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School Stories

Respecting All Books

Kimm Lucas, Grade 5 English
“My parents say I need to read something harder besides a graphic novel,” the student says while gazing longingly at the graphic novels during our reading conference at the start of the school year. “Here we go again,” I think to myself. “It’s time to teach another student about the importance of respecting all kinds of books.”
If you look at a display shelf in any bookstore these days, you will see a vast selection of graphic novels. The growing popularity of this literary format is undeniable, yet not everyone is on board with it. 
What is a graphic novel? Graphic novels are longer than comic books, telling a single story that contains a more complex plotline, often with literary elements woven throughout the storyline. These stories are full of text incorporating vivid vocabulary and complex plot lines. They can offer extra support for kids who need visual elements to better grasp the storyline. Additionally, these books expose readers to dynamic character development and challenge them to consider perspective and to ask questions. 

My own children, ages 9-17, gravitate toward these books. Who wouldn’t? With their colorful pages and appealing layout, it’s like candy in the bookstore. I’ve even caught myself rolling my eyes, saying out loud to my kids, “We’ve come for novels today, girls. There are enough graphic novels at home.” Then I have to stop and loudly remind myself that I’d rather have the kids reading than asking for screen time or complaining of being bored because there is nothing to do at home. 

Think of it this way, wouldn’t most parents prefer that their child eat one kind of fruit or vegetable rather than none at all? Our pediatrician would agree with that while emphasizing the importance of diversifying their eating diet as I emphasize to my students the importance of reading different kinds of books. 

Here’s the thing. While many people associate graphic novels with the penny comics or Betty and Archie booklets from childhood, graphic novels are real books. They tell a complete story rather than “episodes” that comic books tend to portray. They have powerful plotlines with memorable characters, lessons, and memories of the authors of these stories. Sure, I remember eagerly looking forward to the colored comics found in the Sunday paper, but I also recall my parents pushing a book into my hands, telling me it was time to read something “real.” I cringe when I remember my early days of teaching. Of course, I did exactly what my parents did, but I quickly realized the value of graphic novels for my most reluctant reader in 2002. This student went from being an obstinate reader to sometimes reading by winter, and by springtime, he had begun reading the more traditional children’s novels without being asked to. 

Many authors of graphic novels successfully connect with their readers by humanizing real-life topics. For example, Raina Teglemeirer, author of the series Smile, Drama, and Guts, relates to her audience by addressing and validating common issues that children struggle with daily such as sibling rivalry, the trauma of braces, and the uneasiness of anxiety. Graphic novels such as these capture the reader’s attention, much like the book When Stars Are Scattered by Victoria Jamieson. As one of the most popular books in our Grade 5 library last year, this graphic novel tells the story of growing up in a refugee camp from the perspective of a former Somali refugee. This book jazzed up one of my curious, motivated students who became engaged in a mature, question-invoking conversation with myself and several peers who were keen to know more about the story. 

Clearly, there are relevant and engaging topics to be found in these types of stories today. So, the next time you find yourself telling your child to find a “real” book, remember there is something to be valued in every type of book. 
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Graland Country Day School

Graland Country Day School is a private school in Denver, Colorado, serving students in preschool, kindergarten, elementary, and middle school. Founded in Denver in 1924, Graland incorporates a rich, experiential learning approach in a traditional classroom setting, emphasizing the development of globally and socially conscious leaders who excel academically.