I often get questions from concerned parents whose children have fallen in love with graphic novels and won’t read traditional text-based books. I always reassure those parents that graphic novels are wonderful for several reasons and try to recommend excellent titles.
I’ve become an expert on quality graphic novels for young students: For the past three years, I’ve been serving on a committee for the Texas Library Association, the Little Mavericks list, and have read and reviewed hundreds of graphic novels. While all states have “best of” lists put together by their state library associations, Texas is the only state that makes a “best of” list of graphic novels for children in grades K through 5. The Little Mavericks committee is made up of librarians from all over Texas, and we read graphic novels published for children throughout the year before curating a list of the best ones. Serving on the committee has given me a broad knowledge of the graphic novels available for elementary students, and an opportunity to think critically about their role in literacy. As I wrap up my three-year cycle on the committee, I thought it was a perfect time to share with the Post Oak community what I’ve learned about graphic novels and why I champion them.
- Books should be fun! Studies show that reading choice is a key factor in building “print motivation,” or a feeling that books are interesting, which builds lifelong readers.
Aside from this important role they play in strengthening print motivation, graphic novels are also great at supporting literacy in other ways. They:
- Help encourage brain development by asking the reader to make unusual connections, especially between print and text.
- Promote visual literacy and critical thinking—students have to interpret pictures to understand the story and synthesize the information from the pictures and text.
- Teach complex narrative structures—nonlinear and circular storytelling helps students broaden their understanding of narrative.
- Talk about difficult subjects in an appealing way—many graphic novels address mental health, gender identity, family dynamics, and other topics that educators sometimes have a difficult time discussing with students.
- Build empathy—studies show that students who read fiction show more empathy. Also, students who are exposed to positive representations of marginalized groups are less likely to carry negative stereotypes into adulthood.
- Help students understand nonverbal cues—students today have less independent play time, which has led to a decrease in their ability to manage conflict and read nonverbal cues, including facial cues and body language. Because many parts of a graphic novel are told only through the facial expressions and body language of the characters; they give students an opportunity to practice those skills.
- Disrupt the white default—because most characters in most books are white, students often gloss over character descriptions, assuming a white default. Since graphic novels are a visual medium, students are more likely to recognize that characters are ethnically and racially diverse.
- Build reader confidence—Students who are able to finish a long graphic novel are encouraged to try other, longer texts, and feel less frustrated about reading.
- Help readers with visual processing lags—Because the dialogue is broken up across the page, students can digest small chunks of information at a time, rather than large text blocks.
- Build vocabulary—new or difficult words have context in the illustrations.
If your student is reading passionately, but only reading graphic novels, this is great news. If you’re worried about finding them quality graphic novels that meet their developmental needs, please stop by the library and I’ll help you check some out that fit your child’s age and reading level. You can snuggle up and read them together—you might find you fall in love, too!