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Three graphic novels | Class #5, 2016

boxers & saints    tamaki_thisonesummer

Boxers and Saints by Gene Luen Yang (First Second, 2013)

The One Summer by Mariko Tamiki and Jillian Tamaki (First Second 2014)

While teens have been devouring graphic novels, or comics (as Gene Luen Yang calls all such works) for years, they are also enjoying a surge of interest and attention from critics and educators, winning awards and finding their way into high school classrooms.

How might students learn from these texts? Should they be paired with more traditional texts to be meaningful, or can a graphic novel study stand alone? Common Core Standards require students to be able to “Integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse formats, including visually” (CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.7).  How important is visual literacy for our students?

Lauren Adams About Lauren Adams

Lauren Adams teaches English and ELL at Natick High School and adolescent literature at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Formerly a Senior Editor for The Horn Book Magazine, she regularly contributes book reviews.



  1. Ilana Habib says:

    First of all, I’m a huge fan of Yang- though I think I prefer American Born Chinese to Saints. I think context is needed for ALL media forms, not just graphic novels. I think books should be paired with other media forms, too. I think the reality is that our society is becoming more and more visual- our students need to be prepared to live in THAT reality as opposed to the more text-based world of the past. I think incorporating content across many platforms allows for a more complete picture for the students (I think of the “single story” TED talk we watched earlier). Students communicate in different ways, and I think incorporating a wider variety on non-traditional formats can only help those not touched by traditional literature. I’m curious to read Boxer as I am intrigued to find out how the stories connect to one another. That last chapter threw me for a bit of a loop!

  2. Kate Palleschi says:

    I adore Boxers and Saints, and I actually have to say I found it a bit surprising that we were assigned one or the other, because I think one of the most interesting teachable aspects of both of them is the way they connect to each other, and the way that they tell the same story from two very different viewpoints – we can learn a lot about different definitions and understandings of truth, for example. When it comes to graphic novels and comics in general, I think that they are an important addition to our classrooms, especially when they are treated as the complex texts that they are instead of as a lazy version of reading, as I’ve heard them described. Ilana hit on a lot of my big points in her comment, especially the idea of learning visual literacy – the way an artist designs the panels is just as important and telling as the way an author crafts a sentence, for example. Just looking at the difference in colors between Boxers and Saints can show that. To your question about pairing graphic novels and traditional texts, I think that can be beneficial for scaffolding and differentiation as well as deeper learning, but I think that they are just as beneficial on their own.

  3. Faye Maison says:

    I agree with Ilana and Kate. I don’t think graphic novels need more supportive texts than any other form of media. I read Boxers. I became so fascinated by the characters and the story that I wanted to understand more of late nineteenth century China. While reading, I never felt like I was missing out on anything. Any additional information I could have wanted could have been in Boxers if the author found it necessary. I do think Ilana is right when she says that students are probably less familiar with reading long texts now. I wonder what the differences are between taking in visual images via a book or a phone. I hope teachers aren’t shying away from graphic novels because of the prevalence of graphics in society. They must be very different things.

    It was amazing to see such beautiful interpretations of gods and dreams. I can’t even imagine how Boxers could have been told in another form. The book tells students so much about visual representations. What are other ways of showing feelings? How can you represent different types of people? Graphic novels also lend themselves to helping students think about writing. How do use words most effectively? What do you need to make a story flow?

    Boxers is an incredible work. Once I finished the book, I wish I had Saints right next to me. It’s now on my to-read list, and I can’t wait to pick it up.

  4. Montserrat Cubillos says:

    I read Saints and also agree that the novel may stand on its own and be perfectly understood. However, I think that the experience of reading it would be even richer if the teacher asked the students to read other texts on the same topic. The comparison between a first-person point of view and an informational text, for example, may spark important discussions around who gets to tell the story of a historical event (this also reminds me of the TED video, Ilana). When I started reading the novel, I thought it was going to be simple; I had a prejudice against comics. Yet, the characters evolve and the story is unpredictable. I loved the sense of humour that the book had and how it compensated for the sadness of the story. The author seems to use text only when it will add something to the vignette and does not like to repeat what the drawing is already saying. Both languages complement each other. Graphic novels are an invitation for students to learn to look closer, to analyze slowly and carefully.

