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Every Book, Every Reader

I have been confronted with people who disagree with my beliefs before. If you remember last year, my blogging project created some controversy. No one was really for my science notebook blog project and when no better ideas came up, my project was adopted and I struggled to make it relevant to my students and to get the other mentors behind it. Now, in the next semester of this NASA project, the blogs are incredibly popular. They worked. People gained from them and have referred back to them and they generated quite a bit of buzz at the Nebraska Academy of Sciences. Some of the students have even continued some minimal blogging over the summer. Today, I was confronted with someone who disagreed with my beliefs about graphic novels and I don’t know what to do.girl with question mark headThis semester marks my last semester in college before I go out and finally teach. I begin my student teaching in the spring and this fall, I am in a block of classes from 12:30-3:00 PM every day. Today, we began Reading in the Content Areas and our teacher came right out and said that she does not see the value in graphic novels. They are merely comic books and have no real literary value. If a student is reading graphic novels, let them for awhile and then move to ‘real’ books. One student had mentioned before that students shouldn’t just have to read books, but magazine articles, like a shoe article from People. Our teacher responded very positively to this. I was mortified. Shoes articles in magazines with a grade school reading level are better than graphic novels. I about died.People MagazineAfter class, I approached this professor and I asked what graphic novels she had read. I think she thought I was asking for recommendations. She couldn’t remember any titles off the top of her head which I interpret as she hasn’t read enough of them. My friend, Kelsey, and I started a little bit of a conversation of the content of graphic novels because this professor told us that she felt that they lacked “meat.” I brought up the graphic novel Anya’s Ghost by Vera Brosgol which is about a young girl, Anya, a Russian immigrant, who is focused on fitting into her school and diminishing her obvious Russian heritage to fit in with her schoolmates. She is followed around by a ghost of a young girl who seemed to have faced the same challenges sometime in the distant past, except the ghost is hiding a terrible secret. Anya is friends with an Irish girl at school and avoids a young boy who hasn’t lost his Russian accent yet. This is one of the more ‘basic’ graphic novels I’ve read. I think there are lots of things that students of all ages could connect with in this story. I think there are lots of broad overarching universals. I mentioned this and our professor said something along the lines of “but, you have to teach them to find that.” Don’t we have to help all readers find these themes initially? These themes are no more obvious in a novel or a poem than in a graphic novel.

This image is from Anya's Ghost where Anya is dealing with the same self-esteem issues that practically every single girl is dealing with.

This image is from Anya’s Ghost where Anya is dealing with the same self-esteem issues that practically every single girl is dealing with.

One of the things that I truly believe as a future English teacher is that every single book has value – from Fifty Shades of Grey to The Cat in the Hat. It is not my job to be “Book Judge” and say one book has more worth than another book. Other people have been doing that for years, assembling the canon of dead white guys that I can go to if I want to be pretentious and make you feel bad for reading that chick lit that’s sitting on your bedside table or that really awesome western that your friend recommended. If a student is finding books that mean something to them, that make them want to read and read and read until they have to get glasses, I am not going to tell them that what they are reading is not of the same quality as this book over here. Books are like individuals and I cannot say that my blue collar plumber is of less worth than my PhD holding mentor teacher and adviser. I need both and one may not be able to solve the other problem the other one can. I wish people would quit sticking stigmas to books. don't judge a bookWhen I was a middle schooler and even into high school, I read a lot of manga (Asian comic books). I particularly liked shojo, which is a variety of manga that focuses on high school students or college students are typically pretty romantic and drama filled. I loved these books. I devoured these series that contained 30 or more books. I spent hundreds of dollars on them and would watch my local Barnes and Noble to see when the latest book would come out. I wrote fanfiction. I was hooked. Did this mean my reading was meaningless? That it was all fluff and wasted reading? Not at all, I would be surprised when the characters in these stories would be dealing with some serious issues which brought up serious themes, such as rape, eating disorders, emotional and physical abuse within a family and the coping mechanisms there. I was writing prolifically. Were the stories I was writing worth anything? Probably not, but the practice of my craft was invaluable. Was I a ‘bad’ or low-level reader? No. I was reading Jane Eyre in fifth grade and Little Women in fourth. Does this make me better reader than the student who had never touched those novels and only read manga? I would argue no. It makes me a different reader.

An image from the manga Fruits Basket, one of my absolute favorites.

An image from the manga Fruits Basket, one of my absolute favorites.

As a teacher, it is my job to help students grow and diversify their reading habits. It is not my job to discredit a certain type of book. In reading Donalyn Miller’s Reading in the Wild, she mentions how she had been on the fence about graphic novels and she had a student who absolutely adored graphic novels in her class and would read all that she gave him. One day, he brought her a graphic novel and said she should read it. She did and she never discredited a graphic novel again. Written work of all kinds has value. One of the teachers I observed last semester allowed me to bring in several graphic novels and share them with her class. This year, she’s told me she is incorporating them into her curriculum and genre study that she has students do. All books have value, just as every reader has something to contribute to a reading community.

Be Curious, Not JudgementalMaybe I’m being too hasty, but we’ll see.


2 comments on “Every Book, Every Reader

  1. agrang3
    September 12, 2014

    Hey Maggie! I really love this one! I think you make a lot of interesting points on different types of readers. I agree that there aren’t any bad books, just different readers. Thanks for defending graphic novels. They deserve a place in literature just as anything else. Remember when we would read manga all the time in middle school? Remember the fanfiction? Oh man. Good times.

    • lechatdu503
      September 12, 2014

      That’s definitely why I wrote about it. I still sometimes read manga when I’m really craving some fluff. Even my mom is giving graphic novels a chance, though. What’s your favorite graphic novel?

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