On Graphic Novels

Now that it is summer time, I fill the void of a highly scheduled teacher life, with a highly scheduled personal life. It is how a Type A person like me survives.

There is time for reading, for walking, for lifting, for watching Ru Paul’s Drag Race, for socializing safely, for writing, and for taking professional development classes. Currently, I am enrolled in two classes. One is on using graphic novels in the classroom and the other is on using reading to support socio-emotional growth. As a teacher and a reader, I approach courses with the same mindset: ‘Okay, how do I use these concepts in my classroom and don’t those books sound fun to read and review?” Are those thoughts at odds? I think not.

As a reader, one who revels in reader response theory, I want to enjoy what I am reading and feel all of the feelings that come with it. As a teacher, I am often asked to put that aside and think about literary devices and standardized testing. However, I find that my students are the most engaged when I do both. I give them something to enjoy, that we can also talk about, analyze, and write about.

One of my courses has gone into great detail about how graphic novels are misconstrued as not challenging texts. Is this another situation where something fun (like romance novels) is not considered academically worthy? Perhaps. I love recommending graphic novels to reluctant readers and I love reading graphic novels. I love being immersed in the complex world that each author and illustrator creates. The colors and style can help to set the tone, sometimes even faster and more effectively than straight text.

The following is a discussion post that I submitted for the course to answer a question about how to use graphic novels in the classroom. I share it because my thoughts about how to use them as a teacher reflect how I see them as a reader:

As a sixth grade teacher, I am fortunate to have some creative freedom and to teach a population of students that are still excited about school and learning ( a devastating but true sentiment.). They want to have fun and from what I can see, graphic novels would be academically valuable and fun resources. I read that graphic novels can provide a rich and challenging reading experience, even though they have less text than a traditional novel.  Students in my class could use a graphic novel to discover character traits and types of conflict, without being bogged down in the comprehension of a difficult text (especially my students with language disabilities or my english language learners.).  I am also excited by an idea in “In Defense of Graphic Novels” to use graphic novels for complex analytical tasks.  The article says, “Eric S. Rabkin discusses how he uses graphic novels to focus his class’s attention on how narrative time unfolds. He explains that he will have “students in turn focus on a single frame of a graphic narrative, speak aloud whatever they see and whatever they infer, including their reflective and proleptic understandings of how the frame fits into the flow of the larger narrative” (Hansen 2012.)  One of our standards in sixth grade is to discuss how a scene in a book affects the plot or overall theme.  We do this with episodes in The Phantom Tollbooth, a novel with some pictures, and the exercise is fairly simple.  Doing the Rabkin exercise with a frame of a graphic novel, would allow for more complex thinking from our students, as they infer actions. traits, themes, etc from text and complex illustrations. And of course, graphic novels are inherently more fun.  They seem, to students, to be not school work, because they have pictures and are related to comic books.  When students see pictures, they often connect them to their own sources of entertainment (like cartoons, movies, comics, and video games.). Completing school assignments using a medium that they consider fun will encourage and excite students.  Sixth graders want to have fun in school and using graphic novels can bring that fun, with valuable learning experiences. 

As I wrote this, I realized that I could substitute “Students” for “I or me.” I am always more engaged in something when it seems fun, vibrant, or interesting. Graphic novels never cease to pull me into a story and are often the first things that I recommend to my struggling or reluctant readers.

How do you feel about graphic novels? Do you have any favorites?

On Reviewing and Preferences

Listen, I am a terrible book reviewer. (What a way to start my third blog post on a book review blog.)

That is not strictly true. As a life long reader, with degrees that prove I can read and teach students to read, I am able to form an opinion about a book. I just struggle with writing negative opinions that are meant to be read. I struggle with the ability to show negative emotions anyways and I hate saying that I did not like something that someone worked hard on. I do not want friends/family/students to feel bad that they liked something that I did not and I sometimes I feel badly that I liked something they did not. I have such a tremendous sense of guilt, that I stopped giving stars to books on GoodReads. It felt wrong to condemn an author’s work, just because I didn’t like it.

I am capable of verbally expressing my opinion of a book and explaining why (with evidence. #englishteacherproblems.) However, that opinion is often expressed in a polite and non-controversial way. Now I realize, there are ways to give feedback without being mean. I am a middle school English teacher. I realize there are legitimate reasons that a book might not be good, or that I just do not like it. And that is okay.

So here I am, with a book review blog, ready to review books…even if I did not like them.

Some common reasons why I will not like a book:
1. I guessed the ending of the mystery novel. I still enjoyed it, but the ending did not wow me…therefore, I missed out on the shock that everyone else had at the end. Note: this happens frequently. I have read almost every mystery novel and nothing shocks me anymore. Ex. Gone Girl.
2. It is a best seller/award winner/popular book/becoming a movie/book every one else read and liked and I do not want to be the one negative person saying “I didn’t really like it.” Ex. The Hunger Games series.
3. It is a book everyone loves. This could just be stubbornness and a hold- over from my teenages emo phase. Ex. To Kill a Mockingbird. Don’t get me wrong, the story is powerful and important; the style didn’t speak to me as a fourteen year old. I should read it again…you are right.
4. I read it on an eReader. As a kinesthetic learner, I have to be able to flip a page and oddly enough, it affects my enjoyment of a book. Ex. Most of the Invisible Library Series (and I liked the first one, which I read using a physical book)
5. The world-building was beyond my imagination. I struggle with fantasy books that are set in worlds with imaginative creatures and natural laws. Ex. Children of Blood and Bone. I loved the characters and their relationships, but couldn’t do the magic part…the important part. That one is on me.
6. The book should have been a stand-alone/series should have been shorter. Ex. The Diviners. The first one was imaginative and thrilling. Libba Bray captured the 1920s and created a vibrant and very human cast of characters. I liked the next ones in the series less and less.
7. Chapters are too long. I just prefer short chapters.
8. Too many points of view or characters to keep track of. Ex. Game of Thrones.
9. I had no emotional responses to it.

To be fair, I actually like a lot of books, even ones that no one else liked. That might be my difficulty finding negativity in places and trying to stay positive (to a fault.)

That brings me to my purpose and the title of this blog. I most frequently rate books as three stars. Either, I didn’t like it and I don’t want to admit it or I liked it and I don’t want to admit it. That ends here. That ends today. I will be reviewing books with ratings beyond three stars….unless I feel like it actually deserve three stars.

Final thought: What do you struggle with as a reader or reviewer? I would love to know.

#bookblog #reviews #literature #zerotohero