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Whether comic book or graphic novel, the goal is to get children to read more

Whether comic book or graphic novel, the goal is to get children to read more

One of our campus colleagues has written a book that is bound to raise some eyebrows and spark a national debate.

The book is Let Them Read Trash: The Power of Marginalized Texts to Promote Imagination, Satisfaction, and Social Action by Jeffrey Wilhelm, professor of English Education. Wilhelm says works such as the Twilight series of vampire-themed fantasy romance novels help kids forge relationships, deepen conceptual knowledge and deal with internal conflicts.

What is most interesting about this issue is that the nation had almost this same debate about 60 years ago.

Back then the issue was comic books. Starting in 1948-49, EC Comics published a new line of topics that included horror, shock, crime and science fiction. Some people may remember titles such as Tales from the Crypt, Crime and Weird Science. By the way, “EC” originally stood for “Educational Comics.” When their new line came out, the publishers said the initials stood for “Entertaining Comics.”

Back then, too, a book looked into all these “trash” works. Except Frederic Wertham’s Seduction of the Innocent in1954 blamed the rise of juvenile delinquency on the bad influence of comic books. The book fueled a serious national debate over the moral influence of comic books. Newspaper editorials denounced the shock comics, some communities held comic book burnings and Congress got involved.

Eventually, other researchers found that reading comics lead children to read more traditional literature as well.

Today, the debate is more about how suitable graphic novels are for young readers. Graphic novels are comic books bound into a book format. Graphic novels have become the fastest growing category of literature on the youth market. They have the largest checkout rates in public libraries and school librarians can’t keep enough copies on hand.

Graphic novels also have caught the attention of faculty in the Department of Literacy in the College of Education. Stan Steiner, chair, Eun Hye Son, assistant professor, and Maggie Chase, associate professor, researched the impact of graphic novels with primary grade students.

Their preliminary findings, published in The Dragon Lode, the International Reading Association Children’s Literature and Reading Special Interest Group, showed that many students are familiar with comic books. But they are less familiar with graphic novels. Young students also needed some guidance on how to follow the sequence of stories in comic format. The majority of students enjoyed the books once they figured out the format and they wanted to read more.

Graphic novels appear to be a bridge between visual media and print media. The ultimate goal is to get children to read more print media.

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