Literacy Through Graphic Novels and Comic Books

As 2021 came to a close, we all needed some brightness in our lives. Free Comic Book Day, a national initiative that takes place each May, inspired a colleague and I to start one of our own a few years ago. Because we weren’t able to have it in person last spring, we decided to hold a mid-year version at the end of December. In preparation for the event, we shared digital resources to educate people about the genre. When the day came, students and staff came in droves to grab comics, look through graphic novels, and take favors. It was exactly the pick-me-up that we were hoping it would be.

Encouraging high school students to read for pleasure is not an easy task. What I’ve found, however, is that sometimes when I present them with graphic novels and comics, I see more interest than if I give a book talk about a novel. Maybe it’s the colorful graphics, possibly the geometric frames, but whatever the reason, reluctant readers seem to pay attention when I flip through the frame sequences of these books. Though many teachers and parents hesitate to accept this genre as valuable educational material, it’s been well documented that reading comics and graphic novels improves students’ comprehension and helps foster a love of reading. As Melina Delkic says in her New York Times article highlighting the benefits of the genre, “comics can evoke meaning from small moments like pauses in conversation, nuances of facial expression and internal turmoil” (2018). In an age when people have more distractions than ever, it’s helpful to have a motivational tool that can play into that quick-fix mentality, ideally paving the way to a love of reading all types of books.

In the past we held Free Comic Book Day in the library, limiting the event to those who chose to visit. This year, we decided to set up our table in the middle of the main hallway. We displayed the comic books, which my colleague bought for a nominal fee at a local comic book store, and filled the table with fun favors that I picked up at Party City. Most students and teachers pass the area at least once during the day and this helped increase visibility. People who would never have come into the library stopped by, lured by the colorful comics, props, posters, and gadgets. In addition to giving out free comics, we also raffled off two graphic novels. On a Google Form we asked the question, “If you could have any superpower, what would it be?” The students with the most creative answers won the prizes. 

It was the perfect way to play into the collective joy before the holiday break. The hallway was buzzing with excitement and staff members were grateful to see students animated about the event. One ELL teacher who brought down her entire class sent us a thank you email with a photo of her students fully engaged in reading their comic books. 

As we look forward to our May Free Comic Book Day, we’re eager to plan another raffle and come up with additional creative ideas. Next time, we’ll try to secure double the amount of comic books, as ours were all gone by the middle of the day. Not a bad problem to have!

Works Cited

Delkic, Melina. “How Graphic Novels and Comics Can Move a Story.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 29 May 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/05/28/insider/graphic-novels-comics-book-review.html.

Author: Karin Greenberg

Karin Greenberg is a library media specialist 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. In addition to reading, she enjoys animals, walking, hiking, the beach, and spending time with her family. Follow her book account on Instagram @bookswithkg.



Categories: Student Engagement/ Teaching Models, Uncategorized

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