Step into the time machine and take a little trip with me to my rural Iowa hometown. The year is 1965 and we are outside the popular five and dime store, Ben Franklin. Does anyone else remember those stores? Upon entering, if you take a sharp right turn, you will find the impressive display rack full of the latest and greatest comic book offerings. Chances are, we will see a seven-year-old “Little Billy” (me) looking at each available comic, trying to figure out what to spend my hard-earned paper route money on this week. At a whopping 10 or 15 cents each, I had to plan my purchases carefully. If I was lucky, I would have another dime left over to buy a slingshot!
Oh, the choices! Some of my favorites included Archie, Batman, Dennis the Menace, Mickey Mouse, the Flintstones, the Jetsons, Casper the Friendly Ghost, and if I was feeling adventuresome…the Twilight Zone! But those comic book creators would often toss a monkey wrench into my budget by offering random “hot topic” comics related to current TV shows. Now I had to consider foregoing my Richie Rich comic for special edition titles such as Bonanza, I Dream of Jeannie, and the Beverly Hillbillies!
With final decisions made, I would pay for my new acquisitions, hop on my Stingray bike, and head for home where I would spend the next several hours reading all the new adventures of my comic book favorites. Were these comics award-winning literature? No, not at all. But they were so darn engaging that it ended up being the perfect recipe to help me develop a lifelong love of reading.
That brings me to the sections of our library where we shelve “graphic novels”. What is a graphic novel? Websters defines them as "a fictional story that is presented in comic-strip format and published as a book." Basically, they are comic books all grown up!
Why then are graphic novels sometimes looked down upon by some parents…and even a few teachers? It is upsetting to librarians when kids come looking for something good to read and they tell us, “I am not allowed to check out graphic novels.” Quite often, adults view these books as nothing but the “funny papers” without much substance, but I would like to clear up a few of these misconceptions.
First of all, most graphic novels are FULL of text. They have a unique combination of drawings and words that the reader must analyze, interpret, and comprehend. Graphic novels also have lots of plot and character development to help the reader gain perspective and aid in their reading comprehension. Possibly the most important aspect of graphic novels is they are so engaging, especially for reluctant readers. Many kids, just like Little Billy, are visual learners and these books are just the ticket to capture the imagination…and hopefully hook them into the love of reading.
Should graphic novels replace traditional text-only books? No way! But they make a great addition to spice up anyone’s reading routine. Which reminds me…there are graphic novels for ALL reading levels, from kids to teens to adults. You just have to look in the age-appropriate section of the library.
One last note about comic books…had I the insight to save all those early comic books in archival bags, I would now be sitting on my private yacht anchored at a luxurious Caribbean resort, as vintage comics have become expensive collectibles. However, I think reading them, rather than saving them, was a better investment in myself!