Literacies Circle: Graphic Novels

The popularity of graphic novels and comic books continue to worry some parents and educators who assume that these books are not real books. In restorative literacies, anything one reads, writes, draws, sketches, and reflects on counts as real. While graphic novels and comic books are great motivators for reluctant or struggling readers, they are by far from easy. Let’s explore together.

Following are words, sentences, and phrases lifted off from a sampling of graphic novels:



Good! Let’s get you set up in a chair, and the orthodontist will look at your teeth in a few minutes.

(From Smile by Raina Telgemeier)

I think I might even be all better.

Finally—finally!—I get to leave the hospital…

…and go home.

(From El Deafo by Cece Bell)

I wasn’t all that thrilled about moving, but I downright dreaded transferring to Stately Academy.

Drop me off in the front.

Over the summer, my mom kept trying to convince me that it was the best school in town.

No. I’m parking in the back. We can—

I wanna walk in myself, Mom. Please.

I didn’t believe her, of course. She was blinded by her own reasons.

(From Secret Coders by Gene Luen Yang and Mike Holmes)

Smell that fresh air! Isn’t it great!

Now let’s see if these keys still work.

(From The Stonekeeper by Kazu Kibuishi)

This Transmogrifier will turn you into anything at all.

All you do is set this indicator and the machine automatically restructures your chemical configuration. You can be an eel, a baboon, a giant bug, or a dinosaur.

What if you want to be something else?

I left some room. Just write it on the side.

(From Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson)

What do readers need to do to read the above examples? Readers need to decode consonant-vowel-consonant words and irregular “sight” words, but they also run into multi-syllabic words like orthodontics, hospital, and, oh my! Transmogrifier! And phrases like downright dreaded transferring… or set the indicator and the machine automatically restructures…

Now let’s take a look at the illustrations without the words, sentences, and phrases:

What do readers need to fully comprehend the illustrations? Words, sentences, and phrases are certainly helpful to make sense of the characters, dialogue, and plot.

Reading graphic novels and comic books take on quite a cognitive load in the brain. It’s not just easy stuff. Using illustrations to solve complex words, sentences, and phrases is by far not guessing, but is a strategy for both decoding and comprehension. And just the same, using the words, sentences, and phrases is a strategy for comprehending the illustrations.

Furthermore, many children who have devoured graphic novels and comics eventually move on to lengthy chapter books. The most important take-away is that children who are reading graphic novels and comic books are reading, actively processing, thinking, practicing,

AND enjoying!

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