Author Spotlight

Engaging Young Readers Through Graphic Novels

I write books about natural history.  I’ll be the first to admit that the history of life on earth is not the most exciting topic for my audience, children ages 8-12.  Dinosaurs are exciting.  Wooly mammoths are exciting.  The story of how these creatures came to evolve and become extinct and evolve into other creatures is long and requires patience to follow.  In this world of instant digital satisfaction, patience is now more than a virtue; it is a rare element.

I got my start in the world of education by teaching children how to track animals.  I was working with a non-profit organization that worked with schools in the Portland area.  We were monthly supplemental educators to classrooms that we worked with over the course of the school year.  Our approach was to educate through entertainment.  We had a host of games and activities that would teach children about the natural world.

During those four years I worked with the non-profit, I was able to talk with many children about their interests.  I asked what they were reading.  Across the board there was an interest in comics and graphic novels.  The idea slowly dawned on me: why not make an educational graphic novel?

I thought back to my youth.  I was a reluctant reader in fourth grade, but I knew more than most fourth graders about the political climate of the day because I loved to read Berkeley Breathed’s Bloom County.  My teachers were supportive because I was reading and I remember doing my first book report about a collection of Bloom County.

The first educational graphic novel that I wrote was Terra Tempo: Ice Age Cataclysm.  The topic is the Missoula Floods, the great earth changing events that took place between 20,000 and 15,000 years ago in the Northwest United States.  This event is an amazing story in and of itself; giant walls of water ripping apart solid rock, herds of mammoths seeking higher ground, a thousand feet of water filling up the Columbia River Gorge and an incredible landscape sculpted in a matter of days revealed after the waters receded. However, the books that were out there about this event were all geared to older people.

In Terra Tempo, the learning information is tucked inside of a time travel adventure.  The plot engages children, the images and the color hold interest through all the facts and they don’t realize they are learning something new until the story is finished.  The great thing about the medium of the graphic novel is that a reader can rest their brain on the imagery.  If their mind gets tired of all the new information, they can simply look at the pictures.  Also the pictures help reinforce the text and the lessons instilled in the text.

Terra Tempo is a series in which the time traveling children Jenna, Caleb, and Ari will explore the natural history of the United States.  There is a great deal of information to be covered, but it is important for the next generation to have an understanding of the history of the earth and the many changes this planet has gone through. If they can have fun while learning, then all the better!

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Our guest blogger today is David Shapiro, graphic novel author with Craigmore Creations.

If you’d like to write a guest post for the ALSC Blog, please contact Mary Voors, ALSC Blog manager, at alscblog@gmail.com.

One comment

  1. Austin Lehman Adventures

    Anyway to get children reading and exploring learning is a win win. The effort that goes into creating a graphic novel is no easy feat I would presume. What most writers leave up to the imagination, you are taking on the extra task of putting it into images as well while telling a pretty advanced story. Very cool and bravo to your efforts!!

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