Educators often ask me what I would recommend they read in order to familiarize themselves with the genre of visual narrative. The problem, of course, is that it's no less difficult for me to answer than if they had asked, "Can you recommend a list of books to read in order to familiarize myself with the history of the novel...or drama...or poetry." So, inspired by The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, in which the secret of the universe is the number 42, I've compiled a list of forty-two titles that an educator wanting to teach graphic novels might consider drawing inspiration from. This is not a comprehensive list of the "Greatest Graphic Novels of All Time" or anything of that sort. Nor is it meant to represent titles that a teacher should necessarily use in the classroom (over others, for instance). Rather, the list is meant to encourage educators to acquaint themselves with the tradition and to get excited about the possibilities of using visual narrative in the classroom. Happy reading!
At the 2014 Reading for the Love of It conference in Toronto, I mentioned an activity to participants that struck them as being a new idea in teaching the graphic novel. Here's what I said:
"We should teach kids how the form and structure of a graphic novel is related to the form and structure of other genres they might read in a junior or middle school classroom. However, we need to go beyond just having students create a graphic story out of a chapter or scene from a traditional novel. Probably the coolest exercise you can do with a group of students is to have them turn the pages of a graphic novel into a traditional narrative. The advantage of this is that it forces students to think far more about traditional narrative and about how very complicated it can be for a writer to use only words to represent the simplest ideas or concepts."
A number of participants remarked afterwards that they wanted to try this activity right away and inquired about good starting points in terms of choosing a graphic novel that would lend itself well to such an activity. I gave them some of my own suggestions (Persepolis, Watchmen, Maus, The Silence of Our Friends, Are You My Mother?), but for the benefit of those who might be taking a look at this post, I'd love comments from experienced comics educators who have either done this activity with their students or who have a suggestion about a great comic or graphic novel that would work well.
Thanks in advance, and see you next time!
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Dr. Glen Downey is an award-winning children's author, educator, and academic from Oakville, Ontario. He works as a children's writer for Rubicon Publishing, a reviewer for PW Comics World, an editor for the Sequart Organization, and serves as the Chair of English and Drama at The York School in Toronto.