A Thousand Words

A thousand words

“What is the use of a book without pictures …?” pondered Alice before she fell down into Wonderland.

Since my blog post last week in celebration of Australian Children’s Book Week, I had the chance to look through Nicki Greenberg’s graphic novel of Shakespeare’s Hamlet. I was delighted that it won the category of Best Picture Book.

© Nicki Greenberg

Greenberg’s book suggests an older readership (Hamlet is pretty dark) and carries the price tag you would expect for a 428-page book that took her three years to create. As a child I used to read Garfield comics and Archie comics (something tells me they were cheaper.)

Graphic literature has come a long way. How much enjoyment do children (and adults too, of course) get from “reading” a book that is told almost entirely in pictures? As a special needs teacher, it is abundantly clear that pictures in books go a long way towards empowering children to become readers.

In the 1980s, Howard Gardner, a global leader in education, proposed that our understanding of “intelligence” should be broadened beyond just reading, writing and mathematics. His research identified a range of “intelligences” that humans share. Among others, these include musical intelligence (like my friend Nicola), bodily-kinaesthetic (probably a lot of the Ginger Sport people), linguistic (my sister) and interpersonal (all those people you know who are sensitive, sympathetic and great in groups.) I believe Gardner’s ideas have a lot of merit: there is no “one way” to be “smart”.

Take, for example, a child who understands spatial language: YouTube videos, puzzles, paintings, movies, photographs, and so on. This child communicates and thrives in a classroom where students spend time doing puzzles or creating images. He can interpret how the people in a photograph are feeling. He prefers to take notes from a PowerPoint. Perhaps he likes filming or drawing his own world.

I think graphic books (see also Neil Gaiman’s gorgeous The Graveyard Book or anything by Australian illustrator Shaun Tan) are valid, worthwhile, exciting texts for children to read—even if they don’t have a single word in them. Who knows? They might be reading Shakespeare in no time.

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