The Allure of Graphic Novels
Graphic Novels are simply defined as, “a longer and more artful version of the comic book bound as a `real book” (Schwarz, 2006). However, they are much more than a longer comic book. Graphic novels come in a variety of genres including fantasy, realistic fiction, traditional literature and even some non-fiction. Examples of popular graphic novels are classics such as The Call of the Wild by Neil Kleid and Great Expectations by Rick Geary and Charles Dickens. The Boxcar Children series can also be found in graphic novel format. Some graphic novels cover serious topics such as 9/11 Report: A Graphic Adaptation by Sid Jacobson and Ernie Colon. Others, like Betsy Ross and the American Flag (Olson, Melchisedech, & Barnett III, 2005) chronicle non-fiction events.
Despite the fact that graphic novels are flying off the shelves in school and community libraries, many teachers are still unsure how to use them in the classroom. Graphic novels can be a wonderful supplement to existing curriculum (Carter, 2009). Consider the 9th grade English class that has an expected book list to be covered. Graphic versions allow an examination of both the prose and the illustrations. These books are terrific for English Language Learners and Special needs students struggling to read on grade level. However, they may also be used to engage any children that are visually motivated. The essence of the original tales is intact within these newer, flashier versions.
For all grade levels, they offer opportunities to discuss literary elements including plot line and character development. Inference and using context clues through text and illustrations are also reading strategies that could be reinforced. The author’s intent is evident through more than just words in these works. The important thing to remember is that graphic novels are not simply a “lesser” version of original stories. They offer a unique reading experience that today’s generation is drawn too.
Parents may also be wary of having their children read graphic novels. They do appear to be nothing but comic books on the surface. It is important to educate parents about the potential benefits of these works. Parents that engage in conversations about the books and take the time to look through them will soon see that they have rich vocabulary and follow the original storyline well.
One caution with these books is that teachers and librarians really need to review the illustrations before using. Some graphic novels are very violent and even have sexual scenes. These are generally listed as mature, but you can never be too careful.
Carter, J. B. (2009) "Going Graphic" Literacy ZObbb p. 68-73.
Schwarz, G. (2006). "Expanding Literacies through Graphic Novels.” English Journal 95(6), p. 58-64.