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Why Comic Books for English Language Learning:
The Case Based on an Examination of Research

This page discusses research about language acquisition, reading, and graphic novels and comics, creating a rationale for the use of comics and graphic novels in aiding the acquisition of the English language.


*For the purposes of this website, I will discuss English language acquisition, but the same principles apply for other languages.

**While comics and graphic novels can be beneficial for all students for a variety of reasons, this website will focus on language learners.

Definition of terms:

Comic books - whether a regularly published series, a bound collection, or a one-off special, comic books are sequential art, a term coined by Will Eisner, as they tell a story through a series of panels. The panels can vary in size and format, but a single cartoon is not a comic because it does not sequentially convey a story (Kelley, 2010, p. 6).

Graphic novels - "bound books featuring sequential art" and may be single volume or a multi-volume (Kelley, 2010, p. 6). This is a format, not a genre, as numerous genres, both fiction and nonfiction, are represented in graphic novel format. 

ESL student - a student studying English as a Second Language. This has largely been replaced by ELL, because many students speak more than just their mother tongue and are learning English. 

ELL - English Language Learner - a more broad term and generally for those who have a non-English mother tongue, but it can also refer to students who are first language English speakers but for whom language acquisition has been a challenge.

ESL - English as a Second Language - a class for teaching English to those for whom English is not their mother tongue. ESL has largely been replaced by EAL or ESOL (depending on your country).

EAL - English as an Additional Language 

ESOL - English for Speakers of Other Languages 

EFL - English as a Foreign Language - is generally taught in a country where the national language(s) is/are not English.

For this website, I will primarily be using ELL (or ELLs) and EAL.   

"The acquisition-learning distinction states that adults have two distinct and independent ways of developing competence in a second language" (p. 10) -  acquiring a language and learning a language. This hypothesis asserts that both methods are available to adults - language acquisition is not the exclusive domain of children. but in fact, "acquisition is a very powerful process in the adult" (p. 10).

Acquiring language - Similar to how children develop their first language, "[l]anguage acquisition is a subconscious process; language acquirers are not usually aware of the fact that they are acquiring language, but are only aware of the fact that they are using the language for communication. The result of language acquisition, acquired competence, is also subconscious. We are generally not consciously aware of the rules of the languages we have acquired. Instead, we have a "feel" for correctness. Grammatical sentences "sound" right, or "feel" right, and errors feel wrong, even if we do not consciously know what rule was violated" (p. 10) This is also referred to as implicit or informal or natural learning, or "picking-up" a language. (p. 10)

Learning language - Is the "conscious knowledge of a second language, knowing the rules, being aware of them, and being able to talk about them. In non-technical terms, learning is "knowing about" a language, known to most people as "grammar", or "rules". Some synonyms include formal knowledge of a language, or explicit learning" (p. 10).


First Principles:​

1.  For all students: Teach reading by reading, not by teaching grammar or phonics! 

The goal of reading is to understand the meaning (comprehension), not the ability to pronounce words in isolation (decoding). Consider where we place our efforts when teaching “reading.” However, if you want to have your cake and eat it, too (i.e. you want students to be able to do both), simply have your students read (Krashen, 2009). This extends beyond grammar; we learn spelling and vocabulary from reading (Krashen, 1989), as well as vast amounts of content background knowledge.


  • “[C]hildren who have been given the opportunity to do a great deal of interesting, comprehensible reading and have less decoding instruction perform as well as or better than children in decoding-emphasis classes on decoding tests, and typically score higher on tests that test what really counts in reading: comprehension (Morrow, O'Conner and Smith, 1990, Eldridge, 1991; Klesius, Griffith, and Zielonka, 1991)” (Krashen, 2009, p. 3, emphasis added).


  • “Those who receive only intensive instruction in decoding do not do well on tests of reading comprehension, but those who learn to read by reading, by understanding what is on page, do well on tests of both decoding and reading comprehension” (Krashen, 2009, p. 3)


  • “[O]ur ability to decode complex words is the result of reading, not the cause” (Smith, 2004, and Goodman (in Flurkey and Xu, 2003), in Krashen, 2009, p. 3). 


