More Than Words: #ArmchairBEA, Day 2–Graphic Novels!

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Picturebooks! Graphic Novels! Digital Media for Children!

Oh my!

“ ‘What is the use of a book,’ thought Alice, ‘without pictures or conversations?’” (Carroll, 7)

From our Hosts: There are so many mediums that feature more than just words and enhance a story in a multitude of ways. Examples may include graphic novels and comics, audiobooks, or even multimedia novels. On this day, we will be talking about those books and formats that move beyond just the words and use other ways to experience a story. Which books stand out to you in these different formats?


The stories in these formats can be expressed powerfully, and they can be amazing.


For example, many people don’t realize that the 500+ page long book, The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick is, in fact, a graphic novel. At the same time, it’s a kind of a hybrid text that challenges the picturebook form, because it did receive the Caldecott Medal in 2008, and that award goes to the best picturebook of the year published for children. A mixture of wordless pages and pages of text create a powerful cinematic story that will leave your jaw hanging open. Trust me. You will be wonderstruck, and then you will have to go out and read the next graphic novel of Selznick’s, sporting the same title (Wonderstruck).


As I write this post, I have next to me my copy of To Dance: A Ballerina’s Graphic Novel. This is a slimmer novel than Hugo Cabret, geared towards ages 8 and up, and it’s a beautiful memoir about Siena’s journey toward her destiny as a dancer. A dancer myself, I appreciate and frequently re-read this graphic novel.

It’s important to realize that we “read” visual text just as we read written text, but it’s a different kind of literacy at work. It’s a visual literacy. Sometimes it may take us longer to read a graphic novel, because we do have to pay close attention to the images. It’s the same for a wordless picturebook. If you know David Wiesner’s work, you will know that it can take just as long or longer to read one of his wordless picturebooks, as it does to read a picturebook with text. The images are everything when there are no words, and our eyes skate their surface for clues in the story.


Then, there is Maus: A Survivor’s Tale. I read Maus as part of my graduate program in children’s literature, and I can still remember the silence of the room in which I read that sobering graphic novel. The two volumes of the story detail the experience of the protagonist as a Jew during the Holocaust and include his deportation to Auschwitz. The two volumes won the Pulitzer in 1992. It’s considered one of the most distinguished graphic novels, and you’ll know why, if you have read it. If you haven’t, go ahead and add it to your TBR. It’s about to topple over anyway.


Finally, I have to mention Shaun Tan. Many readers think it’s strange, bizarre, and downright confusing. But, I love Tales from Outer Suburbia!! Maybe it’s the fact that it’s so strange. Or maybe it’s that I find it refreshing that there are stories that don’t have clear cut endings. Because—isn’t real life that way? And how about the extraordinary aspects of the ordinary life? That’s what Tan is getting at in his Suburbia tales. They are intriguing. But don’t take my word for it. Go discover their bizarre-ness and their strange mysteries on your own.


I don’t have time to talk about different types of digital texts for children. We’ll save that for another day.

Until then, Happy Armchairing at BEA!


21 thoughts on “More Than Words: #ArmchairBEA, Day 2–Graphic Novels!

  1. I am always amazed that students like Hugo Cabret. It is not a story that they would pick up gladly if it were just text! I’m not a fan of pictures or audio– just give me the written word and I’m happy! I LOVE The Children of Green Knowe and Tom’s Midnight Garden– if you haven’t been to, you should definitely visit on her Timeslip Tuesday! Enjoy Armchair BEA.

    • It’s true–I am amazed at how much my students love Hugo Cabret. At first they are scared at the size, but then once they start it, they really get into it.
      I’m going to check out Timeslip Tuesday–thank you so much for the link!

  2. Beautiful essay. I actually think I like graphic novels (not my favorite genre for some unknown reason) more after reading your thoughts! Thank you!

    Have a great Armchair BEA!

    • Let me know when you do. I was inspired so actually checked it out from the library today along with some other graphic novels, and will settling in for a re-read. I just want to get this grading done so I can read and catch up on reviews….Eeek!! 😀

  3. The Maus book and the outer suburbia book both sound intriguing. I’ve only read a handful of graphic novels and I really like them.

  4. You seem to know quite a bit on this subject Katie so. Aye you can fill in a gap in my knowledge. What is the difference between a graphic novel, a picture book and a comic? This isn’t a test to trip you up or anything, I am just confused when I see these terms floating around on other peoples blogs

    • This is a really good question, actually! Here’s what I would say–a picturebook would normally be words and pictures working together in a story, in the typical 32 page format. I would distinguish comic books and graphic novels by their “comic” style–picturebooks don’t usually have the speech bubbles, etc. and the other features that comics and graphic novels do. I have been using “graphic novel” and “comics” interchangeably, though I might consider a longer work a “graphic novel” and not a comic, which might be shorter. However, that’s just from my personal experience, and I think now a lot of people use the two terms interchangeably. I hope that helps! I’m still learning. 😀

      • I’ll chime in here and clarify even a touch more:

        PICTURE BOOKS are typically (as Kate said) 32 pages and published in hardcover first unless it’s a trade format like the typically paperback “Berenstain Bears” books, as an example. Most, but certainly not all, are geared toward younger readers through elementary school grades, though it’s my opinion that picture books are for ALL age groups 😀

        COMIC BOOKS are more like a magazine, printed on newsprint in a periodical fashion and will contain ads. The content is short and I don’t believe they would have complete stories as a novel would.

        GRAPHIC NOVELS are typically novel length and will have a complete story (beginning/middle/end), will be a higher quality paperback “book” rather than magazine, and will sometimes be hardcover. They are also usually aimed at teens and adults, though many more are being written for children from chapter books on up.

        Hope that helps 🙂

  5. It’s so funny to me how, though I’m an artist/illustrator, I never took to wordless picture books or graphic novels beyond the comic book format during my teen years. A couple years ago I’d read The Invention of Hugo Cabret and loved it, but it wasn’t until last year, when some the BEST wordless picture books were published (Flora & the Flamingo, Journey and Hank Finds an Egg) and I became aware of some amazing graphic novels (Stitches, Bird and Squirrel On the Run), that I became a true fan. I think my problem was that I wasn’t prepared, when opening a book, to spend the double time needed to truly “read” the pictures, too. Now I invite it! When done well, the format is fantastic. And I have to say, I loved the story of Hugo Cabret, and although VERY aesthetically appealing, I was disappointed by the movie—they left out the most emotional aspects *sigh*

    • You make a really good point about how the reader does need to be prepared to spend the “double time” with a graphic novel. I agree–the movie could never compare with the book!!

  6. Putting Selznick on my TBR — thanks for the recommendation! That’s also helpful information that reading a graphic novel can be slow work. I think I speed along looking for the words and miss things because I’m not attentive enough to the pictures.

  7. I have an unexamined resistance to graphic novels. I’m not a snob or anything, I think they are perfectly entitled to be called literature, but maybe I’m just too used to words? I should take a month or so and read nothing else, then see what I think. That could be a really fun challenge.

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