I can’t tell you how many times I have heard from parents and teachers that graphic novels aren’t “real books.” It hurts me inside every time I hear that.
The visual literacy gained from graphic novels is real. Not only do you need to comprehend the words on the page, but you need to interpret the images, and how they relate to the words. Some graphic novels do depict superheroes and action like the comic books we are all familiar with, but there are so many richer themes going on in graphic novels as well. Even the superhero comics can be good, though- the themes of good triumphing over evil and social justice above all are really great things for kids to learn.
As a librarian, I find that even my most reluctant readers can lose themselves in a good graphic novel- and then I see them coming back for more and more. They don’t realize how good these books are for them.
Now, I know that some may need more convincing than that. So, I put together a quick list of five graphic novels that may change your mind for good.
1. Epileptic by David B. – David’s brother is diagnosed with epilepsy at age 11. What follows is a desperate search for a “cure,” where his parents try everything (even things that are crazy or harmful) to cure David’s brother during a time when not much is known about the condition (the 60s and 70s). David uses vivid imagery and metaphoric characters to represent some of the people and situations he encounters along the way (a macrobiotic healer is a tiger, for instance).
2. Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi – Students tell me all the time that this was an eye-opening read for them. Persepolis is Ms. Satrapi’s memoir of her experiences from the ages of 10 to 14 living in Iran during the Islamic Revolution. She weaves together a story of the horrors of the conflict, coming of age as an independent, smart girl, and the history and culture of Iran.
3. Maus by Art Spiegelman – Speigelman depicts Jews as mice and Nazis as cats in this Holocaust story. The story is true- Speigelman’s father was a Holocaust survivor, and the entire story is based on his memories of what happened to him during that time.
4. American Born Chinese by Gene Yang – Yang weaves three stories together: one about a mythical monkey who wants to be a god, one about a popular white kid embarrassed by his stereotypical Chinese cousin, and one about a Chinese-American kid who wants acceptance from his white peers. The book teaches acceptance: from others, and from oneself.
5. Anything by Gareth Hinds – Hinds turns classics in to another kind of art by turning them into graphic novels. He keeps the original language of the piece, and he is extremely thorough. These have absolutely no resemblance to the “Illustrated Classics” we grew up with- these are graphically gorgeous adaptations that adults can appreciate just as much, if not more than, teen readers.
There are a ton of others- some even better than these (Watchmen, Dark Knight Returns, etc.), but I wanted to show you a cultural mix that might surprise you. I didn’t even delve into the genius coming from Asia.
Pretty please with a cherry on top: next time you see someone with a graphic novel, DO NOT think that it isn’t a real book. It is real- and it just may be even more real than some of the Kindle candy being published these days.
Read one! You might love it- never know unless you try!