Caveat: This is not to say that a small amount of basic phonics is not needed at the start, to aid in the beginning of reading:


  • “This position does not exclude the teaching of "basic" phonics (Krashen, 2004; Garan, 2004). A small amount of consciously learned knowledge of the rules of phonics can help in the beginning stages to make texts comprehensible, but there are severe limits on how much phonics can be learned and applied because of the complexity of many of the rules (Smith, 2004)” (Krashen, 2009, p. 3).


(For a brief point-by-point summary of the argument against intensive phonics instruction by Steven Krashen, click HERE )

“The best predictor of performance on tests in which children have to understand what they read is how much self-selected reading they have done” (Krashen, 2020c, p. 4).

Ultimately, “those who do more reading have higher achievement in both first and second language” (Krashen, 2004, in Krashen, 2020a, p. 2)


2.  Reading doesn't have to be nonfiction - let students choose!


  • Reading fiction is a better predictor of vocabulary size than nonfiction (among English first language adults in a study by Sullivan and Brown, 2014, in Krashen, 2020b, p.1).

  • “[T]he vocabulary used in fiction is what young readers need for academic success” (see McQuillan, 2019, Rolls and Rogers, 2017, and Green in Krashen, 2020b, p.1).

  • “Self-selection helps makes (sic) sure the reading is interesting” and this is beneficial.(Krashen, 2020b, p.1).​

    • ​In Lee (RELC Journal, 2007), university-level Taiwanese students of English as a foreign language who did self-selected reading made superior gains in general vocabulary compared to comparisons who did assigned reading, and gains for “academic” words were not significantly different, confirming that self-selection is helpful for academic language development. The books read by both groups were largely fiction” (Krashen, 2020b, pp.1-2).

  • Fiction “is also an important source of academic knowledge” and in particular, “those who read more know more about history, literature and science” (Stanovich and Cunningham, 1992, in Krashen, 2020b, p. 2). 

3.  These principles are equally true for EAL classrooms!

English language learners also benefit from reading, reading more, and reading freely:

  • “It may be the case that we can best prepare our ESL students for academic success not with painful drills and exercises and demanding (and sometimes boring) informational texts but by providing them with easy access to reading material that they find extremely interesting. It may be the case that the path of pleasure is more effective than the path of pain.” (Krashen, 2020b, p. 2, emphasis added).


  • “The Comprehension Hypothesis states that we acquire language when we understand messages, when we understand what people tell us and when we understand what we read” (Krashen, 2004, p. 1).

  • When acquirers of a language are reading for pleasure, true freedom is needed, allowing students to skip or stop as they like, and not being assessed on their reading. It doesn't matter the format or genre. "For some people, it may be mystery novels, for others, science fiction, and for others, comic books. The only requirement is that the story or main idea be comprehensible and that the topic be something the student is genuinely interested in, that he would read in his first language" (Krashen, 1982, p. 165, emphasis added).

  • "The research on SSR [Sustained Silent Reading] in EFL is remarkably consistent. SSR is clearly more effective than traditional instruction in improving reading ability and vocabulary" (Krashen, 2017, p. 72).

Therefore, for those acquiring a language, the optimal conditions for input are the following:

(based on Krashen, 1982)  

When acquirers of a language are reading for pleasure:

(based on Krashen, 1982)

First Principles


  • “This is clearly the most important input characteristic. It amounts to the claim that when the acquirer does not understand the message, there will be no acquisition. In other words, incomprehensible input, or "noise", will not help” (p. 63). 

  • “[T]he defining characteristic of a good teacher is someone who can make input comprehensible to a non-native speaker, regardless of his or her level of competence in the target language” (p. 64). 

  • Beginning language learners need much simpler inputs and so that they can make sense of it! Teachers need to focus on communication and comprehension, and the requirements for optimal input will naturally be met (p. 65).


