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Teacher Newsmagazine Volume 18, Number 4, January/February 2006

The graphic novel

by Darinka Popovic

"I don’t want to read." "Reading is boring!" "There is nothing in the library that I like."

Do you hear this from your students? Unfortunately these are the type of comments drifting through every school library, classrooms, and in many homes. So move away from the traditional novel and try introducing a graphic novel!

Graphic novels are a combination of illustrations and words that are designed to appeal to the reluctant reader or the lover of comic books. Think of the graphic novel as the still version of a video clip with closed captioning.

There are three groupings of graphic novels. Most of us are familiar with the first type, a comic strip that has been compiled into a book. These include titles such as Calvin and Hobbs, Garfield, and Peanuts. Then there is the true graphic novel, a story with a continuous plot, which is supported by graphics and captions. The Pulitzer Prize-winning book Maus: A Survivor’s Tale by Art Spiegelman, which relates to the Holocaust, brought the graphic novel into the mainstream in 1991. The third format is the Japanese manga style of graphic novel, which is read from right to left. There are thousands of manga titles, often featuring a superhero.

Graphic novels are both educational and fun, but they can be very complex to decode. It is important that the reader take the time to look, absorb the images and then read the words that are presented. Children must read the words, and through the sequential artwork decode the meaning behind the illustrations and special effects such as the word bubbles. Illustrations can be colourful or are produced in black and white. The visual stimulation creates a situation where the reader must focus on the page to decode the necessary information. If a child or adult is having difficulty focusing on the coloured graphics try a novel that has black and white illustrations.

Teachers are able to use the graphic novel to encourage reading and writing in the school. You are able to use the graphic novel to teach literary techniques, create writing assignments and build bridges to the classic novel. For the child who desperately wants to read The Hobbit but is daunted by the length and readability, the graphic novel version opens a new world.

Though titles may be limited, there are graphic novels for every age group. For the younger child check out the books by Raymond Briggs such as The Snowman, Father Christmas or Ug: Boy Genius of the Stone Age. The Comic Adventures of Boots by Satoshi Kitamura and Little Buggy by Kevin O’Malley will appeal to children aged five and up.

The following titles will appeal to children ages nine and up: the Bone series by Jeff Smith, the Ultimate Spider-Man series by Brian Michael Bendis, the Akiko series by Mark Crilley, and Leave It to Chance by James Robinson. Delight the girls in your household with Jimmy Gownley’s Amelia Rules!, Amy Unbounded: Belondweg Blossoming by Rachel Hartman, and WJHC: on the air by Jane Smith Fisher.

If you want your child to delight in the joy of the classics then turn to copies of The Hobbit, Wind in the Willows, or The Adventures of Robin Hood.

For the older student check out the following titles: The Hobbit by David Wenzel, The Tale of One Bad Rat by Bryan Talbot, The amazing true story of a teenage single mom by Katherine Arnoldi, Persepolis 1 & 2 by Marjane Satrapi, Meridian 1 & 2 by Barbara Kesel, Promethea I & 2 by Jeromy Cox, The Books of Magic by Neil Gaiman, and Ghost World by Daniel Clowes,

The world of non-fiction is also available in a graphic novel format. A couple of examples included Jay Hosler’s, Clan Apis that tells about the world of bees or the biography by Raymond Brigg’s parents, Ethel and Ernest: a True Story.

Visit your teacher-librarian to see the wide array of product available for students of all ages. Graphic novels are available in a wide variety of genres such as science fiction, fantasy, historical, science, superheroes, and social studies. As you browse through the collection you need to be aware that not all graphic novels are suitable for the younger reader. Most graphic novels produced are geared for teenagers and adults. The material may be excessively violent, language may not be appropriate, and some books have an adult content. To assist the public, some publishers have a ranking system that is listed on some of the books. Age suitability may be listed but be aware, that there is no standardized method of rating material.

Looking for information on the web for children’s graphic novels? There is a site specific for the review these materials is called Sidekicks (for the younger reader) and No Flying No Tights (for the teen reader) at sidekicks.noflyingnotights.com/core.html.

Remember, the best way to raise literacy, is to expose your students to the wide variety of materials available. Have them read whatever interests them. Graphic novels might just do the trick!

Darinka Popovic is a teacher-librarian at Rock Heights Middle School, Victoria.

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