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Friday, March 26, 2010

Much Ado About Graphic Novels

Ever since 5th grade I have been nuts about William Shakespeare. My teacher, Mrs. Paulson, brought in a readers’ theater version of Macbeth. The story had everything a 10-year old boy could ask for – ghosts, curses, flying daggers, walking trees, swordplay and blood! Our class was transfixed when Mrs. Paulson read Lady Macbeth’s sleepwalking speech: “Out damned spot! Who would have thought the old man had so much blood in him?” The language was a revelation. This Shakespeare guy knew every word in the dictionary, and used them all.

Last week, I had the chance to speak at a conference on literacy held in Stratford-Upon-Avon. It was a dream come true. I spoke to a group of librarians and head teachers (they’d be called principals in the US), about the benefits of graphic novels for younger readers. In Shakespeare’s hometown! I also had the chance to work with some great people, including Joanne Thornhill and Gemma Mason from the Heinemann Raintree office in Oxford just down the road.

It was a busy couple of days. I spoke with dozens of teachers who face the same challenges in the UK that confront educators here in the US – falling test scores, rising illiteracy, a growing apathy toward the written word. Two powerful weapons in their arsenal, however, are high-interest books and graphic novels. That was cheering news to me, since it’s part of the Stone Arch mission to create more such books.

I could not leave Stratford without paying my respects to the man whose work has meant so much to me as a reader and an author. A short walk led from the hotel to Holy Trinity Church where Shakespeare, his wife, and his children are buried just beneath the altar. I feel sheepish saying it was an “altering” experience, but I think Shakespeare would have appreciated the pun.

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