Monday, September 3, 2012

He## YES! Graphic Novels Meet Common Core Standards: Here's Why And A List of My Favorites
Reading lists and teaching, like most things in life, can't remain static. They must be fluid, dynamically bending and adjusting to the times and pressing needs. And so, with the urging of my kids, graphic novels have entered my home and my classrooms.

The fact that graphic novels nicely fit Common Core Standard mandates (addressing visual and verbal literacy and the need to teach divergent texts and text structures) helps a lot. The quality selections available and the more modern feel they add to the classroom also help make them excellent curriculum additions.

Here are four general factors that led me to advocate for their classroom use:
1.   There is now a wealth of motivating, high-quality fiction, science fiction, historical fiction, fantasy, or nonfiction graphic novels that lend themselves to content-area classroom use.
2.   With the growth of technology and access to the Internet, there is now an increasing need for visual and verbal literacy mastery emphasized not only in our everyday lives, but also in the Common Core State Standards.
3.   Graphic novels, by their very nature, draw the reader into the story because the reader has to construct the story by actively integrating visual and verbal components. This is both a highly creative and interactive process, which makes learning more meaningful.  
4.   Paired with prose novels and texts these books together enhance the material, make text more approachable for all, allow for in-depth critical reading and comparative discussions about verbal and visual communication, and add a definite 'cool' factor for you and your curriculum.

Here's how graphic novels address the Common Core Standards:

As stated in the Common Core Standards, Reading Standards (across the grades) for literature, information texts must "offer a focus for instruction each year and help ensure that students gain adequate exposure to a range of texts and tasks. Rigor is also infused through the requirement that students read increasingly complex texts through the grades....[incorporating and developing competence with] Key Ideas and Details, Craft and Structure, Integration of Knowledge and Ideas, Range of Reading and Level of Text Complexity. "

HERE are just A FEW ways Graphic novels help meet these standards in a number of ways -

  • They typically use advanced concise vocabulary to tell a story which the images help the reader define the words, and these images provide additional memory associations for those words.  (Addressing Range of Reading and Text Complexity).
  • Their concise language and sequential story panels help readers clearly distinguish between main ideas and details.  This is especially helpful for young readers who so frequently have trouble with this task. (Addressing Key Ideas and Details, Craft and Structure, Range of Reading and Text Complexity).
  • Comparing prose and graphic novels will also provide and excellent distinction between two very different structures of story telling as well as conversations of sentence vs. paragraph vs. chapter development. (Addressing Key Ideas and Details, Craft and Structure, Range of Reading and Text Complexity).
  • Pairing a prose version of a story with a graphic text (for example Treasure Island or A Wrinkle in Time) can help readers gain greater insights and understanding of various literary styles and text structures. (Addressing Craft and Structure, Range of Reading, Text Complexity and Integration of Knowledge and Ideas).
  • As the themes, ideas, characters, and events are developed in a visually sequential manner in graphic novels, it is easy to chart their development.  (Addressing Key Ideas and Details, Craft and Structure, Range of Reading and Text Complexity).
  •  Aside from analyzing the development of existing ideas, themes, events and characters in  graphic novels, once familiar with this format, you can have students design their own graphic novels as a means of practicing and integrating the development of developing and sequencing main ideas. (Addressing Craft and Structure, Range of Reading, Text Complexity and Integration of Knowledge and Ideas).
  • Graphic novels often tell a story from ONE perspective. Teachers can assign students to create alternative stories (whether written in prose or in graphic novel format) to reflect alternate perspectives. (Addressing Craft and Structure, Range of Reading, Text Complexity and Integration of Knowledge and Ideas).
  • Creating graphic novels is an excellent exercise in word usage, metaphor, and creative communication.
  • Organizing a graphic novel page is an excellent exercise in math (Operations and algebraic thinking, Measurement and Data, Geometry, Analyze patterns and relationships - to name a few).
  • When students create their own graphic novels aside from the meeting math Common Core Standards (see above), it also addresses standards in writing (Text types and purposes, production and distribution of writing, range of writing).
  • Graphic novels can (and should) be used in social studies to provide perspectives and discussions relating to National Council for Social Studies Teaching Standards: Culture and Cultural Diversity; Time, Continuity and Change; People, Places and Environments; Individual Identity and Development; Power, Authority and Governance; Production, Distribution and Consumption; Global Connections; and Civic Ideals and Practices)