  • “[P]roviding extra-linguistic support in the form of realia and pictures for beginning classes is not a frill, but a very important part of the tools the teacher has to encourage language acquisition. The use of objects and pictures in early second language instruction … help[s] the acquirer understand messages containing structures that are "a little beyond" them” (p. 66)


  • “Optimal input focusses the acquirer on the message and not on form. To go a step further, the best input is so interesting and relevant that the acquirer may even "forget" that the message is encoded in a foreign language” (p. 66).

  • “[P]roviding input that meet this characteristic may appear to be an easy and obvious task, but ... this requirement is not easy to meet … [and] relevance and interest have not been widely perceived as requirements for input, since so many materials fail to meet this requirement” (p. 67).




  • “With a grammatical focus, communication will always suffer, there will always be less genuinely interesting input. The teacher's mind, and the materials writer's mind, is focused on "contextualizing" a particular structure, and not on communicating ideas.” p. 69)


  • (Refer back to Principle #1 for more about why a grammar-based approach is not desirable.)



  • Make it simple. Make it understandable. And if there is enough, every individual learner will have received something just a little bit above their current level of understanding, for them to be challenged and grow (“i + 1”),  without being overwhelmed with inaccessible noise. So, since every learner is at a different place, “five minutes of talk, or a single paragraph of reading, has little chance of including a given student's i + 1. Rather than take a more careful aim at that student's needs, rather than "overindividualizing" instruction, it is far easier ... to increase the amount of comprehensible input. Again, if there is enough, i + 1 will be provided, and will be provided over and over.” (p. 71).

1.  COMPREHENSIBLE - This "depends on the reader's willingness to find material at his level and reject material that is beyond him" (p. 165) but students, when given freedom, tend to want something they can (mostly) understand in order to enjoy it.

2.  INTERESTING AND/OR RELEVANT - Pleasure reading is based on the student's choice, depending on what is interesting or relevant to them.

3.  NOT GRAMMATICALLY SEQUENCED - Yes, unless the student chooses a grammar text!

4.  SUFFICIENT QUANTITY - Reading certainly provides enough language exposure, but time and available quality resources at appropriate levels are required. A well-stocked library can be invaluable for this!

Thus, Comic Books and Graphic Novels! 

So, reading is hugely important and beneficial, but reading is difficult in a new language. Comic books and graphic novels are a great way to get ELLs motivated to start reading, and then getting hooked on reading for enjoyment (Tiemensma, 2009, pp. 8-9).

Judd Winick describes comics as "the gateway drug to reading" (n.d., para. 2). Comics and graphic novels are typically of high interest to students, and "[m]ost students will welcome any experiments at “going graphic” in the English language classroom -- and, for that matter, other areas of the curriculum" (Templer, 2009, in Cimermanová, 2014, p. 86).

And what is their appeal? A large part of it is the high visual content ... the pictures! As Winick puts it, "Let’s not pretend that [all the pictures] isn’t exactly what makes it easier, because it is. Pictures. But please don’t get snobby. Don’t assume comics are just longer picture books" n.d., para. 7-8). Let's remember, "[r]eading is reading. Even if there are pictures on every page." (Winick, n.d., para. 15).

The visuals in comics and graphic novels are invaluable for attracting readers who might not otherwise be interest, but they also bring additional value in other ways. The images provide visual support, or added data points for gaining understanding, which eases the burden on ELLs in translating the words; the visual context helps to confirm correct interpretation (Edmunds, 2006, in Tiemensma, 2009, p. 8). The illustrations are important "not only as a material for young learners but as a material for all age levels [as] a good source to develop imagination and vocabulary building" (Cimermanová, 2014, p. 91). Visual literacy in itself involves important and high level skills that merit direct instruction, and this can be done effectively using comics and graphic novels. [Excellent examples of this can be seen in the work of Kelley (2010) and Manno (2014).]

The high levels of information conveyed through illustrations relieves the burden on the text, and significantly lowers the word count. The combination of high visuals and less text allow ELLs to "slide into the story without as much of the heavy lifting as prose might require" (Winick, n.d., para. 9). In fact, the "dramatically reduced text of comics makes them manageable and language profitable for even beginning level readers” (Cary, in Tiemensma, 2009, p. 8). It also allows ELLs to more quickly complete a book and benefit from the sense of accomplishment that brings (Winick, n.d.). 

