Imagine this scenario: you are at your local Seacoast library with your youngster: She slows down at the Mo Willems and Gerald and Piggie books (cue warm fuzzies) but makes a bee-line for . . . Captain Underpants? If you are like me, you roll your eyes and think, “Is there anything else you could pick out today”? At the library, we often hear parents tell their children to choose a “real book”. It breaks my heart every single time – even though I’m guilty of thinking it myself. I cannot tell you the number of Garfields that have come through my house when she is supposed to choose a historical fiction book for homework. It drives me bonkers! I’m left wondering, should kids read graphic novels at all?
In a screen-dominated world, where images move quickly across our kids’ eyes, I understand the hesitation to let kids read graphic novels.
AND YET, I promise you that graphics (another word for graphic novels) are a brain building, literacy skill-enhancing form of literature. Librarians and teachers agree: kids should read them. Graphics have been National Book Award finalists and winners! Of course, they should be part of a balanced “diet” of books. For example, we know our kids should not ONLY eat carbs but we know carbs are important to a balanced diet. Graphics, too, should be balanced with the fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and how-to books. I like to describe it as reading the rainbow of books – just like we try to “eat the rainbow” on our dinner plate.
So the next time your youngster heads to the graphics corner, keep some of my thoughts below in mind. Plus, enjoy my graphic novel recommendations along the way.
Even “silly” graphic novels for kids require sophisticated literacy skills.
Graphics require inference, memory, sequencing, understanding succinct language, and reading comprehension. Unlike prose books, in which the details are explicitly written out, a lot of the content of a graphic narrative is not in the written text. It is in the space between frames, the nuance of the images and the succinct word choice. They require sophisticated reading skills beyond just decoding. Readers build their vocabulary using visual context as well as the text – a powerful memory boosting combo. The confidence all kids build by finishing a book and being able to discuss it with peers on the playground is a huge motivator for increased reading.
Graphic Novel is actually a misnomer. The graphics category covers a ton of genres.
Yes, don’t miss the awesome fantasy graphics and the classic superhero stories. But did you know many classic novels, like Little Women, Anne of Green Gables, tons of Shakespeare, etc have been amazingly retold in graphic novels for kids (of all ages)?
There are vivid non-fiction graphics about science, math and history, like the Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales series. Plus, do not pass up my favorite subgenre – the graphic memoir. Every list of graphic novel recommendations should include They Called Us Enemy– the moving story of actor George Takei’s childhood in a Japanese interment camp. Hey, Kiddo, is Jarrett Krosocska’s powerful memoir about growing up with a mother who suffered from addiction and how art saved him. Kids and parents universally enjoy El Deafo by Cece Bell. She became deaf as a young child and learned to find her superpowers despite her disability. All three memoirs tell important stories that build empathy.
Even gorgeous and profound books about grief are in the graphics section! As with “traditional literature”, graphics expose readers to new ideas and content. Whether they are struggling with friendships, learning about Japanese interment camps, or embracing a new school- there is truly something for everyone.
When you let kids read graphic novels, you bring on the visual arts.
No, it isn’t the MFA or the Met. But in a world where our kids have limited exposure to the visual arts, how awesome is it that they can access fine arts through books?! Graphic artists are storytellers in their own right. By exposing our children to graphics we providing a chance to engage with the visual arts in a new way. Browse the graphics yourself and notice how many different styles there are! Just as I prefer one section of the museum over another, some styles draw me more than others. For some kids, this exposure to this art and literature medium may be a career-deciding opportunity!