Last week, S.E. Hinton, author of the 1967 young adult novel “The Outsiders”, responded to a tweet from a teacher asking her to consider creating a graphic novel version of her seminal book that would “engage more readers who are reluctant and striving”. Hinton’s negative response, which claimed that her book “shows (readers) they CAN read a book, not that they can turn the pages on a graphic novel”, incited an uproar of responses from teachers, librarians, and readers coming to the defense of graphic novels. Hinton’s controversial statement brings up debates of what constitutes a ‘story’ as well as whether imagery or literature is the more valuable art. It also shows that despite the increasing popularity and ubiquity of the graphic novel, it has not shaken its stigma as an inadequate tool for teaching literacy.
A 2018 article by Continental Press titled “Do Graphic Novels Have a Place in the Classroom?” cohesively breaks down this argument. Those who argue against graphic novels claim that they lead to a decline in literacy because their simplified vocabulary and themes don’t challenge students, and that their reliance on imagery leaves nothing up to the imagination for readers. The fear is that reluctant readers will choose these books as the easy option and slow their reading progress. However, studies on the use of graphic novels in the classroom indicate their many advantages. While graphic novels do hold a higher appeal for reluctant readers than books that are text alone, they encourage these readers without overwhelming them. This creates a positive reading experience and provides a sense of accomplishment, especially for English-learning readers or those with learning challenges. Studies have also empirically shown that graphic novels are just as effective as traditional texts at developing critical reading skills such as language acquisition, vocabulary development, comprehension, and inference. Further, they help students expand their analytical skills to include the consideration of visual elements.
Aside from the educational aspects, there is much to be said for the artistic merit of graphic novels. While graphic novels are often shelved separately from traditional texts in libraries, they are not a separate genre, but a different format, similar to an audiobook version of a print book. The story is not lessened or bastardized by being more visual, but simply tells the story in a different way. The addition of artwork in graphic novels, in fact, brings a whole new level of voice and interpretation. Expressions and body language can be emphasized, and these images can tell more than words alone. The way the images and text are presented in a graphic novel can indicate dialogue versus internal thoughts, reality versus imagination, and present versus flashback without having to explicitly say it. The artwork can display layers of nuance that words alone may not fully capture.
It makes my librarian heart flutter to witness the excitement and enthusiasm with which youth patrons devour graphic novels. Come check out some of the juvenile and young adult graphic novels in the Lewistown Public Library collection and see for yourself.
“Do Graphic Novels Have a Place in the Classroom?” Continental Press, 2018.
Hansen, Kathryn Strong. 2012. In Defense of Graphic Novels. National Council of Teachers of English.
Krashen, S. (2004). The power of reading. Libraries Unlimited.
Original tweet by S.E. Hinton: https://twitter.com/se4realhinton/status/1316197957394477058