Less words does not mean more simplistic, though. Comics and graphic novels "tackle as many complex themes as books of prose" (Winick, n.d., para. 14). This is helpful for ELLs in other subject areas beyond the EAL and English classrooms, as "[c]omics have the ability to present complex material in readable text and can assist in teaching subjects like science and social studies" (Tiemensma, 2009, p. 7). Manno (2014) explains that"graphic texts are complex, effective teaching tools because they require readers not only to passively receive information, but to interact with both text and images to construct meaning, and that is the key to the magic. Words and pictures work together!" (para. 15).

Lowering the wall of words that ELLs are required to scale in order to gain comprehension also makes comics and graphic novels less daunting for ELLs to approach. Graphic novels as a lower pressure environment is hugely important for successful language acquisition; if the ELL is anxious or fearful, is put in a stressful situation, or feels like they can not learn the language or do not belong with that language group, then, according the the "Affective Filter Hypothesis", there is a mental block that goes up and prevents input from being processed and language being acquired (Krashen, 1982, pp. 31-32). Comics and graphic novels help to lower this stress response and keep students open to learning.

Thus, GNs!
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(Krashen, 1982, p. 32)

The typically colloquial language used in comics and graphic novels is more immediately useful to ELLs, and provides examples with visual support for learning onomatopoeia, colloquialisms, idioms,and other common figures of speech and metaphoric language, where context can help explain meaning ad (Lexia, n.d.; Kelley, 2010, p. 11). The text also demonstrates emphasis with the use of bold and the rules of punctuation (Lexia, n.d.).

The text and illustrations together provide "authentic language learning opportunities (Cary, in Tiemensma, 2009, p. 8) and bring "authentic material to the EFL class [which] encourages students’ critical thinking" and may even "lead students to higher productivity" (Cimermanová, 2014, p. 9).

ELLs have not only language, but new cultural contexts to learn. An increasing number of graphic novels feature immigration narratives relevant to their experiences, discussing "the challenges faced by immigrants, the pressures to assimilate into larger ... culture, and the desire to maintain a unique cultural heritage" and thus providing a mirror for ELLs to see themselves in literature (Maples, Cianca, & Malloy, 2016, p. 38). Graphic novels can powerfully "illustrate the very human issues at play as individuals, families, and communities wrestle with issues of cultural assimilation and retention of native traditions" (Maples, Cianca, & Malloy, 2016, p. 38), and this is not only beneficial to those students who are immigrants. These narratives provide a much needed "window into topics that textbooks usually handle through more sterilized fact-based passages" (Budner, 2016, p. 6).

Other cultural considerations argue in favour of comics and graphic novels. For students from many Middle Eastern countries, Manga may be a more comfortable and accessible tool for reading, since it opens from back to front and reads from right to left (Kelley, 2010, p. 11). The general culture and norms of the new home culture for a recent immigrant can also be seen in many graphic novels. For some students, comics and graphic novels may be more appealing simply because they are not "special" resources which might be perceived as embarrassing; instead "look just like what other students are reading — the most avid readers also pick up graphic novels in droves." (Knutson, n.d., para. 9).

Tiemensma (2009) summarises the importance and usefulness of comics this way:

"Comics reduce the amount of text in a story to a manageable level and give learners whole stories that they can complete reading in a reasonable time. The use of comics in school can provide a link to the reading experience of children for whom books and reading may be associated predominantly with schoolwork. Comics can thus play a role to motivate reluctant readers, engage children in reading, develop the comprehension and language skills of second-language learners and teach visual literacy. Comics can provide a stepping stone to other kinds of reading and their acceptance as part of reading materials especially at school can support children who are reluctant to read for pleasure. “Comics are books, too” " (p. 9).

Josh Elder, founder and president of Reading With Pictures, summarises the "strengths of comics as educational tools with his “Three E’s of Comics” " which are:

  • "Engagement: Comics impart meaning through the reader’s active engagement with written language and juxtaposed sequential images. Readers must actively make meaning from the interplay of text and images, as well as by filling in the gaps between panels.

