Revisiting the Graphic Novel

The second to last day before Spring Break, one of my student brought in Kampung Boy. I realized then just acknowledging the graphic novel as a valid literary form wasn’t really the same thing as respecting it as one. So I assigned myself a genre study project for homework.  Thanks to @donalynbooks, @readingcountess and our local branch of the public library, I spent my Spring Break reading comic books…uh, graphic novels. Here is what I’ve learned…

  1. The pictures matter. I know that sounds like a “no duh” comment, but I am a traditional reader. For me the pictures are supposed to supplement the text. But in a graphic novel the pictures tell the story just as much as the words do. You can’t skim them without losing meaning.
  2. The words matter. I think most people who dismiss this genre do so because they think there is no text. If the author chose to add text, it matters.
  3. Some of the stories are really complex. Really, really complex. Pictures don’t always mean easier. I had to reread parts of some of these books to understand what was going on.
  4. They are quick to read. This is probably what would draw slower readers into them.
  5. They’re not just for boys. Most titles I read would appeal to both genders and some are written especially for young women.
  6. They are hard to get lost in…at least for classic readers like me, and there are a lot of kids who want to get lost in a book. That means graphic novels, as cool as they are, aren’t an automatic in with kids.

Final summary: While I’m not ordering a class set of anything anytime soon, I’m definately ordering a few texts to be part of the class library for next year.

Reading List:

  • American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang. If you  still think graphic novels are childish, read this award-winning book. It is my favorite out of the bunch.
  • The Eternal Smile by Gene Luen Yang and Derek Kirk Kim. A collection of three stories. Just OK.
  • Kampung Boy by Lat. A humorous look at growing up in Malaysia. I read this one a few months ago and liked it so much I want to use it when I teach memoir next year.
  • The Plain Janes by Cenil Castellucci and Jim Rugg. A pretty easy storyline to follow, but I loved the take on teen rebellion in this one. Very upbeat.
  • Gunnerkrigg Court by Tom Siddell. A wonderful fantasy novel that follows a girl attending a mysterious boarding school. Light and fun, but with enough twists and turns to keep readers interested.
  • Laika by Dick Abadzis. I likes this surprising story of the first dog in space. It would seem like a boy book, but much of the story is about a female scientist’s relationship with a dog. More girl.
  • Life Sucks by Jessica Abel, Gabe Soria and Warren Pleece. What would happen if vampires just had ordinary lives? Violent but entertaining. As a middle school teacher, not sure if this is one to put on my shelf, but would recommend if I knew parent wouldn’t mind.
  • Journey into Mohawk Country by H.M. van den Bogaert and George O’Conner. The text is taken from the journal of a Dutch colonist in the 1700’s. O’Conner just illustrated it. This book belongs in a  history classroom; it gives such insight into that time period.
  • The Arrival by Shaun Tan. A completely wordless novel, it beautifully illustrates the immigrant experience. Another great link to social studies.
  • Postcards: True Stories That Never Happen edited by Jason Rodriguez. An anthology of short stories based on real postcards. Some stories were wonderful; others not so much. Quite a few were not appropriate for the classroom.

I have a few more on my list…will add them as I read.



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3 responses to “Revisiting the Graphic Novel

  1. Here’s essential graphic novel reading:

    It’s tough stuff and not for kids… (deals with the Jack the Ripper slayings in very matter-of-fact and often disturbing visual depictions while weaving a dense web of history and various competing mythologies), but it really makes the case for graphic novels as a medium of high art and literature.

    – Shelly

  2. I can attest that graphic novels are also great for language learning. Being able to read the text as slowly and as many times as one needs to while still having pictures to give clues about what’s going on is something unique to graphic novels, comic strips, and children’s books – though many language learners above the elementary level will refuse to read children’s books.

  3. Tim

    I think graphic novels and picture books really support a huge range of reading strategies. I use them for teacher reading. A good graphic novel can powerfully show often complex themes in a simple fashion.

    Pride of Baghdad is an example this. I’d recommend it for high school students, or possibly middle school age. It has some very powerful themes – but some mature elements as well.

    Others I recommend to students:

    Maus, is a stunningly sobering and moving account of the Holocaust.

    The graphic novel version of Neil Gaiman’s “Coraline” is well crafted, and it complements both the original novel and the movie. Useful for comparing and contrasting.

    Reading graphic novels to my students also allows me to buy more comic books – for the purposes of ‘research’. 😉

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