Graphic novels in the curriculum

In days gone by, graphic novels were regarded little more than entertainment for children and young adults.  They were regarded as shallow and of no value as literature. I have previously discussed the popularity of graphic novels in my school library, but I have not expounded upon their value to the collection as a source of literature.

A good graphic novel as described by Gonzales (2016) is a literary text in a comic strip format. It should have the same literary features of a prose novel, such as an overarching theme, depth of plot, character development, as well as the standard literary devices of any other piece of literature (Gonzales, 2016).  But the added strength of graphic novels is the illustrations. These illustrations support the storyline and seek to enhance the plot for the reader by providing context and additional visual clues.

ACARA (n.d.a) defines a text as a conveyance of communication.  It does not discriminate if the text is written, spoken or multi-modal in nature, but rather emphasises the importance in its ability to transmit information.  Therefore, as per ACARA (n.d.a), it is perfectly reasonable for graphic novels to be used as part of curriculum literature as well as part of general wide reading. The multi-modal format of graphic novels is suitable for both fiction and non fiction subject matter, and engages students across year levels and contributes to the development of various literacies and higher order thinking skills.

The format of graphic novels strongly promotes literacy; which includes but is not limited to language and visual development as well as critical and cultural literacy (Laycock, 2019).  As ACARA (n.d.b) illustrates, the literacy continuum allows for active teaching of graphic novels in the visual knowledge element as well as the comprehension of text elements. These elements clearly indicate that the focus of literature is no longer restricted to prose in print; but that the concept of text has greatly evolved.

Graphic novels have several features that lend itself to teaching and learning practice.  Firstly, the transition that is needed between frames makes it necessary for the reader to predict the next action (Botzakis, 2018).  This prediction requires the student to utilise higher order thinking skills before they can arrive at that point, using the contextual information present in the imagery.  The context of a graphic novel has multiple uses in an educational setting.  Besides assisting low literacy and ESL students improving their ability to decode; discordance between images and text can also be used to provoke spirited discussions and analysis (Botzakis, 2018).  Lamentably, most students fail to understand such nuances intuitively, therefore explicit pedagogical practice is required to equip students with the necessary skills (Laycock, 2019). Lastly, graphic novels have visual permanence (Botzakis, 2018). This visual permanence means that the reader is able to set their own reading pace and allows for re-reading and further clarification.

In recent years, many classical texts have been reprinted as graphic novels due to their popularity.  Complex texts such as Homer’s “Iliad” and Harper Lee’s “To kill a mockingbird” adaptations allow the reader to engage with class texts in a format that they can access more easily.  Even popular titles such as “Anne Frank’s Diary” and “Wrinkle in Time”have proven more competitive in a graphic format than the traditional text version with high school students.  Laycock (2019) points out that graphic novels increase the literacy alphabet in poor readers as well as offer an additional method in which content can be delivered. The evidence does indicate that as a format, graphic novels have great potential in a classroom setting.

Unfortunately many teachers falter when challenged to use graphic novels in their teaching practice.  This is due to a lack of confidence with this format. Authority in explicitly teaching literacy using graphic novels requires the teacher to be familiar with a variety of graphic texts (Gonzales, 2016).  Gonzales (2016) suggests that knowledge in film techniques would be useful in analysing the illustrations, as they use frames, colours, angles and word bubbles to convey the covert message; in comparison to the the text, which speaks the overt message.  Comprehension is further enhanced by clear teaching of artistic elements such as line, shade, colour, form and depth. Some graphic novels aid comprehension further by the inclusion of character mapping which aids in memory recall (Botzakis, 2018).

The largest benefit to the inclusion of graphic novels in a high school library collection is that reading graphic novels tends to lead to an increased satisfaction with reading, which in turn leads to increased wide reading (Gonzales, 2016; Laycock, 2019).  Graphic novels also give poor and reluctant readers a sense of accomplishment due to the increased decoding assistance from the visual clues (Botzakis, 2018).

