Sunday, February 5, 2012

Building Literacy Through Graphic Novels

For years, teachers and parents have attempted to get teens more interested in books. There may be a simple solution, however, to making reading easier and more accessible to learners: graphic novels. As Paul Gravett, London-based journalist and comic guru, says, "images and text arrive together, work together, and should be read together." By coupling elaborate illustrations with written word, recent talk among educators centers around the positive effects of graphic novels on literacy problems.

Young readers cite any number of reasons for avoiding books - boredom, little action, or lack of concentrated imagination. "Since struggling readers often complain that they can’t see or visualize text," states Caroline Derksen of the Williams Lake Tribune, "the graphic element of these books helps readers connect and comprehend the material in a way not possible with traditional literature."

Graphic novels like Brian Ralph's Daybreak (2011) Vera Brosgal's Anya's Ghost (2011) take readers on journeys through aesthetically beautiful story lines, settings, and events. The plots feature characters of all different backgrounds, races, and socio-economic lives. Readers can both relate to and imagine the scenes in graphic novels. The genre's audience has expanded in recent years, in fact, or rather gone back to basics, after a whirlwind of steps in multiple directions.

When comic strips began appearing in newspapers in the 1890s, they spoke to a largely adult audience because those were the folks reading the paper. During the rise of the first comic books in the 1930s, the genre trickled into a younger audience and the criticism of comics began. Adults insisted the reading material was no good for youth and had no literary merit, according to a 2009 article in the University of Illinois news journal. In the 1950s, the genre swung back to a mainly adult crowd - the cheap comics became boring and the good comics became too expensive for kids to buy. "Comics became incredibly tame," says Carol L. Tilley, a professor of library and information sciences at U of I, "and the more sophisticate comics were direct sales to adults from the comics publishers."

Everything changed with the graphic novel. By taking larger literary plots and combining stories with illustrations (picture book-style), readers of all ages have the opportunity to embrace literature in an entirely different way. Young learners, teenagers, and adults have begun to choose the latest Frank Miller creation over spending an afternoon parked in front of mindless media.

"Graphic novels can serve as an intermediary for a teen [or adult] who would rather be watching television than reading a book," says author and librarian, Michele Gorman.

Graphic novels will continue to bleed into mainstream culture, whether it be through big screen adaptations of V For Vendetta or Constantine (both originally GNs) or the newest copy on the library shelf. Either way, the genre is here to stay and making a positive impact on audiences.

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