There’s something about comic books that excites people. As a child I devoured Archie and Richie Rich comics, but soon forgot about them as novels became my go-to medium. A few years ago, while in library school, I was introduced to graphic novels. As I read them, that familiar thrill I felt from reading text bubbles inserted within blocks of whimsical drawings came flooding back.
In April, when a special education/English teacher in my school approached me about the idea of co-hosting a free comic book day in the school library, I didn’t hesitate. What better way to promote graphic novels and comic books, I thought, while also providing students with a fun, upbeat atmosphere? In addition, we would be promoting national Free Comic Book Day, an event that is unknown to many students and teachers. My co-librarian was immediately on board. Within a few weeks, we put together an event that we intend to make an annual one.
The three major aspects of planning involved materials, logistics, and promotion. My colleague had several free comic books from a local comic bookstore’s former event, and returned there to stock up on more. He ordered props online, including superhero masks and comic book word cutouts. I went to Party City, a party supply store near me, and picked up a Justice League tablecloth, character pencils and erasers, and mini superhero puzzle cubes. I also purchased an Avengers t-shirt at Target (on sale for $7.99). As the day approached, I added titles to my modest arrangement of graphic novels and moved it to our largest book display unit, where it would complement the table of comics.
The three of us casually discussed the details of the event whenever we had a few extra minutes during our busy days. We emailed back and forth to share ideas when we weren’t able to talk in person. We planned where to set up the table, how we would distribute the comics, the placements of the wall decorations, and other necessary rules or restrictions. Since we had no idea what to expect, we knew that we had to be flexible and prepared to go with the flow.
The day before the event, we sent out an email to all staff and administrators announcing our Free Comic Book Day and inviting them to stop by the library. We explained that our goal was “to spread awareness of promoting literacy and reading engagement through graphic novels and comic books.” We also included several links to educational articles related to comics/graphic novels. Though some educators feel that comics and graphic novels do not count as real literature, they often don’t consider the studied benefits, including “motivating reluctant readers, inference, memory, sequencing, understanding succinct language, and reading comprehension” (English n.d.). The way I see it, since so many students today are weighed down with their academic responsibilities, they sometimes are grateful for a format that appears more welcoming than a lengthy novel.
From the moment we saw the first students and staff members walk into the library before school, we witnessed encouraging reactions. Upon seeing the decorations, people’s faces lit up. When they then noticed the table of comics and heard that they were allowed to take one, in addition to a pencil and eraser, they were even more excited. And yes, the adults were just as enthusiastic as the students!
Throughout the day, we observed that an entire group of students whom we had not interacted with much throughout the year were engaging in conversations about reading. Though we always have graphic novels displayed, and I try my best to guide students toward them, the dual comic book/graphic novel display triggered a more passionate reaction. Many students seemed to show a sense of satisfaction that their interests were being validated and celebrated. Even those who mainly check out fiction books were drawn to the action. We had conversations with some students who had never read a comic book before, and we were thrilled to introduce them to the genre.
All day in the library there was a buzz of energy that was contagious. Not only did we create a positive, uplifting environment for all patrons, but we also brought awareness to a genre that many students do not take the time to explore. We’ve already started planning next year’s event, for which we’ve discussed adding a sketching contest, a larger variety of comic titles, and interactive puzzles or riddles. A gratifying takeaway from our collaboration is the knowledge that with motivation and hard work, it’s possible to pull together an outstanding event in a short span of time. But even more rewarding is the realization that comic books and graphic novels are great tools to get teens excited about reading.
English, Melanie. n.d. “Raising Super Readers: Benefits of Comic Books & Graphic Novels.” Scholastic Parents. www.scholastic.com/parents/books-and-reading/raise-a-reader-blog/raising-super-readers-benefits-comic-books-and-graphic-novels.html.
Author: Karin Greenberg
Karin Greenberg is one of the library media specialists at Manhasset High School in Manhasset, New York. She is a former English teacher and writes book reviews for School Library Journal and Woodbury Magazine. She co-hosted Bookscreenz Podcast with her daughter, Annabelle. In addition to reading, she enjoys animals, walking, hiking, the beach, and spending time with her husband, three children, and dog.