Regrettably many parents and teachers still believe that graphic novels are unsuitable for classrooms and wide reading due to ingrained prejudices and their own distant memories (Gonzales, 2016; Laycock, 2019).  There is an assumption that vintage comics are in the same league as a modern graphic novel. But this thesis would be incorrect. Comics are to graphic novels as Mills & Boon are to traditional literature (Botzakis, 2018). It would be a great miscalculation to designate all graphic novels as entertainment, when one can clearly see their practicality in the classroom and links to the curriculum. Another point to consider is that there is a disconnect between what students want to read and what the curriculum dictates they have to read.  This dichotomy cripples literacy development. When school literacy programs prefer only monomodal texts, it creates pedagogical tension for teachers. Adding graphic novels to class literature shifts the voice in the classroom from teacher to the student which leads to higher student engagement.

Graphic novels sales are trending across the literary world.  The first graphic novel to win a Pulitzer Prize was “Maus” by Spiegelman in 1992, followed by Aydin’s “March” series that won the National Book Award in 2016.  Traditionally favoured with the tween and teen males, graphic novels have become increasingly popular with teenage girls (Gonzales, 2016; Botzakis, 2018). This popularity has led to a sharp increase in the occurrence of female protagonists within this genre (Gonzales, 2016).  One could argue that graphic novels are indeed texts of the 21st century as they engage the reader on multiple levels, promoting multiple literacies in a multi-modal world.

References

ACARA, (n.d.a) English – Key Ideas. Retrieved from  https://australiancurriculum.edu.au/f-10-curriculum/english/key-ideas/

ACARA, (n.d.b) Literacy Learning continuum.  Retrieved from https://www.australiancurriculum.edu.au/media/3596/general-capabilities-literacy-learning-continuum.pdf

Botzakis, S. (2018). Comics in the classroom: Using graphic novels for content learning. In D. Wooten, B. Cullinan, L. Liang & R. Allington (Eds).  Children’s literature in the reading program: Engaging young readers in the 21st century, (5th ed., pp. 140-152). Retrieved from Proquest Ebook Central.

Goldsmith, F. (2010). The readers’ advisory guide to graphic novels. Retrieved from Proquest Ebook Central.

Karp, J. (2012). Graphic novels in your school library. Retrieved from Proquest Ebook Central. 

Laycock, D. (2019) Pilgrims in a foreign land: Teachers using graphic novels as classroom texts. SCAN, 38.  https://education.nsw.gov.au/teaching-and-learning/professional-learning/scan/past-issues/vol-38,-2019/pilgrims-in-a-foreign-land-teachers-using-graphic-novels-as-classroom-texts

 

 

 

It was the moment I fell in love…

kaboompics / Pixabay – Falling in love

 

I fell in love for the first time with a boy named James Winthrop Frayne II.  I was 11 years old and madly in love. He was 16 years old, tall and very smart, with red hair, green eyes and a slightly crooked smile. 

PlushDesignStudio / Pixabay – In love with books.

 

Unfortunately for me, James or Jim, as I lovingly referred to him, was a character in my favourite book series “Trixie Belden”. In fact, my love for Jim Frayne was so embedded into my mind that I ended up marrying another lovely redhead (he says honey-blond) who also happened to have James in his name.  And whilst I was falling in love with Jim Frayne…

I fell in love with reading books. 

Now when I say I love books, I say this as an adult who reads on a daily basis. 

I have never spent a day in my life as far as I can remember without reading or food.  In fact reading and eating are interwoven rather closely in my life. I have eaten my way through many books and I have read my way through many meals.  Even now as a mother of three, dinner table conversations are still second place to a book. So for me, books are a need, like food and water. I indulge that need with classics and new authors; old favourites and popular series.  But series fiction holds a dear spot in my heart. As a child, series fiction gave me Jim and Trixie, Harry and Hermoine, Frank and Joe, Nancy and Bess, Laura Ingalls, Anne Shirley, Lucy, Pollyanna, Heidi, George and Timmy, Darryl and Sally. As an adult series fiction brought me Doc Scarpetta, Tempe Brennan, Ayla of no people, Falco, Jamie and Claire plus many others into my life.  Whilst I have loved the classics and other stand alone titles, series fiction brought me the greatest joy.   

