A Teacher’s Take on Graphic Novels
Originally published June 2022
By Amanda Ferraioli
As a second-grade teacher, I am always striving to help my students think beyond the surface level understanding of a text and dive right into the heart of the story. One of my preferred ways to do so is by including graphic novels as part of the reading list. But are graphic novels a lesser form of writing? Parents and children often have opposing views when it comes to this unique and beautifully crafted type of literature.
Concerned parents have shared with me, “My child only wants to read graphic novels. How do I get them to read real books?” Or, “Can you give me book suggestions other than graphic novels?” This worry stems from parents’ desires to see their children become lifelong readers and learners. But since graphic novels are heavily composed of illustrations, parents often view them as “too easy” for their reader. Many don’t even consider graphic novels to be “real” reading. However, I believe these concerns are based around misconceptions of what graphic novels truly are.
In contrast, my students’ enjoyment of graphic novels actually increases their desire to read and learn, which is what most parents wish for their children. From my perspective, graphic literature is a powerful and enticing genre for students that can and should be explored inside and outside of the classroom.
Because of their combined use of words, symbols, and illustrations, graphic novels are a multimodal genre. Their broad nature reaches a wide range of learners, including students with English as a second language, and students with reading disabilities, as well as a variety of reading levels.
The reduction of an overwhelming amount of text allows students to break their reading into manageable sections, while also providing them with visual representations of what is happening in the story. These visualizations actually enhance the experience of the reader, allowing them to create deeper sensory images, grasp new vocabulary, form predictions, and develop a more complex and immersive understanding of the text. The visual format can also help students make sense of topics that might be too difficult to comprehend solely with words.
Graphic novels are also relevant to our students. They cover a breadth of topics that students are interested in. Children can even find graphic novels based on television shows, movies, and video games they love. In graphic novels, kids see characters that are relatable. Characters that look like them, sound like them, and appear in settings that are familiar, with illustrations that can be instantly recognized.
Character designs in graphic novels tend to lean into current trends, which helps our students feel seen and heard. Most of all, this relatability helps kids form connections to their own world. These connections will increase their ability to empathize with characters, take on new and different perspectives, and pick up the next book in the series.
I also like to model for students how to dig deeper by uncovering themes, discovering the author’s message, and imagining the characters in the book are their very best friends. Graphic novels support these higher-level thinking skills in a multitude of ways. For one thing, they tackle topics at the very front of students’ minds. Graphic literature normalizes subjects like divorce, loss, and discovering who you are on your adolescent journey. These books help kids feel less alone as they continue to learn more about the world around them and about themselves.
The characters in graphic novels are also well-rounded. Strong, brave, and adventurous female protagonists are common in this genre, as well as characters of all races and cultures. Children are able to see themselves in the characters in their books. With multi-dimensional characters, teachers can use these books to model and engage students in developing stronger visualization skills, which will lead to improved comprehension. This provides the reader with an experience like watching television, without actually watching television!
The creative nature of graphic novels also inspires students to explore their own creativity. I see many children making their own graphic novels outside the classroom, developing their own characters, and becoming motivated to read, write, or draw in new and different ways.
So, what are some titles that will enhance any classroom library? My second-grade students have worn out copies of the following series:
- Ninja Kid by Anh Do
- The Bad Guys by Aaron Blabey
- Baloney and Friends by Greg Pizzoli
- Pea, Bee, & Jay by Brian “Smitty” Smith
- Hilo by Judd Winick
- The Secret Explorers by SJ King
- Baby-Sitters Little Sister by Ann M. Martin, illustrated by Katy Farina
- Layla and the Bots by Vicky Fang, illustrated by Christine Nishiyama
- Lunch Lady by Jarrett J. Krosoczka
What do these series have in common? They are all highly engaging, beautifully illustrated, and explore the interests of my students. When searching for titles to add to your own classroom, it is helpful to consider your students’ passions and interests, along with their reading levels. You should also think about how the graphic novels you choose can support the work you’re doing across the curriculum.
There is more to graphic novels than what meets the eye. They are packed with meaning and opportunities to develop higher-level thinking skills, while also supporting the vast array of learners, inspiring creativity, and ultimately encouraging a love of reading.
Graphic novels are an important genre to the current generation of readers. I personally find them to be an essential part of my classroom library and, in my experience, students are eager to add these texts to their book boxes, often planning for their next read.
As the saying goes, “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” Graphic novels can be a great way to support and enhance student learning, curiosity, and creativity. Give these books a chance and be amazed at the difference they make in the reading lives of your students!
Amanda Ferraioli is a 2nd grade teacher in Malvern, PA, as well as a certified yoga, mindfulness, and meditation instructor for children and adults. Amanda is always learning and growing as an educator, because she is a mom of three entertaining and energetic children, ages 7, 5, and 1!