Stroll through a well-stocked classroom library and you’ll notice a big difference from the library you had when you were a kid. There’s the same breadth of wonderful stories. The same hodgepodge of bins and shelves to organize all the books. But what stands out are graphic novels.
“Wait!” you say. “What do you think comic books are? They’ve been around for decades.”
True. The graphic novel has a lot in common with the comic book. After all, you’ve got the illustrated story and the panels, right? (Though the graphic novels tend to have more durable paper.)
But comic books were not allowed in classrooms. They were were something you looked at in your free time, after you’d scoured the latest Mad Magazine. But they were never considered “real reading.”
Luckily, times have changed.
Many parents ask if they should stop their kids from reading graphic novels. They’re unsure if it’s allowed. Instead of spending your prep time writing them a lengthy email, bookmark this page now and share it the next time a parent asks you.
Or? Share it with families at your Back to School Night! There. One less thing to do.
Why graphic novels?
Most teachers jumped on the graphic novel train quickly. The graphic novel’s emergence into the book market was the best thing that has happened to children’s reading (aside from the arrival J.K. Rowling.)
Grab them wherever you can: library sales, thrift shops, yard sales, Scholastic reading clubs, etc. Stock your classroom library with multiple copies of the most popular ones.
Because kids feast on them. They absolutely love them. From the moment I open my classroom library, the kids go bananas, grabbing the graphic novels like they’re bottles of icy water in the desert. They trade them, they talk about them, they giggle over them together. It’s pretty amazing to watch.
Won’t they stop reading “regular books”?
The short answer is yes. The longer and more exciting answer is no.
For the first three or so months, my kids will cycle through all our classroom library’s graphic novels. (There are a lot.) The other chapter books will sit idly by, looking dejected and bored.
But then something interesting happens. The kids’ reading stamina increases. As does their comprehension. Because these graphic novels tackle some heady, relevant topics that matter to kids. Like navigating friendship. And death. And new baby siblings. And jealousy. And braces. The kids’ neurons are firing away as they sit quietly and flick to the next page.
Even more interesting? Right around the November/December cusp, there’s a perceptible shift.
About a third of the class begins to ease over to the other part of the classroom library, the one replete with those thick novels that initially intimidated them.
By January, only about a fifth of the class (if that) are still reading the graphic novels while the rest are gobbling up chapter books. And as with the graphic novels of September, they trade chapter books, they talk about them, they giggle over them together. During a quiet reading time, one child will sneak over to another and whisper, “What part are you at?”
Suddenly, the graphic novels are passed over.
Reading is social
Because here’s the thing. Reading at this age is social. Even if a child prefers to read curled up by himself. It’s still social. They recommend books to each other, and what’s more, they do it organically, with zero teacher involvement. I’ve had students work out complicated waiting lines of who gets what book when so-and-so is finished. Once you have kids recommending books to each other? Game over. You got yourself lifetime readers.
The writers and illustrators of graphic novels get this, and imbue the pages with ideas and dreams and problems that matter to kids, in a way that is delightfully and colorfully tangible, particularly to our reluctant readers. They open the doors of of literature, giving the kids the exercise and stamina to be able to tackle the books that, at the outset, seemed more challenging.
Graphic novels are the gateway drug. But in a wonderful of way. They give young readers a taste of being completely captured in another world. To be so consumed with a story that your brain doesn’t register sounds or time passing.
And suddenly, they look to all books as potential entertainment. Their appetite has been whet.
Graphic novels in my classroom library
After dismissal one Friday, I snapped a few pics of what was left in the cubbies. There are actually a whole lot more graphic novels in our library, but these were what was left on the shelves. The rest were presumably in the kids’ cubbies or at home. (I let kids take all my books home. True, some of them disappear forever. But most come back.)
And on Fridays? They go home with as many of them as they can fit in their backpacks.
So here’s a quick glimpse of what was still left that Friday … (Updated recommendations are at the bottom of this post.)
Since writing this post, many new graphic novels have comfortably nested classroom libraries everywhere. Here are some favorites:
Anne of Green Gables! This has been uber popular with readers and gets many kids to convert to the chapter book series!
The Witches by Roald Dahl (Adapted by Pénélope Bagieu)
El Deafo by Cece Bell. The teacher in the bathroom scene cracks kids up!
The Dog Man series by Dav Pilkey. So popular lately!
Word of Warning
It’s worth mentioning that not every graphic novel will be suitable for your students. Like the South Park show, drawings of younger kids doesn’t mean it’s intended for younger audiences.
In the past, I previewed some graphic novels that tackled issues that were perfect for seventeen-year-olds, but that would befuddle my nine and ten-year old students.
The saying about not judging a book by its cover holds extra true here. It’s worth scanning the book ahead or, at the very least, checking in with a trusted librarian.
Now It’s Your Turn!
Tell us in the comments below:
- Which graphic novels are popular with your students?
- OR … What graphic novels would you recommend we check out?
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