Image shows comic book layout with various speech bubbles.

Are Graphic Novels Any Good for Kids?

There’s no question that graphic novels are all the rage for kids.  These days, it’s rare to see a child read anything but a graphic novel. Teachers often grapple with this. They wonder if graphic novels are really any good for kids to grow as readers.  However, they don’t want to squelch a child’s interest.  It can be a real catch-22.

My thinking about this has definitely evolved, and if I’m honest, is still evolving. And it was because one day I listened to a child.  Really listened. 

Here’s where I am now, because of that conversation–and I’d love to hear your thoughts about it.

First, I want to address my original thinking:  that graphic novels were not all that good for kids.

There is no question that the amount of text in these books is incredibly sparse. So the amount of words read is not nearly as much as a traditional novel. Second, because of the font used in so many of these books, and because speech bubbles carry a large majority of the plot line, kids are not exposed to the use of paragraphing and punctuation like they would come across in a regular book.  This certainly does not help with their writing. 

Another issue I see over and over and over is that kids will read the same series or the same book all year long, and even from year to year. Obviously, this can be a problem if this is all they are reading.  There’s no balance, no widening of the reading repertoire.  It’s very limited, and their growth and development as readers is certainly stifled if graphic novels are the only thing they read.  


One day, I walked into a fourth grade classroom. The first thing that struck me was how absolutely engaged every single student was in their books. Literally nose in books. I’m pretty sure even Taylor Swift could’ve walked in and those kids would never have even noticed.  So I stood back. I took a really good look at what exactly everybody was reading.  Every single child was deeply engrossed in a graphic novel.  And no, it wasn’t the same book, either.  Almost every student had a different book. 

Engaged reading is key to growth!
Kids need choice in what they read. Image via Depositphotos.

Curiosity piqued, I walked over to a student. He was visibly engaged–the changing expressions on his face were proof of that.  I sat down on the floor beside him and asked if he minded if we talked about his reading.  We had never met before, but he was excited to chat about his book.  So I simply asked him to tell me about what he was reading. He animatedly told me everything that was going on, and I was able to have a conversation about characterization, conflict, and setting. 

It was clear that he understood that book deeply. He was making inferences.  And he was thrilled with his book choice.  So I asked him why he liked reading graphic novels so much.  And he said that they didn’t overwhelm him. He knew that he would be able to finish it in a decent amount of time. He knew he would be very interested. So I asked him if he thought our school library needed more. I asked him if he thought teachers should have more variety in their classroom libraries.

He said yes, absolutely. He said that sometimes we don’t have enough, and so kids read the same ones again and again, himself included.  But this lucky student had a teacher who knew how much kids loved graphic novels, and had built up an extensive collection–so no one in that class had any trouble finding something of interest.

I was floored.  This child was able to articulate to me why graphic novels were so appealing for kids, and he proved to me just how much he was getting from the book he was reading.  More importantly, he had come to know something about himself as a reader.  I had a hunch he’d be a reader for life, now that he’d found a favorite genre.  

Also as importantly, I realized I had some learning to do.

“If we want children to see reading as something that enrichens their lives beyond the confinement of school, then we must accept where they are in their reading journey and then help them develop and nurture that identity. That starts with honoring their choices because these choices are an extension of who they are.”

Pernille Ripp, December 15, 2021

So I promised this child that I would help build the school’s collection of graphic novels so kids could more easily find what they were looking for.  Then I thanked him for his insight, because he’d shifted my thinking in that moment.  

But here’s the thing about kids and graphic novels.

I have been in many many classrooms, and have seen and talked with many many kids who are reading graphic novels. By and large, they really have absolutely no idea what’s going on in the story.  This seems more the case with third grade and younger.   Almost every time I ask them what’s going on or what a particular word could mean, they have absolutely no idea. Often, they don’t even know how to read the words, as the vocabulary can be quite complex. Every book, including a graphic novel, has deep meaning behind it. 

But if our kids are only reading it at very surface levels, then what’s the point?  If this is the case, then how can graphic novels be good for kids??

So to honor the promise I made to this child,  I decided to experiment with something.

The Graphic Novel unit from Teachers College is amazing! Image via Heinemann.

