Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Graphic Novels and Quiet Book Bans


I have visited countless schools over the years, creating memories that will last with me, and hopefully with the students, for a lifetime. But one story that keeps coming back to the forefront of my mind is a visit that never happened—because I wasn't welcomed.

I was planning a visit to the Midwest, and the hosting school librarian was hoping to share travel costs with a colleague at a neighboring school. That librarian excitedly ran to her principal's office with a copy of Lunch Lady and the Cyborg Substitute in hand. As the story was relayed to me, the principal took one look at the book and said, "I spent my childhood with my face in the pages of comic books...when I should have been reading real books. So I am not going to have that man come to our school and promote comics."

I was heartbroken.

There are so many aspects of that sentiment that are just off. Glaringly, that the principal was failing to see that by her reading comics, she found a love of reading, and that love of reading led her to great things. (Unless, of course, her goal was to become superintendent and all of that time with Archie and Jughead had held her back...) But what makes me most sad is that her student body would never connect with my story of perseverance.

It is the American Library Association's Banned Books Week, and what alarms me most is not the bans that make headlines, but the quiet book bans. As a creator of graphic novels, I hear so many stories of graphic novels being banned from a classroom because they're not considered "real books" or "real reading." When I hear that, my mind goes to the disservice adults are creating for their young readers. One story that I heard recently was of a fourth-grade teacher who banned comics from her classroom because kids were only reading them for entertainment. But isn't that what free reading is all about? Entertainment? Shouldn't we all be instilling a love of reading? I, for one, don't know where I'd be if it were not for the pages of a comic. It isn't just that I wouldn't be telling stories visually today, but I wouldn't be reading much of anything. Comics taught me that reading could be an escape, and a wonderfully joyous act.

Last week I travelled to our nation's capital to speak to a group of elementary-aged students at the Library of Congress. It was such an honor to have been welcomed to that hallowed space for a second time to talk about visual literacy. It says a lot that one of our nation's preeminent educational institution hosts graphic novelists in their programming. But meanwhile, back at home, my wife Gina was with our daughter at a local library. There, she met a mother who wanted her child to stop reading graphic novels because they were reading too many of them, and it's all that they checked out from the library. Gina gently explained to the mother that there were so many different kinds of comics, and that they offered a wide variety of stories. (Not every comic contains a fart joke...)

And this is how we will overcome these quiet bans—with gentle conversations. Reading is the key to a lifetime of success, and for so many young readers comics are just what they need to develop a love of reading.

I don't vilify that principal, or that fourth grade teacher, or that mother. In their hearts, they were/are doing what they believe to be best for the kids that they serve. I just think that their point-of-view is slightly misplaced. Perhaps you know somebody in your young reader's life that could benefit from a better understanding of how comics can help young readers.

Here are some great resources:

Using Comics and Graphic Novels in the Classroom 
National Council of Teachers of English

Understanding, Using and Defending GNs
The Cooperative Children's Book Center, University of Wisconsin

Resources for Teaching Graphic Novels in the Classroom
School Library Journal

Raising a Reader
Comic Book Legal Defense Fund

*Check out great Freadom items on the ABFFE website here.


Mrs. Miller said...

As a K-5 library teacher, years ago I was reluctant to add GN to the collection. But I did and now I have over 3 shelves of them - never in order, always out, many need to be replaced due to wear and tear. Some of my students stand in front of the shelf and read them - forgetting to check them out so they can leave.

Unknown said...

Funny thing about that principal in your story. Said he spent his childhood reading comics and he turned out to be the principal of a school. Seems comics didn't rot his brain all that much although his comment does indicate some damage.

Anonymous said...

I am now a librarian with a GN section, it is just as popular as any other. GN do not detract from students reading it enhances it. Keep up the gental battles