Graphic Novels for Multiple Literacies

Graphic Novels for Multiple Literacies

Gretchen E. Schwarz

One day after German class, a young man came up to me with a book in hand. He was a bright high school student with good grades, but he usually clowned around when talking to me; this time he was quite serious. “Look, you should read this,” he said. He showed me a copy of Maus: A Survivor’s Tale (1986) by Art Spiegelman, a comic book version of the Holocaust in which mice were the Jews and cats the Nazis. The story is based on Spiegelman’s father’s survival of Auschwitz. Before reading Maus, I had no idea a “comic book” could be so powerful. Maus went on to win the Pulitzer Prize, the first graphic novel to do so, and I recommended it to other students.

In an increasingly visual culture, literacy educators can profit from the use of graphic novels in the classroom, especially for young adults. The term graphic novel includes fiction as well as nonfiction text with pictures—”comics” in book format. That such works are being taken seriously is reflected in an issue of The New York Times Book Review (Eggers, 2000), which included a review of four graphic novels, and the novel The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay (Chabon, 2000) about two comics creators, which was also a Pulitzer Prize winner. Moreover, librarians have become strong supporters of graphic novels. (See, for example, Bruggeman, 1997; DeCandido, 1990; Kan, 1994).

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