{silence} {crickets} {crashing cups of tea and chairs} {my career as a future TL fading into the sunset}

Yes, as an adult who is also a fledgling teacher librarian, I am voicing out loud my deep and ardent affection for serial stories.  Now, once everyone has picked themselves off the floor and righted their tea cups; I will explain my thoughts.

I acknowledge that series fiction, whether for adults or children, has often been regarded as literary rubbish.  Often viewed as the ‘Mills & Boon’ of literature, series fiction is derided for its repetitive structure, predictive plot and lack of character development (Westfahl, 2018).  Some would even argue that its presence on bookshelves is a betrayal of literary values (Westfahl, 2018). But these people are snobs! Books do not always have to be among the lexicons of literature.  Books, especially fiction books, should be able to satisfy cognitive, emotional and the developmental needs of the reader and series fiction definitely addresses the emotional needs of both fledging and proficient readers.

But before I elaborate deeply on how series fiction changed my life; I would like to clarify a few technical issues.  There are three main types of series fiction. Firstly, there is the progressive series; where a longer narrative is broken down into shorter novels and the sequence of titles is important to the reader and storyline (Wooldridge, 2015).  Then there are the successive series, where the plot repeats itself continuously and lastly, the accidental variety where the author reluctantly writes prequels and sequels to comfort the crazies.  

Rowling’s Harry Potter, Marsden’s Tomorrow when the war began, Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables and Wilder’s Little house books are some examples of progressive series.  These book concatenations had a definite end which saw the characters grow and develop along with the reader.  I was one of those readers that grew up with Ellie and Harry. I devoured John Marsden’s series in a matter of months.  My poor high school teacher librarian was continuously pestered to get the rest of the series once I got hold of the first one. Poor man!  Lucky for him, by the time I discovered Harry, I had a job and a library membership! I was 13 when the first HP book was released and as Harry grew up, so did I.  Harry, Hermoine and Ron were more than just book characters, for me they were friends.  

Successive series examples include the famous Diary of a wimpy kid, Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys, Trixie Belden, Babysitters club, Animorphs, Famous Five, Secret Seven, and Bobbsey Twins.  These series have a foreseeable story patterns with comforting characters and obvious plots (Wooldridge, 2015).  Whilst these books may seem formulaic (they are!), it is their predictability that makes them popular. Series fiction offers children constancy and security in a world full of upheaval (Wooldridge, 2015).  Children develop a sense of trust, an affection with the character and possibly even a relationship with the author (Wooldridge, 2015). So while they themselves grow up through the tumultuous years of puberty, series fiction with its predictability offers an escape, a playdate with an old friend.  

I developed this type of relationship with Enid Blyton after being introduced to the Famous Five. The sheer joy received from reading that series led me to trust her writing style and with it I discovered Secret Seven, 5 find outers and it, Mallory Towers, Twins at St Claire’s, Wishing Chair, Enchanted Tree, Amelia Jane and so many more.  For an awkward immigrant kid with poor social skills, these books allowed me to escape to places where magic and friendship abounded.  My daughter is also a big Blyton fan. Every time she picks up a book authored by Blyton, I know that she will most likely gain the same level of emotional satisfaction that I did and so develop her love of reading.  There is also a great deal of enjoyment to share with her the books of my childhood.

