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Give Graphic Novels a Go

Meghan Mathis

Giving Graphic Novels a GoIn all the discussion about high-interest literature, there are a lot of questions tossed around. How do you find novels and non-fiction texts that appeal to everyone in your class? How do you ensure that all readers are presented with text at their reading level? How do you do all of that, and still maintain enough similar elements that can be discussed as a class? We build our classroom libraries, constantly searching for a variety of texts that meet these criteria – but it’s a steep order. Which is why I have been thrilled to discover how graphic novels fit many of the requirements mentioned, and are presented in a format that students find interesting, approachable, and meaningful.

Some of us hear “graphic novel,” and roll our eyes. I will admit I was in this camp for a long time – my mind immediately thought of tales of men in spandex leaping tall buildings in a single bound, or of those those anime books that always seemed a bit strange and a bit inappropriate to use in a classroom. The ocean of graphic novels currently available, however, is far wider and deeper than I ever imagined. Once I dove in, I discovered a new world eminently usable in my classroom. Here are just a few of the graphic novels available today. I’ve chosen an eclectic selection so that you can see just how many options a teacher who wans to utilize graphic organizers in their classroom would have at their fingertips.

 

Twilight: The Graphic Novel, Volume 1, by Stephenie Meyer and Young Kim (artist)

While not necessarily a novel I consider to be terrific literature, I chose this because it is indicative of the large number of familiar authors who are allowing their books to be published in graphic novel form. Stephenie Meyer, Dean Koontz, Stephen King, and other popular and current authors have graphic novel versions of their most popular books. Additionally, many classic novels have amazing graphic novel adaptations. Frankenstein, The Odyssey, and many of Shakespeare’s plays are all available in a format that may be much more approachable for an entire segment of your student population. In a classroom with a diverse population, graphic novels based on novels your students are already familiar with may help bridge the gap for students who struggle with reading comprehension – allowing them to access a new text with the background knowledge needed to feel more comfortable transacting with a novel.

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Maus I: A Survivor's Tale: My Father Bleeds History, by Art Spiegelman

If you were hoping for something a bit more complex than Twilight, I encourage you to check out this amazing, Pulitzer Prize winning graphic novel that focuses on the Holocaust. Spiegelman was inspired by the life story of his father, a Holocaust survivor, and translated his experiences into comic form. In this tale, the Jews are portrayed as mice, the Germans as cats. Perfectly crafted to inspire conversations about allegory and symbolism, Spiegelman also portrays the Polish as pigs, the French as frogs, and the Americans as dogs. Perfect for use with students of varying ability levels, Maus is accessible as an engaging and powerful narrative about the Holocaust, but also has the ability to provide material for far more complex lessons.

Boneyard, by Richard Moore

The wonderful thing about graphic novels is the absolutely amazing array of eclectic choices. You can find an allegorical piece about the Holocaust, but you can also find simply enjoyable works like this series by Richard Moore. In this series, the protagonist, Michael Paris, heads to a small town to sell a piece of land he has just inherited only to find out that the piece of land is, in fact, a graveyard. An even bigger revelation is that the graveyard is home to far more than he anticipated. Graphic novels like these are perfect to slip into the hands of your reluctant readers. They are easier reads and the illustrations aid with comprehension. Finally, the fun subject matter draws in even the most cynical student.

Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood, by Marjane Satrapi

Another graphic novel that addresses real life issues, this amazing book is also an autobiography that deals with modern Iranian history, something few of us tackle in our classrooms. This is the story of Satrapi’s life in Iran and elsewhere, the Iranian revolution, and why she eventually left Iran for good. Given current events and the Common Core’s push for nonfiction – graphic novels like this one seem like an ideal way to address many educational buzzwords: high-interest nonfiction, autobiography, and a modern context, all with one book.

Kill Shakespeare, by Conor McCreery, Anthony Del Col, and Andy Belanger

Another great example of the wide world of graphic novels, this series takes some of the most respected plays in the world and has a little fun with them. A dark twist on Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, Othello, Richard III and more, these novels imagine a world where the heroes and villains get all mixed up and have to battle each other while trying to track down and put an end to a mysterious wizard known as William Shakespeare.

 

While some of our students have discovered and embraced graphic novels wholeheartedly, most of our students are like many us – a bit nervous about the genre and not quite sure where to begin. A quick peek at what’s out there, however, shows us that the realm of graphic novels is vast and exciting. Their potential is limitless. A new world just waiting for us to explore and then share – so I urge you to pick up a few this summer and begin to imagine how you could utilize them in your classroom.

 

Now you tell us: Are you a fan of graphic novels? Do you use them in your classroom? Which are your favorites? Leave your replies in the comments section, below.

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