Teenagers Reading

research for my PhD thesis

“Real” reading

with 4 comments

There’s been a discussion on the GNLIB-L email list about whether reading a graphic novel is the equivalent of reading an ordinary book. This is something I’ll be discussing in my literature review for my thesis. (I’ve already done most of my lit review, but the rest of my thesis is still a work in progress.) A teacher librarian on GNLIB-L asked if reading graphic novels leads to reading other materials and someone from a public library asked why this is necessary,

comics and graphic novels are not just a phase that readers go through. They are a physical format that many readers enjoy, and in many cases become part of an ongoing reading experience.

Another public librarian said,

I am happy to see kids, teens, adults, reading anything.

I’ve been transcribing recordings from interviews I did with librarians about their graphic novel collections and I’ve just come across the same discussion in an interview with a teacher librarian. Like the teacher librarians on GNLIB-L, she wanted students to branch out after reading graphic novels. (I’ve changed people’s names to ensure confidentiality).

Researcher: Do you think they [graphic novels] encourage reluctant readers to read?
Renee: I don’t, no.
Researcher: Yeah?
Renee: No, I think they’re really an acquired taste. And I think what they do is they…they’re a bit of a safety blanket for students who are maybe not the keenest of readers. Who aren’t very adventurous. We’ve got a couple of Year 8s in that category who it’s really hard to get off the…[graphic novels] and get them onto other things. Having said that I had a little look at the students who tend to read only this stuff and not much else and had a look in their records to see what else they’ve read over the last couple of years. And it’s all predominantly fantasy…And often quite complex you know, quite intricately written stuff. So it’s not that they can’t read it’s just that…
Researcher: They like that genre.
Renee: Yeah.
Renee: But some of them you have to definitely push them out of their comfort zone and get them to read something else. We’ve got a scheme running in Year 8 at the moment…where they’re encouraged to read from a variety of different genres and in the early days there are two students in particular I can think of who are from an Asian background who every time it came to doing a task on a book they would pick manga and do it on those and you know, the teacher and I were sort of trying to funnel them off that channel onto something else. I mean we’ve got there now, but as soon as something else graphic comes in you know they want…
Researcher: They want that.
Renee: Yeah and they’re all searching the catalogue to see what there is and what we’ve got.
Researcher: Yeah. So you don’t think it’s like some people think, “Oh it’s fine if they only ever read graphic novels.” You do try to get them to read…
Renee: Oh, in the same way, if someone only ever read fantasy.
Researcher: Yeah.
Renee: I’d say, “Try something else, try historical fiction or try something from a different genre.”
Researcher: So you think variety is the best thing?
Renee: I think, well…I mean how do you know what else is out there if you don’t have a little try of it? Yes, it would be a bit like saying someone could only eat Italian food for the rest of their life. You know, not try any of the other things.

Renee the teacher librarian is a bit contradictory in what she says. While she thinks GNs don’t lead to reading other things, she mentioned the students who also read fantasy. But as mentioned on GNLIB-L, fantasy (and sci-fi)

are genres that still don’t get the respect they deserve from many “literary” minded people.

This interview highlights the difference between public and school libraries. A school librarian on GNLIB-L said,

as teachers we have some responsibility to help kids find out about all genres and formats.

The interview I transcribed before this was with Nathan, a former public library colleague who was also an avid reader of comics and graphic novels. He went to a new employer and was very happy to work at improving their graphic novel collection. Although a library clerk he advised the YA librarian on purchases and greatly enjoyed accompanying her to comic shops with $1000 to spend. He was passionate in saying graphic novels were equivalent to ordinary (text only) books and a legitimate part of literature, comparing the drawings to artwork and thus the books to literature.

This made me wonder if it was whether a person enjoyed reading the format themselves that lead them to think it was fine to only read graphic novels and not go onto reading ordinary books. The majority of the population doesn’t read or enjoy comics and graphic novels, and Renee the teacher librarian told me she didn’t like reading them herself, “Personally it doesn’t do it for me.” As well as the differences between school and public librarian’s goals, this could be a factor in the situation.

Of course Renee and Nathan are only two case studies and I can’t generalize from that to everyone, but it’s something to discuss in my thesis.


Written by ClareSnow

15 March 2008 at 4:47 pm

4 Responses

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  1. Hi,

    I grew up as a reluctant reader. Now I write action-adventures & mysteries, especially for boys 8 and up, that kids hate to put down. My web site is at http://www.maxbooks.9k.com and my Books for Boys blog is at http://booksandboys.blogspot.com
    Ranked by Accelerated Reader

    Thank you,

    Max Elliot Anderson

    Max Elliot Anderson

    15 March 2008 at 9:13 pm

  2. […] novels Enticing teenagers into the library « “Real” reading Real reading vs Literary reading 18 March 2008 I’ve just read Adolescents talk […]

  3. i think that reading graphic novels makes for a different rather than a better read…definitely an ‘acquired taste’…and for those not blessed with fabulous reading/literacy skills, the graphic depictions of the plot must surely enhance the reader’s understanding, which may lead to less anxiety about reading, and hopefully encourage them to step outside their comfort zones…


    27 March 2008 at 8:52 pm

  4. […] a comment » I previously blogged about whether reading a graphic novel is equivalent to reading a conventional book. Some of the teenagers I talked to thought this wasn’t the case, but most of the librarians […]

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