Prose vs. Graphic Novels and the demands reading them place on memory.
Prose Novels: When reading anything in print we have to remember:
- The shapes and corresponding sounds of letters;
- We have to remember the corresponding sounds of letter blends,
- We have to remember vocabulary (recalling the spelling of words to more efficiently decode them as well as their defintions),
- We have to remember what we just read and if it makes sense vis-a-vis what you read a few sentences ago (metacognition - keeping track of our comprehension),
- We have to remember rules of grammar and punctuation, and
- When reading we have to constantly keep track of plot, time, motives, names, places and events.
Reading places demands on short term memory, long term memory, and active working memory.
- ALL the demands on memory listed above for prose novels PLUS:
- We have to remember not only the words we read, but the sequence scenes we view in the panels.
- We have to remember what occurred in the previous panel while constructing and inferring what was not included in the gutter.
- We also have to remember the artist's different use of font and panel borders. (Sometimes, for example squiggly lines around a panel means someone is thinking, sometimes it can mean they are angry.
- We have to keep track of the particular artists' intent in the choice of letter fonts and sizes, and panel divisions and borders. The art, while adding an emotional and very engaging component, also adds additional demands on memory.
- When reading comics or a graphic novel series we also have to remember small sequences of the story over a long period of time. With comics, only a small segment of the story is printed at a time, with weeks between issues. The reader has to keep track of plot, motives, intents, etc. [And, while we do this as well with sequels for books, the stories in each prose novel book are complete and easier to remember than the small segments readers are given at each comic installment. The disjointed story makes it more difficult to remember.]
- Read comic books in regular installments. Read them together with your kids and:
- Talk about them.
- Brainstorm where you think the author(s) will take the next installment.
- Before reading the next installment, review what has happened so far.
- Discuss how the art helps you remember certain aspects of the story.
- Discuss how the art provides cues to help your mind read and not have to think or remember reading strategies. For example, different fonts and borders may help you realize this is a flash-back. Also, different art styles within a comic can cue your mind in terms of which sequence panels should be read in. Once you realize the artist's intent, it frees your mind to focus on other issues.
- Whether reading these books together or individually, you may want to create story maps to visually "see" where the story is going (and help remember details).
There are now many kids non-fiction and historical fiction graphic novels. Pairing these graphic novels with science, social studies, history and language arts in the classroom will help provide graphic images as well as complementary content that will help make the educational content more meaningful and easier to recall. Here are a few young adult nonfiction and historical fiction graphic novel suggestions (recommended age ranges vary):
- American Born Chinese (Yang, G.) a perspective of growing up as a multicutural minority student (recommeded for middles school and above);
- Laika (Abadzis, N.)- provides a Russian perspective to the Space Race (third grade and above);
- Mouse Guard (Petersen, D.) - perspective of life in the Middle Ages (fourth grade and above);
- The Olympians (O'Connor, G.)- provides a wonderfully visual account of Greek myths (third grade and above);
- Persepolis (Satrapi, M.) - the story of childhood in Iran (recommended for mature middle school - high school);
- Kampung Boy (Lat) - about a Muslim boy growing up in rural Malaysia in the 1950's (middle school and above);
- Malcolm X: A Graphic Biography (Helfer, R.D.) - critiques the Civil Rights Movement and Malcolm X's life (recommended for high school);
- Campfire Graphic Novels have published re-tellings of classic stories such as Treasure Island and Moby Dick and some of Shakespeare's classics (Macbeth, Julius Caesar, Romeo and Juliet, for example) that you may want to check out.
Most of all, you want to enjoy the reading experience! Let me know what your favorite non-fiction and historical fiction comics/graphic novels are.