Graphic Novels and the Fate of Literacy

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Don’t make the same mistake I did! Check out all these great graphic novels: Bone, American Born Chinese, Robot Dreams, Artemis Fowl: the Graphic Novel, Amulet, Drama.

New Kid by Jerry Craft

CASE STUDY: New Kid by Jerry Craft. This story has won multiple awards. It honestly addresses issues like racism, social status, and bullying. The narrator, seventh-grader Jordan Banks is an artist, and so the graphic novel format feels natural. I would say that Craft’s distinct artistic style is not the most aesthetically appealing, but it doesn’t need to be. The graphic novel format is the vehicle of communication for a story that is jam packed with nuance and heart and truth.

Some people think that books with pictures are automatically immature. But graphic novels are perfectly capable of telling complex stories...
The Invention of Hugo Cabret: A Novel in Words and Pictures by Brian Selznick

CASE STUDY: The Invention of Hugo Cabret: A Novel in Words and Pictures by Brian Selznick (2007). This groundbreaking book alternates between short passages of text and wordless illustrated sequences. Unlike a traditional book in which an illustration reiterates a written scene, Hugo’s pictures carry the story forward on their own. Selznick invokes the visual experience of the soundless movies from the early 1900s. To follow the narrative, one must learn to “read” the pictures.

History Smashers: Mayflower by Kate Messner

CASE STUDY: The History Smashers series by Kate Messner. These nonfiction books aren’t technically graphic novels. However, they use comic-style graphics to explain historical topics. The lively art and clear language is more engaging than picture-less text.

The Giver graphic novel adapted by P. Craig Russell

CASE STUDY: The Giver graphic novel adapted by P. Craig Russell (2019). Some stories lend themselves to the graphic novel medium. Given the importance of color in the original, the graphic novel can communicate visually what the text could only describe. It is also a relatively short book, making a faithful graphic adaptation more feasible. And faithful it is! Scenes, themes, expositional details, and dialogue are all carefully converted to the graphic novel format. The integrity of Lowry’s original story is excellently preserved in a brand-new format. This truly is a remarkable feat.

Cover of Awkward by Svetlana Chmakova

CASE STUDY: Awkward by Svetlana Chmakova (2015). This may be my personal favorite middle grade graphic novel. The story is a perfectly normal slice of middle school life. What elevates this book (and its sequels) is the art. The soft coloring and thoughtful character design make the story comforting and sweet, even as the characters navigate a variety of troubles. Based on plot alone, this would make a pretty average chapter book, but as a graphic novel, it shines.