The Graphic Novel in the Classroom

I can say confidently that through my childhood, the term “Graphic Novel,” was not a part of my vocabulary. To be honest, my first recollection of the graphic novel genre probably did not occur until the late 1980s or early 90s. This was well after I graduated high school. However, like many other teenage boys, if you ever found me with a book in my hand, it was most likely a comic. Marvel over DC, ’nuff said. While I believe I had an active imagination, the artwork, the action packed storytelling, and of course, the disproportionate, but voluptuous, female heroes always made for a good read.

Douglas Fisher and Nancy Frey. "Glencoe American History in Graphic Novel". Glencoe/McGraw Hill pub.
Douglas Fisher and Nancy Frey. “Glencoe American History in Graphic Novel”. Glencoe/McGraw Hill pub.

However, as much as I enjoyed them, my parents were always concerned that I was not reading the right kind of books (this is a good place for you DC Comics fans to make a remark). The stigma that comics are not literature, while it does persist somewhat today, was must more prevalent in the 80s. Just like rock n roll in the 1950s, comics were not good for you because it gave the reader a “false sense of reality” and could “rot the brain.” Both critics and parents at the time failed to see the bigger picture, that for most people, comics and graphic novels alike are a pathway into the world of serious literature.

Proof of this is evident, as it seems that over the past ten years there has been a growing movement among schoolteachers to incorporate graphic novels into the curriculum. I am not talking about just at the college level either; this is happening at the intermediate and high school levels as well. Moreover, if you really consider the advantages that graphic novels in the classroom can offer, why was this not done sooner? With their colorful images and sometimes easier to read format, graphic novels are becoming much more popular with students.

For many young children, who perhaps struggle with reading comprehension or have learning disabilities, graphic novels and comics will help bridge the reading gap. In conjunction with the school text, the graphic novel aid literally paints the pictures to go along with the its rich narrative and ultimately helps the student develop the understanding of concise storytelling. Graphic novels also offer help to autistic students as well, as they display visual examples of emotions with the characters that they might not perceive from simply reading words on a page. If you do not think that being able to discern another person’s emotions is an important life skill, well, you are wrong.

It also seems that many publishing companies are seeing the educational advantages of the graphic novel. I recently came across an amazing book published by Glencoe/McGraw Hill, “American History in Graphic Novel.” Inside it offers a brief history of what graphic novels are and their origins, as well as strategies for teachers to use. However, what is interesting is that it goes on to offer summaries and two assignments for each of the thirteen history lessons. This book is specifically tailored for intermediate age students in Social Studies, beginning with the “Lost Colony” and ending with a tale set in the 1970s at the dawn of the home computer.

Since this is a blog, I feel that I should share with whoever reads this, that I have personal experience with both of the points I just made. My 13-year-old son struggles with reading comprehension, and my 12-year-old daughter has autism. To help them both, I harkened back to the days of my youth, and introduced them both to appropriate age level comics. Since then, I have noticed that they both enjoy reading more and in the case of my son, his reading comprehension skills have improved. While learning is an on-going process, progress is being made with both of them.

I believe that as a culture we are seeing the popularity of the graphic novel ascend every day. With such books as “Maus,” “Persepolis,” and “American Born Chinese,” along with the immensely thrilling AMC television show “The Walking Dead,” to the 2009 “Watchmen” movie, graphic novels are no longer an underground cult item. They have earned their way into the mainstream, and into the annals of serious literature. Lastly, I know that teenagers like to think they know more than their parents do, but to my father, and all those other adults that told me that I was wasting my time reading that “trash,” this time it looks like that is the case. I guess I really was wiser beyond my years at 15.