Why Graphic Novels May Be the Smart Choice for Some Young Readers

Dog Man: From the Creator of Captain Underpants (Dog Man #1)Phoebe and Her Unicorn (Volume 1)


By Pam Martin


We parents can be torn when our kids choose to read graphic novels. They have less text, so we might worry there’s less on each page to advance our child’s overall literacy. They’re also consumed more quickly, which can make them more expensive (unless they’re available at the library, which can be tricky with series titles). Additionally, there’s less room for the reader to imagine the world of the characters. 


But on the plus side, graphic novels’ “eye candy” covers can grab the attention of struggling (or simply disinclined-to-reach-for-a-book readers). The books’ hip hyperbole and oversized adventure (think Dog Man or Phoebe and Her Unicorn), can be just the enticement a less enthusiastic reader needs to take the plunge.


My friend Gina’s grandson Billy was born at 32 weeks (their names have been changed to protect their privacy), and reading for him has been a struggle. “Does he have dyslexia?” Gina wondered. “Or, does he need glasses?” Turned out he needed the latter, which was a huge help in his ability to see the blackboard. But he still struggled. 

“The doctors said he wouldn’t catch up with his peers until he turned eight. In the meantime,” Gina continued, “he’s in school and noticing how the other kids are reading harder books—longer books. Books with fewer pictures. I wanted him to feel similarly empowered.”

Go, Otto, Go! (The Adventures of Otto)Ricky Ricotta's Mighty Robot (Ricky Ricotta's Mighty Robot #1) (1)

When he turned five, she brought him the Pre-Level One Ready-to-Read book, Go! Otto! Go! by David Milgrim.

“Billy laughed so hard,” Gina said. “I’d never seen him enjoy a book so much. That’s when I knew it was just a question of the right subject matter and format.” Since then, he’s gone on to enjoy Mo Willems’ Elephant and Piggie books, and Fly Guy, and she plans to try Dav Pilkey’s Ricky Ricotta’s Mighty Robot series next. 

“They’re bigger books, but it’s all pictures with only a little text, so his brain can actually absorb the story, without him feeling threatened by how it’s delivered,” Gina added.

For any reader with a smaller attention span, the graphic novel format—with its sequential boxes, dialog blurbs, and sound effects—can feel more accessible. With the action laid out on the page in easily digestible chunks, the story moves along at a fast, exciting pace, the pages turning with seemingly little effort. 

Conversely, in traditional novels, sometimes pages of words accompanied by few (if any) pictures can feel like a mountain—a mountain standing in the way of reading enjoyment. 

“When Billy’s brain wasn’t ready, he’d just walk away from any activity having to do with letters or phonics,” Gina said. “That’s where graphic novels have done such a great job.” 

They can help boost confidence because a child can sometimes finish an entire book in a few (if not a single) sitting—a thick book—a book that looks and feels age-appropriate. An added bonus are the story’s visual cues, such as exaggerated body language and facial expressions, which can aid in overall comprehension. Grasping such cues build the similarly nuanced literacy skills found in more traditional fiction. 

“Now Billy’s excited to sound out words he’s unfamiliar with,” Gina said, and it’s because graphic novels have helped tear down the walls that had been standing in the way. “When he sits down to read, now, he feels such a sense of accomplishment.”