  • Efficiency: The comic format conveys large amounts of information in a short time. This is especially effective for teaching content in the subject areas (math, science, social studies, etc.).

  • Effectiveness: Processing text and images together leads to better recall and transfer of learning. Neurological experiments have shown that we process text and images in different areas of the brain: known as the Dual-Coding Theory of Cognition. These experiments also indicate that pairing an image with text leads to increased memory retention for both. With comics, students not only learn the material faster, they learn it better." (Elder, in Manno, 2014, para. 3-4).

Going back to Krashen's optimal conditions for input, when acquirers of language are allowed to freely choose comics and graphic novels, they are selecting inputs that will be (1) more comprehensible, (2) more interesting and relevant, and (3) are not grammatically sequenced. The only final requirement that we as educators need to ensure is that we provide (4) sufficient quantity! 

Ideas for EAL Teachers - Together With Your Teacher-Librarian: 

  • Give time for regular, genuine reading for pleasure in your EAL classroom, and encourage its continued growth outside of the classroom. Read through Krashen's important requirements for effective Sustained Silent Reading (SSR), in Free Voluntary Reading (2011). This is an easy read and easy to implement, but the differences in research case studies between when all these requirements are met, or when some are violated, are hugely significant.

  • Take advantage of your teacher-librarian to collect appropriate resources for your student's ages, interests, and reading levels together.

    • These lists could be prepared as a list in advance of library visits, or for borrowing resources for a rotating classroom library, to have fresh, new, interesting books on hand.

  • Find time for library visits, whether at the start of the school year, on a regular basis throughout the year, and whether for a whole class, or short, quick borrowing visits. While class time is precious, having ELLs comfortable with borrowing and knowledgeable about where to find books that they will enjoy will be invaluable.


  • Conduct, or request from your teacher-librarian, book talks to present these books to your students, even if it needs to be as linguistically simple as showing some interesting pages with a few English words introduced to describe the book like "action" or "love" or "funny or an introduction to the basic types of genres in English.

    • This vocabulary topic could be a potentially engaging and authentic lesson(s), as ELLs attempt to communicate which types of books (or movies) they enjoy (in their mother tongue), and attempt to sort a pile of English graphic novels, based on visual examination. This could be done with different groups, and their categorisations compared and debated using pictures as evidence.

    • If conducting your own book talks, make it okay to truly read for pleasure. This means, if a book is not interesting or too hard, stop and pick a different book. But be sure to pick a different book, not just stop! Also, I personally enjoy reading books that challenge me, and reading books that are an easy, fun read - both are okay, depending on what I feel like! I thoroughly enjoy reading Owly, as does my 3 year old daughter. I stress this to all students, because it permissions them to borrow whatever they want, and other students have no grounds for teasing if a book is too "easy". Make this personal, YOU read a variety, not a hypothetical point that "people" read a variety of books. 

  • Request that more graphic novels be purchased, particularly with the needs of the students in your EAL classes in mind. Perhaps even communicate this need not just to the teacher-librarian, but to those in your school who are responsible for the school library's budget allocation!

  • If the school library does not (yet) have a sufficient graphic novel selection, contact your local public library and arrange a school trip. Librarians are happy to help, and can make sure all your EAL students are set up with public library cards. They can also pre-select a variety of potentially interesting graphic novels, take the students on a tour of the different relevant library sections, and possibly even do some book talks or readers' advisory.

    • Similarly, a class trip could possibly even be made to a local book shop or comic book store. This could even be done in partnership with the teacher-librarian. A small portion of the library budget and/or EAL resources budget could be allocated to this trip, and students could be tasked with picking a certain number of graphic novels which the school library does not​ own but that the students want to read (and which meet basic criteria for book selection according to the library's policy).

