My wife and I just finished watching though all of Boy Meets World again on Disney Plus. It was a good time. I really loved that show as a kid, and it was good to reconnect with the characters I hung with every Friday night for like eight years.
It’s funny. I don’t know why, but I used to think that Mr. Feeny was such a good teacher. Maybe it’s because the characters on the show said that he was over and over again, but in my head, he was always the model of what a good teacher looks like. (Can we stop and talk about how creepy it is to follow one class of kids through every grade from kindergarten to college, though? ) He was certainly caring. He was very invested in their lives, and he never gave up on them.
Watching it through as an adult, though, something bothered me. He was always telling his students to “pick up a book” and while that’s a mantra I can get behind, he also shamed Cory and Sean several times throughout the show for reading comic books instead of “real books.”
I didn’t catch that as a nine year old. It would have confused me. As a kid, I read everything I could get my hands on, including lots of comic books and graphic novels, but because I was very good at reading, no one ever tried to stop me. They let me read what I wanted. It’s usually only the struggling readers that get shamed for reading graphic novels.
The reason Mr. Fenny’s attitude towards comic books wouldn’t have made sense to me is because, well, it just doesn’t make sense. Why does reading some words count for less than reading others, just because someone took the time to create some illustrations as well?
I think, (well, honestly, I know) that the thought process is, if a child is reading graphic novels all the time, it’s going to make it harder for them to read “real books.” I’ve encountered parents throughout my career that believe this. I’ve met parents that have told their children that graphic novels will make them dumber. (I kid you not) But like I tell my students: Reading certain words won’t make you worse at reading other words just because they come with illustrations.
A few years ago, I had another librarian visit me at work to see how I run things. When she saw that I had a section just for graphic novels, she asked “Why do you have them separate?”
I told her that it was because I wanted my students to be able to find them easily.
She looked at me with what she thought was understanding. “Ooooooh. You want your struggling readers to be able to find books that they can read!”
I hope I wasn’t rude when I replied, “No. I want all of my students to be able to find them. Anyone can read graphic novels. They aren’t just for ‘struggling readers.’ ” I may have made air quotation marks with my fingers. I don’t remember.
It blew me away that another school librarian, someone who spends every day with elementary aged children, like I do, could have this attitude. I wondered how she could not see how beneficial, well-loved and wonderful graphic novels are?
I guess what it comes down to is this: If we want our children to be life-long readers, we HAVE to let them read books that they enjoy.
The only was to get your kid to read a lot, forever, is to get them to love reading.
The only way to get them to love reading is to give them books that they love.
And let me tell you, My students LOVE graphic novels. That section is the busiest section in my library every day. I have to straighten the shelves several times a day, and I enjoy doing it. My students have found books that they love, and I am over the moon about it.
This has kind of become one of my soap-box issues over the last few years. I was so happy when New Kid by Jerry Kraft became the first graphic novel to ever win the Newbery award, Monday. It feels validating. Empowering. I know it won’t change every mind, but I know that there are lots of kids’ librarians who agree with me, and here’s the concrete proof! Fifteen members of a very respected committee read everything that came out this year for children and picked a graphic novel as the most distinguished. I love it.
Here is our copy of New Kid. It’s been very well loved. It’s about time to order a new one. The new one will come with a shiny gold sticker on the cover.