Why I love graphic novels

May 02, 2019

It's time to spill the beans: For the past 4 months, Juan Carlos Pinilla and I have been creating a new graphic novel about a well-known Sr Wooly character. It’s the most ambitious, detailed and complex project either of us have ever taken on, and bringing it to fruition has pretty much consumed both of our lives.

It's not on sale yet, but I'll have more information about it soon.

Image from new graphic novel

I have reflected a lot lately on why I write within the graphic novel medium. After all, almost no one else is writing graphic novels for second-language classes. They're incredibly hard to write and illustrate, and they’re ungodly expensive to produce. Why not write a reader? The market for readers already exists, teachers know how to use them, and no one needs to be convinced of their value.

But here’s the truth: Graphic novels are incredibly valuable for second-language acquisition. In fact, catch me on the right day, and I might even make some hyperbolic statement about how graphic novels are going to change SLA classes forever.

Today I'm going to share two reasons why I love graphic novels for second language classes. 

 Reason #1:
The Sand Bank
Casa de la dentista
Reading in a second-language is exhausting for novices. When students encounter 2 or 3 structures they don’t know, they can completely lose their sense of place in the story, thereby requiring them to (A) re-read, (B) move forward with the hope of regaining orientation, or (C) give up.
That’s why I make sure that my graphic novels contain at least a few scenes with little to no text on them.  I call these dialogue-free pages “sand banks”.
A sand bank is a page where students can catch their breath, and say, “Ok, I was a little confused by that last scene, but I now know what’s going on, and I’m ready to continue reading.”
billy y botas
A 2-page sand bank from the graphic novel, Billy y las botas
It's easy to forget how exhausting and intimidating it is to read in another language.  Graphic novels can provide readers with an intermittent brain break from the language without taking a break from the story itself.  
 Reason #2:
Increased Noise Tolerance
Casa de la dentista panel 2
Whether in a first or second language, all readers have their own specific degree of noise tolerance. This term refers to the number of unknown words/structures that a reader can pass over before losing their sense of orientation within the text. Of course, noise tolerance is not a static concept; each reader is individually affected by environment, proficiency, background knowledge, and most importantly, interest in the story. 
English language arts teachers have reported that students tend to have a higher noise tolerance with graphic novels than with traditional novels.
Image from upcoming Victor graphic novel
A panel from the upcoming Sr. Wooly graphic novel.  
The reason is obvious: With so much story being told with illustrations, readers have far more context from which to decipher new and challenging language.
In addition, since readers have a stronger sense of what is going on in the story, they are more likely to be engaged, which only further raises their noise tolerance to work through challenging text.
Image from upcoming Victor graphic novel
Graphic novels work great for free voluntary reading, but you might also be surprised by how well they can also work as a class novel.  I encourage you to check out the 18-part video tutorial series on how to teach with a graphic novel.
It’s excellent professional development, and the best part is that it’s totally free.
Sales Pitch
Billy y las botas is an alternate telling of the same story as seen in the music video.
With tons of new details and even an alternate ending, this graphic novel is necessary for any Billy completionist out there.  
Loosely inspired by the music video, La Dentista, this graphic novel is an entirely original story that asks two questions:
-What if all the kids in town were terrified of the legend of the dentist?
-What if none of the adults in town had any teeth?
The upcoming graphic novel about a famous Sr. Wooly character.  
A completely brand new story. 
Image from upcoming Victor graphic novel