The Graphic Novel Punch


image by aitoff, downloaded from pixabay

In our secondary school library graphic novels circulate 4 times more often than other fiction formats. It is clear that this is what our middle schoolers prefer to read. As librarian it is my task to be informed about and support their reading choices. This is why I chose the “graphic novel” option for my first ETL402 assignment.

Graphic novels look like books and can be fictional and nonfictional. They encompass many genres and are created for all age groups. The stories are told in sequentially presented panels, through a combination of text, pictures, symbols, dialogue balloons and sound effects. This I knew. I learnt a lot more about what graphic novels are and how they can be used in the guides from Scholastic  and CBLDF guides (“Panel Power”, n.d.;  A Guide, n.d.). What I did not realise was that while they employ standard literary devices in sophisticated ways, they require a different kind of reading than textual books – there is further decoding and interpretation of the visual aspects involved. Analysis of not only artistic elements (drawing, colour and shading), but of elements of graphical design (panel layout, perspective and lettering style), and even an understanding of cinematic conventions, are required (Goldsmith, 2009, p. 5). It soon became clear to me that I greatly underestimated this form of fiction, through my investigation I realised that by understanding graphic novels better, I was not only in a better position to support and encourage the popular reading of my students but found a way to understand their choices better.

image by aitoff, downloaded form pixabayHere is one important thing I learnt:  Digital technology is providing the impetus for our culture to become increasingly visual. Students’ daily consumption of information and entertainment is dominated by colourful, animated on-screen images, where the screen has replaced printed text as the main medium for communication. This multi-modal environment is changing the way students make meaning and requires competence in interpreting, evaluating, and representing meaning in visual form. This visual literacy is not only needed to successfully consume and produce information in the multi-modal 21st century, but provides opportunities in the classroom to create, analyse, and critique multi-modal texts (Rowsell, McLean, & Hamilton, 2012, pp. 444 – 446). Graphic novels are multi-modal texts that combine traditional literacy skills with visual literacy in a format that is acceptable to and preferred by our students (Hammond, 2010, p. 43). It is clear that these novels not only deserve a place in our library fiction collections but must be taught in our literature courses and can be used to introduce other aspects of the curriculum as well. The novels I examined in my research are excellent vehicles to introduce issues such as immigration, culture, racial identity and stereotyping.

I came across a lot of research that indicate that graphic novels can be used not only to expand literacy, but for reading motivation (of especially, but not exclusively, reluctant male readers), language learning, improved comprehension and vocabulary development (Edwards, 2009, pp. 56-58; Gavigan, 2012, p. 20; Snowball, 2005, pp. 43 – 44; etc. etc. etc.).

image by aitoff, downloaded from pixabayHistorically graphic novels did not have a good name for being serious literature, it needs to shed the stigma of triviality and the educational benefits need to be examined. Teachers and parents will need to be educated and convinced that this is “real reading”. Many graphic novels are only superficial in content and many contain explicit content and language that make them unsuitable for use in school. Teacher librarians need to be knowledgable and well-informed to make good choices when building graphic novel collections.

So, what should this teacher librarian do now that she has a much-changed view about graphic novels?

  • Read more graphic novels
  • Include more in the collection (but be careful about the selection)
  • Read more graphic novels
  • Display the collection prominently
  • read more graphic novels
  • Promote the collection through book talks
  • Read more graphic novels (get the idea?)
  • Talk to students about graphic novels
  • Talk to teachers about graphic novels
  • Conduct professional development sessions about the value of graphic novels in the curriculum

Guess what I’ll be reading over Christmas…



Edwards, B. (2009, November). Motivating middle school readers: The graphic novel link. School Library Media Activities, 25(8), 56-58. Retrieved from

Gavigan, K. (2012). Sequentially smart – using graphic novels across the K-12 curriculum. Teacher Librarian, 39(5), 20-25. Retrieved from

Goldsmith, F. (2010). The readers’ advisory guide to graphic novels. Chicago: American Library Association.

A guide to using graphic novels with children and teens. (n.d.). Retrieved December 19, 2018, from

Hammond, H. K. (2010). The development of a school library graphic novel collection. In R. G. Weiner, R. W. Scott, A. K. Nyberg, W. T. Fee, & F. Goldsmith (Authors), Graphic novels and comics in libraries and archives: Essays on readers, research, history and cataloging (pp. 41-51). Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland.

Panel power: Using comics to make lifelong readers. (n.d.). Retrieved December 19, 2018, from CBLDF website:

Rowsell, J., McLean, C., & Hamilton, M. (20112). Visual literacy as a classroom approach. Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy, 55(5), 444-447.

Snowball, C. (2005, Summer). Teenage reluctant readers and graphic novels. YALS, 43-45. Retrieved from










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