For Grades 3-8:

  •  Squish:  Super Amoeba by Jennifer and Matthew Holm  (Grades 4+) is about the world of single-celled friends (Squish, Peggy and Pod) as they navigate school, bullies and life.  These ameoba and paramecium move and interact with their environment in a very creative (and relatively true to life) way.  It is a great introduction to pond life and the single-celled world and a great way to teach distinguishing fact from fiction, and an author's use of both to tell a story.  This is a series of books including Squish:  Brave New Pond and Squish:  The Power of the Parasite
  • Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke.  (Grades 2+) When her friend Joseph is reluctant to touch a "button" they found in a field, Zita just can't resist.  The button zaps Joseph into a black hole whisking him off to another world.  Zita leaps to his rescue and finds herself chasing his trail through a strange planet with humanoid chickens, neurotic robots and sweet-talking con-men. Here is a link to Ben Hatke's web pages for more characters and glimpses at Zita.
  • Anya's Ghost by Vera Brosgol (Grades 4+) is a story about how a ghost (named Emily) who is 'rescued' by Anya when she falls down a well, and helps Anya deal with the awkward teen years.  She helps Anya address her self consciousness about her looks, her friends and being popular, with Anya's embarrassment of her family (who are very ethnic), and with her rebellious, confused emotions.  It is a lovely coming of age book. 
  • Bake Sale by Sara Varon (Grades 4+) weaves a salivating tale of friendship, chemistry, baking, and marching bands. It is about friends using creative ideas to help each other with life's dreams and unavoidable obstacles. Life's solutions (at least in this book) revolve around baking. There are seven recipes from classic cupcakes and cookies to sugared flower petals to marzipan.  It is wonderfully heart-warming and creative. 
  • Amelia Rules by Jimmy Gownley.  (Grades 4+) Amelia McBride has to adjust to life in a new town after her parents' divorce.  She and her new friends face adolescence, bullies, gym class, cheerleaders, clubs, cliques, and many other knocks life seems to hand them. Amelia has spunk and character and in times of stress is eased and guided by her super-cool, famous aunt (rock star). Jimmy Gownley tells their story with grace and humor.
  • City of Spies by Susan Kim and Laurence Klaven  (Grades 3+) This is graphic novel tells a historical fiction story depicting life in New York City in the summer of 1942.  Evelyn and her friend Tony uncover a German spy ring after seeing newsreels asking citizens to help in the war effort.
  • Laika by Nick Abadzis (Grade 4+)  is about Laika the first sentient being (a dog) sent into space by the Russians in 1957, and a story of the space race. It is all about character and political trade-offs.
  • The Olympians  (Zeus, Athena, Hera, Hades) (Grades 4+) by George O'Connor are a collection of books on Greek mythology. The story is true to classic Greek myth, and the illustrations and panel /page arrangements are breathtaking. Each book comes with suggested lesson plans, suggested supplemental reading lists, and a family tree of the Greek gods.  George O'Connor will be making books for each of the Greek gods.
  •  Mouse Guard by Luke Crane and David Petersen (Grades 4+) a graphic novel much like Brian Jacques' Redwall series, representing life in the middle ages as lived by personified woodland creatures.
  • Resistance Trilogy by Carla Jablonski and Leland Purvis - (Grade 5+)  historical fiction about friends growing up in World War II occupied France. These friends and their families must decide how they want to survive: resist, remain 'indifferent', or befriend their German occupiers. They all chose somewhat different paths and must face the resulting consequences.
  •  Northwest Passage by Scott Chantler (Grades 4+) This non-fiction story-provides a wonderful account of this pivotal story in American history (with author annotation to help those novice visual readers AND provides additional reading suggestions and historical details).
  • Lewis andClark by Nick Bertozzi (Grades 4+) another non-fiction visual/verbal gem recounting how the expedition was organized and the perils its members faced.
  • Rust:  Visitor in the Field by Royden Lepp (Grades 4+) is a gripping story of Roman Taylor who struggles in a world similar to ours (which looks a lot like dust-bowl Oklahoma). He is trying to save his family's small farm which was devastated by a war.  One day a boy with a jet pack lands in his field and Romam begins to discover the secrets of Jet's past as he develops greater hopes for the future.  20th Century Fox has already picked up the rights to this awesome story.
  • American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang (Grades 6+) incorporates the retelling of one of the oldest Chinese Fables, the Monkey King, with two other stories - one about Wang, the only Chinese American in his school and the other about his cousin Chin-Kee the ultimate negative Chinese stereotype who comes to visit him. This book brilliantly weaves American and Chinese cultural issues and is a great 'coming of age' story and is all about cultural heritage. It is an Eisner Award winer, Michael L. Printz Award Winner, and National Book Award Nominee. 
  • I Kill  Giants by Joe Kelly. (Grades 6+) Barbara is a fifth grader who tells anyone who will listen that she kills giants.  Initially we're uncertain if she really kills giants, or if she lives in a world of her own out of touch with others, or if this is one giant metaphor for her having to face huge scary issues in her life. And, while I won't ruin this powerfully told story, Barbara is an awesome fifth grader who while uncertain about herself and her physical or mental strength, faces social and personal issues valiantly. 
  • Americus by MK Reed and Jonathan Hill (Grades 6+) is about a book-loving boy from Americus, a small town in Oklahoma whose mother leads the town in a book-banning frenzy.  This story deals head on with book-banning and adolescence in a sensitive, honest manner and is full of ethical dilemmas.
  • The Silence of Our Friends by Mark Long, Jim Demonakos and Nate Powell (Grades 6+) - a true story about a white male reporter and his family living in Texas during the Civil Rights Movement. The father must make career and life choices while trying to do the 'right thing." The struggles of segregation and the Civil Rights movement are clearly and sensitively depicted.
  • The United States Constitution: A Graphic Adaptation  by Jonathan Hennessey and Aaron McConnell (Grades 6+) is one of the BEST books I've ever read dealing with our Constitution - for kids AND adults. It describes the precipitating factors and events that led to our Nation's birth and clearly and succinctly details our Constitution's preamble and twenty-seven Amendments. It portrays the story of our history with incredible power, depth, and insight.

