re: last post, Charlotte's Web was the #1!
I was at TLA in San Antonio, Texas these past few days. I love Texas librarians! Seriously, librarian conferences rock. You meet up with old author friends and hang out with new librarian friends. I spoke on a panel about graphic novels with Jennifer Holm (Babymouse) and Jarrett Krosoczka (Lunch Lady). Good folk. At one point I got emotional (I hate when I do that) trying to express how grateful I am to librarians. It was so lame, because I know I sounded like a complete suck up, but I feel passionate about it, and in case I didn't express myself well, I want to try again here.
Graphic novels for kids are important for many reasons. Here are a few:
- They provide an important transition book from picture books to chapter books.
- They provide a storytelling hook for visual learners of any age.
- They are the most likely kinds of books embraced by "reluctant readers"
- They teach kids to interpret sequential art, a brain-taxing activity that teaches visual literacy, valuable in our increasingly graphical world.
- They allow younger kids to stretch their reading abilities. (e.g. the vocabulary in rapunzel and jack is above most 4-8 year-olds, but younger kids are still willing to read them and can understand because the text is supported by visual storytelling. People I know who are life-long comics readers tend to have amazing vocabularies, and an advanced vocabulary is important for literacy.)
- They require a different kind of brain work than reading prose and much, much more brain exercise than watching a movie.
- Kids who will only read a certain genre of prose novel are more likely to leave their genre comfort zone for a graphic novel than a prose novel. A kid only reads fantasy? Offer a non-fiction or realistic fiction graphic novel.
- Readers with disabilities, English as a second language, and other obstacles have often thrived with graphic novels.
- Advanced readers also thrive with graphic novels, gaining insight from analyzing text-and-picture storytelling and uses of the visual medium. It's a highly creative exercise.
- P.S. They're also fun.
Many adults are still hesitant about graphic novels. I've heard from many school librarians that when classes come in to check out books, some teachers will tell their students they can check out anything besides graphic novels. They should only check out "real books." Obviously not all teachers feel this way. I know many teachers who are passionate supporters of the medium. But others do. I hear the same thing from booksellers with regards to parents. A parent might be willing to buy a prose novel for a child, but not a graphic novel.
Why are so many adults down on this medium? A few reasons:
- The fear that once kids start reading graphic novels, they'll only read graphic novels. (Studies have shown this fear false, and teens who read GNs are more likely to read other kinds of books for pleasure than their non-GN reading friends. There are those who only read comics...but I know those people, and if they weren't reading comics, they wouldn't be reading anything at all.)
- The cultural bias against books with pictures. The goal, for many parents, is to wean their children from picture books. Aren't GNs a step back? (There are still words in GNs. Kids are still reading! And visual literacy is an important part of our world too. This idea is peculiarly American.)
- The belief that graphic novels are, in fact. GRAPHIC! (The medium of sequential art doesn't necessitate violence and sexuality. Some GNs are graphic in that way, many are not.)
- Generations of belief that comic books are trashy and no good. (Some of the best writers alive today are writing GNs. Again, the medium doesn't determine content. As Jarrett pointed out at TLA, Stephen King and Beverly Cleary write in the same medium.)
If it weren't for libraries, I don't think there would be enough of a market for graphic novels for young readers to validate their publication. Comic book stores are starting to carry more books for the younger set, but like the other book stores, their selection tends to be limited and I hear from them that the sales are not great. This is, I believe, because it's the adults doing the buying, not the kids. I think this will change, as the prejudice against GNs has been changing, but slowly.
And yet I hear from dozens of librarians (especially elementary and middle school librarians) that "I can't keep rapunzel's revenge on the shelf." You are far more likely to find calamity jack in a library than in a book store, and I think that's because a library is where the kid is doing the selecting. A school library is the place where a child is most likely to be able to pick out her own book, unsupervised by a parent or (sometimes) a teacher. A library is where children choose. A library is where children can discover what they love to read without someone trying to push them onto "harder" material or more "grown-up" books. A library is magic.
I hope I never come across as speaking in absolutes. Most of the teachers and parents I know are passionate supporters of any good books that can transform a non-reader into an eager reader. And I don't blame those who are hesitant or fearful of GNs. That's their own understanding. Meanwhile, libraries have been stocking manga and GNs years before anyone else caught up. Without libraries, I don't think books like rapunzel's revenge and calamity jack would ever have seen print. And I never would have had the inexpressible joy of receiving the dozens of emails and notes from parents who tell me, "My son/daughter never read a book in his/her life until your graphic novel. And now, he/she reads all the time." That is worth anything. Thanks, librarians. In a time when we're seeing libraries disappearing, book budgets cut, and librarians taken out of schools, I hope you know that the kid lit authors know what you do, why you're essential, and appreciate you. I vote for libraries.