Traverse City Record-Eagle

Life

March 30, 2009

Graphic novels for reluctant readers

TRAVERSE CITY -- Penny Colenso knows the good graphic novels can do and she's frustrated Traverse City High School doesn't have any.

"I'm going to write a grant," she said. "These type of kids would really enjoy them."

Colenso is a long-term substitute at the alternative high school and has 25 years' experience working in school and public libraries, including a stint at Silver Lake Elementary before she retired in 2007.

"The pictures capture their attention. You can get them with the pictures," she said.

Area educators, librarians and readers are split on the effectiveness of using graphic novels as a way to get reluctant readers enthusiastic -- but all agree that reading what some call glorified comic books is better than reading nothing at all.

Linda Smith, the public computer center coordinator at the Traverse Area District Library, says one of the good things about graphic novels is how quickly they can be read.

"A regular reader can read one in 20 minutes to a half-hour," said Smith, who also coordinates the library's manga (see sidebar) collection. "A reluctant reader can probably read one in an evening, so they get to the end and feel some accomplishment."

Steven Miller, 21, a first-year student at the Great Lakes Maritime Academy, says it's the action in graphic novels that hooks him.

"They have good stories," he said. He admitted there were about 10 years earlier in his life that all he did was "read graphic novels and play video games," until his 10th-grade English teacher introduced him to "The Count of Monte Cristo." Now he reads both "regular books" and graphic novels and says the graphic novels are a "great escape from the huge words" and technical memorization of his textbooks.

As an elementary librarian, Colenso steered hesitant readers towards the "Michigan Chillers" and "Captain Underpants" series, she said. "You let them read whatever they want and they eventually come looking for more."

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