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Graphic novels open world of literacy for Dakota Valley students

A student in Lauren Bone's fifth-grade English class reached for the ceiling in her eagerness to answer a question about graphic novels.

Bone had asked the class specifically about the value of the image-heavy art form. Why read a graphic novel, Bone asked, when a traditional all-text equivalent was available? The student fired off an answer as soon as Bone called her name.

"Graphic novels have big ideas that will make us think really hard," she said. "They'll help us appreciate other books."

It was the answer Bone was looking for, and the reasoning behind her push to connect her students with supply of contemporary and age-appropriate graphic novel titles for the 2017-18 school year. Bone submitted a funding proposal to acquire new books as part of the Cherry Creek Schools Foundation's Educator Initiative Grants program. The Foundation's EIGs are made available to educators every year, and are designed to support projects across the district in every discipline.

The funds also reflect the core mission of the CCSF, which is dedicated to funding opportunities for all students in the district in innovative ways and helping build partnerships within the community.

Specifically, the funds purchased 120 new graphic novels, contemporary titles like "Cardboard" by Doug TenNapel, "Ghosts" by Raina Telgemeier and "Space Dumplins" by Craig Thompson. These critically praised and award-winning titles were part of a push to connect students of all backgrounds and skills with a firsthand knowledge of literary structures, Bone said.

"I was looking for a way to get struggling readers to read an entire book and access complex texts," Bone said. "I wanted them to get a chance to practice identifying elements of plot and theme. Graphic novels are such a great way to do that. They're so engaging and easy to get in to, but they also have really deep content."

Students eagerly snatched brand-new copies of the graphic novels from classroom shelves and quickly broke up into pairs, flipping through the colorful pages and reading aloud dense stretches of dialogues from panel to panel. Kaitlyn Hendiran, 10, was quickly immersing herself in one of the new titles, and she spoke about her introduction to the genre.

"I wasn't really a big fan of graphic novels – I liked to read other books. But then I came to Mrs. Bones' classroom and I started reading them, and I said to myself, 'Wow, these books are really good," Hendiran said. "I would recommend these books for kids who struggle, but on the other hand, they take all readers into adventures that you can't get out of.

"You can't get your hands off of them," she added.

That effect helps build confidence in readers of all levels, Bone said. For those students who enjoy traditional books, graphic novels can open avenues to new genres and story structures. For those who have a more difficult time fully engaging in literature, a graphic novel can serve as a bridge to more complex texts.

"For some kids, finishing a graphic novel can be a huge confidence builder," Bone said. "They really have a chance to feel a sense of accomplishment at finishing a novel that's 220 pages long. I've seen a level of engagement, and in the assessments that we've done, kids' proficiencies to recognize elements of plot and theme have risen."

As the students dug into the new collection of titles, Bone stressed the unique features of the art form, detailing the power of the panel format and the effect of emanate, the squiggly lines that emanate from comic characters to convey a whole range of emotions. She spoke about the importance of color, form and composition to underline themes and plot points, and talked about the importance of characters' dialogue in moving a story forward.

All of these elements had a marked effect on the readers. They were ensconced in the visual stories, deeply immersed in colorful worlds that featured intriguing and compelling characters.

"Graphic novels have the same standards as traditional books, but they have more visual detail," Hendiran said. "You fall in love with them."

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