Academic journal article Journal of Children's Literature

Integrating Graphic Nonfiction into Classroom Reading and Content Area Instruction: A Critical Literacy Focus on Selection Issues

Academic journal article Journal of Children's Literature

Integrating Graphic Nonfiction into Classroom Reading and Content Area Instruction: A Critical Literacy Focus on Selection Issues

Article excerpt

ALTHOUGH I HAVE STUDIED children's literature for almost 20 years, I came relatively late to an appreciation of graphic novels and other graphic genres. Perhaps the first book in graphic format that captured my interest intensely was Mark Alan Stamaty's (2004) slim volume about war, books, and choices people make: Alia's Mission: Saving the Books of Iraq. Since then, I have developed an interest in a range of graphic nonfiction literature that I recommend regularly to teachers. My favorites include A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge by Josh Neufeld (2009) and Trinity: A Graphic History of the First Atomic Bomb by Jonathan Fetter-Vorm (2013). I have especially enjoyed graphic biographies, such as the ingenious Annie Sullivan and the Trials of Helen Keller by Joseph Lambert (2012) and the captivating Houdini: The Handcuff King by Jason Lutes (2007), and memoirs, such as the strikingly illustrated and heartrending A Game for Swallows: To Die, to Leave, to Return by Zeina Abirached (2012), the affectionate and humorous Kampung Boy by Lat (2006), and the moving El Deafo by Cece Bell (2014).

An understanding of the importance of nonfiction literature in classroom instruction is not new within the field of education (Möller, 2013). However, the recent implementation of the Common Core State Standards (National Governors Association Center for Best Practices & Council of Chief State School Officers, 2010) has brought an increased policy focus. The Common Core explicitly calls for extensive use of informational text (i.e., nonfiction) and close reading activities that ask students to attend to textual detail as part of reading comprehension instruction. Fortunately, quite a few thoughtfully written and captivatingly drawn graphic nonfiction trade books have been published in recent years that can support Common Core requirements while also engaging students.

In addition to a surge of quality trade books, numerous educational product series have been marketed to the young reader audience through a graphic format. Multiple literary and educational reviews of trade books in journals (e.g., Booklist, Journal of Children's Literature, Kirkus Reviews, Language Arts, School Library Journal, The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, The Horn Book) and professional organizations' recommended booklists (e.g., the American Library Association's Great Graphic Novels booklists) offer teachers support in locating, selecting, and evaluating graphic nonfiction trade books, as do a range of literary and educational awards for both nonfiction (e.g., NCTE Orbis Pictus Award for Outstanding Nonfiction for Children, Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Medal) and graphic novels (e.g., Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards).

However, less guidance is available for evaluation of and selection from the numerous educational product series. Below I highlight a sampling of such series and offer focused critiques as models for aspects to consider in evaluation. I close with some possible pairings with strong nonfiction trade books (both graphic and narrative).

A Sampling of Available Graphic Nonfiction Series

Important for teachers to consider when selecting books for instruction is whether they are worth students' time. In addition to engagement potential, quality, accuracy, authenticity, and attention to diversity are key evaluative aspects for written text and visual image components. In this section, I focus on one educational product series that I recommend not be used (Saddleback Educational Publishing's Graphic Biography) and on two I recommend, with caveats and cautions (Gareth Stevens's A Graphic History of the Civil Rights Movement and Capstone's Graphic Library biographies).


This series includes at least 23 volumes drawn in a traditional comic book style. No author or illustrator is identified. Each book is 28 pages long, including title pages. …

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