The last main type of series fiction is the accidental variety.  These are books that the author only planned on one, and then somehow their popularity has meant sequels and prequels were soon requested by adoring fans.  George M Martin’s Game of Thrones is such a series, spawning an TV run that lasted several years and ended before the last book has even been published.  Diana Gabaldan’s Outlander series is currently stalled at the near publication of its 9th book and only time will tell if the tenth book will ever eventuate (especially since the first book was published almost 20 years ago!).  Other accidental series include Baum’s Wizard of Oz, Norton’s The Borrowers and P. L. Traver’s Mary Poppins.  Because these series were accidental and not planned, their storylines do not always make sense and can appear a bit jerky at times.  Sometimes they abruptly end if the author or readers lose interest.  

Series fiction has been around for a long time. As much as some literary snobs would hate to admit, there are some current classics that used to be serials.  Dicken’s Pickwick Papers and another seven of his other titles as well as Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes started off as series but then were condensed into a novel several reprints later (McGill-Franzen & Ward, 2018).  Even further back to the folklore stories such as mythical twelve tasks of Hercules; the thousand and one stories of Scherazade and adventures of the Round table are varieties of series fiction.  So to all those literary snobs that believe series fiction are rubbish… well… pffft to you.  

If you think about it from a practical viewpoint it makes sense if you have a recipe that works to use it!  Edward Strathmeyer had such a recipe back in the boom days of series fiction. He planned outlines of books and then organised cheap ghost writers to write the stories, and oh boy… did it work!  The whole Trixie Belden, Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys production is based upon this magical recipe (Westfahl, 2018).  The recipe had some key ingredients. Characters are kept the same age; have the same small town holistic upbringing; go on amazing adventures, travel the world but always come home safely to a loving family.  These books allowed children and teens (mainly aimed at Caucausian middle class Americans) an avenue of escape from their groundhog day lives. As these book characters all suffered from perennial Peter Pan syndrome, they have never lost their appeal even in its trillionth reprint nearly ninety years after the first copy (Finnian, 2013).  I will mention here that whilst racial demographics and family structure has evolved significantly since the first Stratemeyer book was published in 1927, their popularity has not changed.  The plot pattern remains the same but the settings and dilemmas have evolved with the times.  Obviously the recipe still works!

So what is the benefit of series fiction?  Besides emotional satisfaction, series fiction allows the reader to build their literacy skills.  McGill-Franzen & Ward (2018) believes that the predictable plots assist in developing word recognition which in turn boosts vocabulary and reading confidence.  The formulaic story pattern allows the reader to easily identify any explicit reading conventions present. This expanded vocabulary and confidence then allows the reader to successfully use their increased literacy skills in other areas. 

Series fiction makes it simple for readers to identify titles they are willing to read because they identify with the author.  Reluctant readers are more likely to pick a book they are familiar with by the same author; than a title by a new author. They are also more likely to try other titles by that author because of the relationship that was previously established.  A great example is John Flanagan, author of the fabulous Ranger’s apprentice series.  Teens who enjoy that series often move onto the Royal Ranger series as well as Brotherband because they trust the author. The same can be said for Rick Riordan and the plethora of books he has published.  

The impact of series fiction is clear.  Children and teens who read more books end up being more adults who read.  Remember, committed adult readers were hooked onto reading as children by series fiction (McGill-Franzen & Ward, 2018).  And whilst reading of insightful novels that provokes critical thinking complements a wide reading program, it cannot replace it.  Pushing the classics onto children and teens before they are ready is unlikely to work. But offering them an opportunity to connect with an author or a series they can engage with may put them onto the pathway towards literature.  After all, children do age out of one series and into another (McGill-Franzen & Ward, 2018). They grow from Blyton’s Magic Faraway tree to Rodda’s Rowan of Rin, to Rowling’s Harry Potter to Marsden’s Tomorrow when the war began to Davis’ Falco, Cornwall’s Scarpetta and Reichs’ Bones and Hume’s Arthur and Merlin series and eventually they reach the classics. Why do I know that?  Cos I did just that.  

I fell in love with reading as a child.  I have stayed in love with reading as an adult.  Are you in love with reading? If so, when did it happen?

REFERENCES

Finnan, Robert (2013). “Unofficial Nancy Drew Home Page”. Retrieved 14th March 2020. 

