My classroom library has always been large and diverse. I want to have books for each student that they will devour. Several years ago I realized there was a hole in my collection. This realization occurred once I began thinking of my husband as a reader. I think it is important for children to see their parents reading. At the time, my youngest son was just born and my oldest was almost three. I read all the time, and read to them as well. I wondered what example my husband Chris was setting? The more I thought about it the more I realized he was a reader — just different from me.
By all accounts Chris was a strong student as a child and is now an engineer for a nearby city. He reads almost daily, but it is a consistent diet of comic books. Beyond comics in the newspaper, I didn’t have much experience with comics. What was the point? I love reading. I get lost in a book to connect to characters and to escape this world I’m in for a brief period. Surely comics couldn’t do the same, right? I couldn’t have been more wrong.
Chris was the person who first introduced me to graphic novels. He showed me what graphic novels were and I bought a few. My first series was Bone by Jeff Smith. I brought the first few into my classroom and didn’t even introduce them, just placed them into the library. They were immediately checked out. In my classroom you can measure the popularity of a book by whether it is returned or passed student to student. I didn’t see any of the Bone books the rest of the year.
From that first purchase, I haven’t looked back. Chris has led me to other books, as have students and other educators. I now have shelves of graphic novels in my classroom as well as books I call “hybrids” — books that are similar to novels but have a lot of pictures like Frankie Pickle by Eric Wight or The Aldo Zelnick Comic Novel Series by Karla Oceanak. Kids devour these books. It is the single most circulated section of my classroom library.
I know a few educators question the validity of graphic novels; some don’t consider them “real reading.” Honestly, ten years ago I might have been in that camp. But I gave them a chance. One thing I immediately noticed was that some of my reluctant readers are more likely to read when handed a graphic novel. Some of my struggling readers show better comprehension when they read one. The pictures help students who have trouble visualizing a story. When students have a hard time grasping the concept of inferring, I use graphic novels. As I learned in Terry Thompson’s book, Adventures in Graphica, graphic novels lend themselves to teaching comprehension strategies. Inferring, for example, often happens in the “gutters,” the space between the panels. This has helped make a comprehension strategy more concrete for many of my students.
If you are considering using graphic novels in your classroom, I have two resources to suggest to you. Terry Thompson’s book Adventures in Graphica is a wonderful book and taught me a lot. For example, he refers to graphic novels not as a genre but as a medium. You can have realistic fiction, fantasy, or even biographies all written in the graphic novel format. He mentions that nonfiction graphic novels are often overlooked, and I know they have been in my room. I immediately ordered some to begin to build that section of my library. He also gives great tips on how to use graphic novels and comics in minilessons and small groups. After reading his book I plan on adding regular comics to my class next year, including strips from the daily newspaper.
A newer resource is the new podcast Kids’ Comic Revolution, available to download on iTunes. The first episode featured Rania Telgemeier, author of Smile and Drama. The second podcast was with Kazu Kibuishi, who has written the popular Amulet series, and many other graphic novels. This is a great resource for my students, because they can listen to some of their favorite authors and find out more about their books. Dave Roman and Jerzy Drozd, the hosts of the podcasts, are looking for student input. In the second episode teacher extraordinaire Colby Sharp had several of his students on as guests discussing their favorite graphic novels, series, and authors.
I think the lesson I really learned from my husband all of those years ago is that all reading is valuable. While the first book I would pick for myself might not be a graphic novel, that doesn’t mean I should keep it from my students. When I took the time to get to know graphic novels and all of the variety that is out there, I did fall in love with them. Who couldn’t enjoy Jennifer and Matt Holm’s Babymouse and her ever growing battle with her locker? Or Jarrett Krosoczka’s Lunch Lady? My students often daydream about what school would be like if she was in our lunch room. Anything that can get my students to enjoy reading is valuable, and graphic novels certainly do just that.
Some recommended graphic novels from the elementary level:
The Babymouse Series by Jennifer Holm and Matthew Holm
The Lunch Lady Series by Jarett J. Krosoczka
The Bone Series by Jeff Smith
The Amulet Series by Kazu Kibuishi
Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke
The Squish Series by Jennifer Holm and Matt Holm
The Olympians Series by George O’Connor
Knights of the Lunch Table Series by Frank Cammuso
The Toon Books (lower elementary) from Candlewick
Around the World by Matt Phelan
Sidekicks by Dan Santat
The Binky Series by Ashley Spires
The Baby-Sitters Club Series illustrated by Rania Telgemeier
The Sticky Burr Series by John Lechner
Jellaby by Kean Soo