Monday, February 4, 2013

What Exactly Is a Graphic Novel?

I came in the other morning and talked with my principal and several colleagues about my desire to add graphic novels to the library.  The look of horror and disbelief was evident.    I could see by their raised eyebrows they wanted to know why I wanted to add "smut" books to the collection.

When I was a kid someone gave my sister a stack of comics.  I remember reading through all of them. Veronica, Donald Duck, Woody Woodpecker and many others.  It was a rare comic book that crossed the threshold of our home.  My mother viewed comics as a major corrupting vice, at best junk literature that would rot my mind... "Most comics do not use good grammar.  They misspell words.  They are not quality literature."  I grew up believing comic books were not for real "readers".

As a librarian of an elementary library I have been slow to add graphic novels to my collection.  One reason, my belief that all graphic novels were adventure comics with scantily clothed females.  From their my imagination visualized angry parents storming the library holding offending graphic novels in their hands.  That image fueled my bias against this genre.

There are as many types of graphic novels as there are genres, many are kid friendly.    Research shows using graphic novels and comic books in the classroom is a powerful reading tool.  I even discovered that Maryland has a Comic Book Initiative.
Columbia University Teacher College has the "Comic Book Project" a national comic-based after school program.  Denver, Colorado has "Comicbook Classroom"

I was surprised by my research results.  There are lots of reasons to use them in the classroom.  Here are resources for choosing age appropriate graphic novels.
There's more to comic books and graphic novels than the stereotype of yore.  When asked, "What exactly is a graphic novel?"  My short answer - "The cousin of the comic books of my youth." The long answer - "An important piece of literature that needs to be available for my students."  Comic Books and Graphic Novels are important components for teaching reading.  

And to think I almost missed the boat because of my own misinformed bias.  Graphic Novels are more than stories with scantily clad ladies.  They are a multi-layered form of literature.


  1. This post came at a right time. Our school librarian and I are looking into how to use graphic novels more efficiently. There's no way around that kids are attracted to them, why not tap into it to help them grow as readers.

  2. I wasn't familiar with the Comic Book Project from TC 'til now. I will check it out next. Thanks!

  3. We have lots in our library, Ruth. I grew up reading comics & many other books too. I never thought they were bad for you. When did that happen? Some beautiful graphic novels have come out in the past couple of years, some for younger, some for YA. I have read the new Feynman, the graphic A Wrinkle In Time, Anne Frank, Smile, & Drama to name a few. Then there are the ones like Wonderstruck & The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick. Here's a link to a Goodreads list that might help:

  4. I read a TON of graphic novels. Hit me up and I'll send you the link to my Pinterest board. Or you can check out my Goodreads shelf -
    Yes, there are a lot of graphic novels and comics that are only for YA or adults, but the field is amazing now!

  5. I looked at your shelf. I know I will select some of them. Thank you.

  6. I looked at your list. They look great.


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