Graphic novels have become essential parts of many youth library collections, but they still have a long way to go in the minds of many adults and others that work with books and children. From simple stories to intense situations, graphic novels are both a great introduction to reading as well as great reading in and of themselves.
Not all adults are on board with graphic novels, even from other adults, but I believe this to be a mistake. From the adult world of graphic novels, Neil Gaiman‘s Sandman series is widely considered to be literature in graphic novel form. Gaiman is also now well known in the children’s literature world, having published fantasy novels like Coraline, which have been adapted into graphic novel form.
What makes graphic novels so great for libraries is their power of interest. Though they are getting a lot of buzz right now, they have been a part of the youth library for a long time. As a child, I was obsessed with Archie comics, specifically Josie and the Pussycats. Because I was already a heavy reader, no one questioned what I was reading. The important thing to remember is that reading is reading. Depending on the graphic novel, the vocabulary may be complex and help your reader develop their reading skills. Furthermore, because graphic novels span so many genres, it can easy enough to pull interest from a graphic novel to an easy reader or chapter book. Fantasy and science fiction are well-tred categories of graphic novels, but you can find them in every genre from realistic fiction to poetry.
Though they have pictures, graphic novels are not picture books and can span the entire spectrum of a youth library collection. Take care when selecting a one as it may deal with situations your reader isn’t developmentally ready for. So what should you do to learn more about graphic novels or find good ones? Scholastic has a great primer for those who are completely unfamiliar with graphic novels. The Cooperative Children’s Book Center from the School of Education at the University of Wisconsin-Madison is a fantastic resource, including reviews, awards lists, and materials to understanding more about the graphic novel phenomenon.
If you are already familiar, best of graphic novels lists are everywhere. The easiest place to start is YALSA’s Great Graphic Novels for Teens. Many of these are appropriate for tweens and mature children. Other places to look are:
Don’t be afraid of the graphic novel! With such a wide variety of resources available from so many libraries, it is easy to start and it is easy to get hooked yourself. Reading is reading, even if there are superheroes with kapow! bubbles over their heads. You never know where they might lead.
Some of my new favorites are:
- Meanwhile by Jason Shiga. If you haven’t heard of this one yet, you will. It was in YALSA’s Ten Top Ten Great Graphic Novels for Teens, but is appropriate for nearly all readers. It’s a Choose Your Own Adventure book on steroids, with 3,856 different story possibilities that you will not want to put down.
- American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang. Winner of several awards, including the Eisner Award (named for graphic novel originator Will Eisner). It’s an engaging story told equally through pictures and text and is well worth your time.
- The Wall: Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain by Peter Sís. This Siebert Award winning book tells of Sís’ childhood in Communist Czechoslovakia. Though many children today have little idea what the Cold War was, this informational text is easy to understand and is made more palatable because of its graphic novel format.