Why Graphic Books Are for All Readers of All Ages

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Reviewer's Rating
Jul 8, 2020

I say "graphic books" because not all are novels, and the ones I am most often drawn to are the graphic nonfiction--bios, memoirs, history lessons. I am not an expert on graphic books; I do not have boxes of comic collections accumulated since childhood (though I do fondly remember reading some of my older brother's X-Men comics as a kid--intrigued by smart, strong females like Storm, Jubilee, Rogue); but perhaps because I approach graphic books from a more literary view, I can translate their value to those who might otherwise relegate "comics" to their not-to-be-read shelf.

Adults, let's take a moment to remember the books we loved as kids--what did they all have in common? PICTURES. And what did these images do? Allow us to follow along even before we knew what all the letters meant. When words and pictures are paired, we have the advantage of getting to relate to what we're reading in multiple ways--the images can deepen the words and/or the words intensify the images. Kids and teens seem to get this, but I've often heard parents request books for their children that are not comics, as if graphic books don't "count" as reading.

Here are a few reasons I think graphic books are just as valuable as print-only books:

  • Nonfiction on hard topics can be more relatable this way--I enjoy learning about history and current events but often nonfiction books are so stuffed with info and written in such a stilted fashion that I just can't get through them. The graphic nonfiction I've read has focused on the essential info, illustrating it in clarifying ways, and remembering that even facts are part of a story. However, they can also bring up deeper emotions because of the images so be prepared.

    • Maus 1 & 2 - the first graphic books I recall reading (pretty sure it was when I was in college) - I was awed that a story about the Holocaust could be told like this.
    • March 1-3 - John Lewis's trilogy memoir of the Civil Rights era - I learned so much from these and he approaches his own story with such thoughtfulness and wisdom.
    • Treaties, Trenches, Mud, and Blood - this book, written for middle grade readers, did more to help me understand WWI than anything I've encountered; there are definitely silly aspects to how Hale creates this series, but the facts are explained so well I was amazed--and it's the pictures that truly help.
    • Brazen - dips into the lives of 30 historic women from around the world, some more well known than others but all fascinating to learn about.
  • Bios/Memoirs - well done ones seem extra poignant in this format.
    • They Called Us Enemy - I learned a ton about the Japanese-American experience in the US during WWII from this.
    • Persepolis 1 & 2 - these offer a fascinating glimpse into the life of an Iranian woman; a film was also made using the illustrations.
    • Agatha - an intriguing look into Agatha Christie, including the mysterious time she disappeared for 11 days.
    • Hey Kiddo - author/illustrator Jarrett Krosoczka shares his experience growing up with his grandparents because his mom was an addict .
  • Just good stories - sometimes it's gratifying to read a good story with good pictures.
    • White Bird - WWII story about a Jewish woman survivor.
    • Queen of the Sea - medieval strong female adventure.
    • I Am Alfonso Jones - when a Black teen is shot, his ghost tells the aftermath of his story.
    • Illegal - illegal alien children trying to get to safety.
    • War Brothers - follows child soldiers in Uganda. This book was devastating, but felt important to read.
  • Graphic adaptations of novels, like films, can offer another way to enjoy the story you already liked, not as a replacement but as an additional experience. Of the ones I've read, they always include the best quotes so you still get to enjoy the original language.
    • The Handmaid's Tale
    • To Kill a Mockingbird
    • Speak - I read this without knowing it was an adaptation; still need to read the actual book. This is impressive as is.
    • The Little Prince - I love the original book, but this had a charm all its own & honored much of what I already loved.
    • Red Rising Sons of Ares - while not an adaptation, per se, this is a prequel to Pierce Brown's Red Rising series, which explores the origins of the rebel group that features in the novels, allowing fans to experience more of the world in a new way.

If you've never read a graphic book, I encourage you to dip your toe in this summer and try at least one. And if award-winning books are your go-to, check out the recent winners of the Eisner, Harvey, and Ignatz Awards.

Reviewed by Bet M
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