Books are the quietest and most constant of friends; they are the most accessible and wisest of counselors, and the most patient of teachers. ~Charles W. Eliot

Friday, November 5, 2010

The vast appeal of graphic novels

I happened upon a website yesterday that separated book recommendations by presumed interests and abilities. The part that caught my attention was the part that started, "For Reluctant Readers" and then proceeded to list and display cover images for a number of graphic novels only. Hmmmmmm... Graphic novels are difficult for some people to categorize but this categorization just struck me as all wrong. Graphic novels are not just for reluctant readers (seriously, millions of Wimpy Kid books have been sold and they are loved by an amazing cross-section of the reading universe) and reluctant readers are too amorphous a population to limit in this way.

The graphic novel format is a vibrant and fluid format for storytelling that fully engages the reader by requiring him or her to follow the story closely. The illustrations in a graphic novel are not there to illustrate a point made in the text but, rather, they are as instrumental to the telling of the story as the text is and you can't grasp the full story without both. Graphic novels for beginning readers are a great way to start the reading process because full attention is required to enjoy the story being told and because the visual element requires drawing inferences and using your imagination, the way picture books do. Francoise Mouly, art director for The New Yorker, once told me she grew up in France reading comic books and that they are the perfect way to engage new readers and teach important skills. Recognizing the need and potential and maybe in response to some of her favorite childhood memories, she started TOON Books with her husband Art Spiegelman (author and illustrator of the ground-breaking, Pulitzer Prize-winning Holocaust graphic novel, Maus). They publish high quality comics for kids, like the award-winning Benny and Penny books.  As noted on the TOON Books website,
Visual narrative helps kids crack the code that allows literacy to flourish, teaching them how to read from left to right, from top to bottom. Speech balloons facilitate a child's understanding of written dialogue as a transcription of spoken language.  
Graphic novels and comics are great teaching tools that just so happen to appeal to a widespread audience. As well they should - they're as varied and cover as many traditional genres as traditional "books" do.

Here's an interesting fact - among the finalists for this year's Children's Choice Book Awards were several graphic novels. One of the coolest things about the Children's Choice Book Awards is that young people not only select the winners but, at an earlier stage, young people (close to 15,000 kids and teens) select the finalists. Young readers (generally not reluctant at that) selected graphic novels as finalists. One of them, Dork Diaries: Tales from a Not-So-Fabulous Life by Rachel Renee Russell won the  2010 5th-6th Grade Book of the Year.
The sequel is now available .

Many kids love graphic novels. If you want to cultivate a lifelong love of reading in your child, let him or her read the books that speak to or work for them. If your child loves video games, he or she is not necessarily a reluctant reader - just a lover of video games - and the visual nature and feverish pace of some graphic novels may be a perfect fit.

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