I ONCE SAW a batch of old, black and white photographs online depicting kids from a bygone era reading comic books. The author of the post pointed out that it was heartwarming somehow to think that these long-ago children are today the parents and grandparents of kids who are still reading comics.
This point was brought back to me recently during a visit to my local comic shop. It was a busy Saturday afternoon and the store was crowded with parents and children browsing row upon row of colorful covers, making their selections and sharing their excitement for the stories and characters they’d be taking home.
Any way you look at this scenario, you see something positive—a tradition being passed down; shared experience; stoked imaginations; an enduring appreciation for stories. And the best part is, it’s all about reading.
It’s no secret that America is in the midst of a literacy crisis. According to a report prepared for the U.S. Department of Education, the literacy skills of many students in grades 4 through 12 are “alarmingly low.” As educators you know this firsthand. But more importantly, you represent the front line of a national effort to turn things around.
And judging by my research, more and more of you are turning to comic books and graphic novels.
An internet search for “comic books in education” yields a far-ranging collection of articles that document how educators have seized upon young peoples’ interest in comics to get them reading. And to its credit, the comic book industry itself has stepped-up to meet this challenge, by emphasizing STEM, anti-bullying, and other relevant topics in a number of popular storylines.
Diamond Comic Distributors, the world’s largest distributor of English-language comic books and graphic novels, has set-up a website called Diamond Bookshelf, which offers a collection of free resources for educators interested in exploring the possibilities of comics in the classroom. There are lesson plans (PreK-12), reviews, teacher testimonials, recommended reading lists, and much more.
Citing a study in the School Library Journal, Diamond Bookshelf reports that the presence of comics in a junior high school library resulted in a dramatic 82% increase in library traffic, and a 30% increase in circulation of non-comic books.
Intrigued by those numbers, I sought insight from an Ontario teacher-librarian I met on Twitter, and he told me a similarly encouraging story. “Our graphic novel section began 9 years ago and has grown from a basket, to a shelf, to a whole bookcase of titles,” says Mr. Pamayah, who goes by the Twitter handle @Mister_Library. “Our students have always been eager to have more. It has helped that authors and publishers now offer a wide selection of graphic novels. They have become a featured section with students asking for more, including sequels. I have also had to replace many because they are so well-used.
“Teachers will use specific titles that relate to curriculum on subject areas,” Mr. Pamayah continues. “Our teachers also use the graphic novels to highlight how that format is structured, and teach students how to make their own comic or paneled writing. This section is one of the most popular in our library with students.”
Apparently, we’ve come a long way from the days when reading comics in school earned you a trip to the principal’s office!
Have you had a similar experience? Are comic books and graphic novels being used in your school, or is this something you’ve been thinking about? We’d love to hear more success stories. Let us know on Twitter.
—Stephen Vincent D’Emidio
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