Do you use graphic novels in your homeschool? Like Robin Hood and his merry band of thieves, graphic novels can be a bit of an edgy subject in conservative home education circles. But they’re amazing! And there are so many good options. (Keep reading to see my list of favorite graphic novels for your homeschool.)
A few years ago when Aveline was five years old, she quietly colored her entire face green with a marker, then hid in the entryway planning an ambush. When my husband came home after work, she jumped out and screeched, “What is your business in Sherwood Forest, papa?!” (Sugar and spice and everything nice, right? This is also how I learned Crayola washable markers are not washable on the skin.) From the day she was first introduced to Robin Hood and his gang, she’s been in awe.
[Disclosure of Material Connections: I received a complimentary copy of The Adventures of Robin Hood from Timberdoodle in exchange for writing and publishing this review. All opinions — and photographs! ;) — are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review.]
OVERCOMING COMMON OBJECTIONS TO GRAPHIC NOVELS
First of all, a confession. I don’t really consider myself a graphic novel person. I have never been drawn to them, and usually prefer a full-length text to a graphic novel adaptation. But my daughter Aveline — who is a doodler, infusing incredible expression into simple drawings and speech bubbles — is constantly drawn to this genre. So I find myself now searching out solidly-written examples of these types of books for her, and defending graphic novels to adults who may be suspicious of their place in a well-rounded education.
On a recent drive, I listened to an excellent episode of Jonathan Roger’s The Habit podcast, in which graphic novel illustrator John Hendrix said,
“I love when the word becomes flesh — when text and images are completely intertwined. The text doesn’t merely caption the image, and neither does the image merely explain the text. They are independent, which creates a new third space.”
We really don’t have to fear this third space. As with anything, it’s the content, not the medium, which makes something pleasant or objectionable. The sequential frame format itself is not the problem, just as it’s not the actual paper or physical canvas itself we concern ourselves with, but the content of a book or a painting.
And so, with this in mind, we can overcome common hesitations against the graphic novel and have the freedom to enjoy these adapted classics.
But still, you might have questions…
Q: “Aren’t they just comic books? I don’t like comic books.”
A: Well, the visual format might be the same, but the content is definitely not. We’re not talking dark supernatural heroes here, but classics of literature brought to life in a colorful and exciting visual-narrative format.
Q: “But if my kids read abridged versions, won’t it ruin them for the unabridged work?”
A: In a word, no. I grew up reading everything, including those little square paperback illustrated versions of classics. Reading abridged and illustrated versions always piqued my interest for the longer book.
Q: “But my child can read at a higher grade level. I don’t want her wasting her time on books which are a lower reading level.”
A: I get what you’re saying, but think about it. I can read Dostoyevsky and Dickens, but that doesn’t mean it’s wrong for me to flip through a magazine while sipping on coffee. How discouraging it would be to have someone leaning over me chiding, “You are able to read something more difficult. Put that magazine away and choose something at your reading level!”
The point is, we’re not all going to be reading material at the max ceiling of our reading level, all the time. As adults, we read for enjoyment at various levels of difficulty and ease, and kids should have this same freedom too.
The Adventures of Robin Hood is included in Timberdoodle’s 3rd Grade Curriculum Kit, so I would say that’s a pretty accurate indication of its reading level. Although, the widespead allure of Robin Hood means kids older — and younger — will eagerly snatch it up as well. (Even my husband commented on the book’s appeal.)
MORE DETAILS ABOUT THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD GRAPHIC NOVEL
This Usborne Graphic Legends version of The Adventures of Robin Hood is a particularly attractive volume. The matte cover has a nice splash of the Sherwood green you’d expect from a book about Sherwood Forest (let’s just hold off coloring our faces with marker, though.) I love that it’s larger than a standard paperback, too, at 7″x10″.
Except for the opening map and the additional appendix, each of the ninety-six story pages are completely full color, with either the illustrations or a black border going all the way to the edge of the paper — no white margins! The art itself is stellar. Usborne hasn’t skimped here; to ensure the illustrations are top-tier, they’ve hired an consultant (Mike Collins) whose impressive resume includes the biggest Marvel names. This means the images are excellent, not cheesy or second-rate as is sometimes the case with illustrated classics. And I love the emphasis sprinkled throughout the lettering; it’s perfect for practicing reading aloud with expression!
The story has been retold by Russell Punter and Matteo Pincelli, British and Italian author-illustrators with extensive background in this unique visual-narrative genre. The result is an utterly captivating and completely immersive reading experience — that third space I was talking about earlier.
The opening pages of Robin Hood feature a map, and the appendix includes a bit of additional background about this legend’s possible place in history, which is a perfect launching point for additional research!
It’s definitely a high-quality example of a graphic novel, and a great place to start if you’re new to the genre (you can buy it at Timberdoodle).
Beyond reading and re-reading for pleasure — which I highly recommend — there are many creative ways you can incorporate this high-action tale into your homeschool studies.
