While I was out of town last month, our 16-year old daughter, Sarah, had a reading emergency. She told me the story over dinner when I came home, “Mom, my English teacher assigned us an independent reading project.”
I leaned in, whole body listening, “Hmm. What are the guidelines for the project?”
Once a teacher, always a teacher. I can’t help it. I wanted to know how “independent” this independent reading project was.
Sarah ticked off the requirements, “It has to be a book we haven’t read…”
We’re good so far. That’s a reasonable expectation.
She continues, “The book has to be 200 pages long.”
Whew, The Catcher in the Rye just makes the cut at 224 pages. Sorry, Of Mice and Men, you’re too short. Arbitrary rules like this one communicate to kids that teachers think students are lazy and hate to read, and they go for the shortest books they can find. What about students’ personal desires or prior reading experiences?
True, some kids might pick the shortest books they can because they hate to read. You’re their English teacher. Help them. High school isn’t too late to discover reading. Ask Penny Kittle and Kelly Gallagher.
“And no graphic novels. She looked right at me when she said that, Mom.”
I sighed. Seriously, we’re still fighting this battle? Maus won a PULITZER in 1992. The only people who still believe that graphic novels aren’t “real” or “rigorous” reading reveal their own lack of reading experiences. Stephen Krashen and Terry Thompson put this misunderstood notion to rest long ago. Graphic novels provide reading gateways for many young readers. We’ve damaged a lot of boy readers over the years by scorning their comic book and magazine reading. Girls read comics, too. According to Market Beat, 47% percent of girls read comics. Sarah offers her idiosyncratic list of the following graphic novels and comics for your reading education:
American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang
Anya’s Ghost By Vera Brosgol
Babymouse and Squish by Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm
The Complete Maus, 25th Anniversary Edition by Art Spiegelman
El Deafo by CeCe Bell
Friends with Boys by Faith Erin Hicks
In Real Life by Cory Doctorow and Jen Wang
Locke and Key by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez
The Olympians by George O’Connor
Scott Pilgrim by Bryan Lee O’Malley
Through the Woods by Emily Carroll
Tomboy: A Graphic Memoir by Liz Prince
The Walking Dead by Robert Kirkman and Tony Moore
“Everything Raina Telgemeier has written.”
Catch up on these:
The Babysitters Club
“I read those because of RAINA, Mom. I never read those books.”
“What about Doug TenNapel? I know that you read Ghostopolis.”
“I read all of his stuff. Put him on there, too.”
Sarah chose Libba Bray’s The Diviners for her independent reading project. All 608 glorious pages of it. Challenge accepted. Sarah’s a curious girl. She has strong opinions about things. She’s a sixteen-year-old. Don’t disdain her choices or attempt to define her. Reading or otherwise.
Yes, Sarah reads a lot of graphic novels. Sarah’s also read A Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Great Gatsby, Wuthering Heights, The Odyssey–all the canon fodder. I think she reads every book her teachers assign her to read. Sometimes, Sarah discovers that she appreciates these books. Other times, she reads an assigned book because she respects her teachers and does what she’s told. Engagement ratings? Mixed.
Sarah gave her boyfriend a copy of To Kill a Mockingbird for Christmas because he somehow, “dodged reading it in 9th grade.” For some reason, Sarah isn’t willing to let him slide on Mockingbird. I get it. Her father wouldn’t let me slide on Sandman or Watchmen, either.
Reading shapes and transforms who we become–both as readers and as human beings. Encouragement and opportunities to choose what they read have lasting benefits for kids. **Self-selected reading:
- Allows children to value their decision-making ability.
- Fosters their capacity to choose appropriate reading material.
- Builds confidence and a feeling of ownership.
- Improves reading achievement.
- Encourages lifelong readers.
I understand the role that reading classic literary works plays in Sarah’s education. She’s building a social and cultural identity, but she’s developing her personal identity, too. She feeds all of her identities with the books she reads–the ones she’s assigned to read and the ones she chooses on her own. Not all of her reading influences come from school. She’s building her own canon.
Sarah is a student. She’s also a singer. A gamer. A cheese Danish and cat lover.
She’s our comic book girl.
And she’s her own girl. It’s a marvelous thing to see.
*(Johnson, D., & Blair, A., 2003)