Teachers and Librarians Praise Benefits of Comics for Kids

smilecoverWith teachers and students across the country getting into the swing of the new school year, Publishers Weekly recently took an in-depth look at the seemingly endless advantages of incorporating comics into the K-12 curriculum, and the accompanying growth in educator resources to aid in that task — including some from yours truly!

The article highlights the explosive popularity of all-ages comics among young readers, including those by Raina Telgemeier (Smile, Sisters, Drama, and the upcoming Ghosts), Victoria Jamieson (2015 Newbery Honor Book Roller Girl), and current National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature Gene Luen Yang (American Born Chinese, Boxers/Saints, and The Shadow Hero). According to friend of CBLDF Eva Volin, children’s librarian at the Alameda (California) Free Library, this has led to a very good problem to have — so many graphic novels for kids are being published that she can no longer buy them all for the library’s collection:

We are in the middle of a graphic novel renaissance right now. Once upon a time I would buy everything that came out, because there were so few things available. But now I have the luxury of choice. I can make educated decisions about my selections. The demand for these books is very, very high.

At the same time, more and more educators every year are realizing the educational benefits of using comics in the classroom. Volin points out that while 60% of the population are visual learners, “at some point in time, someone decided that once you hit fourth grade you can only learn from prose. But graphic novels give visual learners an equal opportunity to absorb information the way they are most comfortable learning.”

Karen Gavigan, associate professor at the University of South Carolina’s School of Library and Information Science, has done extensive research into how both reading and creating graphic novels can benefit reluctant readers. But she’s also quick to point out that the format has applications far beyond remedial classes:

‘It’s a pet peeve of mine when I hear that [graphic novels only appeal to struggling readers],’ she says, adding that she can point to many examples to counter that attitude, like ‘the wonderful story of the teacher who purchased copies of the Gareth Hinds graphic novel version of Beowulf [Candlewick, 2007] out-of-pocket for her AP classes. She said she had never seen such interest in the book before.’

In 2013, Gavigan and fellow USC professor Kendra Albright collaborated on a pilot project with Susan McNair, librarian at the Birchwood School for youth incarcerated in South Carolina’s juvenile justice system. Drawing on their own experiences, the students penned a graphic novel about HIV/AIDS and then worked with professional graphic artist Sarah Petrulis to illustrate it. The project engaged students, helped them develop a variety of skills like planning and teamwork in addition to writing and illustrating, and introduced them to career possibilities they may not have considered previously. “They saw themselves as artists,” says Gavigan. “They saw that they were not just readers or consumers of books, but they can create them.” This year, the Birchwood School received a Will Eisner Graphic Novel Grant for Libraries to repeat the project with a new group of students, this time producing a book about gang violence.

Sven Larsen, Vice President of Marketing at Papercutz, said that the stigma against comics has largely disappeared among educators and librarians, but sometimes they still need help convincing parents that the format is worthwhile. For that purpose, Larsen recommends CBLDF’s “excellent resource” Raising a Reader! How Comics & Graphic Novels Can Help Your Kids Love to Read!, which Papercutz incorporates into its educator guides. We also offer several resources for teachers and librarians, including the ongoing series Using Graphic Novels in Education and Adding Graphic Novels to Your Library or Classroom Collection.

As always, we are thrilled to see ever more schools and libraries recognizing the unique educational, literary, and artistic value of comics! Check out the full article at Publishers Weekly for much more, including an extensive list of resources and suggested activities centered on the format!

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Contributing Editor Maren Williams is a reference librarian who enjoys free speech and rescue dogs.