So you’ve got yourself a reluctant reader, do you? And you desperately want him to love books and reading and all things the written word, right? Jump to the chase: put a graphic in his hands. See what happens.
There are such great comics and graphics out there right now, too! Funny, spellbinding, meaningful – something for everyone – and quality pieces, at that.
So, what’s the difference between a comic book and a graphic novel? Technically, comic books contain several mini stories within one binding. Lots of little storylines – some are just one panel. Some are a few panels long but then a new thread begins, so you have many stories within a single book. Garfield, The Far Side, Foxtrot, Pearls Before Swine, Peanuts, Zits…you get the picture. These are all comics.
A graphic novel, on the other hand, is one single story – just like a novel is – beginning on page one and wrapping up on the final page. Either way, they’re both told through word/thought bubbles and illustrations through panels and boxes. There are some stand-alone graphic novels (that aren’t part of a series) and many more that are in a series such as Salem Hyde, Lunch Lady, Babymouse, Amelia Rules, Knights of the Lunch Table, Binky the Spacecat, Bone. (It is so hard to stop. Man. SO many good books.)
Why do we love them so?
I can’t say for sure. But, I suppose that the unintimidating factor has something to do with it. The illustrations, the amount of words per page, the (usually, though not always) lightheartedness of it all… One might take a gander at a graphic novel and not tense up in the same way when faced with a traditional page, full of text.
But don’t let the sparseness of words per page fool you! The vocabulary and Lexile ratings (although to rate graphics can be a challenge) are incredibly high.
We teach our beginning readers to use picture clues when they’re learning to read. The cat sat on the mat. If the accompanying illustrations depict a cat sitting on a mat, well, then, the pictures can help a new reader decipher the text. Same with graphics. Only, usually the vocabulary is much higher than “cat” and “mat.” Because think about it… A more traditional novel might say:
The boy was a little worried. He was not sure if he should jump into the pool. He was a little bit scared to swim, even though he knew he could. After all, he swam before. But today was different.
On and on and on the text might ramble – likely, the Lexile rating for such text isn’t really very high, but it is accurately describing a particular emotion.
Whereas a graphic novel might show a boy, at the edge of a pool with a word bubble coming out of his mouth, saying:
This makes me apprehensive!!
<And the picture might show someone about to dive into a pool, very clearly feeling nervous, scared, and, well, apprehensive.>
After all, there is only so much space in each panel of a graphic. There is no space to ramble – often, the very specific, needed word is what is used. See? Vocabulary building. And? Inference making.
Graphics cover a huge swath of topics these days. Indeed, in addition to funny, silly stories, some biographies and non-fiction is now found in graphic form. What a boon! A little something for everyone, no matter your interests or learning style!
Many bookstores and most libraries will have such a variety of graphics. Reluctant readers in particular really thrive on graphics, but they’re equally pleasing to established readers. You can’t go wrong.
I want to describe graphics as a wondrous, marvelous, vocabulary-filled, thought-provoking, worthwhile genre to read. But, at some point, all the celebrating in the world isn’t enough to convince the toughest critic.
It’s funny. For years I’ve delivered informal talks with teachers and parents about finding books that will connect with their children (sometimes reluctant, sometimes not). I preach everything that I’ve already mentioned in this blog: finding time and space, discovering books with particular characteristics. Then, we discuss jokes and poetry and non-fiction and authors and biographies and magazines and series and when I get to graphics, more often than not, the entire conversation may as well be re-titled to In Defense of Graphics. The talk gets derailed; we all but stop discussing all the other ideas and, instead of celebrating graphics, talk about why it is okay for your child to read graphics. Why parents (and more often than I really like, teachers) discredit graphics is an absolute mystery to me.
Here’s the thing: (OK, there are a lot of things. I’m on a roll. This is dangerous territory with me.)
~ As I’ve said before, when a child loves what she is reading, chances are she’ll read for a longer amount of time and more total words, sentences, and books. Doesn’t matter what type of book. If she reads 15 minutes of a traditional novel or 60 minutes of a graphic, in which scenario is she receiving more reading practice? I mean, seriously, I’ve never much liked word problems, but even I can figure this one out.
