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Graphic Novel Detectives

Truth be told, I have not read many graphic novels, and I am making an effort to expand my reading life in that way. The graphic novel collection in my classroom library has dwindled over time. I have lost many beloved titles to former students. The bin that we do have always seems to be empty, and readers tend to think they are done reading a graphic novel within a day or two.

I recently sat on my couch reading the first chapter of Twins by Varian Johnson and Shannon Wright. I was not just reading the words and flipping pages like many of my readers do. Instead, I was carefully studying the panels that fused together each scene. I admired the color palette and giggled at Francine and Maurine’s sisterly interactions. I thought, While graphic novels are visual, readers still need to make movies in their minds. They need to put these images into motion and imagine what these scenes sound like. What really caught my attention was the number of different pop-out bubbles. After reading and rereading to think about the meaning of each one, I decided to draw them out:


A week ago, we had a special edition of First Chapter Friday. Looking at the above chart as a clue, there was no mistaking that the book hiding in our special book box was a graphic novel. We had our drum rolls and “unwrapping” reveal, and then I told my readers they had an important job. I declared that they would be taking on the role of graphic novel detectives that morning.

I reminded them that it’s not enough to read the words in a graphic novel, and even though the illustrator paints a picture of the scenes for us, it is our job to make a movie that involves movement and sounds. I had the blank pop-out bubbles displayed and extended an invitation: “Give a silent signal when you have noticed one of these and think you might know what it means.”

Engagement was high. Fourth graders were committed to their role as graphic novel detectives. There was open dialogue between students in the cohort physically with me. My remote group unmuted on Google Meet to join the conversation. Readers were grounding their thinking in evidence. We did some rereading to notice patterns in order to construct meaning. In just 20 minutes of reading and thinking together, readers felt ready to take on the complex task of reading Francine and Maurine’s story:

The popularity of Twins resulted in a drawing for which lucky reader would take the book home during February break. I’m hopeful her next book buzz on Flipgrid will feature this title!

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