At several ICfL events this summer, there were conversations about the merits and demerits of investing in a Graphic Novel collection for the school library. There are so many questions around graphic novels: Are they real literature? Do they help or hinder kids’ reading skills? Is reading a graphic novel real reading? Are they worth my book budget dollars? Sometimes the push back on graphic novels comes from outside the library with parents, teachers, and administrators; should librarians try to persuade them that graphic novels are good for the kids?
Maybe we can get to some of these answers by comparing the pros of the graphic novel to the goals of the school library to see how they match up.
If the goal of the school library is to support the formal curriculum, consider that the graphic novel is a format, rather than a genre. It can address any subject matter that might be covered in a classroom and, since the format combines sequential art with text, it can be a better access point to the content for some students. Students who struggle with reading, reluctant readers, and students that are learning English might find them more appealing than a traditional text. Graphic novels cover the K-12 spectrum for interest level, too. Look at these examples:
- Stratford Zoo Midnight Revue Presents Romeo and Juliet by Ian Lendler from First Second, for an elementary and funny introduction to Shakespeare.
- Max Axiom, Super Scientist series from Capstone, for elementary or middle school/junior high STEM subjects.
- The Other Side of the Wall by Simon Swartz from Graphic Universe, for middle and high school students on Cold War History.
- Maus I and II: A Survivor’s Tale by Art Spiegelman a 1992 Pulitzer Prize winner from Pantheon Books on WWII and the Holocaust, for high school students and adults.
If it is important to support the recreational reading of students, also known as informal curriculum, graphic novels can help. They tend to appeal to those students who are not enthusiastic readers of the traditional novel. Getting hooked on graphic novels might be the first step to being hooked on reading, which is an important part of becoming a proficient reader. Many students stick with graphic novels for their main source of recreational reading, and that is great. Many graphic novels use rich vocabulary in conjunction with art, which develops visual literacy, a skill that is becoming more important. A title that speaks to a student who doesn’t like to read could be a story like:
- Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson from Dial Books for Young Readers for upper elementary students.
- Space Dumplins by Craig Thompson from Graphix, an imprint of Scholastic for upper elementary.
- The Lumberjanes series by Noelle Stevenson from BOOM! Box for middle school/junior high and up.
- Amulet series by Kazu Kibuishi from Graphix for elementary to middle school.
- Dogman, and the classic Captain Underpants series, both by Dave Pilkey from Graphix for elementary school.
It is important for students to see themselves in the things that they read, and to also learn about the world. Representing a diverse population in its collection is an important goal of the school library, and one of the strengths of the graphic novel format; there are lots of options to provide windows and mirrors. Some exemplary titles are:
- El Deafo by Cece Bell from Amulet books, for elementary and middle school students.
- All’s Faire in Middle School by Victory Jamieson from Dial Books for Young Readers, for upper elementary and middle schoolers.
- March: Books 1-3, all by John Lewis from Top Shelf Productions, for young adults.
- d, both by Gene Luen Yang from First Second, for middle and high school students.
- Persepolis 1 & 2, both by Marjane Satrapi from Pantheon, for young adults.
- The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang from First Second, for young adults.
- The Storm in the Barn by Matt Phelan from Candlewick for middle school students.
If muscled superheroes in tights are top of mind when it comes to graphic novels, it might be time to take a look at some recently published titles. Most have no mention of superheroes, rather, they reflect student experiences, fantasy worlds full of adventure, or factual information.
When asked, most librarians will agree that graphic novels circulate very well. If it is a goal of the school library to get lots of books into the hands of kids, then building a graphic novel collection could be a good investment. Most will also agree that kids probably shouldn’t read graphic novels and nothing else, but they are a both good way to start instilling a love of reading in students who don’t, and reinforcing the fun of reading for those who do.
All agree that students getting their hands on books that they will actually read is always a goal of the school librarian!
Hansen, K. S. (2012). In Defense of Graphic Novels. English Journal, (102.2), 57-63.
Karp, J. (2011, August 1). The Case for Graphic Novels in Education. American Libraries Magazine.
Find great graphic novel titles:
A new list from the International Literacy Association and Reading Rockets: https://www.literacyworldwide.org/blog/literacy-daily/2018/08/27/more-graphic-novels
The 2018 Eisner Awards from ComicCon International : https://www.comic-con.org/awards/eisner-awards-current-info
2018 Great Graphic Novels for Teens from YALSA: http://www.ala.org/yalsa/2018-great-graphic-novels-teens