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Making Lesson Plans Work for All Ages

Reading with Pictures provides a place for educators and parents to share comic and graphic novel lesson plans and teaching ideas, but sometimes, you may find a great lesson plan that may not work for the age group you have in mind. I am of the mindset that you can customize just about anything when it comes to education, as long as you know your material and your audience.

Educators know how to customize their materials – it’s one of the many things they do! — but homeschoolers and interested parents may need a helping hand. That’s where this article comes in. Let’s look at Leigh Brodsky’s syllabus for understanding literature through graphic novels. This is clearly a great class, targeted toward a higher grade – junior or senior year of high school, at the youngest, through to the university level.

If you’re a primary grade educator or parent, you can use this syllabus as a template for your own teaching needs. The goals of the course remain the same: to read and process text and images, learn to identify symbols, tone, mood, and voice, develop a skill for character analysis, and build bridges between comics and traditional literature. The final project – to create a graphic novel of the students’ own – is a great project for these grades, especially for schools that participate in literary competitions, like New York’s Ezra Jack Keats Bookmaking Competition.

You may want to educate yourself on how to explain comics to kids, and get them thinking critically about the words and images they see. For basic information, download Reading With Pictures’ How to Read a Comic, and for more detailed teaching tips, download teaching cartoonist Jerzy Drozd’s Comics Are Great Workshop packet. In addition to Reading With Pictures’ own upcoming Graphic Textbook, you may want to check your local library or bookstore for a copy of Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art.

Let’s look at the course outline, and see how the units can apply to a younger audience. Unit One is an introduction to graphic novels and how to read them. Younger audiences can read selections including Dav Pilkey’s Captain Underpants series or Jennifer and Matthew Holm’s Babymouse series to get a basic idea of sequential storytelling and how the art tells as much of a story as the words.

Unit Two’s “What Makes a Hero” text offers a great discussion opportunity with younger audiences who have grown up watching superheroes on the big screen. Children can learn that heroes existed long before Superman ever put on a cape, and read selections including the series of Graphic Myths and Legends from Graphic Universe, George O’Connor’s Olympians series of graphic novels, and the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series of graphic novels. These can lead into a survey of “new” superheroes, including Superman, Batman, and Spider-Man, all of whom have titles geared toward younger readers. And be sure to check out Chris Giarrusso’s super kid-friendly G-Man comics!

Unit Three examines the antihero. What better way to introduce The Odyssey, by Homer, featuring one of literature’s greatest antiheroes, Ulysses? Gareth Hinds has a wonderful graphic adaptation, perfect for middle school-aged readers.

Comics, more often than not, are stories that reflect our society. For younger learners, perhaps combining Units Four and Five – comics as a reflection of society and as a reflection of negative society – will provide the opportunity bring some Social Studies into the mix. Congressman John Lewis’ March (Book One), for instance, tells the story of the Civil Rights Movement, and is a powerful teaching tool with a free, downloadable guide for educators available on the publisher’s website. Or try No Girls Allowed: Tales of Daring Women Dressed as Men for Love, Freedom and Adventure, which also has a free teacher guide.

Finally, we come to Unit Six – literature entwined with graphic novels. Fairy tales are perfect here, and there are many graphic resources available that tell traditional fairy tales, including Fairy Tale Comics: Classic Tales Told By Extraordinary Cartoonists. However, there are also new fairy tales to be told, by authors and illustrators who put a fun, contemporary spin on things. My favorite of this new crop is Action Lab’s Princeless, which tells the story of a young princess who doesn’t want to wait in a tower, guarded by a dragon, until a prince comes to save her. She sets out to save herself, and her sisters!

Finally, don’t forget that Reading with Pictures has our own Common Core Graphics Text List for elementary grades available. Please use this resource to guide you in the comic store, the bookstore, and the library!

Reading With Pictures volunteer Rosemary Kiladitis is a longtime comic book reader, bibliophile, newly minted librarian, and mom of 3. She is a youth literacy advocate who loves reader’s advisory and thinks every classroom library deserves a graphic novel section.