6 WAYS TO USE THE ROBIN HOOD GRAPHIC NOVEL IN YOUR HOMESCHOOL
1. Discuss the various forms of storytelling
With a classic like Robin Hood, there’s no one definitive version of the story. The legend was first passed down through song, and later put to paper. (This book’s appendix tells a little bit more about those early ballads.)
With your child, explore, find, and discuss examples of the various ways people tell stories. For instance, ballads are sung, novels are written, plays are best experienced acted out on stage, and narratives can even be told though stained glass. Discuss with your student: How many forms of storytelling can you think of? What are the benefits and advantages of each storytelling mechanism? Why might one type of storytelling be preferred over another at different times in history?
2. Research the legend of Robin Hood
Using the book’s afterword as a starting point for further research, discuss with your student: Is this folk tale based on real person? How far back in history do we see the first mention of a similar figure? What else was happening in the world during that time? How do the first versions of the legend compare to the identifying marks of the narrative as we know today? Do you think Robin Hood really existed?
3. Delve into the real-life historical context
The Adventures of Robin Hood graphic novel is set in England in the year 1194. Use history books and encyclopedias to research the late 1100s and early 1200s. Discuss with your student: Who were the major players in England during this era? What significant historical events occurred then? Why might this time in history have been particularly well-suited for a heroic figure like Robin Hood? You might even want to create an illustrated mini-book about this time in history.
4. Map out the (legendary and actual) geography
The opening pages of The Adventures of Robin Hood graphic novel contain a map of Sherwood Forest, with a smaller inset map of Scotland, Ireland, England, and Wales. Create your own map of Sherwood forest — or the British Isles. Use posterboard, or a crumpled paper bag. Discuss with your student: What details of Robin’s adventures will you include? What geographic details in the story are important enough to mark on your map? How might the tale of Robin Hood have been different it was set in a modern city rather than a medieval forest?
5. Compare and contrast different versions of the same story
You can read different versions of the same story (Tony Allan’s Tales of Robin Hood comes to mind), then discuss similarities and differences between the stories. Discuss with your student: Are different adventures emphasized in different books? What about film versions? Which adaptation of Robin Hood is your favorite? Why?
6. Use the graphic novel format for a writing assignment
The visual-narrative format is an exceptional way to communicate story. Next time your curriculum calls for a written paragraph, consider allowing your student to submit her answer in graphic novel form, instead. This is a great opportunity to emphasize different details than might be able to be conveyed with text alone. (For the sake of time, limit her to 6 or 8 frames on a standard 8.5 x 11″ paper, or create a folded mini-book.)
I’m so grateful for exciting resources like this book. Graphic novels absolutely have educational merit, and a place in a well-rounded homeschool. Beyond Robin Hood, here is a list of my very favorite non-fiction history, science, and inventions graphic novels, all of which we either have on our shelves or frequently request from the library.
25+ BEST NON-FICTION GRAPHIC NOVELS FOR YOUR HOMESCHOOL
First up, we love the Capstone Graphic Library series! It’s so fun to read about inventors and other historical figures in bright, vibrant color. A few current favorites are —
+ Thomas Edison and the Light Bulb Graphic Novel
+ Louis Pasteur and Pasteurization Graphic Novel
+ Johann Gutenberg and the Printing Press Graphic Novel
+ George Eastman and the Kodak Camera Graphic Novel
+ Levi Strauss and Blue Jeans Graphic Novel
And since Aveline is just crazy about science, it’s no surprise that Max Axiom is a mainstay in our home —
+ Adventures in Sound with Max Axiom
+ The Attractive Story of Magnetism with Max Axiom
+ A Crash Course in Forces and Motion with Max
+ The Illuminating World of Light with Max Axiom
+ The Incredible Work of Engineers with Max Axiom
+ The Shocking World of Electricity with Max Axiom
+ The Powerful World of Energy with Max Axiom
+ A Journey Through the Digestive System with Max Axiom
+ Understanding Viruses with Max Axiom
+ Understanding Photosynthesis with Max Axiom
+ The World of Food Chains with Max Axiom
+ The Basics of Cell Life with Max Axiom
+ Decoding Genes with Max Axiom
+ The Surprising World of Bacteria with Max Axiom
+ The Amazing Story of Cell Phone Technology
+ The Amazing Story of Space Travel
+ The Amazing Story of the Internal Combustion Engine
+ The Terrific Tale of Television Technology
+ Investigating the Scientific Method with Max Axiom
+ The Solid Truth About States of Matter with Max Axiom
+ The Amazing Work of Scientists with Max Axiom
+ Lessons in Science Safety with Max Axiom
+ The Dynamic World of Chemical Reactions with Max Axiom
That ought to keep your little (and big!) bookworms content for a while! ;) And don’t forget…
…grab your own copy of The Adventures of Robin Hood from Timberdoodle!