Library Promotes Adult Literacy Through Graphic Novels Program

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A graphic novel can be defined, at its most basic, as a novel in comic-strip format. But while the word “comic” leaves many with visions of the funny papers in mind, a graphic novel packs much more punch. From memoirs to historical events to richly-illustrated tales of fiction, graphic novels run the gamut of literary genres, and the Arlington Public Library is using them to educate and empower its adult learners.

Graphic Endeavors is a graphic novels class for adults that completed its first session in the summer of this year. Billed as part book club, part educational class, the weekly meetings focus on one title and look at the many elements involved in telling the story.

Adult Literacy Coordinator Wes Young said the summer class, which focused on the holocaust experiences of Maus by Art Spiegelman, was beneficial to students on multiple levels. “One of the students was in our GED class at the same time, and the graphic novels class helped him develop his vocabulary and his knowledge of world history and WWII,” Young said.

“Another student was a professed comic book lover, but he was a very reluctant reader, often struggling with comprehension,” Young said. “Being a bit more long-form, the graphic novels were a perfect fit for him.

Graphic novels can help readers develop skills on multiple levels. “It’s not just reading on a textual level. It’s deciphering what’s happening between panels and pairing that with what is and isn’t being said in the text.”

While the class can certainly be of benefit to adults working to overcome reading challenges, those interested in history, culture, or the illustrated form will find equal value in the weekly meetings. There are no requirements for registration, and Young said a diverse group of readers makes the discussions even more valuable.

The fall session of the class begins Wednesday, September 21, and seats are still available. The book for the fall will be the autobiographical Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi, which depicts the author’s childhood and early years in Iran during and after the Islamic revolution.