Teaching The Perfect Medium: An Interview With Katie Monnin

KatieDr. Katie Monnin found herself introduced to comics in college, thanks to a chance encounter with a falling copy of Maus. Since then, the assistant professor of literacy at University of Florida has become a passionate proponent of the format, both explaining and demonstrating how comics can be used as effective classroom tools. Her book Teaching Graphic Novels, published in 2009 by Maupin House, shows teachers how to use comics effectively in secondary classrooms. In April, Maupin House released her second book, Teaching Early Reader Comics and Graphic Novels, which covers K-6th grades.

We spoke with Katie about the new book, the value of comics in teaching visual literacy, and the availability of comics for younger readers.

It's been a couple of years since you wrote your first book. Have you seen any changes in classroom comics use? Are you seeing an increase?

I certainly see a stronger shift toward teaching comics and graphic novels in the classroom. Teachers are smart, and I think that they understand that the world we live in is no longer print-text dominant. The world we live in - the world we eventually need to prepare kids to work, live, and operate in - has changed. In this new world, image text and print text share the stage. They are co-stars.

That said, comics and graphic novels are then the perfect literary medium for teaching this shared literacy stage, for they are the most logical and high quality literature that teach students to be both print text and image text literate.

TeachingYour first book covered teaching in a secondary school classroom. What made you decide to write a book for the younger classes?

Because I began my career as a secondary English Language Arts educator I felt comfortable writing my first book within that grade level scope. However, my doctorate and current placement within a department of Childhood Education here at the University of North Florida better place me within an earlier grade level focus.

It also just felt natural to complement the first book with a second book that addressed early reader teachers, thus completing the K - 12 spectrum of teaching graphic novels in English Language Arts classrooms.

You've made the connection between the visual/text format of comics and how that combination is becoming more of a dominant method of communication. What do you think comics advocates can do to help build that connection in the lay person's mind?

First, I would have to say that the comic and graphic novel community is one of the most positive, giving, and caring communities of people I have ever come in contact with. I think they already have a really strong history of trying to connect to the general public about the positive and literary value of comics and graphic novels.

In fact, now that you ask that, I am thinking about what I always catch myself saying to teachers. I am always telling teachers that if they want to value and be in contact with authors and artists who really, really care about kids assign comics and graphic novels, for comic and graphic novel authors and artists not only care about kids, but also want to help teachers and parents better understand the comic and graphic novel format.

In some ways, actually, I feel like I am a comic book and graphic novel advocate. It was not until I was in my early twenties that I ever read a graphic novel, which of course was Spiegelman's Maus I, and, only after that did I immerse myself in reading and learning as much as possible comic books and graphic novels. The artists and authors of comic books and graphic novels are natives in a land they have lived in for much longer than I have been studying it. Thus, I feel like a comic book advocate, and, as such, that's exactly why I write my books. I hope that my books can stand alone as textual advocates for how educators can learn more about the value of assigning comic books and graphic novels during the greatest communication revolution of all time, a time in our global history when reading with words is just as important as reading with images.

This book is aimed at younger readers, and one of the ongoing issues in the mainstream comics world is that there seems to be a dearth of material that's appropriate for younger readers, at least when compared to the more mature-themed output. Do you find it difficult to find age-appropriate material for classrooms?

Before I wrote this second book, Teaching Early Reader Comics and Graphic Novels (2011), I too believed that it was quite challenging to find early reader comics and graphic novels. But when I conducted research for the book and sought out just how many early reader comics and graphic novels were out there, my opinion changed.

First and foremost in this movement to reach out to younger readers are Francoise Mouly and Art Spiegelman's Toon Books publication company, whose primary aim is to write early reader comics for students and their teachers; in other words, Mouly and Spiegelman realize that if educators are going to better understand and teach one of the most popular literary texts of all time, they need high-quality, early reader comics to help them do so.

Another dynamic duo that I would point out in terms of early reader comics and graphic novels is the brother-sister team of Jenni and Matt Holm, whose Babymouse series and upcoming Squish series are extremely popular with teachers and early readers.

Image Comics, especially under the Silverline publication division, has Jim Valentino spearheading an effort to reach out to more early reader comic readers and their teachers too.

Scholastic's Graphix collection of early reader comics and graphic novels has also played a significant role in producing high-quality, literary level early reader graphic novels, such as Jeff Smith's Bone series and Kazu Kibuishi's Amulet series.

For a full scope of all the other difference-makers in teaching early reader comics and graphic novels out for younger readers, I recommend that teachers look at the extensive grade-level, age appropriate, and high quality early reader comics and graphic novels found in Teaching Early Reader Comics and Graphic Novels (2011). Teaching Early Reader Comics and Graphic Novels not only offers grade level suggestions, but also an extensive, thematic cross-index for teachers to choose from.

Teaching Early Reader Comics and Graphic Novels is available from Maupin House.
ISBN-13: 978-1-936700-23-3

To learn more about Katie Monnin and her books, visit teachinggraphicnovels.blogspot.com.