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The Power of Graphic Novels

the power of graphic novels

Often overheard in the children’s library is an adult telling a kid they can only check out one graphic novel, and that they must also choose a “real book” to read.


So, are graphic novels “real books?“


I’m going to argue that a graphic novel is not only a real book but one full of benefits for every level of reader. (including adults!)


First, let’s define. A graphic novel is a full-length narrative with a combination of words and art to convey the story. Basically a book that also uses pictures to advance the story.


Graphic novels can be any genre. There are, of course, the traditional superhero stories. But there are also history, biography, and science books. Re-telling of classics and beautifully told complex fiction stories. The stories’ depth and nuance are enhanced by the illustrations. The stories aren’t simpler or more juvenile versions of a traditional book. They are often richer with the addition of the artwork.


This combination of pictures and text has the reader’s brain process the story in an intense and deep way.  Images can be interpreted in different ways (just like text) and often brings more nuances to the story. The images teach; visual literacy skills, the ability to understand sequence, interpreting nonverbal gestures, and making inferences to plot and character development. In addition, pictures can create more empathy. A visual often has a much stronger impact than text alone.


Graphic novels appeal to all sorts of readers.

  • Reluctant readers; the pages are less overwhelming and more approachable. The pictures add an element of excitement that can pull in the most reluctant readers.
  • English-language learners; the clues offered by the images help improve understanding along with increasing vocabulary.
  • Students with dyslexia; the images can be a lifeline to students struggling with the text alone. In addition, anxiety may be lessened by seeing pages not filled with lines and lines of text.
  • Young readers; a great transition between picture books and more complex chapter books.
  • Advanced readers; graphic novels today deal with all sorts of themes, issues, and problems. And if the text is challenging, the pictures can give clues and help build comprehension.


Research indicates that graphic novels introduce a lexicon a bit more sophisticated than comparable traditional books. They average 53.5 rare words per thousand. Children’s books average 30.9 and adult books average 52.7!* The images enhance and reinforce. They don’t replace language.


So, yes, graphic novels are real books. Books that entertain, inform, and give us insight to other worlds, other experiences, and other people. Something all great literature does!


*From “Big Ideas in Beginning Reading: Vocabulary” University of Oregon Center on Teaching and Learning


Here are a few favorites you can check out at the Upper Dublin Public Library.


Grades K-2

Bug Boys by Laura Knetzger

Baloney and Friends by Greg Pizzoli

Pizza and Taco by Stephen Shaskan

Donut Feed the Squirrels by Mika Song

Owly by Andy Runton


Grades 3-5

Science Comics by various authors

Babymouse by Jennifer Holm

Squish by Jennifer Holm

Lunch Lady by Jarrett Krosoczka

Dragonbreath by Ursula Vernon

Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke


Grades 6-8

New Kid by Jerry Craft

Class Act by Jerry Craft

Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson

El Deafo by Cece Bell

Queen of the Sea by Dylan Meconis

Mighty Jack by Ben Hatke

Bone by Jeff Smith

Astronauts: Women on the Final Frontier by Jim Ottaviani


And a few for the adults!

Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? by Roz Chast

Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

Infinitum by Tim Fielder

Maus: A Survivor’s Tale by Art Spiegelman

The Sandman by Neil Gaiman


Beth-Children’s Library Assistant and Book Club Moderator


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