Back in the 50s and 60s, the comic book was in its heyday. Super heroes and super villains thrilled young boys. Younger children would spend their pocket money on the newsprint serials of Richie Rich and Archie comics. However, woe to the child who snuck one into class only to be caught.
I age myself when I say I remember buying Archie and Jughead comics at the corner Five & Dime. I spent my allowance on a 15-cent comic once a week. What I had left bought a nickel’s worth of gum and a dime candy bar. Sometimes the gum wound up on the end of my nose if, in the depths of the comic hidden in the pages my math book, I became too excited about the story and forget not to blow bubbles with my Bazooka! (Teachers frowned upon chewing gum during class, as well.)
As all things do, comic books cycled out of style as children found other diversions. Publishers issued fewer new adventures and cover prices climbed. In the mid 80s, the comic book experienced rejuvenation. A new genre made an appearance in the West with the invasion of manga. These Japanese comic books took the comic book community by storm. They differed from the physical make up to the comic books of the 50s and 60s by being novel length series. Pages bound between covers with a spine instead of saddle stitched with a few staples, these comics featured highly stylized art and required reading from right to left. Most of the manga to arrive in the West remained written in kanji.
Artists and writers are innovative folks. It wasn’t long before home-grown versions of manga made an appearance. The books themselves still had the stigma of not being ‘real’ literature and remained banned from classrooms. It’s this image of comic book as contraband since the 1950s, when the Senate Judiciary Committee investigated the comic book’s sinister influence and potential to inspire juvenile delinquency, that prevailed for a long time.
This is no longer the case. No longer called comic books but going by a new moniker of graphic novels, they have become an essential component of public and school library collections for both children and teenagers, and they have enormous potential for classroom use. For the reluctant reader, they are absorbing and entertaining. For a struggling reader or the reader learning English as a second language, they offer a bridge with pictures for context, and hopefully a different path into classroom discussions for higher-level texts. They expand vocabulary, and introduce the ideas of plot, pacing, and sequence. According to a 1993 study published in The Journal of Child Language, comic books or graphic novels “introduce children to nearly twice as many new words as the average children’s book and more than five times as many as the average child-adult conversation.” That’s a lot of vocabulary words.
Comic books allow children to develop the same skills as reading a more traditional book:
- connecting narratives to children’s own experiences
- predicting what will happen next
- inferring what happens between individual panels
- tracking left to right and top to bottom
- interpreting symbols
- following the sequence of events in a story
I was able to speak briefly with Chris Wilson, the guiding force behind comic book and graphic novel review site: http://graphicclassroom.blogspot.com/
Chris Wilson declares that all reading is good reading. Anything that gets a person into reading is a substantial thing. The duality of the text and image helps to convey more info of the story. A novel can be very daunting for a struggling reader. A comic will encourage a struggling reader as a bridge to reading novels by making reading engaging.
Students learn to trust the teacher’s advice on reading material because of enjoyment of a GN. A short novel or chapter book is the next step. Once a student is hooked, bigger pieces of literature are a given, because the student learns the love of reading. Comics should be savored and can teach good readers to slow down and experience all the nuances of the story.
He suggests the proper way to introduce the graphic novel into classroom learning by:
- Responsible use
- Effective use
- Study by subject not by form (i.e. study World War II using graphic novel, book, newspaper and video)
- Combine GN and text book study for a richness of given subject
Not everyone is as big a fan of dangling the comics as bait to lure new campus library patrons and foster a love of books. In an article available here: http://legacy.signonsandiego.com/news/education/20040530-1252-comix.html, Carol Jago, literacy specialist for the National Council of Teachers of English is quoted as saying she worries that schools will have lower-level classes and English learners reading the graphic novel of ‘Frankenstein’ and honors students reading the real thing. She is concerned such practices will further widen the gap between high and low achievers.
The detractors are by far in the minority, however. According to an article by the Canadian Council on Learning, comics have become a pervasive and undeniable aspect of popular culture. The CCL comments on findings in studies about comics, that such reading choices appeal a great deal to middle-grade boys, especially those who are often reluctant to ‘waste’ time reading.
Graphic novels are in huge demand and publishers are scrambling to feed the cry. Books of all kinds are now available, from original story lines like The Magic Pickle by Scott Morse and Ellie McDoodle by Ruth McNally, to remakes of such story classics as Shakespeare’s plays and The Little Prince, to reworked versions of popular current day novels such as The Twilight Saga. Old favorites like the Bone series by Jeff Smith are being rereleased.
As with any new media craze, sometimes choosing what is age appropriate is a challenge. This is especially true for the middle-grade reader. As the genre matures, this is becoming less of an issue as publishers are filling in gaps between the very young reader and the more mature reader. Mr. Wilson’s site is a great resource in choosing what’s appropriate for middle grade readers. Reviews are broken down into recommendation by age group. http://graphicclassroom.blogspot.com/p/best-comics-for-your-classroom-list-for.html
Wendy Martin spends her days drawing fantastical worlds. In the evenings she writes about them, then she visits them at night during her dreams.