Posted on 03/21/2018 at 12:00 AM by Blog Experts

Graphic novels can be used in any content area. They can be part of a textset and used in literature circles. Graphic novels can enhance students’ understanding of specific standards and concepts. If a human element is needed to make some seemingly far-removed topic relevant, graphic novels can be integrated. Graphic novels, because of the many genres, topics, and concepts they cover, can be used in the curriculum as any other teen book. Cook (2015) reminded us that graphic novels are no longer for the struggling or disinterested reader. Because of the multimodal communication and literacy contained in graphic novels, he believes that they can help students think creatively and critically. “…they introduce readers to new and important levels of complexity and cognitive requirements” (p. 31). In ELA, Cook recommended graphic novels be used to promote visual literacy and multimodal consumption and composition. In social studies, graphic novels that are memoirs and biographies can be used for context and perspective. In mathematics, teachers can use graphic novels for problem-solving skills. And in science, graphic novels can be used to establish content schema and the perspective of experiments.

Mori (2007) believes that graphic novels have a large teen appeal—especially teens who do not typically read. She correlates graphic novels to watching television and playing video games, both of which many teens engage in. Mori examined studies in which graphic novels helped reluctant and struggling readers improve and get excited about reading. Many graphic novels are retellings of classic literature, and this exposes students to these classics that they most likely would never read in their original format. Graphic novels can be used to introduce and/or teach plot, sequencing, vocabulary, word recognition, and problem solving. Mori encouraged the use of graphic novel book clubs to attract teen readers. Although not all teens will be interested in graphic novels, as librarians and teachers, we need to respect the reading choices of those who do choose to read them.

Lawrence, McNeal, and Yildiz (2009) found that although teens today possess multiple literacies, they still need to use critical thinking skills. They quoted Frey and Fisher’s (2004) study in which graphic novels were used to improve students’ reading and writing skills such as making inferences, understanding vocabulary in context, writing for different audiences, and creating engaging leads. Lawrence, McNeal, and Yildiz conducted a study in which students’ interest in popular culture was combined with traditional experiences in reading and writing in order to bridge the gap between teens in- and out-of-school experiences. Minilessons provided students with information about word choice, voice and tone, irony, flashbacks, writing captions and dialogue, and matching visual elements with written elements. Students then wrote and illustrated their own graphic novels on a social issue of their choice. Graphic novels can serve as tools for students to create their own graphic novels. Reading and writing graphic novels can promote teens’ reading for enjoyment, information literacy, research skills, synthesizing information from a variety of sources, and an awareness of audience.

Northwest AEA Media Center has approximately 250 graphic novels for students of all grade levels. Some of these are the super hero genre, but many are realistic fiction, nonfiction, and fantasy. There are graphic novels of the classics, such as 20,000 Leagues under the Sea (Bowen, 2014), Oliver Twist (Dauvillier, 2012), and A Wrinkle in Time (Larson, 2012).

Several graphic novels for social studies are A Game for Swallows (Abirached, 2012), Dogs of War (Keenan, 2013, Hidden: A Child’s Story of the Holocaust (Dauvillier, 2014), The Sons of Liberty (Lagos, 2010), and Civil War Adventure: Real History (Dixon, 2015).

A Game for Swallows: To Die, to Leave, to Return (Abirached, 2012). Zeina and her little brother live in Lebanon. The civil war has been going on for many years already, and Beirut has been split in two: East Beirut for Christians and West Beirut for Muslims. One day, while visiting over the wall, Zeina’s parents do not return. The book depicts the events of this day, and how the neighbors try to do every-day activities with the two children, to make the day seem as normal as possible.

Dogs of War (Keenan, 2013). This book contains three stories about dogs who served in a war. Boots served in World War I, Loki served in World War II, and Sheba served in the Vietnam War. At the end of the book there is an author’s note, and also several pages of further reading about dogs who have served.

Hidden: A Child’s Story of the Holocaust (Dauvillier, 2014). One night, when Elsa couldn’t sleep, Elsa’s grandmother told her the story of her childhood during Nazi occupation of France. Elsa’s grandmother was the same age as Elsa is now at the time when she had to begin wearing the yellow star of David on her clothing. Her parents were taken to a concentration camp, and Dounia, Elsa’s grandmother, was hidden with different friends. Her mother survived the camps and they were reunited, but her father was never found. Elsa’s father is surprised that his mother told Elsa the story, as she could never tell him.

The Sons of Liberty (Lagos, 2010). This story takes place prior to the Revolutionary War. It’s about two runaway slaves, Graham and Brody, who possess extraordinary powers. Ben Franklin plays a large role in this story, as well. African martial art dambe, a West African martial art of boxing.

Civil War Adventure: Real History (Dixon, 2015). This book contains 12 true stories of the Civil War each told in graphic novel format. The stories show the devastation of war in general, with specific facts about the Civil War. A Civil War time line is at the beginning of the book, and further resources for reading are at the end of the book.


Abirached, Z. (2012). A game for swallows: To die, to leave, to return. Minneapolis, Minnesota: Graphic Universe.

Bowen, C. (2014). 20,000 leagues under the sea. North Mankato, Minnesota: Stone Arch Books.

Cook, M. (2015). The big picture: Why your high school students should be reading graphic novels—whatever the content area. Literacy Today, 33(3), pp. 30-32.

Dauvillier, L. (2014). Hidden: A child’s story of the Holocaust. New York, New York: First Second.

Dauvillier, L. (2012). Oliver Twist. New York, New York: Papercutz.

Dixon, C. (2015). Civil War adventure. Mineola, New York: Dover Publications.

Frey, N. & Fisher, D. (2004). Using graphic novels, anime, and the Internet in an urban high school. English Journal, 93(3), pp. 19-25.

Keenan, S. (2013). Dogs of war. New York, New York: Graphix.

Kim, J. & Myers, R. (2012). Discovering greatness: YALSA’s great graphic novels for teens list. Young Adult Library Services, 10(3), pp. 39-41.

Lagos, A. (2010). Sons of liberty. New York, New York: Random House Children’s Books.

Larson, H. (2012). A wrinkle in time. Harrisonburg, Virginia: R. R. Donnelley & Sons Company.

Lawrence, S. A., McNeal, K. & Yildiz, M. N. (2009). Summer program helps adolescents merge technology, popular culture, reading, and writing for academic purposes. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 52(6), pp. 483-494.

Mori, M. (2007). Graphic novels: Leading the way to teen literacy and leadership. Indiana Libraries, 26(3), pp. 29-32.

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