Graphic Stories: New Ways of Reading and Writing

Graphic Stories: New Ways of Reading and Writing

DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-3212-5.ch003
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Currently, graphic novels thrive in the world of reading for even the youngest of children. The highly visual nature of these texts distinguishes them from other reading materials. This chapter describes a group of second graders' immersion with reading and writing graphic stories. Specific examples of text design are noted throughout the chapter to illustrate text making experiences. As such, the reader may value the complexities involved in moving from paper to digital and how tools such as music and narration add to the overall production. Themes such as peer dialogue, student funds of knowledge, and the application of digital tools are explored. Ultimately, the findings indicate growth in the development of new literacies, writing skills, and identities as published authors.
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Hey, are we gonna be able to take these [graphic novels] home cuz I’m gonna wanna keep reading this one tonight and then get another one tomorrow? Can we? I don’t wanna wait til tomorrow to see what’s happening. (Muscleman)

Figure 1.

Reading graphic novels


In the past, graphic novels were mainly used with adolescent students in middle and high school classrooms. Until recently, very few of these graphic stories were written on reading levels accessible to elementary students or on age appropriate topics. Given the explosion of both teacher and student interests in graphic novels, publishers have quickly scrambled to distribute these texts for early childhood readers (Karp, 2013). As a result, young learners are sprinting to book shelves to pull these highly visual texts into their hands for independent reading. Given this, it is conceivable to re-envision how stories are read and the value of images in the reading process This promotes a broadening of the definition of literacy to include a more aesthetic response in the reader, and it dispels notions that graphic novels are not “real” reading (Bremmer, 2011; Newkirk, 2002). Eisner (2008) validates comics and graphic novels as legitimate books for teachers and students and assists in expanding reading to include symbol decoding, information integration, and aesthetic interpretation. This chapter introduces the value of graphic novels and the ways in which one group of students engaged with them for reading and writing purposes.


Benefits Graphic Novels Afford Learners

Numerous studies show benefits for reading and writing comics, graphic novels, and manga (Japanese style comics) (Bitz, 2010; Bowkett & Hitchman, 2012; Cary, 2004; Ranker, 2008; 2014). McVicker (2007) contends that comic strips are a visual literacy tool where students utilize print and images as a way to increase comprehension of the author’s message. For example, nuances such as font type and size extend the novel’s context and provide supplemental information regarding mood and how a reader might make the character sound (Eisner, 2008). Furthermore, this graphical-hybrid text format helps students understand story structure and to appreciate the voices of characters (Ranker, 2008). In particular, Cary (2004) suggests specific benefits for English learners. He notes that emergent bilinguals not only increase their knowledge of the English language, but also, increase skills in writing dialogue, locating main ideas, summarizing, and organizing narrative plots.

Thompson (2008) contends, “Comprehension is the art of the invisible (p. 49).” By this he means that making meaning from a text is an internal process that occurs within the reader. It can be problematic for teachers to communicate ways to build comprehension strategies due to the implicit nature of the reading process. In order to provide students with more insight into the comprehension process, teachers can use think alouds or involve students in metacognitive conversations. This is where graphic novels can serve as a scaffold for comprehension skills such as inferring. For example, a reader can use the blank space between panels, or the gutters, to piece clues together and to determine what happened in the blank space. Another way for students to develop inferring skills from graphic novels is to use the visual clues to support what the author did not write. In this way, readers interpret illustrations or infer what is happening in the story even when there may be no text or dialogue. This is more challenging for readers in traditional texts (Thompson, 2008).

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