For High School Teens and Older :

  •  The United States Constitution: A Graphic Adaptation  by Jonathan Hennessey and Aaron McConnell
  • BB Wolf and the Three LPs as told by JD Arnold with illustrations by Richard Koslowski (graphic novel, Grades 10+) provides plenty of twists to this classic story for teens and older. In this tale, the wolf is a Southern farmer by day (living in Money, Mississippi, 1920) and blues musician at night until the PPP try to wrangle his family's farm. While built on the story of the Three Little Pigs, this is an excellent allegory that touches on the Delta Blues, the Klu-Klux-Klan, the Jim Crow laws of the South, and the powerful effect of segregation and discrimination.  This is also an excellent lesson of how history is written by the more powerful or victorious.   
  • Feynman by Jim Ottaviani and Leland Myrick (Grades 8+) visually and verbally relates Nobel winning physicist Richard Feynman's life from childhood, to his work on the Manhattan Project, his exposure of the Challenger disaster, his work on quantum electrodynamics, and his antics in art and music. 

  • Persepolous by Marjane Satrapi (Grades 9+) is an autobiographical graphic novel depicting Satrapi's young adult years in Iran during and after the Islamic revolution.
  • Mause by Art Spiegelman (Grades 10+)  tells the story of his father's experiences as a Polish Jew Holocaust survivor.  It was the first graphic novel to win a PULITZER PRIZE.
  • The Silence of Our Friends by Mark Long, Jim Demonakos and Nate Powell
  • Americus by MK Reed and Jonathan Hill
  • I Kill  Giants by Joe Kelly
  • American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang

[Note: I have also included a few titles from the list above because they can and should be used in high school as well - although lessons around them would clearly be different.] 


