Report: Graphic Novels are big in libraries and schools

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Here’s an impressive state of the graphic novel in schools and libraries piece by Shannon Maughan for Publishers Weekly that talks to all the major players – Telegemeier, Yang, Volin, and several dedicated teachers – and includes a great resource list.

It’s hard not to notice that the past decade has seen the dawn of a new golden age for comics and graphic novels for kids. Publishers and imprints dedicated to the format—First Second, Graphix, Papercutz among them—have flourished. And graphic novel creators such as Raina Telgemeier and Jeff Kinney have achieved rock star status. Sales of graphic novels in North America topped $535 million (including units sold via the traditional book channel and comics stores), according to a joint estimate from ICv2, which tracks the business of pop culture on its website, and Comichron, the world’s largest repository of comic book sales figures. And a gander at national bestseller lists like the New York Times, which has a Graphic Books category, or a trip to the local bookstore or public library, where shelves are crowded with graphic novels, are evidence of these booming numbers.

“We are in the middle of a graphic novel renaissance right now,” says Eva Volin, supervising children’s librarian at the Alameda Free Library in Alameda, Calif. “Once upon a time I would buy everything that came out, because there were so few things available. But now I have the luxury of choice. I can make educated decisions about my selections. The demand for these books is very, very high.”


With the release of Raina Telgemeier’s Ghosts (and its half million copy laydown) this week, it’s a good time to look at the state of institutional comics, and the state is good and growing. Gatekeepers who say coms aren’t real books are fading into history as the age of visual learning takes over:

These days, graphic novels are being taught across the curriculum, from math to classic literature, and social issues like bullying and eating disorders. More and more publishers are creating teachers’ guides to their books featuring lesson plans, activities, and information about alignment with various education standards. Mindy Tomasevich, librarian at Mills Park Middle School in Cary, N.C., who with Gavigan is coauthor of Connecting Comics to Curriculum: Strategies for Grades 6–12 (Libraries Unlimited, 2011), presents lesson plans for middle and high school students on the Holocaust, political science, and fairy tales, fables, myths, and legends in that book.

More recently, Tomasevich says, she teamed up with seventh-grade language arts teacher Erin Eddy, who selected John Lewis’s graphic novel March, Book One (Top Shelf, 2013) for a unit on the civil rights movement last year, with great success. “I first did a day of instruction about graphic novels, since it was important that students understood why we were using a graphic novel, and exactly how to read one,” says Tomasevich. She taught her students about visual literacy and how the text and art in graphic novels “mesh seamlessly to tell the complete story—you have to ‘read’ the pictures along with reading the text.” Tomasevich emphasizes that graphic novels also contain “the same literary elements as text-only novels: plot, setting, conflict, and author’s purpose, to name a few. And the best things about using graphic novels in instruction are teaching students to understand the symbolism in them, and using them to show students how to make inferences, both of which are critical skills for good readers,” she adds.


So comics: not dead yet.

Comments

  1. Torsten Adair says

    Ah… glad they’re using “renaissance” instead of “golden age”.
    Renaissance because old works are being rediscovered,
    works from other cultures are inspiring new work domestically,
    and new frontiers are being explored.

    So, when can we start the Enlightenment? (And Romanticism, Realism, Impressionism…)

    There is room in Common Core for comics, and they are used in standardized testing in Canada.

  2. says

    I’m fascinated by Hoopla – it seems like a fantastic new version of the Overdrive system that libraries used. I’d love to hear from any happy or unhappy Hoopla users.

  3. Torsten Adair says

    JUV008000 JUVENILE FICTION / Comics & Graphic Novels / General
    (This is a book industry subject heading.)
    Last 12 months: 916 titles, according to Books In Print.
    (+392 forthcoming titles)

  4. BobH says

    Ed, I use Hoopla, through the Toronto library. It’s pretty good, and gotten quite a bit better over the last year (double page spreads used to always be lower resolution and blurry, presumably since they automatically resized all images to screen size. I emailed them about it, and since then any newer comic I got had crisp readable spreads). Basic reading experience is almost the same as Comixology or Dark Horse’s app. Biggest problem is you’re limited to 8 books a month through TPL, but in fact I don’t always even hit that.

    Way better experience than the comics available through Overdrive, which is clunky as hell, obviously all their effort is on text and audiobooks.

  5. Saber Tooth Tiger Mike says

    Whenever academia begins to embrace a medium, it is a sign that that medium is commercially dead or has become an expensive and unpopular medium. Jazz, classical music,..and now, I think American comics are following a similar path if a bright spot for the American comics are comics considered educational for children.

    I consider these comics to be educational comics . I don’t think educators are turning to comics because they like the medium, or because comics enthusiasts have become entrepreneurial. but because educators are having a hard time getting the little ones to sit down and read.

