Earlier this year, the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center hosted New York Comic Con, the largest annual convention dedicated to pop culture, entertainment, and sequential art in the country. From October 5 – October 8, thousands of comic book fans, otaku, gamers, cosplayers, and pop culture cognoscenti of all ages packed the Javits in search of costumed superheroes, mystery boxes, movie/TV show swag, sneak previews, panel discussions, and autographs from artists and B-List celebrities. To hear some attendees tell it, “it was like Halloween and Christmas, rolled into one.”
But it wasn’t all fun and games at the event.
This year, ReedPOP, the organizers behind NY Comic Con, worked with the New York Public Library to establish the iconic Stephen A. Schwarzman Building as a separate venue space for educators and librarians during the convention’s “Pro Day,” on October 5. This arrangement was ideal, as the Schwarzman Building allowed attendees to network and participate in education-related panels and workshops throughout the day without having to deal with the crowds normally found at the convention.
The panels and workshops held at the Schwarzman Building all centered around the use of graphic novels (comic books, manga, and graphic adaptations of traditional texts) and/or games (i.e. videogames, board games, etc) in the classroom and in libraries. Topics covered at these events included:
- lesson planning;
- graphic novel collection development;
- diversity/cultural representation;
- parent engagement;
- STEM instruction;
- political activism; and
- the use of graphic novels as primary sources.
Thanks to these panels and workshops, educators got the opportunity to learn from others who are already using graphic novels in their schools, and publishers got the chance to receive feedback from teachers and librarians about their particular needs.
So why use graphic novels? Perhaps the question should be, “why NOT use graphic novels?”
The truth is that graphic novels can be used inside and outside the classroom just like any traditional book or novel. After all, graphic novels have the same elements that stories found in traditional books have (i.e. plot, character, setting, figurative language, symbolism, etc). They also have the added benefit of including illustrations that help readers better understand flashbacks, foreshadowing, and other abstract concepts and narrative devices that are commonly used in traditional novels.
Throughout Pro Day, teachers talked about the many ways they have used graphic novels in their classrooms. Some said that they have assigned graphic novels to their students for independent reading. Others talked about their work with various populations, including special needs students and English language learners. There were also some who worked with other teachers in their schools to create cross-disciplinary lessons (i.e. English and physical instruction; art and history, etc) that used graphic novels to engage students across multiple subjects.
During the Pro Day panel, “Lesson Planning for the Comics Classroom,” panelist and English teacher, Dr. John C. Weaver, talked about his experience of introducing the seminal graphic novel, Watchmen, to his AP Literature class.
“Often, teachers ask me whether graphic novels are appropriate for advanced readers,” said Dr. Weaver during his panel discussion. “As someone who has taught AP Literature for years, I can assure you that graphic novels like Watchmen can be quite challenging for students. As a matter of fact, I can honestly say that Watchmen is harder to teach and learn than even Hamlet,” added Dr. Weaver, who teaches at Williamsport Area High School in Williamsport, PA.
“I can honestly say that Watchmen is harder to teach and learn than even Hamlet.”
During the “Mediating Cultural Encounters: Creating Spaces for Media and Language Learning in Student Clubs” panel, students from the International High School at Prospect Heights (IHS) discussed how members of their school’s student club, the New Media Club, use graphic novels, anime, and other forms of entertainment to bolster their understanding of the English language, American pop culture, current events, and storytelling techniques and elements.
Brendan Gillett, the New Media Club’s faculty advisor and the moderator for this panel, explained that the club was especially beneficial to IHS, as the school primarily educates non-English speaking high school students who have spent less than five years in the U.S.
“What we’ve seen is that the students who are participating in this club have improved their mastery of English, which, in turn, makes them much more confident about communicating in the language than their peers (at IHS),” said Mr. Gillett, who also teaches English at IHS.
Jeremy F., a student on the panel, agreed. “I feel much better about participating in class than I used to thanks to what we do in the club. It also helps that we have all (members of the New Media Club) become friends since joining.”
Given the sheer variety of great graphic novels that are available today, there’s bound to be at least a few that can challenge and capture just about any student’s attention and imagination, regardless of their age and reading level. To get started on finding books that are appropriate for your classroom or home library, check out the following list of resources we’ve compiled for parents, teachers, and students alike!
- The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund’s “Raising a Reader: How Comics & Graphic Novels Can Help Your Kids Love to Read!” Guide:
The CBLDF put together this great digital resource for parents and educators who would like to learn more about the learning benefits of comic books and graphic novels. This guide also teaches readers how to navigate comic books and graphic novels, and it includes suggestions for teachers seeking to integrate graphic novels into their classrooms.
- The Morning Bell’s “Become a Reading Superhero” Post:
Naturally, we’ve chosen to plug our own recommended list of graphic novels (shrug).
This age-appropriate list was put together by the DOE’s Division of Teaching & Learning in celebration of NY Comic Con earlier this year. There are some outstanding titles in here; consider adding any of these to your home library or classroom today!
- The New York Public Library’s “Best Books for Kids” List:
In addition to graphic novels, this annual list also features traditional books across a variety of genres that are representative of some of the best works released in 2017 for children, ages 5 – 11. Some of the books on this list were even featured right here on The Morning Bell as part of our Book of the Month series!
Each book on this list also contains a link to NYPL’s online book catalog, which allows NYPL members to request and borrow books from local NYPL branches around the City.
- NYPL’s “Best Books for Teens” List:
Similar to NYPL’s annual list of books for kids, this list also features traditional books released in 2017 for young readers, aged 12 – 18.
- The Association for Library Service to Children’s “Graphic Novels Reading List“:
Recently updated in 2016, ALSC’s reading list is broken down into three age ranges: Grades K – 2; Grades 3 – 5; and Grades 6 – 8.
If you would like to know more details about this year’s Pro Day panels at NY Comic Con, check out this page, as it contains links to presentation and handout materials that were distributed through many of the panels that took place at the Schwarzman Building.
In addition to the great titles found on these lists, you can also get great suggestions for graphic novels by talking with a librarian at your local library. Given how popular these works have become over the past few years, librarians remain great sources for students, parents, and teachers seeking new titles. So don’t forget to stop by your local library as you seek out new titles!
We hope that City students, teachers, and parents alike will use this post to discover a book that they will absolutely love. Check out the following slideshow from this year’s NY Comic Con, let us know about your experiences with graphic novels in the comments below.