Snow Wildsmith knows graphic novels. She is familiar with the quality of both the writing and the art, and with the variety of genres available in graphic format. She also has a great sense of what kids like.
Frequently called upon to serve on selection committees or judge new titles, Wildsmith has worked with the American Library Association/Young Adult Library Services Association, the 2010 ALA/YALSA Michael L. Printz Award Committee, the Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults Committees in 2008 and 2009, and the Great Graphic Novels for Teens Committee in 2007. She reviews graphic novels (GNs) for Booklist and Unshelved’s Book Club, has been review editor for No Flying No Tights, and created booklists for Ebsco’s Novelist database. A former librarian, she is also the coauthor of A Parent’s Guide to the Best Kids’ Comics and author of the Joining the Military handbook series.
“Since I started working with graphic novels in 2005, I’ve seen the market for kids and teen comics explode. I like to think that much of that is due to librarians and teachers realizing the potential of the comic medium,” shares Wildsmith. “Librarians and teachers have been advocating for graphic novels, pointing out their fine qualities and addressing concerns that parents or fellow professionals might have.” Indeed, Nielsen’s Bookscan numbers showed that graphic novel sales topped 5,600,000 volumes in the first eight months of 2014 alone. People are buying them, and if kids and teens are reading them so eagerly, then teachers and librarians want to get the cream of the crop on their bookshelves.
If you have not looked at a comic or graphic novel in decades, you may be surprised at the diversity of the stories, perspectives, and characters in today’s new offerings. There are GNs based on history, science, sports, growing up, friendship, and so much more. Girls are just as interested in GNs as boys, with titles like Primates: The Fearless Science of Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, and Biruté Galdikas by Jim Ottaviani and illustrated by Maris Wicks, Smile and Sisters by Raina Telgemeier, and Coraline by Neil Gaiman and illustrated by Dave McKean. Classic favorites including Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time, adapted and illustrated by Hope Larson, and Jack London’s The Call of the Wild, adapted by Lloyd S. Wagner with artwork by Sachin Nagar, and many stories from various mythologies can be found in the GN section of most libraries.
Wildsmith shares the experience of one fifth-grade teacher trying to build her classroom library: “She’s seen firsthand what I’ve heard from other teachers and librarians: When you add graphic novels to a collection, the circulation of the collection as a whole goes up. One of the more popular titles in her classroom library is a three-book series called Resistance by Carla Jablonski and illustrated by Leland Purvis. Her boys were lining up to check out a series about a family involved with the French Resistance during World War II!
“One of the things I love about kids’ literature in general is its ability to make the outlier into the main character and do so in a way that feels real to the kids who are reading the story,” she continues. “This year’s Newbery Awards gave an honor to a graphic novel for the first time: Cece Bell’s El Deafo. Bell’s story of growing up deaf after an illness as a young child is relatable, even for kids who don’t have hearing loss, because she grounds it in the everyday world of all children—going to school, dealing with family and everyday life.”
When putting together a reading list for tweens and teens, pairing some classics with GNs can really help a kid connect with the story. Wildsmith suggests pairing by theme and the students’ interests. “If what they like about Mark Twain’s Tom Sawyer is his prankster nature, they might appreciate the fun of the Big Nate series by Lincoln Peirce. Or if they like the dystopian storyline of The Giver by Lois Lowry, they might appreciate the graphic novel adaptation of Jeanne DuPrau’s The City of Ember, adapted by Dallas Middaugh, art by Niklas Asker.”
If you are looking to expand your own library of graphic novels, check out these sites for reviews and suggestions:
- Great Graphic Novels for Teens from Young Adult Library Services Association
- Best Graphic Novels for Middle School from Goodreads
- Diamond Bookshelf: The Graphic Novel Resource for Educators and Librarians from Diamond Comic Distributors
- No Flying No Tights, a graphic novel review blog written by and for librarians
- Good Comics for Kids from the School Library Journal
Don’t be surprised if you discover that adults enjoy many of these as well. Today’s graphic novels make for great reads, and excellent reviewers, like Snow Wildsmith, can help you navigate the bookshelves.
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