    There is so little testimony from kids that they enjoy these comics, that I think it’s a top-down phenomenon. I’m not trying to be snarky, but I think you need to cite a source other than a puff piece from a Publisher’s Weekly if you want to be convincing.

  6. says

    Mike, will personal experience do? I have been to Raina Telgemeier’s panels at comic cons and libraries and she packs the room with enthusiastic kids every time. Many of them are cosplaying or wearing T-shirts indicating they read other graphic novels as well. I read to a fifth-grade classroom every year for our Community Reading Day, and I always bring graphic novels. It used to be that no one had heard of them (but the kids would fight over the ones I left behind), but now almost everyone has read a couple. My nieces and nephews all read graphic novels—not just Raina’s books, which they love but Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales and Scott Chantler’s adventure stories. I work in city government, not a place where you would expect to find a lot of comics fans, but my co-workers frequently ask me for recommendations for their kids who have read all the Big Nate books and are looking for something more, as well as advice for going to their first comic con.

    Oh, and my public library has a good graphic novel collection, but when I went to get some Pokemon manga to prep for my interview of the Pokemon Adventures creative team in San Diego, every single book was checked out. Perhaps this had something to do with the recent release of Pokemon Go, but when I went back a couple of weeks ago to take a look at their Minecraft graphic novels, they were all gone too.

    Educators are not forcing these comics on the kids. On the contrary, kids are picking them up and are often ahead of their teachers. Look at the sales figures for Raina’s books—teachers and libraries don’t have that kind of money. Kids with allowances do.

  7. joe says

    my public library/town sponsored a free comic book celebration especially for kids and thousands showed up. It was amazing. They have reading clubs and discussion groups etc for comics, and they’re given prominent shelf placement next to YA and MG novels. Its legit.

  8. Saber Tooth Tiger Mike says

    Aside from manga , Brigid, Raina’s line of comics are the biggest example of a success–but her stuff only appeals to a niche demographic of girls. I haven’t seen anything except for a Bleach that’s equally as popular with boys.

    Kids cosplaying at an event does not indicate that most kids read graphic novels, it just indicates that their parents are maybe fans themselves and have are just participating in their parents’ hobbies. The few samples of these new kids friendly comics I’ve seen I’d have to imagine could only popular with those under the age of 7. They appear to be the products of focus groups of parents and teachers much in the same way kids’ tv programming on PBS is. Unlike Seseme St, or Arthur, I don’ t think any of the current readers will stick with these comics or even look back fondly at the time they spent readig them when they outgrow them or realize how mediocre the art and writing is. The popularity of Pokemon and other manga are well-known. Minecraft comics? Never heard of them but I’m not surprised that a comic based on a popular computer game is checked out.

    Comicons aren’t geared towards educational comics. It would be a culture shock to the parents– I almost guarantee this even with the Pc direction geek culture is taking–whose only exposure to comics were educational comics. My hypothesis is that they will repond negatively to violent superhero comics, not to mention LGBT content.

  9. says

    Mike, I’m not sure what you mean by “a niche demographic of girls.” “Girls” are not a niche, any more than “boys” are. Raina’s books sell in the millions, as do Jeff Kinney’s Wimpy Kid books. Take a look at Brian Hibbs’s BookScan analyses over the past few years—over half the top selling graphic novels in bookstores are kids’ titles. Big Nate is insanely popular with boys.

    As someone who remembers when the meddling parents took all the good cartoons off Saturday morning TV and replaced them with crap like HR Pufinstuf, I despise kids’ comics that read like afterschool specials. So do kids. Those comics do not sell well. The graphic novels the PW piece is discussing are in a totally different league.

    Although admittedly I live in the liberal Northeast, I haven’t seen much of a negative reaction to LGBT content in kids’ graphic novels (such as Raina’s Drama), except for a few nasty reviews on Amazon. (Of course, the LGBT content is age appropriate, but it’s still there.)

    As for violent superhero comics, they aren’t really relevant to this conversation. Comics is a huge medium, and these kids will probably branch out into other types of books. It has nothing to do with being PC and everything to do with having a medium that’s easily accessible to new readers—and meeting the demand that, despite what you think, is out there. Publishers are in business to make money, after all, and if the books weren’t selling, they wouldn’t keep making more.

  10. says

    Thanks for the shout-out, Brigid!

    I very rarely post here, but had to respond to the notion of Raina’s books being “girl books.” My sons, now 10 and 13, who couldn’t care less about superhero comics, have read Raina’s books to the point where some of them are starting to fall apart. Follow Raina on Instagram and you’ll see that the massive crowds she attracts are made up of kids of all kinds. As Brigid says, they wouldn’t sell in the millions if their appeal were limited to a particular demographic.

    And don’t get me started on the idea that these are “educational comics.” Most of my books are popular in schools and libraries, but they were hardly crafted with curriculum in mind. They were simply crafted to be good, and about subjects that appeal outside of the direct market. If you rented a copy of Star Wars at the library (or studied it in a film class) would that make it an educational film? Preposterous.

