A Guide To Using Graphic Novels With Children And Teens



Art 2014 Jimmy GownleyfromTHE DUMBEST IDEA EVER!by Jimmy GownleyGRAPHIC NOVELS ARE EVERYWHERE!No longer an underground movement appealing to a small following of enthusiasts, graphicnovels have emerged as a growing segment of book publishing, and have become acceptedby librarians and educators as mainstream literature for children and young adults —literaturethat powerfully motivates kids to read.Are graphic novels for you? Should you be taking a more serious look at this format? How mightgraphic novels fit into your library collection, your curriculum, and your classroom?Want to know more? If so, this guide is for you.1

What are graphic novels?In this context, the word “graphic” does not mean “adult” or “explicit.” Graphic novels are bookswritten and illustrated in the style of a comic book. The term “graphic novel” is generally used todescribe any book in a comic format that resembles a novel in length and narrative development.Graphic novels are a subgenre of “comics,” which is a word you may also hear people use whenreferring to this style of book.Graphic novels can be any genre, and tell any kind of story, just like their prose counterparts. Theformat is what makes the story a graphic novel, and usually includes text, images, word balloons,sound effects, and panels.This basic way of storytelling has been used in various forms for centuries—early cave drawings,hieroglyphics, and medieval tapestries like the famous Bayeux Tapestry can be thought of asstories told in pictures.Are graphic novels suitable for the young, and how do I evaluate them?Some parents, educators, and librarians may associate the term “graphic novel” with content thatis not suitable for young readers. Today there is a wide range of titles and, though not all graphicnovels are intended for children, there are more titles published expressly for kids coming outevery month.Reviews and roundups of new graphic novels appear regularly in review journals. By readingthese reviews, seeking the advice of trusted colleagues and vendors, and previewing materialsprior to circulation, you can build a collection that is suited to your audience.How do graphic novels promote literacy?MotivationGraphic novels powerfully attract and motivate kids to read. Many librarians have built up graphicnovel collections and have seen circulation figures soar. School librarians and educators havereported outstanding success getting kids to read with graphic novels, citing particularly theirpopularity with discerning readers. At the same time, graphic novels with rich, complex plots andnarrative structures can also be satisfying to advanced readers. Providing young people of allabilities with diverse reading materials, including graphic novels, can help them become lifelongreaders.Discerning readersGraphic novels can be a way in for students who are difficult to reach through traditional texts.Even those deemed poor readers willingly and enthusiastically gravitate toward these books.Readers who are not interested in reading or who, despite being capable of reading, prefergaming or watching media, can be pulled into a story by the visual elements of graphic novels.2

Benefits to struggling readers, special-needs students,and English-language learnersGraphic novels can dramatically help improve reading development forstudents struggling with language acquisition for various reasons. Forexample, special-needs students may find that the illustrations providecontextual clues to the meaning of the written narrative. Graphic novelscan also provide autistic students with clues to emotional context theymight miss when reading traditional text. English-language learners maybe more motivated by graphic novels, which can help them acquire newvocabulary and increase English proficiency.But are graphic novels “real books”?Are they “literature”? Do they count as “reading”?Overcoming prejudicesSome parents and educators may feel that graphic novels are not thetype of reading material that will help young people grow as readers.They may cling to the belief that graphic novels are somehow a badinfluence that undermines “real reading”—or they may dismiss graphicnovels as inferior literature, or as “not real books.” At best, they mayregard them as something to be tolerated as a means of motivating themost reluctant readers, who, they hope, will eventually move on to “morequality literature.”Acceptance by librarians and educatorsGraphic novels have come to be accepted by librarians and educatorsas a method of storytelling on a par with novels, picture books, movies,or audiobooks.The American Library Association has recognized this in establishing itsannual list of Great Graphic Novels for Teens, and in 2011 they added theannually updated Core Collection of Graphic Novels for young readersin grades K through 8.In 2014, the American Library Association showed their continuedsupport of the format in offering the Will Eisner Graphic Novel Grants forLibraries, two grants awarded annually to support libraries and librariansin building the best collections and presenting educational programmingon the format for their communities.Art 2014 Mike MaihackfromCLEOPATRA IN SPACEby Mike Maihack3In 2015, El Deafo, Cece Bell’s graphic memoir about her experiencesas a child with hearing loss, won an Eisner Award. The memoir was alsoselected as a Newbery Honor book for its contribution to children’sliterature. In 2016, Victoria Jamieson’s bestselling graphic novel RollerGirl was named a Newbery Honor book.

Critical reading skill developmentThe notion that graphic novels are too simplistic to be regarded as seriousreading is outdated. The excellent graphic novels available today arelinguistically appropriate reading material demanding the same skillsthat are needed to understand traditional works of prose fiction. Oftenthey actually contain more advanced vocabulary than traditional booksat the same age/grade/interest level. They require readers to be activelyengaged in the process of decoding and comprehending a range ofliterary devices, including narrative structures, metaphor and symbolism,point of view, the use of puns and alliteration, intertextuality, and inference.Reading graphic novels can help students develop the critical skillsnecessary to read more challenging works, including the classics.In addition to the connections to analyzing text, graphic novels inspirereaders to understand and interpret information differently from howreaders process prose. In a world where young people are growing upnavigating narratives presented through websites, video games, television,films, and increasingly interactive media, learning and maintaining visualliteracy is a necessary skill. Today’s world of stories contains far morethan just prose, and readers who are skilled at understanding and beingcritical of multiple formats will excel.Do graphic novels have a place in the curriculum?Many educators have reported great success when they have integratedgraphic novels into their curriculum, especially in the areas of English,science, social studies, and art. Teachers are discovering that graphicnovels—just like traditional forms of literature—can be useful tools forhelping students critically examine aspects of history, science, literature,and art. Graphic novels can be integral parts to implementing anycurriculum standards, including the Common Core, Next GenerationStandards, and state standards.What are the literary themes in graphic novels?i-0218 0545132053.inddi-0218 0545132053.inddSec1:4444Sec1:44i-0218 0545132053.indd448/6/09Sec1:44Using graphic novels along with traditional works of literature can motivatestudents who may have had little interest in studying literature and history.Refer to the Graphic Novels Themes chart in this guide to identify whichtopics, genres, and themes are present in various books and series44anddetermine which is right for your needs.i-0218 0545132053.inddSec1:44Art 2010 Raina TelgemeierGraphic novels contain all of the same literary themes used in classicliterature. Some, like Jeff Smith’s BONE, are works of epic adventurewith many parallels to mythology, such as the quests in The Iliad and TheOdyssey. Other classic archetypes in BONE and other graphic novelsinclude the reluctant hero, the unknown destiny, and the mentor-wizard figure.3:01fromSMILEby Raina Telgemeier8/6/0943:01:27