  • Graphic novels can also be used in a myriad of ways in EAL classroom instruction, from teacher or group read-alouds (practising listening skills and pronunciation of conversational speech with emphasis), to picture and speech bubble matching games using visual clues, to designing comic strips online using Web 2.0 tools like Make Beliefs Comix.(For further examples, some lesson plans using specific graphic novels can be found HERE). Just remember to allow and encourage free reading time, as soon as your students are able, and to read/translate high-interest, extremely accessible segments (such as comic strips!) together in the classroom for the beginners (see the levelled program suggested by Krashen in "Applying the Comprehension Hypothesis: Some Suggestions", 2004).

Graphic Novel Recommendations 

There are so many factors to consider when recommending books for ELLs. Not all beginners in terms of language proficiency are in the same age range, let alone the same interests. 

See the Reading Recommendations page for lists of reviewers on various topics, and for advice on conducting Readers' Advisory. 

All images are from Amazon. I have tried to give a sample of some of the inside pages, since covers can be very misleading.

GN Recommends
Ideas for EAL

The following are graphic novels have high appeal with engrossing stories:

  • Andy Runton's Owly series - In the original black and white, all speech is in symbol/image form. In the new, colour editions, the other animal speak in (few) words, paired with images, but Owly continues to only speaks in images. A truly sweet all ages book, enjoyable for pre-readers and adults alike.

  • Dav Pikey's Dog Man series (and many others, such The Adventures of Ook and Gluk: Kung Fu Cavemen from the Future, Captain Underpants, and Super Diaper Baby) - Filled with humour and adventure, this is a hugely popular series (and author) that will get any elementary kid reading, and is even interesting to older readers (although the covers look like they are for elementary students).

  • Judd Winick's Hilo series - Lots of fun action, easily engaging, targeted for a younger audience (elementary).

  • Ben Hatke's Zita The Space Girl series - Engaging and action packed, with a mix of pages full of word bubbles and wordless pages. A female lead who is interesting for boys and girls.

  • Ben Hatke's Mighty Jack series - A modern and engrossing take on Jack and the Beanstalk, with an autistic kid sister, a magical jungle with pink pumpkins that bite, and a dragon. 

  • Raina Telgermeyer's Smile - her books are generally excellent and highly enjoyable, particularly for upper elementary girls. Other works of hers include Sisters, Drama, Guts, and The Babysitter's Club adaptations, but I would not recommend Ghosts for reasons of cultural appropriation and misleading First Nations' experiences on Spanish missions in California.

  • Kazu Kibuishi's Amulet series - A gripping story in an eerie, alternate world. This is hugely popular with elementary students, but is interesting to older students as well. 


  • Shannon Hale, Dean Hale and Nathan Hale's Rapunzel's Revenge (and the sequel, Calamity Jack) - Action-packed, funny, and moving story of Rapunzel's heroic, daring deeds, and fight for justice in the Wild West - this is no passive princess story!

  • Kwame Alexander's The Crossover - The story, in verse, of 12-year-old twin boys, their family and friend relationships, and basketball.

  • Gene Luen Yang's American Born Chinese - Three tales skilfully woven together to a stunning conclusion, this is a clever, thoughtful, funny, and action-packed story of acceptance and belonging, better appreciated by teen readers. 

  • Joe Sugg's Username series - Visually appealing for teens, although pre-teens may also be interested, there is sci-fi action, family drama, and a bit of romance.

  • There are so many more!  

    • For older readers: This One Summer, Nimona, Awkward, Brave, Level Up, Friends with Boys, Through the Woods, Saga, Aya: Life in Yop City.

    • For elementary students: El Deafo, Squish, Baby Mouse, The Lunch Lady, The Bad Guys, Phoebe and Her Unicorn, The Prince and the Dressmaker, Princeless, The Tea Dragon Society, Hilda the Troll.

Some books that teachers may be interested in for classroom use, or for older students' studies:


  •  Loïc Dauvillier's Hidden: A Child's Story of the Holocaust - Beautiful and powerfully illustrated and written, this is a sensitive, age-appropriate introduction to the Holocaust for elementary students, but could be useful with entire classes in middle years, or even as an additional resource in high school.

  • George Takei, Justin Eisinger, Steven Scott, and Harmony Becker's They Called Us Enemy - The moving graphic memoir of Takai's experiences as a Japanese-American child in an American concentration camp, with references to his later co-starring roll on Star Trek.

