Graphic Novels Raise Readers

A question that we often receive as Youth Librarians is, “How do I encourage my child to read REAL books instead of graphic novels?” These questions usually come from well-intentioned parents and caregivers who want to ensure their children are reading proficiently and not falling behind developmentally. There can be a ton of pressure on caregivers and kids to succeed in an academically rigorous and high-achieving community like Pullman. We at the library hear your concerns, but would also ask you to hear us out (at least until the end of this article) and not write off graphic novels for your kids (or yourself!) just yet.

                In Youth Services at the library, our goal is to make all children lifelong readers. A great way to encourage children to read and read often is to let them read what interests them, and if they want to read graphic novels, that’s okay! Of course, we always encourage all of our patrons to read diversely and to try new things, but especially for reluctant readers, trying to control what they read may end up driving them away from reading completely. The best way to get better at reading is by reading more, so in our opinion, whatever type of book accomplishes that goal can be just as beneficial as other “educational” books.

                Graphic novels can offer the same reading and complex storytelling quality as other print books, and a study from the University of Oregon found that graphic novels often contain a higher level of vocabulary than print-only books of the same level. Why are graphic novels so much more complex? Graphic novels are able to introduce more complex words to young readers because the illustrations help kids decode the meaning of unfamiliar words. By engaging more of a child’s brain through inference and synthesis of both words and pictures, graphic novels can boost comprehension over text alone. Today, modern literacy requires fluency in more than just text. Information is shared in a variety of ways, including videos and images.

                At the library,  graphic novels are some of our most popular collections, and I think it’s worth noting that it’s also a highly diverse collection as well. No matter what your favorite subject or genre is, you can probably find something of interest in the graphic novel section. Of course, we have classic series that most people already associate with graphic novels, like Spiderman and other superhero comics in both the youth and young adult sections, or classic manga series like Pokémon in the youth section and Full Metal Alchemist in the young adult section. However, the library offers far more than the kind of graphic novels you may expect. Are you interested in tales of spine-tingling terror? Check out the multi-award winner Through the Woods by Emily Carroll. Is romance more your speed? Try the webcomic sensation True Beauty by Yaongyi, which has also been recently adapted into a TV show. We even have non-fiction options available in graphic novel format. Give multi-award winner, Victory. Stand! about Olympic Gold Medal winner Tommie Smith a try. This is just a small sample of what we have on offer, and that doesn’t even mention some of the fantastic titles we have available outside of the library’s youth collections!

                At the end of the day, graphic novels can be as complex and nuanced as regular print books, just told through a slightly different medium. They can be beneficial for readers of all ages, but most of all graphic novels are fun. That’s what reading should be too. Because even the best readers can fall out of the habit if they aren’t enjoying themselves while reading. So, I hope that you have fun reading at the library, and if having fun reading for our youth means picking up a graphic novel or two, why not try reading it with them? Graphic Novels may make a lifelong reader out of you, too.

Amy Ferguson, Youth Services Technician
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