STRATEGIES TO READ GRAPHIC NOVELS ALOUD WITH CHILDREN
As a reader, graphic novels and comics give you a great opportunity to stretch your range. If kids are getting antsy when you read aloud to them, especially with chapter books, graphic novels help kids stay more engaged, as they’ll need to see each pane to grasp the story fully. Because the illustrations are so important, it may be helpful in a large-group setting to have a screen and an electronic edition where you can zoom and scroll.
Read the book ahead of time to get an idea of the characters and how much of the action happens without dialogue.
For graphic novels that are heavy on dialogue, it’s time to pull out your voices or try splitting dialogue duties by dividing up characters.
If there are long stretches of action without dialogue, you can still add sound effects and read signs or words in the background. But to keep the action scenes moving, you can use a finger to guide children from pane to pane, go more quickly when action is fast but slow down when there’s a lot of detail to take in. Don’t be afraid to narrate even if there are no words. Even better, ask children to describe a panel or page. Stop and ask questions like, “What’s happening here?” or “What do you think she’s doing?”
HOW GRAPHIC NOVELS WORK FOR DIFFERENT AGE LEVELS
For Pre-Readers: Children who are getting ready to read at 4 and 5 years old often will sit with a picture book and “read” it by reciting the story as best they remember or describing the pictures and extrapolating the story. For this age, graphic novels are another excellent tool to help them learn about reading and narrative. Graphic novels take the time to show every step of a story rather than just one big picture for a whole paragraph of text, which may not all align with the image they’re shown.
Bright colors and animal-oriented stories, like Babymouse by Jennifer Holm or Mr. Pants by Scott Mccormick, should be enough to draw a pre-reader in. (See more suggestions below.) And be sure to supplement their “reading” with having graphic novels read to them or with them by adults or older children.
For Early Readers: At this level, focus on the graphic novel as a shared reading experience that shows them what kind of different books are available as they improve their reading skills. Keep them interacting and engaged, pointing out words they know and describing action sequences.
For Confident Readers: Let experienced readers take the lead when you read graphic novels together. Ask them if they’d like you to help do some voices or keep your finger on the panel they’re reading to help others follow along. Remind them to describe what’s happening in action panels, or ask younger readers to take the lead in these sections. If you’re working with a few children at different skill levels, this is a great way to keep everyone engaged in the book without anyone feeling left out.
For All Ages: Encourage all kids to read graphic novels on their own. Readers who are struggling can feel a sense of accomplishment at getting through a book on their own, even if they don’t understand every word. Find the graphic novel section at your public or school library, and encourage librarians to add more graphic novels to their selection. My five-year-old loves coming home from the library, when she and her older brother both sit on the couch and she can “read” the same books that he does, passing them back and forth when they’re done.
SUGGESTED GRAPHIC NOVELS FOR ALL AGES
CatSronauts by Drew Brockington is a series that appeals to a broad age range with a recurring cast of adorable and hilarious characters. The pitch of cats in space alone should get a lot of kids on board (my kids were immediately obsessed), and the nonstop jokes will engage older kids and adults.
For a kid in space instead of cats, try Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke. The trilogy has simple themes of friendship in zany sci-fi situations. It’s compared most often to The Wizard of Oz for its creativity and archetypal themes. Reading level should be just fine for most readers from 2nd grade and up.
If your kids are learning Spanish at school like mine are, let them read a few Spanish words and some foreign language slang in Lowriders in Space by Cathy Camper, featuring 3 Latinx friends (an octopus, a mosquito, and an impala) who travel through space looking for parts to build the coolest cars. Yes, there is a space theme, what can I say, my kids love space?
Babymouse by Jennifer Holm and Matthew Holm has 20 books in the series, so if you want something your kids can really invest in, it’s a great choice. The small size and bright pink colors attract pre-readers, but the content should work for any child of elementary school age. My 5-year-old almost always brings a Babymouse book home from the library, and her 3rd-grade brother almost always reads it as soon as she’s done. The kids are also big fans of the Squish series from the same authors.
I cannot explain to you why Mr. Pants by Scott Mccormick features a human mom with three cat children, but my kids certainly don’t seem to care. The reading level is a little lower, easier for earlier readers, and the stories have plenty of laughs, tales of cat-sibling hijinks, and regular chapter breaks.
DC Super Hero Girls feel a lot like the television my kids prefer these days; they love teens with superpowers and these books hit that sweet spot. There’s actually two series now, one by Lisa Yee and one by Shea Fontana . The bright colors and familiar characters may entice some reluctant readers.
Jessica Woodbury began her addiction to books at age 8 and plans to keep going after death if possible. She is a reader, writer, blogger, and book reviewer. She is also a single parent with two kids in constant search of books to keep them excited about reading.