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4 Reasons Why Comics and Graphic Novels are Key to Student Literacy

It’s no secret: kids are crazy for comics. In fact, according to one recent School Library Journal survey, 61% of school librarians have noticed a significant increase in interest in graphic novels and manga over the past few years.

And why shouldn’t students love them? They’re a quick, easy option for car and bus rides. They’re colorful and compelling, with stories just as complex and action-packed as anything you might find in a full-length novel. And often, they feature characters kids already know and love from their favourite movies and television shows.

Reading is reading – no matter what form it takes. And for some, building reading stamina with accessible formats like comics is a great way to prepare them for longer form fiction and nonfiction stories.

“Our students, particularly those in middle school, love comic and graphic books,” says Dawn Roberts, Media Specialist at Northeastern Utah Educational Services. “The artwork improves their comprehension, and because they enjoy the reading experience they continue checking out additional titles in a variety of genres. “

But beyond that, there are a few ways that comics can be used as a key classroom tool to positively impact your students’ reading and learning. Check them out below.

1. Use them to improve visual literacy

Visual literacy is the ability to read, analyse, and interpret visual images. We’re inundated with images every day – through social media, infographics, streaming video and more. That’s why it’s important for readers to learn how to decode visual media as early as possible.

For kids and teens in particular, comics and graphic novels are an opportunity to study art in the context of a story to build visual literacy.

Plus, comics and graphic novels aren’t exclusive to the superhero tales most are familiar with. Fiction and nonfiction comics are available across all different genres, including options for every school subject – so they can pull double-duty as a curricular resource and a literacy aid.

2. Give reluctant readers reasons to get excited

For kids and teens (and even adults!) who might be reluctant to pick up a traditional book, comics are an appealing alternative. By pairing high-quality visual art with fast-paced storylines, comics and graphic novels are a good foot in the door for readers who might otherwise struggle to follow complex plots and dialogue.  In particular, students who struggle with conventional texts or are learning a second language can benefit from these helpful context clues.

This is supported by a 2021 study from Taiwan, which found that comic books can foster greater student interest in reading and improve reading comprehension because students can create connections between the pictures and the text to better understand the story.

And, more recently, the 2023 SLJ survey found that 83 percent of school librarians recommend graphic novels to students who are struggling with reading, while 69% percent of school librarians recommend them specifically to English language learners.

Plus, it was reported that at 40% of school libraries, graphic-novel readers only read in this format. In a an either/or battle between reading and not reading, reading should win every time.

3. Provide a gateway to complex and classical texts

For kids who are intimidated by traditional books with pages and pages of overwhelming text, even just the concept of reading might seem impossible – and if they struggle to finish a book, it can negatively impact their self-esteem and leave them feeling defeated. Because comics and graphic novels pair shorter sentences with extensive visual cues, it makes it easier for them to finish stories – ultimately increasing their reading confidence. 

As a result, graphic adaptations of popular books and classic literature have become more prevalent. In a Publishers Weekly article on the growth of graphic adaptations for young readers, Stephanie Lurie, editorial director of the Rick Riordan Presents imprint at Disney Hyperion, said, “Doing a graphic novel is a way to extend the book’s life, maybe make it more appropriate to a younger audience, or extend it to kids who prefer the visual format over pure text.”

This is especially true when it comes to classic works of literature. Students might perceive works by an author like Shakespeare as inaccessible as traditionally written. But a graphic novelization can help readers gain a sense of setting, connect dialogue more easily to characters and follow the story’s rising and falling action – all while largely preserving the integrity of the original text. 

4. Provide students mirrors and windows

There’s plenty of research out there that shows that when students are able to see themselves in their reading, they’re more likely to engage with texts. One bonus of comics and graphic novels is that they often feature an inclusive mix of characters from different backgrounds – including many who might be underrepresented in the traditional literary canon.

For some readers, this might be the first time they get to see themselves in the pages of a book – and for others, it may be an important window to other worlds and walks of life outside of their personal lived experiences.

Plus, comics and graphic novels offer unique ways to add new depth to classroom staples. Take, for example, Gareth Hinds’ graphic adaptation of Romeo and Juliet, which features a diverse cast of characters designed to highlight the universality of the story. Inclusive visual cues like this can help bring the narrative to life for students in ways they might not experience otherwise.

Where you can find comics for your classroom

One downside to traditional comics is that they can be fragile, and only one student can read each issue at a time. But what if you could affordably deliver all the comics students love without the risk of damage or loss – and what if they could read them all at the same time?

No need to be a superhero to harness that kind of power – it can be yours with the All Access Comics package, available through the Sora K-12 reading platform.

Comprising over 2,000 digital comics for every grade level, the package includes top titles from Marvel, Disney, Dark Horse, Image Comics and IDW. The best part? It’s all available for one low price, and every issue – no matter what! – is unlimited access, meaning students never have to wait to read new installments of their favorite stories.

Learn more about All Access Comics today.

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