Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Getting Started with Graphic Novels in the Classroom

Three years ago I had only the most rudimentary of graphic novel collections in my classroom. Now, I have enough so that 50% of my class is reading graphic novels at any one time.

Building this collection has been fun, especially because my own kids love graphic novels. Our weekend routines now include visiting new comic book stores, where my husband and youngest son look for the comics they follow, my older son browses the tabletop games, and I scan the graphic novels.

I spend a lot of my own money. Thanks for your TeachersPayTeachers purchases, everyone--they help to support my classroom graphic novel collection! But I wouldn't buy the books if I didn't see how much these books are appreciated by my students and how graphic novels lead to increased interest in reading. Now that I'm teaching sixth grade, I'm very much aware of how my students are at the edge of a reading cliff. Some of them are going to get to a point at which they don't read for pleasure anymore.

Every day, we start class with ten minutes of silent reading time. I've spent this time talking with kids, watching them choose books, and sometimes tearing out my hair when they don't return books. If you're looking to build a collection for your classroom, here are some great books to try.

For kids who don't know if they'll like graphic novels

Rapunzel's Revenge was one of the first graphic novels that I ever truly read, and it remains a great choice for middle grade readers. It's one that gets equal attention from boys and girls. The steampunk style is very appealing, as is a Rapunzel who can use her long braids as lassos.

The story structure and layout is also very forgiving for readers who aren't as familiar with graphic novel format, making this and its sequel, Calamity Jack, great books to recommend to kids who are ready to try graphic novels, but aren't sure what to think. (Shannon and Dean Hale, illustrated by Nathan Hale)

For kids who love fantasy and adventure

I bought the first five books of  Kazu Kibuishi's Amulet series from a Scholastic book order, sight unseen, for my younger son's birthday. Best $35 I ever spent! These books have been well-loved, passed around, and yes, replaced a few times! Books 6 and 7 came out to much excitement, and I know that readers are already looking forward to Book 8.

When I show readers who have loved Amulet the Zita the Spacegirl series, I
get one of two reactions. Some kids take the book right away, drawn in by the bright artwork. Others tilt their heads to the side and give the book a funny look, as if unsure. It has a girl on the cover! "There are also giant robots and spaceships," I say, and usually this is enough to draw the kids in. This series was a great fit for fourth grade but a tad on the young side for sixth.

The next installment in the Cleopatra in Space series is being eagerly awaited by many of my students. (Isn't it awesome that there are so many graphic novels with such great female characters?) Readers who have enjoyed Amulet will snap this one right up. Interestingly enough, I don't think this has ever been turned down when I have suggested it--which is pretty amazing, as I face rejection an awful lot.

For kids who like dark stories

In sixth grade, just as in fourth, there are kids who want to read darker stories. These kids want books that probe the shadows and send a delicious shiver down their spines. Neil Gaiman's The Graveyard Book has been adapted into an amazing two-volume graphic novel, and wow does it deliver!

This set of graphic novels includes artwork from a number of illustrators, which can be jarring to readers at first. I am also sure to talk kids through the shocking events of the first chapter before handing over the book. If I still taught fourth grade, I'm not sure that I would have this book out--kids in my area seem to skew a bit young when it comes to these books and in my classroom I err on the side of caution. However, for kids who are used to graphic novels, this is intensely satisfying and has led some students to attempt the full novel.

For kids who loved Smile and Sisters

Wow, these book by Raina Telgemaier were the most popular in the library last year! It seems as if every student has read these books. This provides me with a perfect opportunity to follow up with other graphic novels about growing up.

Sunny Side Up by Jennifer Holm is another fun memoir for students. It has the bonus of introducing some key comic book details, too! This one gets mixed reactions from boys--some just don't think they can deal with carrying around the bright blue cover--but every student who has read it has enjoyed it.

And my favorite part of Sunny Side Up is that it leads readers toward Jennifer Holm's novels. Both Turtle in Paradise and Penny from Heaven are on the reserved list right now, which is a success to me.

Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson is another popular memoir, as is El Deafo by Cece Bell. I've had to buy multiple copies of each to keep up with demand!

Another great memoir is The Dumbest Idea Ever by Jimmy Gownley. My students have a lot in character with the main character--we all live in (sometimes dreary) Pennsylvania towns, and comic book stores are few and far between. Interestingly, this book seems to take kids a little bit longer to read.

For kids who like nonfiction

There are lots of new graphic novel format nonfiction books coming out, and I can't wait to collect more. This year, I've focused on collecting Nathan Hale's Hazardous Tales. For some reason comic book stores don't carry these, but they are widely available at bookstores and through book orders.

These are so much fun to read! My high schooler even picks them up, and
really enjoyed Treaties, Trenches, Mud, and Blood. The idea is that Nathan Hale (the spy, not the author) did not die during the Revolutionary War. Instead, he tells the executioner stories of history. You really just have to read it--there is a magical talking history book too!

Others in the series include Big Bad Ironclad and The Underground Abductor (sadly now missing from my classroom--sigh.) I just haven't been able to bring myself to buy Donner Dinner Party yet. Maybe next year.

For kids who love adventure

My youngest son found the Nnewts series by Doug TenNapel and was instantly hooked. This series has been popular with students who love animals--in some cases, it has been the first graphic novel that students have attempted. My students are most frustrated by the fact that #3 has not been released yet. They seem to think that authors should sit at the table and draw, draw, draw to get the books

This is just the tip of the iceberg of the books that readers have been enjoying this year. What graphic novels have your students enjoyed?