Thursday, March 2, 2023

Teaching the Graphic Novel to Struggling Readers

Want to skip to the lesson idea?  Jump down to the picture and start reading from there!

Comics have a bad reputation.  That stems all the way back to the late '50s when a guy named Dr. Frederick Wertham wrote a book called Seduction of the Innocent.  It details how comic books cause kids to be violent, disruptive, anxious, and homosexual.  It caused quite the stir and I could go on and on about it, but I will spare you today.  There were senate hearings and self-imposed censorship on it. Comics almost went out of business because of it and if it were not for the Marvel surge led by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, and Steve Ditko, they may just have disappeared.  

Several generations have passed since then and each generation has been more open to comics as a legitimate genre, but even so, many teachers think it is good only for students who struggle.  "Well, reading comics is better than nothing..." is a phrase thrown about quite often.  True, there are some low-brow comics out there, just as there are some low-brow novels, stories, movies, poems, etc.  However, there are also quite a bit of complex stories being told.  Maus and Persepolis are two that have broken the ranks.  Classical Comics does and EXCELLENT job adapting Shakespeare (and you can get them with the full text).  A good comic does more than illustrate the story - like a movie, the images should assist in telling the story, so that the words and images blend.  One without the other is no good.

One problem I've encountered with teaching Persepolis to struggling readers is that they often have trouble following which word balloon to read next and following along with who is actually speaking.  To combat this, for some of the chapters we are reading, I photocopy the pages and highlight the parts and let them read it like a play.  This way they get to model how to read and are able to focus on the story being told.  We don't do this for all chapters, but with the group I have now, I will probably do it for just under half of the chapters. 

If you are interested in discussing with your class the history of the CCA and Dr. Wertham's book, you can use my presentation.  I have basic notes on it because I was not setting it up for others, but it should be enough for you to spark some discussion.

By the way, what is the difference between a comic book and a graphic novel?  Well, technically graphic novels tend to be longer and self-contained, but in reality "graphic novel" is often used by those who are embarrassed to be reading comics and want to make them sound more "literary".

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