  11. says

    My new office is one block away from the public library…
    I have seven graphic novels currently on hold.
    Just finished reading the first one.
    I’m in heaven!

  12. Saber Tooth Tiger Mike says

    “very rarely post here, but had to respond to the notion of Raina’s books being “girl books.” My sons, now 10 and 13, who couldn’t care less about superhero comics, have read Raina’s books to the point where some of them are starting to fall apart.”

    Scott Chantler :

    Your anecdote doesn’t prove that her appeal is gender-neutral. On average, her fans are female. Boys watch the Disney channel, but most viewers are girls and the content reflects that.

    “And don’t get me started on the idea that these are “educational comics.” Most of my books are popular in schools and libraries, but they were hardly crafted with curriculum in mind. ”
    They were crafted with the intention of being “safe” and inoffensive. Looking at your work, I hate to say it, but it looks an example of what parents think kids should be reading, and that’s what I mean by “Educational comics”. Comics promoted by librarians and the people who work on them as being “great for kids”, are communicating to other adults and parents. The same phenomenon is involved in traditional children’s books–the parents have to be won over before the kids are.

    Brigid Alverson says
    So many things you’re saying are based on you feelings than fact.

    “As someone who remembers when the meddling parents took all the good cartoons off Saturday morning TV and replaced them with (things I aesthetically don’t like ) like HR Pufinstuf,’ That is exactly what most kids comics are in practice–content produced by meddling parents for meddling parents. Crap often sells, and I’m not saying these comics are crap, but the condescending tone in a lot of the work hard to not notice.

    “Although admittedly I live in the liberal Northeast, I haven’t seen much of a negative reaction to LGBT content in kids’ graphic novels’ If you live in a liberal part of Northeast, you most likely live in a affluent neighborhood where you are surrounded by other affluent/progressive people.

    “Take a look at Brian Hibbs’s BookScan analyses over the past few years—over half the top selling graphic novels in bookstores are kids’ titles” Those graphic novels do well because they have a seal of approval from librarians and parents. They are adult-approved and it appears that it is the government that is doing a lot of the buying–not private citizens making individual purchases.
    The librarians do the marketing. The government does the buying.
    Other publishers, who do not have the approval of librarians have a difficult time marketing their content to kids.
    Manga is one exception–and I’m afraid it’s the only one.

    “Publishers are in business to make money, after all, and if the books weren’t selling, they wouldn’t keep making more.” Most comics being published are unprofitable yet, since so many people want to make their own comics, unprofitable comics continue to be paid.

    There is also the phenomenon of authors or publishers who spend tens of thousands of dollars to buy copies of their own books to hit various best-seller lists.

    https://www.fastcompany.com/3001359/why-books-are-ultimate-new-business-card

    Without hearing from the actual fans, it’s hard to deduce what is actually popular in today’s economy where EVERYTHING is a niche.

  13. Saber Tooth Tiger Mike says

    Scott Chantler says ” If you rented a copy of Star Wars at the library (or studied it in a film class) would that make it an educational film? Preposterous.”

    The huge glaring difference being that Star Wars succeeded without sermons from academicians stating that Star Wars is safe for human enjoyment and the government buying up large numbers of its merchandise.

  14. says

    You’re clearly just trolling now, Saber Tooth Tiger Mike. But I’ll respond so far as to say that your assumptions about my work and its intentions are, in fact, the exact opposite of its actual intentions. I never even considered the educational market when I was writing Two Generals (though to be fair, it’s likely my publisher did.) It’s literature, not a textbook.

    Believe it or not, there’s a wider book-buying public than the one you see at the comic shop every Wednesday, and some of them like things you don’t like. Some of them are parents are some of them like history, but that doesn’t mean that their tastes are “safe,” “inoffensive,” or wrong. In fact, I’d say if you want to see an example of publishers and creators playing it safe and conservative, look at the traditional superhero publishers. It takes some balls to play outside of that arena.

    And it probably doesn’t even need to be said that the notion of Raina buying millions of copies of her own books to inflate sales figures is patently absurd, Yet here I’ve said it.

  15. says

    So anything that’s “popular” inside the niche of traditional, conservative superhero fandom is edgy, truly artful material that comes straight from the creators’ soul? And anything that’s TRULY popular, with a wider audience, is playing it safe, cynically crafted to appeal to some sort of academic and government cabal that secretly controls mainstream popular taste? Oh, and Raina is buying up literally millions of copies of her own books in a shrewd marketing move.

    I’m not the least bit convinced. But I *do* think I have the plot for my next book. ;)

  16. says

    Honestly, younger kids don’t have the extra money to buy graphic novels and I know that instead of going to B&N, they can go to the library and marathon a whole series with a friend. I would always look up thru the library online catalog to see if they had a certain book that can be delivered & picked up at my local library.

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