Graphic Novels, Rethinking Your Classroom Library

[UPDATED: This post has been updated to reflect additional graphic novel titles and the importance of representation of authors and illustrators within graphic novels and the characters they create.]

The classroom library. For some it is magical, others it can be a nightmare. For a long time it was a pit of doom in my classroom. I didn't know what to do. I thought I had great books (and I’d tell you they were great) but students did not read them. So I started over.

About a year-and-a-half ago I made the decision that I was going to completely change my classroom library. I scrapped 75% of the books that were in my room and I started introducing (almost strictly) graphic novels and comics. I made the decision that reading fluency and word read correctly per minute were NOT what my students needed. They needed to WANT to read. On their own. Without a teacher breathing down their neck.

Graphic novels were what my students needed.

A little backstory: I grew up on Calvin and Hobbes and The Far Side. As a kid these were the only books that I read. And I read them over and over and over. These were the only books that I would check out or read consistently year after year.

Take an honest look at your classroom library. How many of your books never get read during the year? The percentage is pretty high. That's not to say the books aren't good, this is just the reality. It also fits nicely with the misconception that graphic novels aren't real reading (or books). That needs to be debunked right now. (And maybe you're not a teacher who thinks this, but I'm guessing you probably know who teacher is.) We're in the Golden Age graphic novels and comics.

If you're on the fence for making a dramatic change to your library, that's cool...just take it slow. I've spent the year finding a variety on Amazon, scouring garage sales, and seeing what our local library has. I've also used Instagram to help identify and build variety and diversity -without other teachers giving input, it would be a pretty boring collection.

This is part of my classroom library. There's not a lot of novels, just a bunch of picture books and graphic novels.
Books are books are books
I want my students reading. I want them to be willing to open up a book. I want them to enjoy it. Novels are great but they don’t mean much when my students won’t open them up. I tell all of my parents that graphic novels are more than fine for their kids, they are wonderful. If we (as teachers) are turning into the Fahrenheit 451ers by telling kids they can’t read something because it has picture…what are we doing. Seriously?!

Rich in Text
Sure, they might not have as much text, but they’re still telling stories using dialogue and making students analyze what they see and comprehend. Every single graphic novel varies in the amount of text it has and how it is presented, they're each their own language lesson.

Graphic novels are incredibly diverse with a huge collection of characters that ALL kids will respond/reacty to. Representation matters. It matters even more with students and how they connect with characters, settings, and cultures within what they read/see. A lot of our favorite (older books) tend to be pretty cookie-cutter without any diversity and many are problematic too. Today's graphic novels are more diverse than anything we've ever had. Let your students see it and be part of it.

Bridge Books
Graphic novels levels all vary. Some simple, some complex. Once you take a little time you’ll realize how different each is, allowing you to slot them in to different reading levels for all your kids (if you need to). Think of graphic novels as scaffolding. Each time a student reads one they're moving up, becoming confident, and (hopefully) it'll move them into larger texts. They bridge those gaps between read alouds and novels.

Gateway Literature
That’s right. Graphic novels are the gateway drug that moves kids to those bigger and better novels that you want them to read. Engage the kids first, get them hooked, and then you can pressure them to text that’s even bigger and better.

Classic Comic Books
Marvel, Star Wars, DC- these are some of the staples in my collection. Classic comics are just as important even if it is superheroes. Remember how I said representation matters? Well, check out some of the characters there are now. There is something for every kid.

Below you'll find an ever-growing list of the graphic novels in my classroom.

The Importance of Representation and Recognizing Your [My] Own Bias
Recently Booktoss took my original graphic novel list and broke down by race to find that 89% of those books were by white authors and illustrators. EIGHTY NINE PERCENT. In that same breakdown, 75% of the authors and illustrators were/are male. SEVENTY FIVE PERCENT. I'd encourage you to read the post.

As a teacher, I need to make sure that I am really representing all of my students. That means I need to take the time and look at both authors AND illustrators. I need to be aware of WHO is telling who's story. 

Questions I need to ask myself more often:
When I'm picking out graphic novels, who are they written by?
When I'm picking out graphic novels, who are they illustrated by?
Are people of the global majority writing and illustrating these characters?
Am I allowing my students to truly see themselves when they read them?

Booktoss states "...all literature, including graphic novels, are not culturally neutral" and this is something, that as teachers for our students, I/we need to always keep at the forefront and recognize that our choices matter.

We can always work to be better.

You can find more from me at Digital: Divide & Conquer where I tackle project based learning, some technology, and the space in between.