  5. Carla Cevallos says:

    I had only read one graphic novel in my entire life. It was Maus, by Art Spiegelman. I read it in middle school, and I remember that I really liked the story, but I don’t remember paying much attention to the artwork or thinking about how the prevalence of drawings shapes the reading experience. Revisiting graphic novels this week, as an adult, was a wonderful. I think that at some point in our lives we learn to associate pictures with children’s books, and we forget of how incredibly visual we can be (at all ages) and how much meaning an image can convey (always). As the common saying goes, “an image is worth a thousand words.” This week’s books were perfect examples of how much complexity and feeling can be embedded in images, which doesn’t mean that they are better (or worse) than words, but simply that they bring a different reading experience to the table.

    This One Summer made me think about the intertwined relationship that pictures and words can build in terms of literary elements. For example, I was completely surprised by how well characterization was achieved without any explicit description whatsoever of what the characters were like. At the end I felt that I knew both girls intimately and understood who they were. Windy, in particular, was beautifully developed with a mixture of very detailed drawings of her facial expressions and movements and her phrases and dialogues, in which you could learn about the way she expressed herself and what sort of things were on her mind. The two things perfectly matched each another, creating a very complete picture overall.

  6. I read and looked closely at This One Summer by Jillian Tamaki and Mariko Tamaki. I loved how Rose and Windy just pick up where they left off and resume their summer activities. It made me slightly nostalgic of my own childhood summers in the Cape. Even though there were so many moments where I felt frustrated with Rose with being caught up in her preteen obsessions and misunderstandings, I appreciated her freedom and her friendship with Windy, as well as her discovery of herself. I loved the images, some dense and detailed, while others were sparse and simple. The images flow together seamlessly and present metaphor for the reader and viewer to consider. For example, the bonfire before Rose’s mom rescues Jenny may perhaps be the anger Rose is feeling toward her parents and their strained relationship. Although I believe much of the gossip and teenage dialogue is realistic, I wondered if young people like Windy and Rose would overhear as much as they did in this graphic novel, even in a small beach town like Awago. I felt happy when Windy stood up for Jenny towards Rose. I think students reading this book may be able to relate to having to stand up for something that you believe is right even when your friends are saying something different. Mostly, I think would enjoy entering a space (such as this graphic novel) where they feel they can relate to having the questions and ideas about growing up and know one will judge them for it. .

  7. Caroline Walsh says:

    This week, I read “This One Summer” by Mariko and Mariko. I am embarrassed to say that this was my first time reading a graphic novel (despite having suggested them to students on several occasions). I was absolutely shocked by the emotional impact that the both the story and the illustrations had on me. Typically as a reader, I am responsible for constructing my own visualization, which stems from both my prior experiences and results in a personalized mental representation of what I am reading. However, the images, and sound effects, throughout the graphic novel are imposed. I was surprised that I enjoyed having the visuals provided to me to the extent that they were.

    I was so moved my the depiction of the mother’s sadness and the tension between Windy and Rose’s age difference and readiness for their transition into adolescence. The children’s and teenagers’ experiences and attempts to rebel and move towards adulthood (the girl at the party with the braces!), was depicted so accurately. Additionally, the authors’ ability to depict silence and tension solely through illustration was moving, and a bit eerie. I have not had such a visceral emotional experience while reading a book in a long time!

  8. Hannah Flint says:

    Like Caroline, this was my first time reading a graphic novel. I also read “This One Summer” and I was also struck by the emotion expressed in story and pictures and by the way I was impacted by that emotion. Windy and Rose are both living in between childhood and adulthood but they at different places in that transition and the Tamakis capture those subtle differences so beautifully in both the language the girls use and in the images of them. Like Carla, I was struck by how well I understood the characters through their physicality. As I reader I was able to experience their posture and how they move through the world in a way that might have been difficult to capture with words.

    One note on my experience of reading a graphic novel: I’m a fast reader, and I found myself tending to speed ahead after taking in the few words on each page. It was a real struggle for me to slow down, take in the images, and really pay attention to the ways in which they propel the story forward. I would be interested to discover if, for me, “reading” a graphic novel is somewhat of an acquired skill. My hope is that I will find a more comfortable rhythm as I read more.

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