“Alice was beginning to get very tired sitting beside her sister on the bank, and having nothing to do: once or twice she peeped into the book her sister was reading, but it had no pictures or conversation in it, ‘and what is the use of a book,’ thought Alice, ‘without pictures or conversation?’ – Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland
A Literacy Memory
My parents used to read picture books to me nearly every night when I was a child. Before I could read the words, I followed along with the pictures. Sometimes I would “read” to them by narrating what I saw in the pictures. I remember my older brother asking my parents, “Why are you letting her think she can read? She’s not really reading the words.” And I remember thinking, “What is he talking about? Of course I’m reading.”
Engaging Adolescent Readers with Visualization
I recalled these memories while reading Chapter 5: Seeing is Reading in You Gotta Be the Book. Wilhelm discusses different methods of visualization activities to help students “see” the characters, actions, setting, etc., and discusses how graphic novels can aid in this process. He writes, “My hypothesis began to develop: the pictures, paired with words, helped less engaged readers to visualize the action of the story and to understand how words suggest various characters, settings, and activities” (160).
This hypothesis makes a lot of sense because this method was presented to me when I was learning to read at age three. Some disengaged adolescent readers may not have been taught to read in this way when they were younger, so why not go back to the basics with them and try again?
The "Books with Pictures" Stigma
“Books with pictures” had a certain stigma after I reached a certain age. It was a momentous occasion when I read my first full book without pictures. It meant I was growing up, getting smarter. My classmates and I knew that the kids who still read books with pictures in them were not good readers, weren’t as smart as us.
Does this stigma still exist in today's classrooms?
Based on Wilhelm’s experience, and the experiences of Nancy Frey and Douglas Fisher, authors of “Using Graphic Novels, Anime, and he Internet in an Urban High School," students love the opportunity to read books with pictures. Prior to reading Dr. Mortimore-Smith’s article “The Conventions of Comics,” I never considered the different types of conventions (speech, page, graphics) that readers need to use and analyze to successfully read a graphic novel. It's actually a very complex reading/thinking process. I can now easily see how reading graphic novels or other novels with pictures can be a challenging but engaging and rewarding process, especially for adolescent readers.
American Born Chinese in the Classroom
American Born Chinese is probably the third graphic novel I've read in my life, and it was different than the others I read. The jumping back and forth in time and reality was interesting and even slightly confusing. A lot of meaning and learning opportunities can be unpacked from it, and I think it would be a great text to use to show a non-linear timeline in literature.
I am still not entirely sure what teaching graphic novels would look like in a classroom. I'd worry that if it wasn't done correctly, it would just create busy work for the students and they'd just be creating a lot of pictures without much meaning or without a connection to literature and reading.