Illustration and animation have the power to motivate and inspire students in literacy learning, says Greg Holfeld.
Greg is a well-established illustrator who has dedicated his life to telling stories with pictures, whether it’s through illustrating children’s books, directing award-winning commercials or creating comics for all ages.
In episode four of The Teacher’s Toolkit for Literacy, Greg spoke to Phil and Sharon Callen about the powerful impact illustrations in books have on children who are learning to read.
“Everyone starts off reading with pictures, and if you want to trace language right back to its origins, they were word pictures, they were hieroglyphics, and that’s why we have children gravitating towards picture books as we learn to read,” said Greg.
Greg particularly spoke about the importance of comics, graphic books and cartoons in engaging children in their literacy learning.
“Comics, cartoons and that media exist because it’s so colourful and engaging, and you can’t help but look at it. And I think that it’s attractive to most kids or young readers, more so than grey and black blocks of texts,” Greg explained.
“Some are well crafted and open up those worlds for young readers … they are a big gateway drug into reading, because they’re a medium that a reluctant reader or a novice reader can engage with, getting most of the story or a fair portion of the story through the visuals.
“They sort of sit somewhere between a picture book and a text for a chapter book, because the language and the text and the visual are very much intertwined. You can’t pull them apart without completely breaking it. And there’s this incentive to sort of get that extra bit of the story by figuring out what’s happening in those little marks and all the speech balloons.”
Sharon added: “That is their way of thinking and learning … for some kids, this is their entry into writing. That would be their preferred medium, to draw and write together.”
Greg also explained that while these type of texts have not being looked on favourably by teachers historically, today they have a vital place in the classroom.
“When setting up a classroom library, you know, why not have a whole box full of graphic novels or comics,” Greg recommended.
“Over the past 10 -15 years, there has been a real resurgence of comics and very, very well-crafted comics and graphic novels for children and younger readers.”
Greg shared his experiences on creating children’s graphic novels to explore more complex topics and even historical events, such as the Gallipoli campaign.
“You learn something that otherwise as an eight-year-old you would have no cause to think of, say, the Roman empire,” he said.
“I think it’s good for children and teachers to be able to know that they can go into books like that, knowing just how much accuracy there is in so much that’s presented in there,” Sharon said.
“That’s what stories should do, shouldn’t it? It should bring to us things where we can learn more about ourselves, the world and others.
“Books should open up worlds. We should be able to let ourselves go into a book and learn from the book and we don’t have to think that we have to teach something.”
To select the best book with illustration, Greg provided insights for teachers on what to look for.
“What makes a good graphic novel is like asking what makes it a good book? The same things apply. You can judge a book by its cover to a particular degree, and it’s going to probably tell you what the characters look like and how well it’s drawn or graphically executed, but otherwise you’ve just got to read it and look for the same qualities that you would in any other story in any other medium … it’s better for teachers to explore them first and read up,” he said.
“If this is all new to any particular teacher who wants to start exploring this medium, I’d recommend looking at Top Shelf as a publisher … they’re probably the best of the kid’s book publishers for doing material for children … Scholastic [also] does a lot of graphic novels as well.”