The books have been flying off our shelves once again in room 203. So many titles that barely get to rest for a moment before another eager set of hands attached to an even more eager reader grabs the book, so happy they finally got it. This book they have been waiting for, this book that everyone seems to be clamoring for. And while many books are receiving love this year, a few stand out above the rest; an entire format of books, as it has for several years now.
Books that at a glance may seem easy, or not that challenging, after all, we all know to not call books easy by now, right? Books that entice kids with their colors, their visuals, as they deftly maneuver complex topics but do it in an accessible way for many. In a way that grabs even my most vulnerable readers and tells them to give them a shot. That they, too, are readers and that this is just the right book for them.
I often step back and simply marvel at the wonder of graphic novels and how they make so many kids reconnect with reading or connect with it for the very first time. I am not alone, if we look at sales numbers for graphic novels they are dominating, circulation increase around the nation, and those who for decades have been holding them up as great books are being heard more and more.
And yet, I see so many adults, so many of us teachers, lament the fact that kids continue to reach for graphic novels, for comics, for books that for whatever reason seem to be too easy, whatever that may mean. I have seen it most often discussed when a book has pictures of any form. I hear it when we tell kids that it is time for them to graduate into chapter books. That they should read chapter books rather than picture books. When we tell kids that is time to try something harder and we stare at the graphic novel in their hand. When we pull out comics for fun but not for real reading. When we tell kids that we will take graphic novels away from them if we see them reading them (true story). When we tell them that, sure, they can read graphic novels, but just a few, because then they need to read something a bit more substantial. We say it with the best of intentions, after all, how will these kids grow in to “real” readers? Grow as readers if they only read “those” books? And we share the worry so that those at home start to worry too and they rush in with their questions and their eagerness to make sure their child is becoming the reader they always envisioned, a child who reads serious books that show off their prowess and skill. We do all this so casually that we don’t even see what it is we are all really telling kids.
“These books won’t teach you…”
“These books will not challenge you…”
“These books will not help you grow the way I hoped…”
“You will never be a reader…”
“You will never know how…”
“This will never be enough…”
And so we hand them other books. Anything but books with images. We search for recommendations in order to steer them away, to guide them on a new path instead of embracing the medium. Instead of letting them choose and celebrate their choices. Instead of immersing ourselves as fully as we can as their partners. Instead of embracing this newfound obsession with a complex medium and helping them challenge themselves within the format.
And it hurts kids’ reading lives.
And it hurts kids, period.
Because what we forget is what the research tells us about these books. About books like 150 Years Retold by Kateri Akiwenzie-Damn, Sonny Assu and many others. About books like Last Pick by Jason Walz, Pie in the Sky by Remi Lai, and Stargazing by Jen Wang. About the books that bring kids into our libraries and keep them there. That these books are not easy. That these books do not stop kids from growing as readers. From reading difficult texts because these are difficult texts. Sure, there may be less words but every word matters. Sure, there may be pictures but that every picture tells part of the story and if you skim them, you miss out on the depth of the story. That reading these formats of books will not stop them from growing, from challenging themselves, from gaining vocabulary, or understanding difficult concepts. But indeed, as Krashen and Ujiie remind us, ““…those who read more comic books did more pleasure reading, liked to read more, and tended to read more books. These results show that comic book reading certainly does not inhibit other kinds of reading, and is consistent with the hypothesis that comic book reading facilitates heavier reading.” (1996)
And so we must embrace it. We must celebrate it much like we do when a child goes for a deep dive into a specific genre or author. Invite them to build reading ladders as inspired by Dr. Teri Lesene and challenge themselves within their chosen format. We must hold them up as the successful reading choices they are and continue to surround students with amazing choices. When they pick up another graphic novel, encourage it by discussing it, not shun it and forbid it.
This doesn’t seem hard and yet for so many kids this is not their reality.
So the next time a child grabs yet another graphic novel, perhaps we should read it too. Perhaps we should help all of our students see the nuances within these masterful stories, help them read them correctly, to slow down and see all of the details. Honor this format by teaching them rather than thinking of them as frivolous, as desert books, as books we read when we need a little break. Help students create them.
We forget that the kids we teach are on a lifelong journey of reading; why do we feel the need to rush them into different books? Why rush them away from images? From pictures? From anything that embodies visual literacy despite it being the world we live in more and more? Why not embrace the books they read and help them find more books like it instead? Why not let the kids read and be there to hand them another book rather than tell them that it is time to read something different? Why not let kids choose their own books, graphic novels and all, because in the end what we seem to have forgotten the most is that they are books. End of story. Magical, mesmerizing, enticing, books.
It’s not that hard, is it?
If you like what you read here, consider reading my newest book, Passionate Readers – The Art of Reaching and Engaging Every Child. This book focuses on the five keys we can implement into any reading community to strengthen student reading experiences, even within the 45 minute English block. If you are looking for solutions and ideas for how to re-engage all of your students consider reading my very first book Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students. Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.