Graphic Novels and Comics: Best Books in the Classroom?

A Revolution in Classroom Education

In recent years, educators have joined forces with comic book and graphic novel creators to implement new reading material in the classroom. Unlike traditional books, comics and graphic novels can be used to teach young readers in unique ways.

A recent article by the New York Times explored the use of such books in the classroom. Below is an excerpt:

When fifth graders at P.S. 124 in Brooklyn were given a sneak peek last winter of “Theseus and the Minotaur,” a retelling of the classic Greek myth by the French writer and cartoonist Yvan Pommaux, they immediately took to the tale, their teacher, Daniel Tandarich, said. And why not? The book, the first from Toon Graphics, is filled with gruesomely creative murders, feats of superhuman strength, misbehaving gods and bloodthirsty beasts. A scene in which a rampaging bull gores a Cretan youth was a particular favorite, Mr. Tandarich said. The best part about “Theseus and the Minotaur,” at least for this audience: It’s a comic book.

“You don’t have to explain to a child how to look at cartoons,” said Françoise Mouly, founder of Toon Graphics and art editor at The New Yorker. “You don’t have to tell a kid how to find Waldo, for example. They do this much better than adults, because they pay attention to details and are used to processing information to extract meaning out of it. That’s how they make sense of the world, and comics are good diagrams for how to extract meaning from print.”

Toon Graphics, aimed at children in the fourth grade and up, is a new imprint of Raw Junior, an independent publishing house created in 1998 by Ms. Mouly, who said she was a huge believer in the power of comics to create better readers. “Theseus and the Minotaur” came out on Tuesday.

Ms. Mouly started Toon Books, which publishes comics for children as young as 3, in 2008. Its books are listed on several prominent recommended reading lists (including the American Library Association’s) and are included in state and national school programs and initiatives, which is where the teachers who take them into the classrooms often hear about them in the first place. The books are taught across the country, with the help of 200-page illustrated lesson plans that cover topics from literary interpretation and story arcs to “comics as a genre.” Their use in classrooms made immediate sense, given their similarities to the picture books that children that age were already reading in school.

With Toon Graphics, Ms. Mouly said she hoped to extend this learning process to older children. Though the books also have accompanying lesson plans and follow national Common Core standards, the battle for acceptance, Ms. Mouly admits, may be uphill. Plenty of fourth and fifth graders love comics, of course, but that’s also the time when many teachers and parents are trying to wean children off them. “To develop as readers, kids need a lot of experience processing words,” said Timothy Shanahan, distinguished professor emeritus of urban education at the University of Illinois at Chicago. “If a youngster spends an hour reading a comic and an hour reading a book, they’re probably processing a lot more words when they’re reading a book. It’s not that comics are bad, it’s what they might replace.”

The article provides many insights, but my favorite relates to how comic books and graphic novels utilize visual communication: “You don’t have to tell a kid how to find Waldo…they pay attention to details and are used to processing information to extract meaning out of it. That’s how they make sense of the world, and comics are good diagrams for how to extract meaning from print.”

Many educators are discovering how non-traditional texts can provide both the student and teacher with more opportunities.


 

What are your thoughts on using graphic novels and comic books in the classroom? Do you think it will encourage children to read?

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