Similar to comic books, graphic novels weave rich, lively visuals with a limited amount of text to drive the narrative. Graphic novels can be especially appealing to readers who are reluctant to pick up a more traditional book.
The graphic novel format can be found in a wide range of genres: fantasy, science fiction, historical fiction, fairy tales and myths — as well as nonfiction, including biography, history, and science.
For example, Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales is a popular graphic novel series that showcases major events and individuals in history — “a wonderfully fun rumpus,” says Meryl Jaffee in her blog about using graphic novels in education. Another example: there are graphic novel versions of the popular Rick Riordan series , Percy Jackson and the Olympians — stories inspired by Greek myths.
Struggling and reluctant readers
Graphic novels are a great way to help struggling readers strengthen vocabulary, build reading confidence and stamina, and develop a deeper appreciation of storytelling. They also allow struggling readers to have reading successes, as described by author/illustrator Cece Bell (El Deafo):
“But there was like this sense of satisfaction for readers who maybe have a little bit of difficulty reading. Here are these pictures that help propel me through. It doesn’t take very long to get through a page. Suddenly you read a 220-page book, and you’ve never read a 220-page book in your life. It’s like this gateway to reading maybe things that are more difficult down the road …”
— Cece Bell (El Deafo)
Graphic novels offer struggling readers different cues to a story. If a child comes across unknown vocabulary or a complicated narrative twist, the illustrations can provide contextual clues that can help the reader figure out the meaning of that passage.
Graphic novels can introduce struggling readers to the world of classic literature. Classical Comics and Graphic Classics, for example, publish graphic novel versions of Dickens, Shakespeare, Twain, Alcott, and other great writers.
Graphic novels in the classroom
Browse these articles and resources on using comics and graphic novels in the classrom:
- 19 Graphic Novels That Engage Students and Keep Them Reading
- A Guide to Using Graphic Novels with Children and Teens (Scholastic)
- More than Commic Books (ASCD)
- Using Graphic Novels and Comics in the Classroom (Edutopia)
- Teaching with Graphic Novels (School Library Journal)
- Building Literacy Connections with Graphic Novels: Page by Page, Panel by Panel (Read Write Think)
- Building Literacy Connections with Graphic Novels: Page by Page, Panel by Panel : Chapter 1 (NCTE)
- Teaching with Comics, Graphic Novels, & Illustrated Novels (Teacher Vision)
- Comics in the Classroom
- Using Graphic Novels in Education
Recommended graphic novels for kids
- Graphic Novels: Read the Pictures (Reading Rockets, grades K-8)
- Best Graphic Novels for Children (ALA’s I Love Libraries, grades K-8)
- Graphic Novels Reading List (ALSC, grades K-2)
- Graphic Novels Reading List (ALSC, grades 3-5)
- Graphic Novels Reading List (ALSC, grades 6-8)
- Recommended Graphic Novels (Common Sense Media, grades K-8)
You can also search School Library Journal for up-to-date reviews of graphic novels.
Gene Luen Yang: Reading Without Walls
Gene Luen Yang began drawing comic books in the fifth grade. In 2006, his graphic novel, American Born Chinese — a memoir about growing up as an Asian American — became the first graphic novel to win the American Library Association’s Printz Award. He is the author of the Secret Coders series and has written for the hit comics Avatar: The Last Airbender and Superman. In 2016, the Library of Congress named Gene as the 5thNational Ambassador for Young People’s Literature . Later that same year, Gene received the MacArthur Fellow “Genius Grant.”
As part of his Ambassador outreach, Gene publishes a video blog, Reading Without Walls, on Reading Rockets. A few sample posts:
Gene Luen Yang: The Making of a Graphic Novel
Watch as Yang demonstrates the steps in his writing and drawing process. (Credit: The Kennedy Center Education Department , Performing Arts Series).
Interviews with graphic novel writers and illustrators
Listen in as these award-winning writers and illustrators talk about graphic novel storytelling, how this format can support struggling or reluctant readers, using graphic novels in the classroom, and more. You can view selected clips in the playlist here, or view the complete interviews (see the links below).
Watch the full interviews
- Tom Angleberger (Origami Yoda series)
- Cece Bell (El Deafo)
- Shannon Hale (Rapunzels’ Revenge)
- Matt Holm and Jennifer Holm (the Babymouse and Squish series)
- Jeff Kinney (Diary of a Wimpy Kid series)
- Jarrett Krosoczka (Lunch Lady series)
- Jon Scieszka (Time Warp Trio series)
- Stephan Pastis (Timmy Failure series)
- Brian Selznick (The Invention of Hugo Cabret has been described as an “illustrated novel”)