At Home Learning/Exploring: Graphic Novels #sol20

Screen Shot 2020-03-18 at 11.09.46 AMAt Home Learning/Exploring:  Graphic Novels #sol20

March 18, 2020

I have been resisting graphic novels and creating a stockpile at the same time.  Graphic novels aren’t going away and the students can’t get enough of them.  My friend, Gwen, is always extolling their virtues but honestly,  I am always just starting and abandoning them.

I know what I would tell a student about that,  you just have to learn to read them, so yesterday I set out to do just that using a graphic novel loved by a fellow literacy specialist’s young girls, the series Phoebe and Her Unicorn.  Using Fountas and Pinnell and Jennifer Serravallo’s Understanding Text and Readers,  I first examined what I know, book levels.  I rewatched the videos surrounding J. Serravallo’s book, then made a list of the qualities of books at Level Q.  At Q for plot and setting, students should be able to retell most important event from a complex plot identifying more than two of the stories problems including internal and external aspects.  Students should identify the theme of the story based on most of the book’s events including using accumulative details to explain the complexity of a social issue.  Vocabulary and figurative language should be solved using contextual clues.  In character, students should identify less obvious character traits comparing past traits to evolving traits.   I wondered about doing this complex work in this ‘simple’ novel, but I decided to give it a try.

In terms of graphic novel elements, there are four basic elements of graphic novels unique to the genre, panels and gutters, description and word balloons, sound effects and motion lines, and art including the creator’s style and how that contributes to the story line.

Off I go to read Phoebe and her Unicorn.  I had anticipated that I could just zip through this novel,  it’s only 215 pages, but I found myself stopping to ‘reread’ and contemplate all of the elements of both a novel at this level and this novel.

IMG_6003What I noticed first is that Phoebe and her Unicorn is not told chronologically.  The basic storyline weaves chronologically across the text, but on page twenty, a random cut-away story happened.  There is probably an official name for these.  As I went on, every 5-7 pages, a quick one page exchange would happen between Phoebe and Marigold that was unexpected and disconnected to the narrative.  Building characters?  A chapter change?

For graphic novel characteristics, the panels and gutters are fairly straight-forward in this novel, they seem to read mostly left to right, top to bottom.  There are a few images with no borders at all. Time passage is usually marked with words. There are a few split panels that I would like to point out and talk about with students.

Dialogue and word balloons are also mostly straight forward with no narration only dialogue.  I think most students would be able to tell who is speaking even in the panels where you cannot see the other speaker. There are thicker, larger, bold, color and fancy script mostly to indicate how the unicorn speaks differently from Phoebe and when Phoebe is surprised.

Sound effects and motion lines would be good to search for, point out, and discuss.  I am wondering if most students could recognize these. Considering how many words are written in different size, shape, and font to indicate how they are said, this is probably the larger obstacle to comprehension.

The art includes mostly very simple backgrounds if any.  There are subtle color changes for night and when the unicorn is being particularly magical.  It’s a nice touch.  Does the simplicity help or hinder the understanding?

So here I am, day 2, trying to finish this graphic novel and happy-ish that I brought home a couple more to decipher.  Maybe I’ll have a good lesson down in a few days.  All recommendations welcome.

6 thoughts on “At Home Learning/Exploring: Graphic Novels #sol20

  1. This is a brilliant post. Have you read Scott McCloud’s “Understanding Comics”? It’s an excellent primer on understanding graphic novels. I have a Ppt I used w/ students when teaching MAUS. If you want it, dm me on Twitter. I’ll find it. I’m trying to remember the name of the interruptions. MAUS has one. “There are a few images with no borders at all.” This is called a “bleed.” It’s when an image ostensibly moves off the page in a sort of continuing motion. It is a rhetorical strategy. When I taught MAUS I explained Spiegelman’s bleeds suggest something about history and the way the past “bleeds” into the present.

    Anyway, love this post and am passing it on to my friend Ami who is a new blogger and just joined the challenge.

  2. We went to a great Saturday Reunion session with Shanna Swartz on graphics novels. She recommended doing read alouds with graphic novels- teaching kids to notice and pay attention to all the things you highlighted here. She also said she leveled some wordless graphic novels at a R… there is big thinking work to be done. It’s not my preferred genre but the kids love them. I actually learned so much when we tried the graphic novel writing unit last year. So fun! Thanks for sharing your learning!

  3. The ways you sketch out your preparation in this slice is so painstaking and so insightful. While I can begin to fathom ways we as teachers might share some subset of this know-how to developing readers during face-to-face sessions in school, how might we do that in various distance learning scenarios? That is the $64K question that at once intrigues and daunts me right now. On a related note, you might be interested in this resource that bubbled up for me today:

  4. I love how thoughtful and intentional you are with reading this graphic novel! I haven’t heard of this one (I do love graphic novels)—it looks like one kids will absolutely devour. Thank you for the thoughtful walk through this book with you!

  5. I love Phoebe and Her Unicorn, and I’m so amazed at the quality of thinking that goes into your preparation here. I’m so curious about what else you brought home with you too! (My favorite graphic novels to recommend to those new to the format: G. Neri’s Yummy, Cece Bell’s El Deafo, Victoria Jamison’s Roller Girl, and Jerry Craft’s New Kid.)

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