By Jenny McCluskey, Collection Development Librarian II
Last month, I participated in the second SDCC-hosted Conference for Educators and Librarians (#SDCCEL) at the San Diego Public Library. Highlights of this year’s programming at SDCCEL, which focuses on K-12, public libraries, publishers, and higher ed, included panels on ethnic/cultural diversity, promoting mental health, using comics for different learning styles, and how to handle challenges to titles.
The aim of the annual conference is for librarians, educators, publishers, and other comic advocates to help foster a greater understanding of the relevance of comics and graphic novels in school curricula, and to ultimately help educators go “beyond Maus and Persepolis,”as panelist Amie Wright, manager of school outreach for New York Public Library, writes. While these titles are excellent for schools, educators and other key stakeholders need to look beyond them for title adoption, because the depth and breadth of comics just might surprise them.
Of course, there are other graphic novels that have more recently gained ground in schools. Probably the most well-known example is March, the award-winning trilogy of graphic novels co-written by Rep. John Lewis, which was notably adopted by the NYC public schools for teaching the American Civil Rights movement to eighth graders. Despite this success, and other titles becoming a staple in school libraries over the past few decades, there is still much to be done to gain traction with comics and graphic novel adoption into K-12 curricula. Some say this is largely fueled by the misconception that comics and graphic novels have little to no educational aspect to them, dismissing them as glorified picture books for teens and adults. This is not a new idea. The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund notes since the 1930s, “the comics medium has been stigmatized as low-value speech,” and to this day, there are those who believe comics have little to no place in K-12 classrooms. But, as advocates in all professions already know, this format encompasses as many age and reading levels, topics, subject areas, and genres as exist in prose, and more.
The much-employed argument that comics and graphic novels greatly benefit reluctant readers and ESL/ELL students still rings true; however, it’s also important to note the advantages of teaching graphic novels do not end there, nor do they end with supporting social studies curricula. For example, many teachers are finding that there are quality graphic adaptations of classics that, when used alongside the text, make the likes of Shakespeare more accessible for students. “Graphic novels can be highly beneficial when teaching a lesson on literary devices,” says Jeanne Martin, K-12 Media Specialist for Ingram Library Services. “Abstract concepts such as metaphor and foreshadowing are made more concrete for students when they not only read the narrative but see it come alive with illustration.”
My mention of these examples only scratches the surface of what comics can do in classrooms. Many educators know these titles exist, but they could use that helping hand to find the best titles and the right argument to champion their cause. And that’s why SDCCEL, and the idea behind it, is so vital. Looking ahead to next year, San Diego Central Public Library’s programming and special events coordinator-librarian, Erwin Magbanua, promises, “even more collaboration between librarians, publishers, and educators throughout the Conference to bring attendees even richer content and discussion.” SDCCEL is open to all SDCC participants as well as librarians and educators. Make your plans to attend in 2018!
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