~ We don’t limit our children in other recreational areas, do we? I once told Jarrett Krosoczka my analogy of dictating what a child must do on a playground. Do we say, “Ok, only 15 minutes on the swings and then you have to go to the monkey bars!” Of course not. So why do we want to control their pleasure reading in the same way? If my child wants to read a book (and yes, the book is appropriate), who am I to say, hey, kiddo, great that you want to read and all….but how about not reading that book that you selected and reading what I want you to read?
~ I’m saddened by the number of times a teacher or parent has professed his distaste for a graphic, and when I ask, “have you read it, yourself?” The answer is, “weeeellllll, no.” As we tell our children when trying their vegetables, you can’t say you don’t like it if you haven’t tried it yourself. Before you knock graphics, especially the ones your child wants to read, sit down and read it yourself. I’m not saying you’ll fall in love, but you might realize there is more to it than you think. Or, better yet, find yourself an adult graphic. Yes, there are graphics created with an adult audience in mind. Maus and Maus II by Art Spiegelman and Stiches by David Small come to mind as particularly impactful graphics I’ve read as an adult. Haunting stories. Perhaps more so because they are graphics. See if they make an impression on you. See if you can relate to how your child might enjoy this genre. Or, try some good ol’ Calvin and Hobbes. I’m guessing it’ll be difficult for you to put it down.
~ Reading is psychological. Oh, it is more than that, too, I know… But whenever any adult challenges a child about what he is reading, we risk all kinds of important things like shaking their confidence. If an adult perpetually instructs a child what he can and cannot read for pleasure, in essence, the adult is saying you’re not to be trusted. You need me to help you. Yes, this is a slight exaggeration, but the truth is, not only are we raising readers, we’re also raising adults. Yes, adults. Adults who will hopefully read and be able to make their own decisions about what groceries to purchase, colors to paint their walls, books to read, and thoughts to share. This is one place we can start: allowing them some choice in their pleasure reading.
~ Reading – pleasure reading specifically – is supposed to be fun. That’s why it is called pleasure reading. If reading Zita the Spacegirl on a rainy afternoon is your child’s idea of a Good Time, then awesome! Your child is reading, you say? Your child likes a book and voluntarily wants to take time out of his busy life and read it? It is a graphic? And he is reading? Because he wants to? Yeah. All good.
If a child is reading for pleasure, let her do just that: read for pleasure. Can you suggest or encourage other types of reading beyond graphics? Sure! But please, not because graphics aren’t considered “good” in your home but because, in addition to ice cream, you want your child to also try some cake. (“Let Them Eat Cake! Let Them Read Graphics!” This may be my new battle cry. Or theme for a party: cake and graphics. But I digress.)
Some people will argue that when reading a novel, a child builds up stamina as well as the ability to internally visualize what he is reading. To be sure, most children will be required to read longer texts and eventually traditional novels as part of their schooling. But, in order for this to happen, they need to be readers. They need to have a solid foundation. And? Life will be so much easier if they think of books and reading as Good Things. Happy Things. Wonderful Things. If graphics get them there, so what?
The transfer will happen. In good time, maybe, and perhaps not as quickly as you might like, but it will. Once a child finds the love, she will start to devour books – all kinds of books — as though they are a giant bowl of peanut M&M’s (or candy of your choice; I’m making my preferences known). Graphics are a fine place to start.
And? If your child already enjoys reading? Then continue to feed him a balanced reading diet! Or rather, allow him to feed himself! Watch as he adjusts his books to his mood and interests. (By the way? We do this, too. Children aren’t so different from adults when it comes to reading.)
I’ve lectured you for too long, and you’ve been most tolerant. The front porch is cool, but, unbelievably, full of mosquitos. I must call it a night. However, the conversation has really just started. I’ll revisit graphics again, of that I’m sure.
Contact me at fplweb (at) frontporchlibrarian dot com