A place on the bookshelf for graphic novels

“Young readers definitely share their enthusiasm
for the Lunch Lady graphic novels with me. But it’s the caretakers, it’s the adults
in their lives that will pull me aside to say that “This was the first book they got
really excited about reading.” Or they’ll pinpoint the Lunch Lady graphic novels as
the first thing that that a kid read that they got really excited about. And it was the moment
that child became a reader. Now, obviously I speak to a lot of librarians
as well, and I guarantee you almost every single school librarian you talk to will have some
story somewhere about some well-meaning adult in a child’s life, who will deny that child
access to graphic novels. Where they will say either a parent or a classroom teacher
will say to the school librarian “Don’t let my kid check out another Garfield book, just
real books.” And, you know, while that, you know, while
the intent comes from a very good place, the action is very harmful, because it could be
that that’s the only reading material that that kid is going to read right now. And it could cause serious damage for the
trajectory of that child’s reading life. There is one parent that I met last year,
and I was at a book signing, at a conference. And this parent just didn’t expect to meet
me. She didn’t know that I was there. And as I’m signing her Lunch Lady book,
she got very emotional and teared up a little bit. And it took me aback because I had never really
had that experience before, and I wasn’t sure where it was coming from. And she confided in me that she had escaped
a very abusive relationship, and she took her daughter, you know, they got out of that home,
and they got away. And then that child’s academic career really began slipping, because that kid just wasn’t latching onto anything. Obviously that child was dealing with a lot
of internal turmoil, but it was the Lunch Lady graphic novels that got that kid back
on track, and excited about reading. And for me, you know, I’m the son of a drug
addict who was incarcerated. I was raised by grandparents who were functioning alcoholics. But I had Garfield, and I had X-Men, and thank God that I did because those comics got me through some very difficult times. There’s one librarian that I met down in
Texas who in response to this adult who said, you know, “Don’t let this kid check out a
comic, only real books.” She pointed out that you know, to the parent when you take your
child to the playground, you don’t say to that child you need to get up on those monkey
bars for 20 minutes a day. If you want to be a successful player, you
have to get up on those monkey bars. You don’t do that. You let the child gravitate towards the piece
of playground equipment that they’re most excited about. Maybe they just really love the swings right now. Just let them go on the swings. And then someday they’ll get up on those
monkey bars. And they might still just love to swing, you
know. I often tell people too well yes, graphic
novels can get kids excited about reading, but when I hear the term gateway, that too
me thinks they’re going to leave those behind, and move on to other things, and there’s
no reason why graphic novels, and prose novels can’t coexist in a child’s life. You know, a child can love Charlotte’s Web
as much as they love Captain Underpants.”

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