What are the benefits of studying graphic novels as a format?A unique art formNovels speak to us usually in a linear written narrative; picture books tell a story with textaccompanied by illustrations; film does so with moving images and dialogue; and poetry cancommunicate on levels that no other storytelling can.Graphic novels combine all these elements in their own unique way. They are like prose in that theyare in a written printed format, but they are also like film in that they tell a story through dialogue,and through visual images that give the impression of movement.Graphic novels do not and aren’t intended to replace other kinds of reading—it’s not an either/or choice. Reading all kinds of formats encourages readers to think critically about how storieswork across the different formats.Learning from the unique format of graphic novelsStudents can compare the different experiences of receiving information through written narrative,versus receiving it visually without words. They can analyze how information about characteris derived from facial and bodily expressions, and about meaning and foreshadowing from thepictures’ composition and viewpoint. You can invite students to find examples of where theviewpoint of the picture is critical to the reader’s experience of the story.Students can also discuss how in graphic novels, as in movies, readers can often deduce whathappened—but was not explicitly stated—in the interval between one image and the next.Students hopefully know what it’s like to be so engrossed in a riveting novel that they feel as ifthey’re watching a movie of the story in their imagination. Graphic novels are literature that isactually in a cinematic format. You can discuss with students the similarities and differencesbetween these experiences.PoetrySome graphic novels can be compared to works of poetry in the way they convey intangiblefeelings through allusion rather than direct description.Creative writingGraphic novels can be a springboard to many creative writing projects. Students can write theirown alternative endings, or accounts of what happened before or after the story. They can fill inan interval in the story that is not depicted, or only depicted visually. Another great exercise is totake a prose passage from a traditional novel and rewrite it as dialogue in a graphic novel, thencreate the pictures to go with it. Of course students can also create their own original graphicnovels, and even have them published on the “Comic Book Project” (see the online resourcespage for more).5

GUIDE FOR EDUCATOR AND CLASSROOM USEThinking through the formatWhen considering a graphic novel in a classroom or educational setting, it’s important to encouragereaders to look at all of the elements that make up a graphic novel. Here are discussion promptsand visual examples to get discussions started.Panels and guttersConsider the size and shape of panels. How dothey fit together? Do they interrupt or overlap witheach other? Are there any images without anypanel borders at all? The spaces in between thepanels—the gutters—indicate a change: in howtime is passing, in where you are, or in whomyou’re looking at or talking to. What do the guttersadd to how you understand the story?Art 2008 Kazu Kibuishi.Art 2004 James Burks.Description and word balloonsThink about how the dialogue appears. Are the wordsdifferent colors? Written with thicker or thinner lines? Howwould that sound? How about the silence when no one isspeaking? Is there any narration or description (words inboxes, but not spoken)? How is that important to how thestory unfolds?Art 2014 Mike Maihack.Art 2018 Kristen Gudsnuk.Sound effects and motion linesSounds set the scene, signal something off scene, and addanother layer to each story. Motion lines indicate how charactersor objects are moving. What sounds do you see? How are eachof the sounds written—does the way it’s written reflect what itactually sounds like? What gestures do you see?Art 2018 Douglas Holgate.Art 2018 Nina Matsumoto.ArtArt 2017 Ru Xu.Art 2018 Jarrett J. Krosoczka.Art 2017 Molly Knox Ostertag.Every creator has their own style. Is theart realistic? Cartoony? What can youtell from the expressions on faces? Thegestures and movement of characters?The background and its details? If thereis color, how does that change over thecourse of a page? Each chapter?6

Discussion questions for any graphic novelDiscussions can and should shift to address the specifics of each particular graphic novel,especially in the story content, but here is a list of starter questions that should work for anygraphic novel you present for analysis.1. Can you find all the elements that make up graphic novels:panels, word balloons, sound effects, motion lines, narration,and background colors? If you take out any one of these,what do you lose? Can you still understand the story?2. H ow do you read a graphic novel? Do you look at the imagesand words together, panel by panel? Do you read all thetext on the page and then go back and look at the pictures?Do you look at the pictures first and then go back and readthe words? There’s no right way to read a graphic novel,and many readers go through them differently. Comparehow you read an assigned graphic novel with how yourneighbor does, and see if how you read it is different orthe same.3. G raphic novels use both words and images. Pick a pageor a sequence from a graphic novel and think through whatyou learn from just

The term “graphic novel” is generally used to describe any book in a comic format that resembles a novel in length and narrative development. Graphic novels are a subgenre of “comics,” which is a word you may also hear people use when referring to this style of book. Graphic novels can be any genre, and tell any kind of story, just like their prose counterparts. The format is what .