  • Read them critically (as you would any prose novel or text), discussing how characters, plot, and events are developed.  Discuss word usage and how these themes are related with fewer words.
  • Read them critically discussing how images, color, and fonts are used to relate and relay story themes, emotions, and how characters' insights  to the reader.
  • Pair them with prose novels and discuss how the story-telling changes, how the use of sentences, paragraphs and chapters change.  Discuss the use (or absence) of narration.  Compare and contrast story structure and word usage.
  • Pair graphic and prose novels and discuss how metaphor is relayed differently.
  • Have students construct their own graphic novels either as a geometry/math lesson or as a means of relaying story structure, story sequence and word usage.
  • Use non-fiction graphic novels in science and history content area classes to introduce or enhance texts, discussing the different roles each literary format plays in relaying important information.
  • JUST HAVE FUN reading beautifully illustrated texts with strongly told stories!!!!

This post just touches the tip of the iceberg.  In the comments, please feel free to leave ways you use graphic novels at home or in your classrooms, and please leave your favorite titles.
Thank you for  your visit, please come visit again soon!


  1. That's interesting! I think graphic novels can be quite wonderful. I think that books that make people love reading more are just great...

  2. I haven't read very many graphic novels but I think my favorite one is Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi. :) I read it for a college class recently.

  3. There seems to be a greater movement for college classes to teach these (I work at a University) and I think it's great!

  4. Your posts are always presented so well for educational purposes. Carver, ABC Wed. Team

  5. This post, in particular, I need to send to my wife, who is an ESL teacher.
    ROG, ABC Wednesday team

  6. Wonderful list of books. I wish there had been books like this way back in the Dark Ages when I was young.
    Thank you for posting this.

  7. I know of several of the books you list that are being used in the classrooms here and that kids are reading on their own.

    abcw team

  8. A fascinating post. Anything that encourages kids to read more.

  9. Ooooh! I'm taking notes - I'm betting Princess Nagger would enjoy any one or all of those - and I'd like her to take a break from the Soul Eater ones she's obsessed with right now. ;)

    Creepy Spider, Homework Fun, Young Lady vs. Ma’am, Vanilla Coke Shortage, Secret Chocolate Stash and Dino Twitter – RTT Rebel

  10. My 8 year old prefers graphic novels, otherwise she gets bored. Great suggestions :)

    Happy WW!

  11. Excellent list of books that I will share with my boys. Thank you!

  12. Some of these look as though they might fall under the definition of comics except for the nature of content perhaps, i like the rephrasing of graphic novels. I think we can use these types of venues to learn at any age. I know some that I have read which are historic based stay with me better becasue of their illustrations.

  13. We like watching Fin and Jake at home.

    Hygiene, your comment will be highly appreciated.
    Have a great Wednesday

  14. Another excellent and informative post ~ well done ~ (A Creative Harbor)

  15. So many wonderful books, and a great guide for any educator. It almost make me wish I was starting out in grade 3 again:-)

  16. This is a great post, love to encourages children to read more...

    Thanks for stopping by
    Happy Wednesday!

  17. Very cool. I just added the Constitution one in my Amazon cart. Thanks for the tip!
    Here from the Hop.

  18. New follower from the GFC blog hop!! :) Can't wait to hear from you :)

    xoxo - kylie

  19. I am always amazed at the wealth of resources you provide us with each week. If I was homeschooling, I would be referring to your site for all this info!

  20. Thank you for linking up to Thankful Thursday with me at First Day of My Life! :) ox

    These are so interesting!!!

    Are you really Dr Jaffe or is it a publicist of hers?? I was a psych student in college and most of my psych textbooks were YOURS!!

  21. You know something? I don't get to read books much. At one point, I thought I was so ODD! Recently SO expressed what I've always said about reading - really, sit still for 20 minutes with a book? - that's pure luxury, and we don't have the time. Now, I know I am not so ODD...he used to be an avid reader...

  22. I had just finished rereading one of my favorite graphic novels, DC's "Identity Crisis". It's not your typical superhero outing. It's a thrilling mystery, with an outcome you may not expect. Unfortunately, it does have an act of violence, while generally alluded to, but not graphically depicted, that makes this novel not 100% appropriate for students.

    My point (and I do have one) is that it made me realize how perfect graphic novels could be for implementing the Common Core State Standards. I plan on heading down to our local comic shop (Meltdown) and finding equally complex but more age appropriate novels to bring into my classroom.