BOOM! POW! READ! – Comics in the Classroom

In a recent blog post for Nerdy Book Club, Julie Falatko, author of Snappsy the Alligator (Did Not Ask to Be in This Book!”) compared books to vegetables and chocolate cake. Reminding us all that although books are good for us, they should also be fun and enjoyable. This post reminded me of walking into my local comic book shop for the first time at 24 years old. The second I walked into A Timeless Journey, comic books quickly became my chocolate cake. I wanted the biggest, most chocolate covered,

Captain America cake there was.

To say that comic books are all fun and no work would be foolish – it takes some seriously strong reading skills to make decode of this type of genre.

Readers of comic books, graphic novels, and other types of graphic books must:

  • Lean on inferential skills to create meaning from both text and illustration
    • Political cartoons can be found in highly revered publications such as The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal. These comics require readers to use their schema of current events and politics and the accompanying symbolism to make sense of the one paneled illustration. Why cant we use Garfield comic strips to practice some of these same skills in our classroom?
  • Use meta-cognition to be aware of their understanding of the text – the flow and panel sequence of these texts can sometimes be difficult and counter-intuitive. Re-reading and monitoring are imperative to making sure the story makes sense!
  • Be aware of the different types of dialogue and what they mean!
    • Speech bubbles, thought bubbles, and narration boxes all give the reader different information over the course of the story. Different font types within each of these dialogue devices ask readers to understand different emotional expressions, deriving deeper meaning.
  • Comprehend the context in which the characters or book they are reading fits into a larger fictional universe.
    • If a student is reading a Spider-Man comic book – it helps if they understand that this character does not exist within a fictional vacuum and that there are countless heroes and villains that exist within the Marvel comic book universe. Each of these characters has an impact on the layout and story of that fictional universe at large. This requires readers to apply what they know about a specific event in one book, to events in other books.
    • Following one of Kazu Kibuishi’s Amulet books requires a substantial understanding of the preceding texts, characters, alliances, and backstories. Continuing from one installment to the next without fully comprehending the previous text would be very difficult.

Comic books are rooted in social commentary. They are set in every corner of the worlds, galaxies, and universes both fictional and real. Characters come in all shapes, sizes, colors, creeds and species. A reader seeing themselves represented in a book is one of the most gratifying experiences a reader can have. As important as it for educators to know that students are able to practice these skills while reading, it is even more important to know that this medium of storytelling is one of the BEST at allowing readers to see themselves mirrored in their books.

A diverse selection of heroes, villains, and characters allows readers to not only see themselves and know that they are not alone, they also learn to empathize and connect with characters that do not look like them. I can attest that there have been many times when I have sympathized with Marvel character Groot even though I am not a 23-foot-tall, talking tree from Planet X.

The reasons to include comic books and graphic novels in the classroom are endless. If books can be chocolate cake or vegetables – comic books are Brussels sprouts, wrapped in bacon, covered with chocolate.


Resources About Comic Books, Graphic Novels, and the Classroom:


Post Written by: Paul Orsino

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