Early Childhood Literacy · Young Adult Literature · Youth Materials · Youth Services

Graphic Novel Primer

I’m sure we’re all avidly aware that teens gobble up graphic novels like free pizza. While the patron’s interest is there, is the librarian’s? While it’s easy to see that graphic novels bring in teen AND children readers (especially reluctant readers) it is important to align this new format of literature with collection development policies, curricula, and mission statements. It’s also nice to present the big boss with extra incentive to build your collection. Before I explain the benefits of Graphic Novels (GNs), let’s take a look at the four main categories of GNs: cartoon, comic, manga, and long form.

-Cartoons are comical and bubbly and most can be read on their own in 3-5 panels. Their main audience appeal is juvenile. Examples include Garfield and Calvin and Hobbes.

-Comics include superheroes with a lot of action. The main publishers are DC and Marvel. Watch out for newer editions of popular heroes and heroines because their main focus is to an adult audience.

-Manga is originally from Japan and has created its own subculture of devout fans. Manga involves a single tale over a series of volumes.  Depending on the popularity, some manga, such as Bleach, extend past 400 Chapters and 40 volumes.  Shojo manga is geared towards girls and shonen is geared towards boys.

-Long form GN are usually the most supported GN by librarians and adults. Long form is multifaceted, plot-driven, and as diverse as prose in the genres it offers. Recently, popular prose has been converted to GN format (Shakespeare, Warriors, Twilight).

It’s also important to note that GN can be used with children, too. You can tell the difference between a picture book and a GN by the presence of panels, word balloons, and sound effects. A great example is Mo Willems’ Elephant and Piggie series.

So, why are these important to have in your collection? First, it motivates kids to read more. Nuff said. Second, the actual graphic layout can reveal parallel events within a time period as fully intertwined, much like the effect movies can have. For early literacy, GNs help build valuable decoding skills. As children follow action across the page, their eyes are duplicating left to right movement.  Furthermore, children can visually attach words to emotional expression, movement, and objects. This is also important for autistic children that have difficulty reading the emotions of others and can precisely see the exaggerated emotions in cartoons.  Finally, programming around GN is a great way to inspire creativity, provide a springboard for creative writing, and teach valuable lessons such as drawing.  Manga clubs are a popular patron-led option.

Now that you have a bit of the basics, here are some great suggestions to build or add to your collection:

Bleach – Tite Kubo (2001-current, fantasy/ghosts)
Age Recommendation: YA
Synopsis: “Ichigo Kurosaki has martial arts skills and the ability to see ghosts, and his life is about to change when he meets Rukia Kuchiki, a soul reaper and protector of innocents.”

Bone – Jeff Smith (1994-2004, humor/fantasy)
Age Recommendation: 10-15
Synopsis: “The series chronicles the adventures of the Bone cousins–plucky Fone Bone, scheming Phony Bone, and easygoing Smiley Bone– who leave their home of Boneville and are swept up in a Tolkienesque epic of royalty, dragons, and unspeakable evil forces out to conquer humankind.”

American Born Chinese – Gene Luen Yang (2006, humor/balancing two identities)
Age Recommendation: YA
Synopsis: “This fable stars the mythological Monkey King, realistic youngster Jin Wang of Taiwanese parentage, and TV sitcom teen Danny. All three are dogged by an unwanted identity and humiliated by others’ prejudice.”
Read-alike: The Accidental Genius of Weasel High – Rick Detorie

Anya’s Ghost – Vera Brosgol (2011, mystery/balancing two identities)
Age Recommendation: YA
Synopsis: “Anya, embarrassed by her Russian immigrant family and self-conscious about her body, has given up on fitting in at school but falling down a well and making friends with the ghost there just may be worse.” Simple and beautiful artwork convey the wide range of Anya’s teenage emotions.Read-alike: Mercury – Hope Larson

Shaun TanThe Arrival – Shaun Tan (2006, immigration)
Age Recommendation: 10-18
Synopsis: “Tan captures the displacement and awe with which immigrants respond to their new surroundings in this wordless graphic novel. It depicts the journey of one man, threatened by dark shapes that cast shadows on his family’s life, to a new country. The only writing is in an invented alphabet, which creates the sensation immigrants must feel when they encounter a strange new language and way of life.” Excellent for discussions, circle time, and classrooms.
Read-alike: The Invention of Hugo Cabret – Brian Selznick

Rapunzel’s Revenge – Shannon and Dean Hale (2008, action/heroine)
Age Recommendation: 9-12
Synopsis: “Rapunzel is raised in a grand villa surrounded by towering walls. Rapunzel dreams of a different mother than Gothel, the woman she calls Mother. She climbs over the wall and finds out the truth. Her real mother, Kate, is a slave in Gothel’s gold mine. In this Old West retelling, Rapunzel uses her hair as a lasso and to take on outlaws–including Gothel.”
Read-alike: Ella Enchanted – Gail Carson Levine

Zita the Spacegirl – Ben Hatke (2010, science fiction/heroine)
Age Recommendation: 9-12
Synopsis: “While exploring a meteoroid crater, young explorers Zita and Joseph discover an unusual device featuring a conspicuous red button. Zita’s curiosity compels her to press it, only to discover that it summons an alien creature that instantly abducts Joseph. Zita is compelled to set out on a strange journey from star to star in order to get back home.”
Read-alike: Jellaby – Kean Soo

Dengeki Daisy – Kyousuke Motomi (2010-current, romance)
Age Recommendation:
Synopsis: “When Teru’s older brother died, she was left with little more than a cell phone containing the text-address of an elusive character named DAISY. DAISY became Teru’s pillar of strength over the next few years as he sent her encouraging words through his phone. One afternoon, Teru accidentally breaks a school window which results in her working for the grouchy school janitor Kurosaki. As Teru begins working for the unlikable janitor, her feelings begin to surpass that of servant and she begins to question DAISY’s true identity. Could Kurosaki be her beloved DAISY?”
Read-Alike: Fruits Basket – Natsuki Takaya

Calvin and Hobbes Bill Watterson (1987-1995, humor)
Age Recommendation: 10-15
Synopsis: “It follows the humorous antics of Calvin, a precocious and adventurous six-year-old boy, and Hobbes, his sardonic stuffed tiger. The strip depicts Calvin’s flights of fantasy and his friendship with Hobbes, and also examines Calvin’s relationships with family and classmates.”
Read-alike: Diary of a Wimpy Kid – Jeff Kinney

The DC Comics Encyclopedia Michael Teitelbaum, et al. (2008, nonfiction/eye-catching)
Age Recommendation: Where interest lies
Synopsis: “This copiously illustrated encyclopedia chronicles more than 1,000 DC Comics characters from the 1930s to the present. Arranged alphabetically, each entry gives the first appearance, status (hero, villain, etc.), real name, occupation, height, weight, and eye and hair color of the superheroes or supervillains. Special abilities and superpowers are also listed along with ample cross-references to other comic characters or superleague affiliations.”

One thought on “Graphic Novel Primer

  1. You make a really strong point. A friend of mine wanted to center his dissertation around the topic of the importance of comics in literature. In his study, he wanted to reveal how beneficial comics could be for elementary and high school students.

    People often forget, reading is reading. As long as the word structures and sentences are in place, whether pictures are involved or not is irrelevant. I personally find myself attracted to manga because it focuses my wild imagination. I struggle reading books because after a sentence or two, I begin writing one in my head.

    The negative side to graphic novels are revealed when children formulate the story from the pictures and avoid reading, which is why parents or mentors reading with children is critical.

    Beautiful topic!

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