I went to a college known for giving students a lot of reading. The main library stays open until 11 on Friday and Saturday nights. If that wasn’t enough, there were five bookstores within walking distance of campus. The best bookstore of the bunch was in a church basement that was so big and so confusing it had a map.
So here I was in book paradise, where everybody had opinions on books down to which translation of the Iliad was most legit and which edition of Shakespare’s plays had the best commentary. But no kinds of books could get us as worked up as comic books could, and it was comic books we were trading with abandon, not different versions of Troilus and Cressida.
As passionate readers, we realized that books can do many things, including feed the soul. Comic books fed our souls.
We were not “smart” with comics the way we might be “smart” with Heidegger. We did not underline, post-it note, highlight, or read with a lens for character or theme. Instead, we just read. And after we read, we traded.
Comic books (or graphic novels, I use the words interchangeably) are a crucial part of my reading life, and I urge you to make them a part of yours, too by honoring three comic book commandments:
- Resist temptation to privilege text over image in conversation with students.
I can hear a well-intentioned adult telling a teen, “It’s great that you’re reading The Walking Dead, but when are you going to read a real book again?” Similarly, I cringe a bit when teachers suggest that graphic novels are a good book to read when a student left a book at home. When we say things like this, we send a message that graphic novels are not considered legitimate forms of literature.
Similarly, students may be afraid to pick up a graphic novel because they fear you or others will judge their reading choices as “too easy.”
- Read at least two graphic novels this year.
If you’re a graphic novel newbie, I’d recommend reading Nimona, American Born Chinese, and March: Book Three, which have all received major literary awards. If you want a list of recent greats for kids and teens, I’d recommend the Cybils Awards lists and YALSA’s Great Graphic Novels for Teens lists.
- Pick up some graphic novels for your classroom library.
If you don’t already have a collection, I encourage you to start one this year!
Amy Estersohn is an English teacher in New York, and the best translation of The Illiad is from Robert Fagles.
Tagged: Readers Writers Workshop