Graphic Novels for ESL Learning

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Learning English through graphic novels can help build your vocabulary and aid visual literacy. What is a graphic novel? A “graphic novel” is basically a long comic strip. American comics are traditionally funny, short, four panel cartoons, such as Peanuts, Dilbert or Far Side. The graphic novel developed over the past few decades, drawing from traditional American comics, but also influenced by Japanese manga. Graphic novels are sometimes humorous, but often deal directly with heavy subjects and controversial topics that comic strips do not, and they are as often as long as a traditional novel. They can be an interesting source for English learners, because graphic novelists write dialogue that mimics speaking patterns. It can be a good place for finding genuine conversation, idiomatic expressions and understanding slang. Here are a few critically acclaimed graphic novels:

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Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel

“Distant and exacting, Bruce Bechdel was an English teacher and director of the town funeral home, which Alison and her family referred to as the “Fun Home.” It was not until college that Alison, who had recently come out as a lesbian, discovered that her father was also gay. A few weeks after this revelation, he was dead, leaving a legacy of mystery for his daughter to resolve.” – From Amazon.com

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Maus I: A Survivor’s Tale: My Father Bleeds History By Art Spiegelman

“A story of a Jewish survivor of Hitler’s Europe and his son, a cartoonist who tries to come to terms with his father’s story and history itself.” – From Amazon.com. Spiegleman interviewed his father, a survivor of the Holocaust, and translated his experiences into this graphic novel. He deftly retells the story visually by depicting Jews as mice, Germans as cats, the Poles pigs, the French Frogs and the Americans dogs.

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Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth by Chris Ware

“This first book from Chicago author Chris Ware is a pleasantly-decorated view at a lonely and emotionally-impaired “everyman” (Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth), who is provided, at age 36, the opportunity to meet his father for the first time.” – From Amazon.com

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Ghost World By Daniel Clowe

Follows the story of Enid and Rebecca, two teenage girls just graduated from high school beginning to face the idea of adulthood, as well as separation as one goes to college and the other has to accept the irreversible change in their friendship. This was made into a movie, as well, in 2001.

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The Complete Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

“Persepolis is the story of Satrapi’s unforgettable childhood and coming of age within a large and loving family in Tehran during the Islamic Revolution.” – From Amazon.com. This acclaimed graphic memoir was made into a movie in 2007.

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