In 2019, in a pre-pandemic world, I attended a TCRWP Saturday Reunion Session…in person. How I miss the anticipatory drive into the city, ready for a day of learning that always filled my professional bucket. It was during a session with the lovely and brilliant Shana Frazin that my literacy world kind of expanded. The session was all about graphic novels. Shana explained all of the reasons why some people may not embrace the literary form, but she also explained why they are so important. She said, “Comics matter because stories matter. Comics are just a form.”
If the students at your schools are anything like the students at our school, you know that graphic novels are hot! We can’t keep them on the shelves in our library and every graphic novel we have wears it’s love in the form of a splintering spine and pages that have obviously been poured over. It was this love that inspired our second grade team to design and implement a mini graphic novel writing unit this winter, when energy and excitement in the classroom was kind of low.
It was in this planning process that I remembered Shana Frazin’s session at that 2019 Saturday Reunion where she encouraged teachers to read aloud graphic novels, just like you would any other text.. She said, “When we read aloud to kids, we are modeling everything that proficient readers do when they read a text. When we read them aloud, we are teaching them how to read them.”
This was a bit of an aha moment for me. Why hadn’t I thought about reading graphic novels aloud to kids? I’ll be honest, I don’t naturally gravitate to graphic novels. But, I have read a bunch and I see how we can model and show kids that we can do the same thinking work that we would do in a traditional novel, in a graphic novel. Shana explained this beautifully when she said, “It’s not that these books are lacking in sophisticated thinking work…we just don’t have the knowledge to teach…We’re lacking practice in seeing complexity in these texts.”
So, I shared this idea with our second grade team. Reading aloud graphic novels became the launch for our writing unit. Before we could write graphic novels, we had to understand them better. We had to think about all the work that the authors and illustrators put in to make these texts engaging and thought provoking.
I recently read Jason Reynold’s and Raúl the Third’s graphic novel/hybrid text, Stuntboy, In the Meantime. First of all, just check out this dedication page:
A few pages in, this all makes sense. The main character Portico Reeves proudly shares his home, “A giant castle of rectangles made from the glassiest glass and the brickiest bricks on Earth.” Right away, I think about all the kids that will see their home and their neighborhoods in these illustrations and be filled with a sense of pride. I also think about all those kids that might see into another world with fresh new eyes.
This story also provides plenty of opportunities for modeling big thinking work. The characters are complex. Portico very clearly has two sides, one coming through as his alter ego, Stuntboy. He even deals with complex issues including friendship, standing up to bullies, and dealing with his parent’s rocky relationship.
Stuntboy, In the Meantime, would be a perfect text to model the big thinking work that can be done within a graphic novel. There are sections of more traditional print, with drawings, and comic panels peppered throughout.