A Note About Graphic Novels

We love to have fun. We love carnivals and cotton candy! We love movies and soft drinks! We love picnics with jelly sandwiches, potato chips, and pop. We love birthday parties with chocolate sundaes. We love watching television with Skittles® and Twizzlers®. But we all know that a steady diet of fun without exercise, meat, vegetables, whole grains, and milk will eventually make us unhealthy! We are what we eat! Yes, and we are what we read, too.

As reading specialists, lifelong educators, and parents, we here at Kids Wings are seeing a growing threat to our kids' reading diet: graphic novels, the not-so-new sugar of the reading world. We all grew up loving comic books, but we don't remember any comic book being given awards and called "recommended reading." They were just for fun!

Last year, the graphic novel, Zita the Space Girl, won 1st runner-up in student voting over the absolutely fabulous Cheshire Cheese Cat, a Dickens of a Tale by Carmen Agra Deedy, Play Louis Play by Muriel Harris Weinstein, and Aliens on Vacation by Clete Barrett Smith and 16 others. The comic-book format and story in Zita the Space Girl are attractive and cute and easy-read, so it received a huge number of votes, much like cotton candy might, had it been on the list.

This year, two graphic novels, Bake Sale and Giants Beware! are nominated on the Texas Bluebonnet List this year along with 17 fine works of literature. We here at Kids Wings Educational Associates are becoming more and more concerned about graphic novels being recognized as respected literature just as we would Skittles® and Twizzlers® becoming respected nutritional foods. Our reading world seems to be disintegrating into the quicksand of pop-culture.

We do not recommend a steady diet of candy nor graphic novels. Candy may be classified as food, but only succeeds in making people fat and, eventually, diabetic. In the same way, graphic novels may be fun with colorful pictures, funny events, and even exciting stories, but just because they have pages to turn with a few words sprinkled in, does not qualify them as excellent literature.

Reading full-length novels to and with youngsters will do a lot more to provide the reading vitamins to grow your young American readers. One librarian we know, undertakes to read-aloud one major novel a year to every student in her school. The book she was reading became the most popular book in the library. She couldn't keep it on the shelf. When voting time came, guess which book won their school's vote? Right! It wasn't Zita the Space Girl. It was Wonder Struck by Brian Selznick. If more teachers and librarians would read these great novels aloud to their students, perhaps their students, too, will make better choices that lead to inherently better skills! Then, maybe we wouldn't have to spend so much time testing and will have more time to enjoy reading the old and new classics that are lying dusty on our library shelves! What? You don't have time to read to your kids? Wrong! You don't have time NOT to!

We believe that celebrating great literature with our students will influence their choices, their futures, and ultimately the future of our country! If we expect our kids to read the graphic novels on our lists, the least we can do is to explain their lack of nutrition so they won't choose them as their favorites in a list of literary treasures.