So, I’ve been meaning to discuss graphic novels, and the shaming that often accompanies them, and this thread by the amazing Jim Di Bartolo brought it to mind…
As a bookseller, graphic novels are particularly problematic for those of us helping customers buying for kids. I cannot begin to tell you HOW MANY TIMES I have heard a parent/grandparent say, *absolutely* dismissively, “That’s not a REAL book.”. When I hear that, you can imagine this 👇
Here’s the deal. Graphic novels are *absolutely* books. REAL books, even. With words and EVERYTHING OMG. Not only that, but sometimes, they are even the best option to purchase. Here are 10 reasons why:
- Early/struggling readers! Graphic novels can be AMAZING for this category of folks. As others read the books to them, they see the images that go with – images that are more striking than simple line drawings, and more likely to catch their attention. They begin to learn the story better, and therefore the words – helping their reading progress. And with fewer words, it’s often less overwhelming for those who are just learning, or who are struggling. Overwhelm a reader, and you’ve lost them – which is *exactly* what we’re trying NOT to do. In fact, according to this article, they’re even good for readers with dyslexia! http://dyslexia.yale.edu/resources/tools-technology/suggested-reading/graphic-novels/
- More Interesting! Serious talk, here – have you ever really LOOKED at some of those early readers, particularly books used to help struggling students? I mean, really paid attention to the storyline? OR WERE THEY SO BORING YOU DOZED OFF?? So many books designed for early/struggling readers have tepid plots and boring characters, primarily because of word comprehension. But why in the *world* would a struggling/early reader think that “Reading Is Fun” if that’s what they’re stuck with?? Not only that, but it can be embarrassing for some students who *know* they’re struggling, and their reading material just reinforces that fact. Graphic novels help level that playing field by making sure that EVERYONE can read the same books. With fewer words, and images to assist, early/struggling readers can feel like they are a part of the class, and that encourages them to continue.
- Making complex topics easier to understand and more fun to read about! Some of my favorite graphic novels are nonfiction. In fact, one of the top sellers from the children’s section at our store is a series of graphic novels I found and thought were so awesome, we HAD to carry them. They are called Science Comics, and they address topics such as Cats, Sharks, Wild Weather, Robots & Drones, Skyscrapers, and more. Most everyone on staff has a favorite, and I’ve had *adults* buy them for themselves – while kids get SUPER excited about them. For those who may still be unclear – getting kids excited about science topics is an EXCELLENT thing, and will often carry forward to more advanced topics when they find some they click with.
- Classics! Yep, classics are available in graphic novel form. One of my favorite books *ever* is Anne of Green Gables, and the graphic novel version of that book is just so lovely. And face it – it can be hard to get “kids these days” into the classics, because the writing then was just so very different than what they see now. Graphic novels can be an excellent introduction, and they make an amazing gift when coming from a grandparent – the sharing of a common interest is always the best gift, regardless of how that gift is packaged.
- Variety! In the last several years, graphic novels for middle grades – and even early readers! – have EXPLODED in popularity, so it’s usually pretty good odds you’ll find *something* to like. From contemporary, to history, to science, to fantasy…they’re not the comic books of yore, that’s for sure.
- Good for ALL ages! Contrary to the opinion you’ve probably gained thus far, I’m actually NOT a huge graphic novel reader [Insert shocked face here]. I’m just now starting to enjoy them, and I’m still sort of picky about the ones I read (See #4 above). However, I have found some that I really do like, and I’m in my mid-40’s. Most of my co-workers enjoy them to some degree as well, and the kids LOVE them – and there is one out there for everyone (Head back to #4 again).
- Great for the commitment-phobic! Seriously. Unlike a full-on, 300+ page novel, the commitment level is low with graphic novels. They’re reasonably quick reads, and you’re not out multiple hours if you decide it just wasn’t your thing. That’s one of the reasons I’ve started trying them more – because there’s really no loss if I’m not feeling it. It also means that I’m more willing to try ones I might not otherwise, because there’s not as big of an investment. For example, I read one recently that I ended up liking far more than I anticipated: Snapdragon, by Kat Leyh. It just…drew me in, and never quite let go. But for the titles that DON’T have that effect? Minimal time wasted.
- Re-readable! People, please do not tell kids that you don’t want to buy them a graphic novel because they’ll “read it too fast”. I cannot COUNT how many times I’ve heard *that* one. Every single child that I know that reads graphic novels reads them over and over and OVER again. Find them a graphic novel they really like, and they will wear it out reading it. And honestly – WHO CARES IF THEY READ IT TOO FAST, BECAUSE THEY’RE READING! But yeah, kids *love* to re-read their graphic novels.
- Fiction helps make better people! Yep. I talked about it in this blog post: https://stillmorewords.com/2020/02/26/book-shaming-is-only-shameful-for-the-shamer/ – and it holds true for graphic novels as well. In fact, it would stand to reason that it might even be MORE true, because in this case, you get the benefit of actually *seeing* faces and reactions – the hurt or the happiness, the anger or the joy, the love or the embarrassment…As humans, we are conditioned to read people’s faces to know what’s happening and where we stand. Kids are no different, and seeing those emotions played out in a story where someone gets picked on, or loses a family member, or even *is* the bully? They learn from that – lessons reinforced from the page.
- READING IS READING! Let me write that again, in case you missed it the first time: Reading. Is. Reading. It doesn’t matter what form that reading takes, if someone is working to process words and put them together in story form from what they see on a page? IT IS READING. The goal is to get people *excited* about reading, and to encourage them to read more. Graphic novels do that – for all the reasons listed above, and probably more I’ve not elaborated on. As a loving parent or grandparent, isn’t that ultimately your goal? To help foster a love of reading? The adults I know who are most hard-core about reading graphic novels ALSO love to read nonfiction and literature and whatever else pops up. Graphic novels don’t take *away* from the pleasure of reading – they ADD to it, and help FOSTER it.
So the next time someone mentions a graphic novel, or you’re in your local (indie) bookstore, and you ask for help for that favorite grandchild – don’t roll your eyes, or book shame, or walk away. Take a minute and really reflect on what your goal is with buying books for your loved one. Is it to just foist a gift on them and be done? Then by all means, head for whatever choice YOU prefer. But if your goal is to find something THEY would really like, and to maybe even share some good discussion with them about it, then take a listen to what the bookseller has to say. We don’t recommend things just for the hell of it (at least, the good ones don’t) – we listen to what you say about preferences, reading levels, etc. and then give recommendations we think will truly be great ones. And if there’s a graphic novel or two in that list, give one a shot. You’ll be the “cool” one, they’ll be thrilled to talk to you about it, and you will have succeeded not only in helping foster your bond, but that of the love of reading.
I mentioned several books above, so I wanted to give more information here for anyone interested in checking them out!
Science Comics: There are quite a few out, with roughly 3 planned for each year. I’m SUPER excited about the one on Crows coming this month, and the on Sharks is also a favorite. https://us.macmillan.com/series/sciencecomics/
Anne of Green Gables: They really did a *fabulous* job with this. The colors, the art…it’s all wonderful.
Snapdragon: This showed up, and I was curious, so I picked it up during a shift. Aaaannndd…I ended up taking it home so I could finish it. There’s a lot to like with this one.
So there you have it – the graphic novels I mentioned above. Do you have any favorites?