Every year at this time, I end up having conversations with parents and teachers about graphic novels. (Or comic books or illustrated stories or…) Someone always asks me what I think about graphic novels or comments that they want their kids reading “real books.”
Guess what? These books are real books. Just as novels come in various genres and literary quality, so do comic books. I’m using the term “comic books” because many of these books are nonfiction, and graphic novel implies fiction.
For weaker readers, comic books such as the Max Axiom science series or Graphic History by ABDO or Gareth Stevens Publishing can encourage them to explore more difficult nonfiction topics with enticing illustrations (and without intimidating dense blocks of text). For stronger readers, comic books and graphic novels provide variety and access to the visual arts.
Now another player has entered the market, providing high quality comic books with accompanying lesson plans and alignment with the Common Core: Toon Graphics. I’ve been a fan of Toon Graphics for some time, as they published wonderful stories that gave children their beloved comic books but incorporated new characters that were not associated with TV or movie characters (Toon Books, such as the Benny and Penny stories).
Why is this important? Well, the books are less likely to be viewed as “junk” by parents and teachers – and I love that it gives me an option for readers who only want comic books but who need more diverse reading options.
Toon Books have not only won praise from reviewers in School Library Journal and Booklist; they’ve also won prizes ranging from Eisner Awards to Theodor Seuss Geisel prizes to Pulitzers. And rightly so.
High quality illustrated books improve children’s reading, not only by getting them to read in the first place, but also by improving skills in inference, context, and comprehension. It amazes me that just as our curriculums are emphasizing comprehension, parents and educators are de-emphasizing picture books and other illustrated books. Such books give children a strong grounding in the skills necessary for comprehension by providing visual clues in addition to text. Reading is far more than decoding – and fluency does not equal literacy. Many children are fluent readers – reading books far above their age level. But fewer children are truly strong readers, in that they fully comprehend what they are reading.
In the end, I have to agree with Ms. Mouly, as quoted in The New York Times: “Ms. Mouly has two bits of advice for parents and teachers of potential readers.
The first: “Don’t be suspicious of something just because kids love it.”
And the second: Don’t call them graphic novels. “I think we need to move past that euphemism,” she said. “It’s a 32-page book, with 300 words. I don’t need to pretend it’s a novel. It’s a book. It’s a comic book.” “
Nothing wrong with a good comic book. Just like there’s nothing wrong with a good romance or mystery.