Getting graphic

The recent (quietly announced) news of graphic novel publisher SelfMadeHero’s plans to launch new lists entitled Graphic Freud and Graphic History got me thinking.

As an English teacher in a large secondary school, I already use their excellent Manga Shakespeare series. I believe that graphic novels are a great way to teach the classics to children.

This is not necessarily a popular idea. Judging by what the school librarian has told me, some of the other English teachers have a strict ‘novels only’ approach to their reading sessions—which is perfectly acceptable and laudable, but which also cuts pupils off from a rich source of material and also limits some children.

Quite simply, for some pupils, (and it pains me to say this) novels are boring. Some children are like Alice and don’t see the point of a book without “pictures or conversation".

I know some think that by teaching a graphic novel, we are in danger of ‘dumbing down’ literature, but this is just not the case. Yes, you lose some of the description, but surely this should be represented by a good artist in the illustration? For lower ability children, who struggle with English and can’t wait to get out of school, it could be a way to help them get to grips with what they need to know for their exams. Some of the best study guides for English I have seen include the story in some comic strip form. It works for visual learners.

At a time when schools are ever more under threat from government ideas about education, which could lead to the curriculum becoming drier than a water biscuit, we need more ways to make English—and reading— interesting and accessible. There are more and more children coming to secondary school who cannot read, or who cannot speak English. Learning visually can help these children understand the plot of a complicated story and can help them access and enjoy a wide variety of novels that they would never pick up if presented to them in regular paperback form.

I would argue that teachers must be the driving force behind graphic novels becoming an acceptable medium in schools (local authorities are already recommending that we teach titles such as Persepolis, so why are we so reluctant to add them to our curriculum) but also that more publishers pick up the idea themselves—and push it to schools.

And not only literature, but even textbooks. Perhaps academic publishers could embrace the format too?

To those who remain unconvinced, consider this: is it better that a child reads a graphic novel than reads nothing at all?