic novels have literary merit for kids. One of them being that students can acquire rich and challenging vocabulary from graphic novels. The other important reason – students must learn and practice with “reading between the lines” and making inferences with text and visuals. Now I do recognize that some of my stronger readers may not enjoy graphic novels, and that is ok. One reported to me that she likes to create her own pictures in her mind and she doesn’t like graphic novels. I respect that. But as a teacher, I cannot and should not dismiss this genre as not being as important as other types of books and formats.
Another one of my favorite things about graphic novels is the accessibility of them today. They are no longer in the back of my own classroom library or on the bottom shelf. They are up front and center. I even have a separate bin for books that I have taken out of my own library. Separate, but next to the ones I own. You can walk into any bookstore or library and easily find graphic novels amongst other best selling and high interest novels. And so many center around important themes for middle grade readers.
I recently read Sunny Side Up by Jennifer and Matthew Holm. When I brought it in and book-talked it, the message from the book was that it is OK to talk about what struggles and difficulties a family member may be going through. My students take a 10 week DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) program and this idea of witnessing a loved one make bad choices connected with the lessons they’ve been exposed to with our DARE Officer. I can’t keep the book on the shelf. I wonder if this serious topic wasn’t presented in this format, would there be such an interest? I’m not sure. But what I do know is that it will quickly become a favorite in my classroom and many, many kids will connect to it. It is also based on the sister-brother authors’ lives. A graphic novel with real life connections. How powerful.
My hope is to continue to expose my 5th graders to good literature – and graphic novels count too! Next up for my own graphic novel reading: Pashmina by Nidhi Chanani, Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke, Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson, Rapunzel’s Revenge by Shannon and Dean Hale.
Stacey DeCotis is a 5th grade ELA teacher at the Hanover Middle School in Hanover, Massachusetts. She has taught 4th and 5th graders for almost 15 years in Hanover. Stacey is an avid reader and passionate about putting the right books into her students hands and promoting the love of reading with all those in her life. When she is not teaching, she is spending time with her family including her 8 year olds twins and her energetic 3 year old who often curl up next to her as she’s reading (even while cooking). You can connect with Stacey on Instagram and Twitter @readinginthemiddlegrades and her new website www.readinginthemiddlegrades.com.
Completely agree. We started an after school book club for graphic novels and our students also devour them. Our reluctant readers, our LEP students-those visuals help them to comprehend the text even if they are not top readers.
Yes! It’s a “gateway” in my opinion. So accessible for all learners! Thanks for the comment!
I want to “like” this post a thousand time!!!!
Yay!! Thank you! I want to spread the word to all teachers!
As a librarian, I often find myself walking kids and parents over to the graphic novel shelves. I love seeing the excitement wen the kids realize it can be an option.
And on the flip side, it’s heartbreaking when teachers/librarians/adults don’t see them as an option! Let them read graphic novels! 🙂
I so agree with your opinion on graphic novels and I love the anecdote about the student who initially “hated reading.” (We’ve all heard that lament many times, and of course it always makes us sad.) I’ll definitely be passing your thoughts on in my “Audiobooks and Graphic Novels” workshops scheduled for the upcoming summer. Thank you for your inspiring, well-written post.
Thank you so much! I was actually torn on writing about graphic novels or audiobooks! Maybe that’ll be my next post. There is a visual I show during our Curriculum Night to parents to prove the value of audiobooks and the research is amazingly in support of audio! I also read a powerful quote by one of my reading role models Donalyn Miller just the other day “We do not age out of read alouds. (If we did, the audiobook industry would not be thriving.)” Reading aloud is “reading” right? Then audiobooks are too! Thanks for sharing your thoughts!
I agree with you wholeheartedly as a mother of 6th-grade readers. I can see how easily my kids and all their friends connect with graphic novels – all of them! From the Holm’s SQUISH books to AMERICAN BORN CHINESE. (As a middle-grade author, I wish I could write graphic novels, it feels like a way to guarantee my stories would fly off library shelves. Maybe someday…)
While I like a lot of graphic novels–the Amulet series, Victoria Jamieson’s books, Raina Telgemeier, etc.–I find that kids get stuck in that genre. Yes, kids love them. Yes, they’re great for reluctant readers. But I was seeing so many kids make a beeline for the graphic novel section, without ever browsing non-graphic books, that I finally got rid of the section and filed the graphic novels with the regular fiction. Our school’s reading program has moved to a readers’ workshop model that emphasizes allowing kids to pick out their own books. I feel like it’s led to a lot of reading of graphic novels and Wimpy Kid books, where kids used to read a lot more widely when we had a genre chart and Accelerated Reader. I’m guessing I’m in the minority here, and will get some pushback from graphic novel fans, but these are my observations after 20 years as a school librarian
I also thought this might be helpful for the combo session if you keep the graphics novels in the slides.
Literacy Instructional Coach San Ramon Valley Unified School District Instructional Coach Country Club Elementary School Pronouns: she/her/they/their
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I just completed an order for our school library — mostly graphic novels and picture books! If you’d like some help in how (and why) to use these books (yes, they are good books, please contact me.
Graphic novels are a wonderful tool to get our reluctant readers reading! First graders want to read but many get discourages as they see other readers reading chapter books that they are not ready for. These readers will often “fake” read a chapter book. They have not yet discovered the joy of being drawn into a good book. To these children what others think of their reading is more important than enjoying a book they can read independently. These are the children who benefit most from reading a graphic novel. There are many to choose from even on a first-grade level with new ones coming out every month. The support of the illustrations allows reluctant readers, as well as those with learning disabilities such as dyslexia, acquire new vocabulary and increases comprehension. By using graphic novels to conference with students good teachers can provide a bridge to a chapter book that does not rely as heavily on illustrations to provide meaning. It is our job as teachers to teach a love of reading and graphic novels are another tool in our toolbox. There are no negatives to a reading a graphic novel.
My students love graphic novels! I, too, did not understand their allure at first. But after seeing so many students (of all reading levels) enjoying graphic novels, I also decided to give them a try. They are still not my preferred read, but I get how engaging they can be for students. I think that people often times assume that graphic novels are “too easy” because they contain so many pictures. But I agree with your comment about how they force the reader to “read between the lines”, making inferences as they go along. After discussing the plot of various graphic novels with my students, I am able to see what areas of comprehension they need help with based on how well they are able to retell the story and discuss character traits. Your comment about where you keep your graphic novels (no on the bottom shelf or hidden away) has caused me to take a step back and reevaluate how I store them as well. It has also motivated me to make sure I am providing more of these texts in the classroom library.