  • Nathan Hale's Nathan Hale's Hazardous Tales series - For upper elementary or middle years students, but potentially useful for older students as introductory information on major American historical events for older students. Silly, fun, engaging, and with a lot of historical characters and facts wovern into the narrative. 

  • Shaun Tan's The ArrivalWordless, detailed story of an immigrant's experiences in a strange foreign land, better suited to older readers. (It is much more complex than a children's picture book!)

  • Jerry Craft's New Kid - Following Jordan on his first day at a new private school to the end of that grade 7 year, this book is an insightful and highly entertaining book, great for discussions about racism, microaggressions, and the various assumptions we make about others.


  • John Lewis, Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell's March - The 3 book series about the Civil Rights Movement and Senator John Lewis' remarkable life. There will be some more advanced words, but if ELL students are more advanced, or are in classes studying this topic, the powerful visuals in the story will go a long way to aiding understanding.

  • Art Spiegelman's Maus: A Survivor's Tale (Books I and II, or the complete edition) - The Jews are mice, the Nazi's are cats, the Jewish father struggles with survivor's guilt, thus the cartoonist son also struggles, and the book is a deserving Pulitzer Prize winner!

  • Khaled Hosseini's The Kite Runner: Graphic Novel - The compelling story, beautifully illustrated, brings the reader insight into life in modern Afghanistan.

  • Octavia E. Butler's Kindred: A Graphic Novel Adaptation - (not for younger readers) a mix of sci-fi, fantasy, and unflinching history, this is a powerful look at race and the treatment of women in the pre-American Civil War South. 

  • Agatha Christie's Murder on the Orient Express - The classic mystery converted to comic strip format, and just as intriguing!

  • Marjane Satrapi's Persopolis - (two books, or the complete edition, for older readers) Satrapi's powerful graphic memoir of girlhood and adolescence, growing up in Tehran during the Islamic Revolution, coming and going from her beloved but politically tumultuous homeland.

Many classic books have been adapted for graphic novel format. These can be useful both as individual reading and as classroom support resources, to help ELLs to be able to understand the topic and participate more fully. (Also, Goodreads lists can be very useful for searching various topics.)

  • There are many adaptations of Shakespeare's works, such as the No Fear Shakespeare graphic novel collection. The original No Fear Shakespeare series was with simplified language only, not as graphic novels, so be careful if ordering! Other series use the original text, and there are stand alone adaptations as well. Try to see inside before purchasing, to get a sense not only the language used, but also the quality of the illustrations.

  • Classics for primarily older readers: Importance of Being Earnest, Jane Eyre, Pride and Prejudice, Wuthering Heights, Stoker's Dracula (not for younger readers!), To Kill a Mockingbird, The Picture of Dorian Grey, various works by Edgar Allan Poe, Animal Farm, The Hound of the Baskervilles, Moby Dick, The Man in the Iron Mask.

  • Classics suitable for younger (and older) readers:​ A Wrinkle in Time, The Call of the Wild, Anne Frank's Diary, Anne of Green Gables, Black Beauty, The Hobbit, The Iliad and the Odyssey.

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Above: Owly (Click the image for free, downloadable comics)

Right: Hilo

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Above: Part of the opening sequence for Zita the Space Girl

Below Left: Part of the dramatic opening sequence for Amulet #1: The Stonekeeper

Below Middle and Right: The beginning of Amulet #2: The Stonekeeper's Curse

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Rapunzel's Revenge


Username: Evie

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Right: Part of the set-up for

Hidden: A Child's Story of the Holocaust, where the grandmother begins to tell her story to her granddaughter​.

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Left and below-left: Near the beginning of Takai's memoir, They Called Us Enemy.

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Right: Two pages from different locations in the middle of John Lewis' memoir, March: Book One.

march 1.jpg
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kite runner 1.jpg
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Left: Part of the set-up of Khaled Hosseini's The Kite Runner: Graphic Novel. The far left is in America, and the near left, the next page, is in Afghanistan.

