In case you’re new here, I should probably fill you in: I love graphic novels. Like, a lot. I love the way that the creative format allows authors artists to tell their stories in such a wide variety of ways. I love the way that the artwork puts so much of the responsibility in the reader’s hands – the author doesn’t spell it out for you, but instead you have to put the work in if you want to really get to the story. Art is magic, and the combo of artwork and powerful stories? If you’re not reading graphic novels yet, you should be.
In fact, I wrote about this topic around this time last year at the close of my very first graphic novel unit with my middle schoolers. It was the first time I had ever taught graphic novels in my classes, and a great experiment to see how students would react and whether they would take it seriously. Here’s an excerpt:
Sixth grade English teacher Jared Passmore and I set a goal this year; not to guide students away from graphic novels to something more “serious”, but instead to help readers to see what graphic novels really are – worthwhile, serious, and profound pieces of literature. We were curious – could a shift of teacher mindset inspire a shift of student mindset? If we showed our appreciation and curiosity for the format and set the example of finding graphic novels worthwhile by dedicating valuable class time to them, would students start looking at them differently? And if we showed students how to find and appreciate the elements of literature in graphic novel format, would they slow down and start reading and discussing graphic novels like traditional novels?
During class, we read graphic novels along with our students, laughing and gasping and turning pages with as much eagerness as they did. And they noticed. They stopped trying to hide graphic novels under their desks or within the spines of other “more serious” texts. They started talking to us more openly about the books that they loved, the things that they questioned, and the lessons they learned. They started slowing down and taking in the setting, the facial expressions, the artistic style – and their comprehension of the text deepened. They were getting more from the stories than ever before. When we started treating graphic novels like a legitimate form of literature that was worth our time, they did, too.
This year, Mr. Passmore and I went all out for our favorite unit again. We cleaned out the graphic novel section of our local libraries, collected our favorite graphic novel resources, and busted out the Burning Questions poster. For a little more than a month, we learned with our sixth graders about this fascinating and quickly-growing medium. How do authors and artists show character development in graphic novels? How can you tell what the setting is in a graphic novel? Why is it so easy to miss details when reading a story told in this format? We covered it all.
But we left a few big questions for our final day. After weeks of reading, studying, and discussing graphic novels, we asked our students to consider a few questions that they had asked at the beginning of our unit: Are graphic novels “real” books? Can reading graphic novels improve your vocabulary, reading, and writing skills? Are graphic novels worthwhile? What have you learned about graphic novels? I hope that you enjoy their responses as much as we did.
I learned that graphic novels…
- teach you to go more in-depth when reading traditional novels
- contain amazing character development
- make big and difficult subjects more accessible for readers
- can be just as meaningful and deep as traditional novels, or more
- make you search for visual clues and use them to understand the story
- require new and different skills than reading traditional novels
- are not just easy reads or “potato chip books”
- communicate without words through color, line, mood, shape, and size
- can be long, deep, and worthwhile
- have amazing art
- give a more full picture of the story than traditional novels
- contain valuable guidance for social issues
- are not just for little kids
- can tell complicated stories
- help you to slow down and read more carefully
- take a lot of hard work to create and read
- help to expand your mind and recharge your imagination
- can have very fast-paced action
- are a different type of real book
- really make you think
- inspire you to create your own art
- help you to look at reading in a different way
To see more, check out our 6th Graders Say: I Learned that Graphic Novels…. display in the Lower School entrance hall between the media lab and the library.