By Michael Gianfrancesco
I have been doing this whole “teaching with comics” thing for nearly 15 years and I am fortunate enough to have the opportunity to work with teachers all over the country. During panels and workshops, I find that I often hear (or overhear) a specific remark: “I love these books. They’re great for my reluctant readers.”
When I hear teachers say things like this, or that comics are only for the “kids who don’t like to read,” I feel they’re buying into a common myth: that reluctant readers are the only ones who can benefit from comics. While it’s true that comics and graphic novels do work well with reluctant readers, that’s precisely because they work well with nearly all readers. Rather than relegated to only the most struggling students, comics can be useful – even invaluable – for elementary all the way up to College Preparatory or even Advanced Placement classes, offering up countless opportunities for teachers and administrators to better engage their students.
For my part, I use comics with all my students who vary in gender, age, and academic performance – from reluctant to engaged and everything in between. Of course, curation is key here. Should you decided to take on the challenge and joy of teaching with comics in your classroom, it is important to understand what titles you have to choose from and the complexity level of these texts – particularly if you are not familiar with them – as some of them are every bit as complex as their chapter-based counterparts. For example, while I’d avoid handing a difficult book like Maus or Persepolis to a student who struggles with reading, I would also be hesitant to hand an elementary-level Smile to an 11th or 12th grade honors or college prep group.
See, that’s the rub! With the diverse range of comics available today, it’s hard to know exactly what works best for your students – especially if you’re new to comics. To help, I have taken the liberty of listing some great examples below, along with a few of the themes that the texts take on to help you decide how to work them into your curriculum:
Elementary/Middle School Level:
Anya’s Ghost by Vera Brosgol
Ghostopolis by Doug TenNapel
The Secret Science Alliance and the Copycat Crook by Eleanor Davis
Astronaut Academy (Series) by Dave Roman
The Human Body Theatre by Maris Wicks
Awkward by Svetlana Chmakova
Nimona by Noelle Stevenson
High School Level:
Maus by Art Speigelman
Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi
Superman: American Alien by Max Landis
Superman is an iconic character, and there are many stories that have been told about him, but none like the ones in this book. Each tale conjuring a different emotion than the last, this book offers amazing new perspectives of the Man of Steel.
Batman: Year One by Frank Miller
I Kill Giants by Joe Kelly
Ghost World by Daniel Clowes
Pride of Baghdad by Brian K. Vaughan
V for Vendetta by Alan Moore
The texts above are just a start. If you decide to start with your struggling readers by passing some comics into their hands, just keep in mind that this is where you should be beginning, not ending, your intervention. When you are comfortable with their effectiveness and your ability to implement them successfully, you can take the next step and bring these texts to your other, higher achieving students!
It may take some time but, in my experience, it usually does not take long to discover those books that will make your reading-loving students eager to explore and be challenged by new types of texts, topics, and content.