Teachers College had just come out with their unit on graphic novels for writing. I was really interested in trying this unit out, because I knew it would be highly engaging for kids and would help them go beyond surface level reading. So, I worked with a willing team of teachers, and together we designed a unit where kids would learn the why behind the what in graphic novels.

They learned to pay close attention to the gutters (the spaces between the panels). They learned to determine exactly which dialogue was most important to carry the story forward, and they learned where just a bit of narration would be most helpful. They learned to make color and shading choices that would help carry meaning, and they added expressions on characters’ faces that would also add to the reader’s understanding. 

Kids loved this unit so much! And because we were teaching them the meaning behind the pictures, they in turn understood the books that they were reading far better.  And so did their teachers, including me.  

All of our eyes were opened.  

Here’s what I’ve come to realize now. Graphic novels are absolutely not the enemy.  Graphic novels can, in fact, be really good for kids.  


It takes a vigilant teacher to be sure that kids are  reading more than just one or two graphic novels the whole year. It also means that teachers need to be very careful of which books they are putting in their classroom libraries. If a second grader is not understanding or is not developmentally ready for the content of a graphic novel, the teacher really needs to be aware of that.  We cannot just purchase books and put them in the library without vetting them.  We have to be mindful of the content, the vocabulary, and the readability.  This part of the equation is 100% on us.

It also becomes incredibly important to prioritize conferring with kids. If teachers don’t talk to their kids about what they’re reading, if they don’t have conversations to find out how much they’re gaining from that book, then it can become a complete waste of time

Conferring with students is key to keeping a pulse on their comprehension. Image from Syda_Productions.

We must remember that while kids are with us in school, it is instructional time. We have to strike a balance between must-do reading and may-do reading.  And none of it is a free-for-all.

May-do reading, like with graphic novels, is critical for enjoyment, and therefore critical for engagement. It is only through reading many many books of many many types that kids come to understand who they are as a reader. So choice is paramount and must be a factor in every classroom. 

But I don’t think 100% of the time kids should be reading for enjoyment.  There needs to be more of a balance.  

Because we also need them to work on reading high-level, complex texts–traditional texts.  Tim Shanahan (June 2016) reminds us that “much learning comes from practice under varied levels of complication and difficulty.”  This is the kind of reading material that will best help them gain background knowledge on the topics we are studying or will be about to study.  This is the kind of reading that really activates executive function skills, where kids must monitor their comprehension and employ the right strategies at the right time when fixing up is needed.  It’s the kind of reading that will challenge them to hold onto a mental image as they keep track of all that’s going on. 

Kids also need the opportunity to work on building fluency with more and more complex sentences and text structures. So we also need to build in time for partner reading.  As well, kids need time to respond to text.  This helps them process their thinking.  And let’s be honest, this kind of ongoing work also helps them get used to the kind of work they’ll need to be comfortable with for state testing.  Doing this work all year long is one of the best ways to prepare students for state testing.  

Kids need all of this.

But we cannot forget that kids need to be able to make choices, have ownership over their reading, and find out who they are as readers. When kids are super engaged in what they’ve chosen, they want to read, so they will read. This kind of reading also builds all of their reading skills. It’s the kind of reading that you and I do all of the time:  the kind of reading we want to make a habit for our students.

So, let them read those graphic novels.  But help them get the most from them through teaching them how they work.  Make sure to confer with students, so those important conversations that tell us so much about our students are happening.  But remember that you’re the teacher, and this is school.  We also must make room for more rigorous, well-rounded reading. 

This is not an either or situation.  It’s both-and.  In the short amount of time kids have for reading every day, there needs to be a balance of all of these types of reading, and we have to make room for it.

As with most things when it comes to literacy, balance is the key. 

Could you use a partner in strengthening your literacy instruction?  I’m here for you!  Because no one can do this work alone, I’m available for virtual coaching calls.  Simply email me at [email protected] or reach out for a coaching call

Who is Coach from the Couch??  I’m Michelle, a 24-year veteran educator, currently a K-5 literacy coach.  I continue to learn alongside teachers in classrooms each and every day, and it’s my mission to support as many teachers just like you as I can.  

Or, consider joining my Facebook community–a safe, supportive environment (really–no blaming or shaming allowed!)  where you can ask questions, learn ideas, and share your thoughts among other literacy-loving educators! 

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