Just in time for kids' summer reading, I ran across two articles last week defending graphic novels as "real reading." Here I share some notes from those articles together with my response based on my experience with my daughter [pictured on her first morning of summer vacation, as I was trying to get her to rally to leave the house.]
In the first, written two years ago, librarian Molly Wetta at Book Riot shares her Annual Reminder that Graphic Novels are "Real" Reading. As far as I can tell, there's nothing much in this piece that is any less relevant today than it was two years ago. Molly says:
"I love helping children select books they’re excited to read, and delight in finding them titles based on their own interests and reading tastes. However, without fail, I will encounter parents who are not allowing their children to read graphic novels, or are telling kids these “don’t count.”"
She then shares a number of talking points that she has developed for parents and other caregivers on the literary merit of graphic novels for kids. She also links to some lists of recommended titles (though these will not include the very latest releases, of course). Her arguments about the benefits of graphic novels for visual learners and the way that graphic novels help kids learn to make inferences are well worth a look.
The second piece I came across was a recent blog post written by teacher Pernille Ripp titled Not Too Easy - Embracing Graphic Novels at Home. Pernille begins by reminding readers that graphic novels are the biggest reason that her oldest daughter believes in herself as a reader. She notes that despite kids' enthusiasm for graphic novels:
"... one of the biggest push backs in reading also happens to surround graphic novels with many parents and educators lamenting their “easiness.” Within these missives lies a movement to then steer kids away from these “dessert” books and into “harder” reading, or outright banning the reading of graphic novels, telling kids that these books are just for fun, don’t count toward whatever set goal or points, or even confiscating them from kids seen reading them."
In the remainder of her post, she shares reasons why parents should defend their children's reading of graphic novels, and why they are not, in fact, too easy. She notes that in her own experience "it is the pictures that actually add to the sophistication and difficulty of graphic novels because of the skills required to read the images."
This point meets with my own experience. Not having grown up reading graphic novels, or even as much of a fan of comic books, I find graphic novels difficult to read. I'm much more in my comfort zone reading linear text. When I have to move back and forth between the pictures and text bubbles, and potentially other text from a narrator, I don't know where to put my focus. Although I could certainly enhance my skills in this area, my point is that reading integrated text and pictures is a zone of relative weakness for me as a reader. My daughter, on the other hand, is a master at this. She has been devouring graphic novels since I first slipped Jarrett Krosoczka's Lunch Lady books into her eager hands (about three years ago, see photo to the left). And for what it's worth, despite what remains a primarily graphic novel diet, her standardized test and other reading scores are more than sufficient.
Pernille also adds, in response to concerns that kids plow through graphic novels too quickly:
"However, here there is one distinction in the habit of many readers of graphic novels; while they may read the graphic novel quickly on the first try, what often happens then is the re-reads of the same graphic novel as they pore over the pages more closely once they have navigated the story once. This process is one that only adds value as their understanding deepens with each re-read."
This certainly meets with my experience in watching my graphic novel-obsessed daughter. When a new graphic novel lands in her hands (particularly if it is from a series that she already enjoys) she sits down with it immediately and plows through it. She will often finish in less than half an hour. The other day she did this with Red's Planet, Book 2 and suggested to me that I should be borrowing graphic novels instead of purchasing them, since she reads them so quickly.
But she re-reads them. Sometimes many times. Sometimes many times over a few days (as recently occurred with Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy: A Modern Retelling of Little Women) and sometimes after a break (Invisible Emmie and companion titles). I find it fascinating to watch as she reads the same book over time, extracting different levels of meaning. Even though she can read them quickly, I consider purchasing these books a worthwhile investment.
One other point: a commenter on Twitter argued (after I shared Pernille's piece) that a steady diet of graphic novels can harm some kids' ability to be able to visualize on their own. If they are spoon-fed illustrated stories, the argument appears to go, they become less able to make their own pictures when reading non-illustrated texts. I don't know about the research in this area, and I could imagine this being the case for struggling readers. What I do know is that my daughter says that she has no difficulty at all visualizing when she reads standard texts, and that she thinks reading graphic novels and picture books has helped in her case.
But I am running on. There's lots of other material for parents to help understand the benefits of graphic novels in Pernille's piece. Please do go and read the whole thing, along with Molly Wetta's piece. Take their guidance, together with my family's experience, as you decide whether or not to encourage your children to read graphic novels this summer. My take is: yes, graphic novels are real reading. They have their own distinct benefits. Most important: kids love them, which bolsters reading choice (and hence reading itself).
[See also this link to a list of articles defending graphic novels for kids, maintained by Jess Keating.]
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