The Case for Comics and Graphic Novels for Kids

Comics and graphic novels for kids can be a fun, educational and worthwhile part of a child’s reading diet.

While growing steadily in popularity, comics and graphic novels for kids have been met with a mix of resistance and some often-cited benefits for “reluctant” and “struggling” readers. However, the genre is a good fit for any reader—reluctant or voracious.

Graphic novels have gained considerable ground, breaking sales records and winning prestigious children’s book awards in recent years. Sales of comics and graphic novels have risen steadily for the past several years with a slight dip in 2017 before a rebound in 2019. In total, comic book and graphic novel sales reached $1.2 billion in North America in 2019, a record year.

While many librarians have embraced graphic novels, “an implicit – and strong – bias remains in U.S. education against books with pictures,” Karen MacPherson, a children’s and teen services coordinator for a library in Maryland, wrote in an article in the Washington Post early last year. Her perception is that even among the adults who value graphic novels for children, they are seen simply “as a steppingstone toward the goal of reading text-only books.”

She pointed out that graphic novels were given some new credibility in 2020 when New Kid by Jerry Craft was awarded a Newbery Medal, which MacPherson says is “considered the most prestigious U.S. children’s book award.”

Here are a few reasons we should embrace comics and graphic novels as valid and educational reading for children and teens:

Benefits of Reading Comics and Graphic Novels for Kids:

Draw in Reluctant or Struggling Readers

Comics and graphic novels are often recommended for children who struggle with reading or are disinterested. Relying heavily on images and with far fewer words per page compared to a traditional novel, these books are often less intimidating. However, they have complex and longer story lines compared to traditional picture books, which children will feel they have “grown out of.” A struggling reader will likely feel much more confident carrying around a graphic novel than a picture book.

Comics and graphic novels can often feature humor or engaging plot lines that can make reading fun for those who dread it. However, the benefits of graphic novels go beyond engaging reluctant readers.

Develop Inferencing and Sequencing Skills

With a sequence of pictures and a few words per frame, readers of comics and graphic novels are called upon to infer what is happening in each frame and between each frame. They must understand how one frame leads to the next and make several inferences about the characters, the world they live in, their relationships with one another, and more.

Develop Visual Literacy

As much as parents battle “screen time” and try to combat the influx of new technology in our children’s lives, we live in a highly visual world. As such, we must learn to “read” images and visual ques. Comics are a great practice for this necessary skill.

There is no narrator telling us when a character is sad, happy, angry, or perhaps feeling mischievous. We can read the speech bubble of one character, and then we have to look at another character’s face and body language to determine their reaction. In fact, comics and graphic novels can be a great way to practice understanding and talking about the emotions of different characters.

Expose Readers to Advanced Vocabulary (Often More than Other Reading Sources)

Another benefit of comics is they tend not to shy away from advance vocabulary. In our home, we’ve definitely noticed this when reading Calvin and Hobbes comics, a favorite for our whole family. We often find ourselves stopping to discuss a particular word.

In fact, a study of more than 1,000 comics found that 36 to 76 percent of language in comics and graphic novels is “representative of language found in senior secondary school and college/university placement tests.” This compares to just 14 percent of the language in most newspapers, according to Our Kids Media.

Develop a Love of Reading and Books

Comics can introduce beloved characters such as Calvin and Hobbes that we can connect with, laugh with, and enjoy throughout our lives. Graphic novels can also tell compelling stories in a captivating way that can spark a love for books in young readers. This brightly colored and fun storytelling method can draw children into the literary world and can be the starting point for a lifelong love of reading.

When our children are learning to read and learning to love reading, we should be happy whether they are reading the back of a cereal box, a comic, or a novel.

Can Inspire Creativity and Writing

Comic books may also inspire children to create their own stories. For children who are just learning to write, creating their own comics gives them a way to tell a complete story through a combination of pictures and written word. The task of creating an entire story may seem much less daunting to children who are still learning to spell and may write slowly.

Great for Family Bonding

Comics are also a great opportunity for parents and children to bond. When we read a picture book or chapter book, it is easy to just glide through the story, reading the words and turning the pages. However, when we read a graphic novel, we have to “read” the pictures as well as the words to understand the complete story.

All of the inferences and connections our minds have to make usually require a conversation when reading a comic together. The conversations and laughter that take place when reading comics together can be a great moment of connection for the family.

If you’re interested in finding some comics and graphic novels for your child, you can try reading a few classic comic strips such as Calvin and Hobbes or Peanuts, and you can also check your local library. Scholastic also has a long list of graphic novels for kids.


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