Graphic Novels for Middle Grades Kids

Do They Count as Real Reading?

When I started teaching in the classroom – in what we’ll call the Early 21st Century – one of my sixth graders was obsessed with the Babymouse books. I tried and tried to steer her to other parts of the library, but every week she ended up with Babymouse. At the time, I did not know a lot of graphic novels for middle grades kids and figured that comic books were the territory of older boys and young men who were into superheroes.

I wish I knew then what I know now: that graphic novels are a great fit for readers of all ages. From early readers, who love reading Elephant & Piggie, to older readers who gain a deeper understanding of MacBeth, the graphic format has a place on any teacher’s shelf! There are tons of excellent graphic novels for middle grades readers. There are so many great graphic books to discover!

Graphic novels are also great “gateway” stories to get reluctant readers interested in books. Graphic novels can be an excellent option for reluctant readers, for kids who are not reading as well as their peers, and for any kid who is looking for a fun read. They have become especially popular among 9-year-olds, who enjoy the engaging visuals and compelling stories these books offer. For students around this third/fourth grade transition, graphic novels give them the more complex stories they find interesting, while using detailed graphics that enhance vocabulary and visualization.

But are graphic novels “real” reading?

Graphic novels are great for developing some parts of a child’s reading skill. Having pictures to go with the story helps to develop kids’ understanding of the plot, and graphic novels could start a lot of great conversations about character development. A good graphic novel can also provide illustrations for challenging vocabulary.

Graphic novels have a plot, characters, setting, problem, resolution, and dialogue to analyze. They also give the student additional opportunities to compare their understanding to the illustrator’s, or to compare the graphic and traditional versions of the same story.

The Downside

But graphic novels don’t address all parts of the reading equation. Because they usually have short sentences of text, they are not a good way for students to develop reading fluency. For that, kids should be reading connected text on a page at their independent level or just a bit above.

Graphic novels are also not usually great text for practicing sounding out words. Too often, there are enough clues in the pictures to help kids guess at words they don’t know. This can be a great support for kids who have trouble getting through a story because it has too many words they can’t read. However, it can help kids avoid sounding out words if that’s something difficult for them.

So do I recommend graphic novels for the middle grades? Heck yes!

Think of them as the snack food in a healthy diet. Eating well means having a variety of foods and striking a balance between treats and leafy greens. Graphic novels do stretch a student’s reading skills, and they’re certainly not junk food. But a reading diet made up of only graphic novels is not good for your child’s reading health. Enjoy them, but don’t forget to read some text-only books, too, because it’s important to find a balance.

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Ready to give graphic novels a try?

Here are some of the graphic novel series that are capturing my students’ imaginations, especially those around the age of 9:

  • Geronimo Stilton: Geronimo is a mouse in the newspaper business who solves mysteries and crimes with his friends. They are somewhere in between a graphic novel and a chapter book, with whole paragraphs of text, lots of illustrations, and fun fonts and text effects that emphasize the words. These are a great fit for second, third, and fourth graders.
  • Captain Underpants: Ugh, not my favorites, but I’m not the one who has to read them. These are silly and kind of gross and may not be a fit for every classroom or family. But they are hugely popular. These books seem to hit peak popularity in second and third grade.
  • Dog Man: Another Dav Pilkey series, Dog Man combines humor and action in a way that appeals to young readers. The illustrations are lively and engaging, making it a favorite among 9-year-olds.
  • Big Nate: These seem to have content that appeals to older elementary (fourth-sixth grade) readers. But they are written at a level that second and third graders can access. I find that younger readers in third and fourth grade don’t get all the jokes.
  • Diary of a Wimpy Kid: These are one of the most popular series of graphic novels, especially now that there’s a movie. Like Geronimo Stilton, these have a mix of paragraphs of the story with cartoon illustrations. Fourth grade seems to be the sweet spot for this series.
  • Amulet: This series is getting passed around by a lot of upper elementary students I know. It’s illustrated in the more familiar “comic book” style you might imagine when you hear graphic novel. There are lots of colorful pages and a fantasy setting and plot. This series seems to appeal to both boys and girls at the fourth and fifth grade levels.
  • Bone: Bone is a cute little guy who looks like Casper the Friendly Ghost. He goes on adventures through strange and engaging lands. It seems to appeal to third and fourth graders.

Conclusion

Graphic novels for middle grades readers can play a significant role in their reading development. These books provide an engaging and visually stimulating way to encourage reading among reluctant readers and those who may struggle with traditional texts. They shouldn’t be the only thing a kid reads. However, they can complement other reading strategies and offer a fun, accessible entry point into the world of books.

By integrating graphic novels with traditional reading, parents and educators can create a balanced reading experience that nurtures a love for literature while developing crucial reading skills. So go ahead and let your child dive into the colorful and imaginative world of graphic novels – they just might discover a newfound passion for reading.

If your child is struggling to move beyond graphic-heavy books, sometimes it’s a sign of weak reading skills. Contact us today for a consultation to find out how Orton-Gillingham tutoring online can help!

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