Wondering (worrying?) about graphic novels

Blogger’s Note:  The real power in this conversation rests in the comment section where we are talking all things reading.  Come and join us! 

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I’ve got a bit of a confession to make—and it’s probably going to leave a TON of people completely hacked off.

But that’s never stopped me before, right?

Here goes:  I just CAN’T buy into the mad-crazy-graphic-novel-as-a-legitimate-form-of-reading-worth-promoting love that seems to be sweeping through middle school libraries.

In fact, I reflexively cringe every time I see my students swimming through the 741.5 section of the media center.

#ducking

Before you unsheathe your digital bazookas and start lobbing intellectual bombs, listen to this quick story:  A colleague of mine who teaches drama noticed how many of her students were reading graphic novels during a recent SSR period.

Concerned, she asked a few kids why they were drawn to the genre.  Their answer:

“We don’t have to think while we’re reading them.”

#ouch

I can hear graphic novel enthusiasts everywhere groaning as I type—and I’m all-too-familiar with the argument that graphic novels require students to make meaning from pictures, drawing subtle inferences based on what they’re seeing.

But is that REALLY true?

Let’s be honest, y’all:  Graphic novels ALREADY take away the need for students to visualize anything while they are reading.

What does the hero look like?  How is the light shimmering off of the summer pond at sunset?  How does pain—or love, or joy, or surprise—change a face?

“In a book full of pictures, all of the imagining,” my colleague explained, “has been done for them.  How is THAT a good thing?”

Based on what her students are saying, it’s a good thing because it means thinking is optional.

#yuck

So here’s what I’m wondering:  Will students who are hooked on graphic novels ever be terribly excited about picking up a text where they’ve got to do the imagining on their own again?

Think about it:  Can YOU imagine trying to imagine—or wanting to imagine, or seeing a need to imagine—after discovering an entire genre where imagining just isn’t necessary?

#whybother

Even worse, will students who are hooked on graphic novels ever willingly tackle the kinds of nonfiction, content-heavy reading that plays larger and larger roles in advanced learning environments.

Think about it: How intimidating must it be for students who spend all of their free reading time in image-heavy graphic novels to crack open their textbooks in my science class and try to make meaning out of the sea of words that they are confronted with?

#HOLYCRAP

Now I get it:  For struggling readers, graphic novels are a great way to encourage emergent reading behaviors and habits.

Seriously—I LOVE seeing kids who have never felt successful during silent reading periods turning pages and signing out stacks of books.

Like the kids who love my Kindle set to jumbo-font, the simple act of turning pages can build confidence in kids who feel overwhelmed by more traditional texts.

#babysteps

But I just can’t help thinking that graphic novels are nothing more than the literary equivalent of Jersey Shore for the majority of our kids—and when you are addicted to mental candy like Snooki, I can’t help worrying about your future.

Am I wrong here?

#listening

#hopeyouwontshout

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