An expert scholar in children's literature is a firm believer in the power of graphic novels as an educational tool.
Lan Dong is delivering the 2018 Lois Lenski Children's Literature Lecture at Illinois State University. Dong teaches at the University of Illinois Springfield and frequently used graphic novels and comic books in her coursework. Her lecture focuses on Gene Luen Yang, a graphic novelist who relates the experiences of protagonists with Asian backgrounds in his highly acclaimed work, "American Born Chinese." In addition to other successful graphic novels, Yang also writes "Superman" for D.C. Comics.
"Historically, comics were not well-respected," said Dong. "They were thought of as silly and funny, not serious, which is not the case. They address a variety of subject matter, and some graphic novels are deadly serious."
It was at the request of her students that Lan Dong began incorporating graphic novels into her literature curriculum.
"My students are very intrigued, very interested. So they asked me if I would be willing to develop a whole class based on graphic novels," she said.
"The visual elements in graphic novels forces students to look at things in front of their eyes, so it provides this sense of immediacy. It's also like a window looking into historical events. It makes the reader feel like a witness going through the same event with the narrator. A number of students over the years have told me that when they read a very dark part of the story, they have to put the book down because it's so overwhelming, it's too traumatic. Even though the book in not in color, with the different usage of shades that can literally see the blood on the page. So that's the power of the visual narrative."
In the world of graphic novels, Gene Luen Yang stands out as very important, said Dong.
"He's really well known and his visibility helped bring readers' attention to comics and graphic novels. He's a strong advocate for the educational value of comics and graphic novels."
Raised Catholic in the Bay Area, Gene Luen Yang interpolates a sense of spirituality into many of his works.
"Because of his background with his Chinese heritage and his Catholic upbringing, he combines different influences in terms of religion and spirituality in his work," Dong said.
The 2018 Lois Lenski Children's Literature Lecture is Monday, March 26, at 7 p.m. in 101 Stevenson Hall.
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