Yes, Graphic Novels are REAL Books

"My mom told me that I should stop reading comic books and start reading real books.  I told my mom what you told us: that graphic novels ARE real books and I explained to her the difference between them."

Little can make a teacher's heart happier than hearing this from a student in your class.  I have made it my mission over the last few years to have an abundant (and always growing) graphic novel collection in my classroom, and to be sure that my students truly understand what they are.  Yes, there are similarities between graphic novels and the comic books that many of us grew up with.  And yes, when you search "graphic novels" on many websites, most of the search results pop up comic books instead.  There is a real misunderstanding about what graphic novels are and why they are beneficial to students.  Let's talk about a few of them.

1.  "Graphic Novels are just comic books."

Comic books come in a variety of forms and I certainly do not want to disparage them.  I am sure that there are many adults out there that discovered reading as a means to read their favorite comic books.  Reading comics IS a form of reading and I would never discourage a child from choosing to read a comic.  However, graphic novels are not the same as comic books.  Graphic novels are full novels, with accompanying graphics.  Oftentimes they are designed as an alternate version of a book.  My students cannot get enough of the graphic versions of some of the books that I grew up with: The Baby-sitter's Club, Goosebumps, The Boxcar Children.  They also love the graphic novel versions of Ransom Riggs' Miss Peregrine novels.  The books themselves are written for students a bit older than my 4th graders, but the graphic novels allow them to access those stories in a way that is appropriate for them.  And that leads us to the next misconception.

2.  "Graphic Novels aren't real books."

As I discussed in the previous point, graphic novels are true novels.  There are many books out there that were written specifically as graphic novels, and have a complete story and just happen to also have illustrations to accompany the text.  My students are obsessed with anything that Raina Telgemeir writes (Smile, Sisters, Drama, Ghosts) and anything that Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm can put on our shelves (Babymouse, Squish, Sunny Side Up).  Even without the illustrations, these stories would still be engaging stories that my students would love.

What the graphics provide (in addition to incredible visual illustrations) are access to a story that may have previously alluded a child.  I cannot think of a teacher I know that has not hooked a child on reading through the use of graphic novels.  Last year I had a student that wasn't internally motivated to read.  He would read if I asked him to, but he rarely picked up a book if I wasn't standing near him.  One day I introduced him to the first Amulet book.  You would have thought that a whole new world opened up in front of him...and it did.  He read all six Amulet books, and when the seventh came in the mail on release day, it was waiting on his desk the next morning.  He read every graphic novel in my classroom and begged me to buy more on a regular basis.  He became our resident expert on graphic novels, and many that are in my classroom library now can be attributed to him.  A child that read one book during the first half of the school year, read more than thirty in the last few months.

Suddenly he was hooked on reading, and he had access to new worlds.  Now, when I have students that have previously not had access to the same books as their classmates due to their independent reading abilities, I immediately direct them to our graphic novel display.  The colors and illustrations catch their eye and hold their attention.  They are able to finish books more quickly than they have previously so they feel like rockstar readers and incredibly proud of themselves.  Suddenly they are able to read the same books as their friends and they are able to join in on book conversations.  Those shared experiences have created friendships in my classroom that were not there before.

3.  "My child/student shouldn't be reading so many graphic novels.  He/she needs to branch out."

While it may sound like graphic novels are a bit of a gateway book, leading the way to other books, that is not always the case.  Oftentimes students fly through the graphic novels in my classroom, feeling successful and accomplished in reading for the first time, and move onto other, longer novels.  I cannot count how many times this has happened in the last few years.  However, graphic novels are not necessarily something that they leave behind and move on from.  Since graphic novels are true novels with engaging, memorable characters, they always remain part of the reading repertoire.

If I had a student that read nothing but graphic novels, I would be thrilled.  That means they are reading, and they are enjoying what they are reading.  How can I ask for anything more?  Eventually they will discover other series and books that they also enjoy and will begin to read them as well.  As they move through the grades and through their life, they will be introduced to many new worlds and characters.  Reading graphic novels now does not mean they will never read the book that you hope someday they will love.  It just means that they are reading.  End of story.

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