Comics in the Classroom

13 Oct

Call them what you will—comic books, graphic novels, illustrated guides—but these formats are permeating the mainstream. On Monday, we posted a mini picture post from our adventures at New York Comic Con this past weekend, and you guys had plenty to say! The comments covered everything from comic books being just like TV and video games to comic books being a great gateway into reading. Just like any other medium, comics are both these things and many others.

We were lucky enough to attend a lecture given by Scott Westerfeld on Sunday. He spent a few minutes talking about how he decided to write a series of novels (the Leviathan trilogy) with illustrations, and reminded us that, historically, most novels were once illustrated. On the right, you’ll see illustrations from a late 18thcentury edition of Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility. He noted an edition of The War of the Worlds that heralded the illustrator’s name far larger than that of H.G. Wells! Illustrations are beginning to regain the reputation they lost for being just as legitimate as the words themselves.

Comic books aren’t comic books because of their content—they are comic books because of the heavy use of illustrations to denote action that interacts with the text. They can contain any type of story or information: Comic books can be about superheroes or space aliens, but they can also be about history (as with the Maus graphic novels) or science (as with The Secret Science Alliance and the Copycat Crook)! For some children, sequential art makes difficult concepts easier to grasp.

Elephant & Piggie, a series of beginning readers by award-winning illustrator Mo Willems, feature common comic-book styles while still using the repetitive text and illustrations classically used in the genre. Compare these illustrations below: On the top, you have Elephant & Piggie and underneath, you have a strip from Scholastic’s own middle-grade graphic novel series, Amulet. Both use sequential art and speech balloons while also containing positive themes that students can relate to…but one is a reader and one is a comic.

Books for older children are also embracing traditional comic-book characteristics. Did you know that Jeff Kinney actually started the ever-successful Diary of a Wimpy Kid as a Web comic? Now the very same series has kids thrilled about reading! It also deals with issues kids face every day: bullying, growing up, friendship—look how excited these kids were to get their copies of the fourth book, Dog Days.

Graphic novels, illustrated guides, comic books—however you want to refer to them—have evolved into an excellent reading tool. Many of them cover complex issues and concepts in an accessible design. Some of you noted that this format has aided students with learning disabilities, others mentioned that these books were a great way to get kids interested in reading. After reading your comments, we decided to put together a list of classroom-appropriate graphic novels that cover a variety of subjects. If you have any suggestions, definitely leave a comment! We’d love to see what books you use!

Ghostopolis | Tab October
Bone | October
Amulet | Teens September
Resistance | Teens September
Maus | Teens September
Diary of a Wimpy Kid | Pre-order #5
Calvin and Hobbes | Fall
Dork Diaries | Arrow October
Popularity Papers | Arrow September
Adventures of Ook and Gluk | Lucky September
Elephant & Piggie Pack | SeeSaw October

3 Responses to “Comics in the Classroom”

  1. Cassie October 13, 2010 at 6:49 pm #

    My 11 year old daughter is a reluctant reader. As a Children’s Librarian, I took that rather hard at first! But everyone is different, and thankfully she found graphic novels and can’t get enough of them. On top of that, all of her teachers thus far have supported students reading graphic novels! Her teachers have all read books in class, and she loves those (the Skeleton Creek series is the latest) but hasn’t reached a point where she will pick up a “book” on her own. I’m not pushing her – I know it will come in time and right now, she’s reading every night!

    • Cassie October 13, 2010 at 6:53 pm #

      I wanted to add, she has read all the Diary of a Wimpy Kid books too and is patiently waiting for #5 to come out! Kinney has done a great job combining substance with a format that is likeable/readable!

  2. Felicia Canfield October 18, 2010 at 10:38 am #

    My husband is creating an all ages comic book series called Wombat Rue, and this summer we had a weekly booth at a local farmers/craft market. Time after time we had parents coming back to the booth begging for the next issue and saying they can’t get their kid to stop reading! They tell us the kids read it over and over, often for an hour or more at a time. As well, teachers love it and have been asking us to come to their classes to talk about the story, writing and conduct art lessons (ranging from early elementary to high school).

    Honestly, this wasn’t the initial goal – the goal was just to tell a great story with great art. But now we find kids are captivated! It’s so thrilling and such an unexpected plus.

    Also, I heard that reacing with illustrations, unlike pure text reading, involves both sides of the brain. And people who learn to read comic books young can become very proficient readers. I happen to be a lawyer, so I read a lot, and I have a hard time following many mainstream comic books. So one thing we do with Wombat Rue is focus on the readability of the panels and word bubbles.

    Thank you for your article!! I definitely encourage parents and educators to keep an open mind about comic book reading, but also to carefuly screen the content. The suggestions above are good ones.

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