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Left: Gareth Hinds’s adaptation of Romeo and Juliet, with diverse characters and the original script.


Right:  Hernan Carreras and Aleta Vidal's adaptation of Romeo and Juliet, with a condensed plot and simplified, modern language.

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Left: From near the beginning of Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time, adapted by Hope Larson.

Recommended Resources

1. For learning about the powerful effects of providing regular time to read for pleasure, with real student choice:

  • Free Voluntary Reading, Steven Krashen  

    • (first part of table of contents shown, right)​

  • The Power of Reading: ​Insights from the Research, Steven Krashen 

2. For learning about how to better teach and support ELLs:

  • Principles and Practice in Second Language Acquisition, Steven Krashen [PDF link]

3. For further reading on comics and graphic novels in the EAL classroom:

  • Graphic Novels in Foreign Language Learning, Keith Budner [PDF link

4. For learning more about comics and graphic novels, and how to teach or analyse the visual literacy skills they require:

  • Sequntial Art, Graphic Novels, and Comics: A Position Paper, Brain Kelly [PDF link]

  • Comics in the Classroom: Why Comics?, Michelle Manno [link]

5. For lists of articles and resources (ncluding lesson ideas) about graphic novels and education:

  • Library Guides - Graphic Novels, University of Melbourne [link]

6. For lists of graphic novels:

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Budner, K. (2016). Graphic novels in foreign language learning [Published Lecture]. Berkeley Language Center Fellowship, University of California, Berkeley. Retrieved from

Cardno, C. A. (2020). Top 15 graphic novels for the Science classroom. Retrieved from

Cimermanová, I. (2014). Graphic novels in foreign language teaching. Journal of Language and Cultural Education, 2(2), 85-94. Retrieved from

Kelley, B. (2010). Sequential art, graphic novels, and comics: A position paper. SANE Journal, 1(1). Retrieved from

Knutson, S. (n.d.). How graphic novels help students develop critical skills. Retrieved from

Krashen, S. (1982; Internet Edition 2009).  Principles and practice in second language acquisition [Internet Edition]. Pergamon Press. Retrieved from


Krashen, S. (1989). We acquire vocabulary and spelling by reading: Additional evidence for the Input Hypothesis. The Modern Language Journal, 73(4), 440-463. Retrieved from

Krashen, S. (2004). Applying the Comprehension Hypothesis: Some suggestions [Online copy]. International Journal of Foreign Language Teaching, 1, 21-29. Retrieved from


Krashen, S. (2009). Does intensive reading instruction contribute to reading comprehension? [Online copy]. Knowledge Quest 37(4): 72-74. Retrieved from

Krashen, S. 2020a. Aesthetic reading: Efficient enough [Online copy]. Journal of English Language Teaching, 62 (2): 3-4. Retrieved from


Krashen, S. (2020b). Self-selected fiction: The path to academic success? CATESOL Newsletter, April, 2020, pp. 1-2. Retrieved from


Krashen, S. (2020c). Reader reply: Literacy research. School Administrator, 77(3), 4. Retrieved from and 

Krashen, S. & Mason, B. (2017). Sustained silent reading in foreign language education: An update. Turkish Online Journal of English Language Teaching (TOJELT), 2(2), 70-73. Retrieved from

Lexia. (n.d.). 4 surprising ways comics and graphic novels can benefit English language learners. Retrieved from

Maples, J., Cianca, M., & Malloy, M. (2016). Using graphic novels to engage English language learners. Vanguard (45)1, 37-39. Retrieved from

Manno, M. (2014, August 4). Comics in the classroom: Why comics? Retireved from

Tiemensma, L. (2009). Visual literacy: To comics or not to comics? Promoting literacy using comics. International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions. Retrieved from 

Weldon, G., & Meyer, P. (2017, July 12). Let's get graphic: 100 favorite comics and graphic novels. Retrieved from

Winick, J. (n.d.). Why graphic novels are storytelling quicksand for reluctant readers (In a good way). Retrieved from


Graphic images by Annalise Batista from Pixabay

Graphic novel sample images from Amazon

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