“But that’s not a real book!” – Why Your Collections Should Include Graphic Novels

In recent years, graphic novels have exploded in popularity. They are everywhere. And kids are excited about reading them. When I look at the circulation statistics in my K-5 library, graphic novels are some of the most checked out titles. El Deafo, Star Wars: Jedi Academy, Smile, and The Flying Beaver Brothers and the Evil Penguin Plan are just a few that fly off the shelves on a regular basis. Roller Girl, a 2016 Newbery Honor Book, is another one. Based on this information, one would think that educators and parents would be wholly supportive of their students and children reading these books. Unfortunately, that is not always the case.

The Truth Behind Graphic Novels

Many parents and educators view graphic novels as glorified comic strips. They don’t believe that these books are quality pieces of literature. I’ve had students tell me that their parents won’t let them read graphic novels because they’re “not real books.” I’ve also had classroom teachers encourage their students to select “real books” and not graphic novels when they visit the school library. For all of the nay-sayers, I’d like to set the record straight. Graphic novels are REAL BOOKS. They are full length stories told in paneled, sequential, graphic format. They are NOT simply collections of comic strips. Many genres are written in graphic novel format, including fantasy, realistic fiction, historical fiction, biography, and nonfiction. They are NOT all about superheroes, nor do they all include scantily clad characters.

Creating Lifelong Readers

Graphic novels promote literacy in a variety of ways. They attract and motivate kids to read. The same titles can appeal to both reluctant and advanced readers. The illustrations provide struggling readers and ESL students with contextual clues to access the meaning of the written text. Graphic novels can offer students opportunities to read about diverse characters. As a school librarian, I want to help each of my students find a book they will love. For a variety of reasons, some students can’t get excited about picture books, chapter books, novels, or poetry. However, these students may fall in love with reading if they’re introduced to graphic novels. We owe it to our students to help them discover the joy of reading.

Choosing the Right Graphic Novels for Your Collections

There are many resources available to help you select the best graphic novels for your collections. The ALA’s Association for Library Service to Children has compiled recommended reading lists of graphic novels, broken up by age level.

Here are some other graphic novels that are worth checking out.

I was recently awarded a grant by the Southington American Legion Auxiliary to purchase 50 new graphic novels for my library. My students were thrilled when I shared this news with them. I’m hoping this grant will shine a light on the importance of graphic novels and help the entire school community recognize the value they bring to our collection.

What have your experiences been with parents, educators, and graphic novels?




Author: Jenna Grodzicki

I have been in education for the past 15 years. Currently, I am the K-5 Library Media Specialist at Thalberg Elementary School in Southington, Connecticut. Prior to that, I taught kindergarten, first grade, and third grade. I am also a picture book author. My first book, PIXIE’S ADVENTURE, is coming out in early 2017 from eTreasures Publishing. More than anything, I LOVE to read! I also love skiing and cheering for the best team in baseball, the Boston Red Sox!

Categories: Blog Topics, Collection Development, Community/Teacher Collaboration


7 replies

  1. Jenna,
    You are so right on with my own discoveries with graphic novels. Over 10 years ago I was teaching a graduate children’s literature course and challenged a couple students who were active librarians. One public school, one public young adult librarian to do a little research in their perspective settings on graphic novel usage.

    The public school librarian had a few on a rotating cart at the time. She began observing their usage. Most kids read them in school and never checked them out. Why? Parents disapproved as mentioned in your blog. One student actually said his father would always take them so he could read them. What this reaction did for the school librarian was convince her to buy more and ultimately did workshops in the school district for other librarians to get graphic novels in their libaries.

    The city young adult librarian did a search on usage records in their checkout system. What she discovered was quite surprising. Out of all books including adult books, graphic novels had the highest checkout rate. She also discovered they were read by teens and adults. Fast forward a few years and their collection has grown immensely and they host an annual Comic-Con. Having attending since the inception I mark this year as a turning point as many adult comic readers came out of the closet and found a new home at the event.

    We still have a little work to do with parents and I take every opportunity when I am speaking at schools, parent groups, library and teacher conferences to let them know the benefits of graphic novels. After all they are the bridge between media and print. Happy Reading…Stan Steiner, the Bookman.

  2. Thank you for posting this! The simplest way to make them more legitimate, I think, is to read them ourselves and talk about how much *we* enjoy them with students, parents, community members, etc.

    Y’know how those TV commercials used to call cereal “part of a complete breakfast?” That’s what I think of when I think about graphic novels. Part of a complete reading diet.

  3. Great supportive article. Texas Library Association selects 2 graphic novel recommended reading lists each year-The Mavericks, and The Little Mavericks. http://www.txla.org/groups/Maverick http://www.txla.org/groups/little-maverick-graphic-novel-reading-list.

  4. Thank you so much, Stan, Amy, and Debra for sharing your thoughts. It’s crazy that some people still don’t view these books as “real” literature. I totally agree that the best way to help change people’s minds is by sharing all of the positive things graphic novels bring to the table. I can’t wait to check out the Texas Library Association’s lists. :-)

  5. When I started working at my current school, the previous librarian scoffed at adding a graphic novel section to the collection. The instant I stepped into the librarian position I ordered as many graphic novels as my budget could bear, and I’ve been adding to it ever since. As you say, they are the most checked out books in the place, and getting a teenager to read ANYTHING can be a challenge. Graphic novels provide advanced vocabulary and sentence structure as well. Thank you so much for validating my thoughts!

  6. I have recently started at a new school and the graphic section is so sad. But I have already sent in my first order and plan to do so each year. I’m including the “Graphic Novel growth”, as one of my goals as I write my new collection development plan. Does anyone have a % of Graphics that you would suggest for middle school? I would like to provide some numbers and % for my admin team.

  7. graphic novels are books

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