Comic books, once banned in the classroom, are now being used to teach.

In fact, comics and graphic novels deserve equal footing with traditional text novels and children’s books as a tool to help children achieve literacy, educational experts said on Jan. 31 at a conference on Fordham’s Lincoln Center campus.

Jon Sciezska, the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature for the Library of Congress, promoted the use of educational comics at “Graphica in Education: Graphic Novels Come Out from Under the Desk,” the first academic conference examining graphic novels, co-sponsored by the Graduate School of Education (GSE) and Diamond Distributors.

Sciezska said it was educators’ mission to bring quality graphic novels into the classroom curriculum.

“Kids today are wired and stimulated in different ways—they’re more visual,” Sciezska told a gathering of more than 100 educators, librarians and publishers. “They’ve been told by us that TV is bad, computers are bad, and books are good. But they know that’s not true. They know there’s good TV, there’s crazy great stuff online and they know that there’s some not-so-good books.

“Our mission is to tap into what kids already love . . . comics. With graphic novels, we don’t have to promote [the idea]that reading is magic.”

In the last decade, the sale of comics to educational markets has reportedly risen from under $1 million in annual sales to $30 million in 2007.

As author of children’s books such as The Stinky Cheese Man (Viking, 1992) and The True Story of the Three Little Pigs (Viking, 1989), Sciezska said he discovered the power of matching text with illustrations to make stories resonate with children.

For example, making the illustrations act as punch lines for the text, Sciezska said, builds visual literacy among children by tapping into different cognitive functions.

Today, Sciezska said, comics and graphic novels are meshing with traditional children’s literature to bring more types of visual storytelling to educational markets.

“We have to explain to people what kids are getting out of this,” he added. “How do little birds that fly around your head when you get hit with an anvil mean something? That’s literacy. It’s spectacular literacy.”

In addition to Sciezska’s presentation, attendees at the conference participated in breakout sessions and panel discussions throughout the day. Marshall George, Ed.D., associate professor of education, presented the inaugural GSE Graphica Excellence in Education Award to James Bucky Carter, Ph.D., assistant professor of English education at the University of Texas at El Paso.

Carter is the author of Building Literacy Connections with Graphic Novels: Page by Page, Panel by Panel(NCTE, 2007). He described himself as a lifelong comic book reader who was “living proof of the research that says people who are early comic book readers go on to read more varied literature than folks who are not comic book readers.”

“Comics can be used to teach the five pillars of reading comprehension,” Carter said. “They can reach multiple literacies and multiple populations.”


Janet Sassi is editor/associate director of internal communications. She can be reached at (212) 636-7577 or [email protected]