McGill-Franzen, A. & Ward, N. (2018). To develop proficiency and engagement, give series books to novice readers. In D. Wooten, B. Cullinan, L. Liang & R. Allington (Eds). Children’s literature in the reading program: Engaging young readers in the 21st century, (5th ed., pp. 153-168). Retrieved from Proquest Ebook Central.

Westfahl, G. (1999-2018). Series fiction. World of Westfahl. Retrieved from https://www.sfsite.com/gary/ww-ref-series01.htm

Woolridge, T. (2015). Series fiction and Sallly Rippin’s Billie B Brown series: The ‘Most important continuous reading children do on their own’. mETAphor, 3, 30-35. Retrieved from https://www.englishteacher.com.au/

 

YA – Did you ?

My knowledge of children’s literature is as extensive as my personal library. 

I have shelves groaning with ‘golden books’( a remnant of my childhood), Blyton, Nesbit, Grimm, Anderson, Wilder (another remnant), Montgomery (mine), Alcott (yes… also mine), Lewis (mine), Anh Do (definitely not mine – Child #2), Harvey, Keene, K Kenny (mine), J Kenny ( not mine – Child #1), Dixon and Rowling to just name a few authors. This is not including the shelves full of board and picture books (child #1, #2 and #3) that have appealed to my minions thus far.  But as I ponder this, and glance lovingly at my home library, I realise that I went straight from children’s books to the classics and then onto adult fiction. I had completely skipped the YA stage. 

A whole series that revolutionised children’s books.

 

Young adult fiction as Tyle (2014) points out are books that are written for teenagers aged between 12-18 years old and (mostly) have teen protagonists as central characters.  Compared to books aimed at children and adults, YA fiction should be able to present a teen’s perspective without sounding condescending or patronising. Pattee (2017) although prefers to call YA as emerging adult fiction or new adult fiction as she feels that this developmental phase could be more applicable to young adults between 18-25 years old.  Her reasoning for this shift in age range is based upon when confusion and conflict occurs in identity as per Erikson’s psychological theory. Pattee (2017, p.220) suggests that a true identity crisis occurs later in life than in teen years as per previous theories.  

A childhood favourite of mine

 

This makes sense to me.  It’s common knowledge that the brains of young people are not fully grown till their mid-twenties.  After all, due to the increased risk of rash decision making, most car insurance companies charge younger drivers a higher excess compared to their older compatriots.   Another thought to ponder is the age that modern ‘new adults’ actually start adult-ing (Pattee, 2017). With millennials delaying settling down with a partner and setting up their homes till their late 20’s and early 30’s; the time period for identity conflict and resolution is definitely being delayed.  

My first encyclopaedia

 

When thinking back to my earlier readings I recall that children’s literature should address the behavioural, cognitive and emotional development of children.  A good children’s book helps children grow and understand themselves and the world they live in. So a good YA novel should also do the same for young people. It should help them grow into adulthood.  It should help them deal with coming of age issues like sexuality and relationships.  

So back to my bookshelves of children’s literature.  I would be the first to agree that my knowledge of children’s books are dated.  But whilst I do feel its part of parenting that we share our favourite authors, soundtracks and movies with our children, we must also keep our minds open to them finding their own favourites.  So my children and I have an agreement. Every time we go to the library they borrow whatever books they want to read, and then I get one I have enjoyed and then read that to them. This way they share with me their favourite books, I can share my love of literature, and at the same time expand my repertoire of titles. 

Win/Win?  

I think yes.

REFERENCES

Pattee, Amy.Children’s Literature Association Quarterly; Baltimore Vol. 42, Iss. 2,  (Summer 2017): 218-230. DOI:10.1353/chq.2017.0018

Tyle, Leonie. Following the Michael L. Printz award Leonie Tyle muses on the definition of young adult fiction [online]. Magpies: Talking About Books for Children, Vol. 29, No. 4, Sep 2014: 16.