4f4204-20161118-graphicnovels.jpgParents and educators can find it challenging to get children of all ages motivated and excited about reading, especially in the digital age. A growing body of research shows that graphic novels (long-form comic books), for decades viewed as an enemy of "serious" reading, actually have the power to turn a young student into a "super reader."

In addition, graphic novels, when paired with study of traditional prose fiction, can help build empathy, educators say. 

GEMS World Academy Chicago is among the schools that have used graphic novels across a variety of age groups to get students engaged with reading. Graphic novels have been assigned as class reading in multiple grades, and they are popular selections in student book clubs. The combination of visuals and text that graphic novels offer fits well with the school's International Baccalaureate curriculum and interdisciplinary approach, which encourages students to build empathy and look at problems through multiple lenses. 

The visual effect

According to the Yale Center for Dyslexia & Creativity, the universal appeal of graphic novels among a diverse range of students makes them a "grand equalizer" when it comes to reading. Although they employ classic elements of narrative storytelling like the hero's quest, the visual elements and comic book format can make them more accessible and less intimidating, especially for struggling readers. 


On a practical level, the combination of illustrations and text help to engage visual learners and thinkers, who account for up to 65 percent of the population. In addition, educators have found that complementing stories and texts of varying levels of complexity with images also helps to improve vocabulary, visual literacy, reading comprehension and confidence among students struggling in language arts.

And while it might sound counterintuitive, teachers have found that reading graphic novels actually encourages young readers to slow down and absorb the material, where they might skim or gloss over straight blocks of traditional prose. The American Association of School Librarians' Conference and the Common Core State Standards Initiative have outlined the benefits of incorporating graphic novels in elementary education curriculums for students of various ages and grade levels.

From Batman to Faulkner

Many adults tend to associate comic books and graphic novels with the superhero stories they are most famous for, but educators across the country and around the world use them to teach everything from Shakespeare to Jane Austen. Parents and educators new to the concept may wonder if introducing young readers to graphic novels in the classroom will hinder or discourage students from reading traditional novels in the future, but experience suggests otherwise. Like traditional children's literature, graphic novels have been found to introduce students to more complex themes and narrative devices that actually work as a gateway to more advanced texts in the future.

'Gateway to literacy'

In order to help combat misconceptions and to highlight the benefits of graphic novels in education, the American Library Association established the Great Graphic Novels for Teens and Core Collection of Graphic Novels annual lists. In order to gauge the quality and suitability of graphic texts for young students, credible reviews from established literary institutions such as Kirkus Review, Booklist and School Library Journal are available to help parents, teachers and librarians best serve student needs.

Educators have also found that benefits can also be found beyond English class. The skills and learning tools that students gain from comic books and illustrated stories can also be applied to the rest of their curriculum and study of subjects like history, art, science.

In the words of Art Spiegelman, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning graphic novel Maus: A Survivor's Tale, "Comics are a gateway drug to literacy."


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