Comic books once were considered the worst things kids could read. Lots of irresistible issues were hidden under beds or between the covers of textbooks. Many comic books were banned because of their ephemeral nature, graphical format, and often mature and violent content. Think of those lurid covers featuring a scantily-clad, buxom girl in the clutches of the super villain or monster. To avoid censorship, the Comic Magazine Association of America responded by establishing and imposing the Comics Code Authority in 1954 that sanitized the content of comics for years.
Children and teens continue to be drawn to colorful, vibrant books full of pictures but having limited text. Today comic books and their longer-format cousins, graphic novels, are considered art forms as well as legitimate literary works. Although kids might think anything with pictures is either a comic book or a graphic novel, The Young Adult Library Services Association, a division of the American Library Association (ALA), gives this definition of the graphic novel “as a full-length story told in paneled, sequential, graphic format. The list does not include book-length collections of comic strips, wordless picture books, or hybrid books that are a mixture of traditional text and comics/graphics.” This cool infographic, featured in the University of Chicago Library’s research guide on comic books and graphic novels, visually explains the difference between the two. Your students may mention reading manga, originally Japanese graphic books, and anime, which is Japanese animation. Learn more about the different sub-genres in this Rhapsody in Books post.
Comic books and their graphic novel cousins joined the mainstream in the 1980s with the Pulitzer Prize-winning title Maus about the Holocaust by cartoonist Art Spiegelman. For an overview of comics, comix (the underground art form), and graphic novels see this Internet Public Library page. Here’s a fun fact: The Library of Congress houses the largest publicly available comic book collection in the U. S.
Why not use this burgeoning literary form to entice your students to read and perhaps create their own art works? Want to start a graphic novel collection in your school library or classroom? To peak interest, combine the American Library Association’s late September Banned Books Week, Celebrating the Freedom to Read and resources for both graphic novels and comics.
Places to explore graphic novels as a way to spark student interest in reading:
- TeachersFirst is a great place to begin exploring this specially selected collection of websites on comics, cartooning and graphic novels.
- For background and history of comic and graphic novels, see the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, an organization devoted to fighting censorship of comics.
- The National Free Comic Book Day is in May, but some stores celebrate Halloween by giving away titles with scary horror themes.
- The Young Adult Library Association, a division of the ALA, each year highlights the Great Graphic Novels for Teens.
- Another ALA List for younger teens is I Love Libraries Best Graphic Novels for Grades K-8.
- For K-9 classrooms, The ALA’s Association for Library Services to Children has created handy flyers of Graphic Novels Reading Lists.
- The Parent Map blog suggests 43 graphic novels for an age range of toddlers to teens.
- School Library Journal offers a selection of 39 titles for grades K-10.
- The Graphic Novel Reporter has reviews and lists of core collections for all age levels.
- Keep up with comic books, manga, anime, and graphic novels with this book review site founded by a librarian, No Flying No Tights.
Classroom Activity Ideas:
- Use graphic novels to read about and study important topics, such as John Lewis’ March, an award-winning graphic novel about the Civil Rights Movement. See the TeachersFirst Reading Trek Instructional Guide and Google Map that supplements the book.
- The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund has a series of blogs on using graphic novels in the classroom blog.
- Scholastic A Guide to Using Graphic Novels With Children and Teens is a background guide with extensive links and lesson plan ideas for all grade levels.
- Students learn about the creative process of creating and making their own stories, with the Teacher Vision You Can Do a Graphic Novel Teacher’s Guide
- National Council of Teachers of English ReadWriteThink collection of resources has several lessons and activities, including:
Digital storytelling tools to use with students to teach about media literacy, aspects of graphic novels and comics, and how to create their own stories:
- For professional learning, the TeachersFirst OK2Ask three webinars on Digital Storytelling in the Classroom
- Find “18 Free Storytelling Tools for Teacher and Students.”
- The most popular educational online comic strip maker is Comic Creator and its ReadWriteThink guide. Here are ideas for using it from the TeachersFirst review.
- Pixton is an easy comic strip drawing tool for adults and students. More about it at TeachersFirst.