INT. A children’s bookstore. It’s bright, cheerful, filled with stories of all shapes and sizes. These stories are meant to bring both joy and sadness, to show kids both a world bigger than their own and that their world is plenty big enough. We pan over to a customer and a bookseller chatting.
It seems like, no matter what I give him, my son just doesn’t like to read! Do you have any recommendations?
Yeah, for sure! Have you tried graphic novels? I find that a lot of kids who get overwhelmed by reading have more fun with graphic novels. They’re often a faster read, the pictures can keep them visually engaged, and the stories tend to be more streamlined. There’s a really good one that’s just come out–
Oh, no. I want him to read real books.
The bookseller’s eyes go dead. She pulls a gleaming knife from a place unknown. Smiles.
Hey guys! Thanks for checking out the first scene of my new comedy horror spec script! Check back next week for more quality content like this!
Just kidding. But for real though, for real though, let’s talk about graphic novels vs “real novels,” and why it’s damaging to think of the former as “cheating” or “easier.” I was a children’s bookseller for a couple years, and I had the above conversation many times, minus the murder.
Maybe minus the murder.
It was one murder, okay?
Anyways, here are a few reasons why you should consider the validity of graphic novels, and as a bonus, perhaps avoid getting stabbed by a bookseller:
- While I understand that being a good reader is a skill that parents want their kids to have–and therefore, in their minds, the more words the better–the first thing to remember is that some people simply do not do words well. Whether it’s dyslexia or ADHD or a million other things, a solid block of text, much less 200+ pages of text, can be intimidating and frustrating. Graphic novels, on the other hand, are meant to be as succinct as possible. Have you ever been reading a book and thought, alright, I was over this lakeside view description several paragraphs ago? Good news, in graphic novels, you will get a beautifully illustrated lakeside, think, well isn’t that pretty? And then get to move the hell on with the story.
- Do not overlook the fact that a graphic novel is a story told partially by illustrations, and thus children will gain an artistic appreciation from it. You wouldn’t go to an art museum with a kid and say, “oh man, if only they could read these paintings, then they’d really be getting something from this,” because you’re not dumb. A book that gives the reader an artistic experience as well as a story can only be a win-win.
- Reading books is about more than becoming better at processing words. Of course having a big vocabulary is awesome, of course I am very impressed by your ten year old who reads at an eleventh grade level, but that’s not what stories are. Kids gain empathy and a larger understanding of the world, of people who are different from them. They’ll come away with solid morals and inspiration and a sense of wonder. I’m a writer, I know the power of words, but words are not the only things that can tell stories, and if you have other mediums to help your words along, all the better.
- Lastly, if you’re still thinking, well that’s great, Herb, but it doesn’t change the fact that traditional novels are simply better for improving reading comprehension, then consider that a) if you’re trying to get your child to read and they won’t even touch a book, isn’t the reduced word count of a graphic novel better than none at all? and b) this peer-reviewed study says you’re wrong.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this unnecessarily hostile take on children’s graphic novels. Now have a list of some of my favorites, should you wish to shower your children with some spectacular stories that are of equal value to the traditional novel.
Goldie Vance by Hope Larson and Brittany Williams
Ghosts by Raina Telgemeier (hell, anything by Telgemeier)
The Witch Boy by Molly Ostertag
The Graveyard Book based on the novel by Neil Gaiman, adapted and illustrated by P. Craig Russell
Nimona by Noelle Stevenson
5 Worlds by Mark & Alexis Siegel
American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang
Amulet by Kazu Kibuishi