Championing Graphic Novels for Classroom Teaching

Some of my favourite graphic novels; great for teaching students Grades 4-12

As teachers, we like to revert to the tried-and-true classics when doing Novel Study Units, and teaching our students various bigger life themes. The likes of To Kill a Mockingbird, Inherit the Wind, The Great Gatsby, The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz, Jane Eyre, The Importance of Being Ernest, Brave New World, 1984 and then of course those by the Great Bard, for the intermediate and senior grades. Trust me, I’ve done a good number of these in High School. And then there are the likes of Bridge to Terabithia, Freak the Mighty, Charlotte’s Web, Chronicles of Narnia for the junior grades.

Now, let me pose this question: Have you considered a graphic novel for your Novel Study Unit? I have talked to a lot of teachers, especially in the junior and intermediate grades, and they are incredibly distrusting of the graphic novel. It is viewed by many teachers as a medium of entertainment, and not learning, for their students. Granted, there are graphic novels out there that are created with the sole intent of entertaining, but a lot of incredibly clever graphic artists and writers, collaborate to produce thought-provoking and striking graphic novels.

I would like to make a case for the teaching of graphic novels in grades across the board. I believe they have much value to add to our students’ learning. First of all, graphic novels are not just about the pictures. They are about the relationship between text and image. They are about the meaning in between the panels and the way the characters are drawn and coloured. They are about what is omitted and what is included. They are about meaning and form at their very core. However, they are also incredibly accessible. Graphic novels have the power to engage students who are not willing readers of the traditional text. They have the know-how to capture this audience and potentially turn them into readers. Now, teachers, would that not be a cause for celebration?

Graphic novels further ignite creativity, they inject perspective and then offer other viewpoints contrasting with that first perspective. Art is introduced in an appealing way to students who might not necessarily find themselves drawn to it. The graphic novel has the unbridled power to marry different forms of expression to achieve greater meaning.

Several graphic novels written over the last few years have sought to take big risks and tackle radical topics. Sunny Side Up by the Holm brother and sister duo (Fear not, I shall review this one in time), El Deafo by Cece Bell, Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi, Maus by Art Spiegelman and Smile by Raina Telgemeier (a handful of my favourites) are some of the graphic novels that have burst out onto the scene and made an impact. From tackling big issues of substance abuse to identity and war in Iran, from physical disabilities to World Wars and the struggles of adolescence, these books, and others, have the power to change thinking. They have the power to begin passionate discussion among students. So, teachers, pray tell, do they not deserve a ranking among the greats? Just because they are “newer” and “different” does not make them unworthy of being entered into the canon of literature-teaching tools.

One of my personal favourites is Watchmen by Alan Moore. This masterpiece makes the movie look ridiculous because, within its pages, it houses depth of meaning and form. It catapults the reader into the story and pulls the narrative around that reader-creator relationship.

Graphic novels are not just quick books that you can read on a trip from Toronto to New York City. They are fast becoming vehicles in which to express explosive thought. So teachers, what say you? Give the graphic novel a chance?

 

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