The graphic novel has steadily increased in popularity. It is not just a comic with a hero, a villain, a crime, maybe some psychology distress, or corny humor. These books feature deep character development, multiple complex plot lines, and leave readers in a state of moral ambivalence; in essence, they are wonderful stories.
However, if a parent were to come across her child seemingly flipping through a strangely large comic book, it is not inconceivable that she might question the value of her child’s reading material. After all, how can a bunch of sketches and thought bubbles compare to mesmerizing, evocative, and lucid text?
This question is particularly relevant in the realm of children’s literature. It seems reasonable to assume that parents encourage children to read because it will help them develop intellectually and emotionally. It may keep them out of trouble, normalize brain functioning, and even increase future salaries. This is not surprising, though. If you read, then you are exposed to more words, which will probably increase your vocabulary, and in turn allow you to understand more complex dynamics and nuances, which will be helpful in making better decisions. The graphic novel does not have many words, so one could reason that it would not be as effective as traditional” wordy” literature for helping children develop.
While “reading” graphic novels may not be as effective as traditional literature, they are certainly better than television. If these books give an alternative to TV, then we should take them seriously. In this light, it seems worthwhile to explore their effectiveness in relation to traditional literature.
Imagine the experience of a child reading (or yourself reading as a child). She works her way through words, sentences, and paragraphs, while imaging the scene described by the author. That is, she pictures it. Assuming most of us have read at least one Harry Potter book, we all had an image of Hermione (our image of Harry was probably tainted by the cover art). Some of us loved seeing Emma Watson, some of us hated it (though the casting in those films was pictorially phenomenal!), but nevertheless each of us had our own idea of Hermione. Reading trains us to translate text into image.
What about graphic novels? We have no text, only images and scant dialogue. The story is told through the image. As such, readers, or seers, translate image into text. We explain to ourselves what is happening in the panels.
Which way is better for the developing mind? Translating words into images, or images into words? This seems relatively easy to research. Find a bunch of kids. Ask them to read a text and explain what happened. Ask them to view a graphic novel and explain what happened (try to find a text and graphic with comparable complexity). Compare the nuance and dynamics of each explanation. Control for variables amongst the population (age, grade, reading habits, etc.). Analyze correlations between medium and explanation.
It is not easy to speculate which medium will produce better results. While traditional literature will have its die hard adherents, the skill of translating image into text should not be overlooked. When reading a graphic novel, the child must develop the ability to tell a story, rather than only read one. Who is smarter: the person who has read everything or written one great thing? Let’s allow speculation to abound for a while, and perhaps future posts will contain preliminary anecdotal data.
If you know of any study like this, please email or comment below.
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