Guest Post: Bridge Building at ALA, by Sari Wilson

With this post we inaugurate a new dimension of this site. We will be inviting our colleagues in the world of comics and education to contribute guest posts on areas of their interest and expertise. However, Sari Wilson is more than just a guest; she’s been in on the planning for this site from the beginning, and we hope to introduce her as a full collaborator in the near future.

–Matt and Jessica

It’s an exciting time to be involved with comics and education. At the recent annual librarian’s association convention, the Graphic Novel Institute occupied a whole day of programming at ALA’s Pop Top Stage.

Pop Top was symbolically well placed. Flanked by the traditional print publishers on one side and the new media purveyors on the other, it positioned graphic novels as the bridge-builders in the coming literary revolution.ALA Pop Top panelists

The Graphic Novel Institute was the brainchild of Diamond’s  John Shableski, the maestro of comics and education on the convention circuit.

At “Great Graphic Novels for Teens: Ground Zero for a Cultural Shift in American Publishing” librarians Robin Brenner, Michele Gorman, Kat Kan, Mike Pawuk, and Jody Sharp discussed the process of creating YALSA’s Graphic Novels for Teens list–the ins and outs of getting permission from the larger organization to do so, as well as the nitty gritty of the selection process itself. It was a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at what a group of committed and intrepid supporters of the form can do. Michelle Gorman also spoke passionately on the need for creating graphic lists for the children and adult markets.

At our panel, “Reading and Teaching with Graphic Novels,” Peter Gutiérrez was a skillful and charming moderator. He asked thoughtful questions and offered germane anecdotes from his teaching and consulting experience. Broward-county librarian David Serchay, author of the encyclopedic The Librarian’s Guide to Graphic Novels for Children and ‘Tweens, referred librarians to relevant listservs—e.g., comix scholars—as well as foundational professional  books in the field.

Reading expert Katie Monnin, author of Teaching Graphic Novels, offered the literacy perspective. She discussed how important and necessary it is for librarians to begin the process of “foundationalizing” (my new favorite word) graphica. (This in response to an excellent question about using webcomics in the classroom.) Katie also concisely and passionately positioned graphic texts within the literacy revolution—from prose-based literacy to multiple-media literacy.

As for me? I talked about empowering teachers. I’ve always believed that teachers really can address any content or skill with the graphic form. Often, all it takes is getting comfortable with the architecture of a comic page, the vocabulary of a new form, and the range of resources out there. In this regard, I mentioned Drawing Words & Writing Pictures (vol. 1), chapters 1.2 Comics terminology, and 11.1 Panel design.

Leaving the ALA’s convention floor at the end of the day, my head filled with pedagogical minutia of graphica, I turned once more to look at Pop Top Stage’s Graphic Novel Institute sign.

I thought how fitting it was to have The Graphic Novel Institute at ALA. From the beginning, librarians have been the early adapters when it comes to embracing the graphic form as literature.

It was a kind of homecoming.

Sari Wilson is a former editor at Holt McDougal and currently a Teaching Artist for Teachers & Writers Collaborative in New York City.  She’s given professional development workshops at Teachers & Writers and the New York City Department of Library Services on incorporating graphic novels into the curriculum. She is also an editor for the forthcoming Reading With Pictures‘s anthology of educational comics.


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