Drawing on the Classics

Vince Zalkind, Messenger Clerk, North Hollywood Amelia Earhart Regional Library,
3 graphic novel book covers

It’s back-to-school time! Time to sharpen up your pencils, meet your new teachers, and grab your list of classics to read for homework. Time to put away those comic books and graphic novels in favor of “serious” literature, right? Wrong! There is a growing list of visually stunning adaptations of the classics that are worth checking out for both the reluctant reader and the bookworm.

But isn’t that “cheating"? Quite the opposite. Visual literacy is a necessary skill for readers young and old. Whether you notice or not, in our daily lives we are constantly using shapes, colors, symbols, and signs to contextualize our world. By consuming classics in a graphic format, we are helping struggling readers understand the text better, as well as helping readers of all levels develop this vital skill. Though these great graphic novel adaptations are no substitute for the original text, they can certainly make Olde English easier to understand and offer a new perspective.

I’ve always loved reading whether it was for schoolwork or pleasure, but some of the books assigned in school were so tough to get through. I enjoy Shakespeare but even reading his plays out loud didn’t click for me. The Manga Classics version of Romeo and Juliet brings the play to life, the manga format serving the star-crossed lovers drama exceptionally well. Manga Classics also enlivens Jane Austen’s works with all the romance and wit represented in a fun and playful style.

As an author and illustrator Gareth Hinds has a particularly skilled hand at adapting epic poems like Beowulf, The Illiad, and The Odyssey. If you’re concerned about these versions straying from the text, Hinds uses direct quotes from some of his favorite translations, which are properly cited. With The Odyssey and The Illiad, he uses lush watercolors to invite the readers back in time with a translation that is easy to read. This is in stark contrast from Beowulf where he uses thick black lines and dark colors to haunt the pages with grim and grisly art. It's also an easy-to-read translation that balances the Olde English text with more modern prose.

Many contemporary classics have also been adapted into gripping graphic novels. In his adaptation of The Giver, P. Craig Russel uses an evolving color palette to track Jonas’ changing view of the world. Speak is adapted by Eisner Award-winning illustrator Emily Carroll, who uses her background in horror comics to reinforce Laurie Halse Anderson’s words. Though Melinda is mostly silent throughout the book, Emily’s art brings a new view to the story while adding subtle updates to help it stay as fresh and relevant as it was on its release 20 years ago. Anne Frank’s diary is adapted by Ari Folman and illustrated by David Polonsky, who’s artwork captures the playfulness of her writing, reminding us that she is more than just a page in a history book.

These are just a few of the offerings we have on the shelves and as e-books. Graphic adaptations, along with audiobooks and study guides, can help your readers have the most successful school year possible no matter their learning style. There’s no wrong way to read a book!

Graphic Adaptations of Classic Literature

The Odyssey: A Graphic Novel
Hinds, Gareth

The Iliad: A Graphic Novel
Hinds, Gareth

Hinds, Gareth

Anne Frank's Diary: The Graphic Adaptation
Folman, Ari

This is the first graphic edition of Anne Frank's diary; a young girls poignant writings during her years of hiding in Amsterdam. This beautiful retelling is a feast for the eyes. Anne Frank's story, already so powerful and unforgettable is brought to life in full color. Even if you have read and reread her story, you will be drawn to this new version.

Speak: The Graphic Novel
Anderson, Laurie Halse

Melinda is shunned at school because she called the cops at a summer party, but what everyone doesn't know is that she was sexual assaulted there. In this beautifully illustrated graphic adaptation of the original novel, Melinda works on coming to terms with what happened to her and learning how to speak about it.

The Giver: A Graphic Novel
Russell, P. Craig

Anne of Green Gables: A Graphic Novel
Marsden, Mariah

Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451: The Authorized Adaptation
Hamilton, Tim

To Kill a Mockingbird: A Graphic Novel
Fordham, Fred

A Wrinkle in Time: The Graphic Novel
Larson, Hope

The Handmaid's Tale: The Graphic Novel
Nault, Renee

Jane Eyre
Silvermoon, Crystal, adapter

Emma: Manga Classic Readers
King, Stacy

Romeo and Juliet
Silvermoon, Crystal

The Count of Monte Cristo
Silvermoon, Crystal, adapter

The Stories of Edgar Allan Poe
King, Stacy, adapter