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'Graphic novel' comic books genre joins Mount Airy library collection


COMIC BOOKS have been maligned, linked to juvenile delinquency and called junk food for the mind. But now, a longer, embellished version of the form, called graphic novels, has attained respect.

They are part of young adult collections at libraries across the country, including Mount Airy Public Library, and parents are learning how these longer comic books are introducing a love of reading to children.

"Graphic novels are really an excellent way to convince reluctant readers that reading can be fun," said librarian Jody Sharp. "But I have to emphasize that this is reading, not just an escape. Some of these books, even the shorter ones, have approximately 2,000 words in them. As young adults become readers of graphic novels, these positive experiences with reading carry over and they begin to like reading traditional books as well."

The term "graphic novel" was coined by a writer in the 1970s in an effort to avoid the negative connotations associated with comic books.

Sharp, assistant materials manager for Harford County Public Library, will introduce parents and children in Mount Airy to the genre when she gives a presentation on graphic novels at 7 p.m. Oct. 9 at the Mount Airy branch.

"In Carroll County, we have more than 20 different titles and this just started here in the past year," said Susan Miller, librarian at the branch. "My daughter is hugely into these, and their popularity just seems to grow more each day."

Sharp, in charge of buying books for the young adult section of the Harford library, said the collection includes more than 180 graphic novel titles. She says libraries are more open to the genre. She gave a presentation on graphic novels to the Maryland Library Association in May.

"Graphic novels can also help poor readers by giving additional visual cues from the drawings," said Sharp. "Kids who are intimidated by a page full of text are easily pulled into the story in a graphic novel."

Sharp began researching the books after reading an article in a professional journal for librarians four years ago. She found that the difference between comic books and graphic novels was length. Graphic novels can be as long as 200 pages.

She also found that comic books tend to present stories in installment form, while graphic novels present the whole story.

"The topics vary from science fiction, to fantasy, mystery or animated creatures," Sharp said. "There is a wide variety of topics, even biography, and they tackle quite serious subjects."

Sharp points to the 1987 graphic novels, Maus, A Survivor's Tale, My Father Bleeds History and Maus, A Survivor's Tale II, And Here My Troubles Begin, both by Art Spiegelman, which won a Pulitzer Prize that year.

"Maus is the story of Spiegelman's father and his life during the Holocaust," said Sharp. "The Pulitzer Prize committee created a special category that year to honor it because it was so astoundingly original and important."

Sharp cautions parents to screen the content of graphic novels as they would other books for their children.

"Just because there is artwork, parents should remember it's just a format and they should always look at the story content to see if it's appropriate," Sharp said.

Graphic novels range in age appropriateness from middle school to adult readers and publishers have begun putting age ranges on their books.

Sharp says comic books had been enormously popular from the 1930s up to the 1950s, when one scientific study linked juvenile delinquency to comic book reading. After that, publishers began toning down the horror content and concentrating on story lines of super heroes and romance.

No registration is necessary for Sharp's presentation.

Information: Stacey Freedman, 410-386-4470, Ext. 414.

Rabies clinic

A rabies vaccination clinic will be held from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday at Mount Airy Volunteer Firemen's Carnival Grounds, Route 27 and Twin Arch Road.

Licensed veterinarians will administer the vaccinations to dogs, cats or ferrets for $5.

"This is a basic precautionary measure," said Larry Jones of the Carroll County Health Department, Bureau of Environmental Health. "In this county, raccoons or bats are more likely to carry rabies and you can't be sure your pet hasn't come into contact with a rabid animal even if you have a fenced yard."

Jones said 19 rabies cases have been confirmed in the county this year: 14 raccoons, three foxes and two bats.

All animals must be restrained by a leash or carrier at the clinic. Maryland law requires all cats, dogs and ferrets older than 4 months to be vaccinated against rabies.

Information: 410-875-3395 or 410-876-1884.

Jaycees yard sale

Treasure hunters will converge on the annual fall Jaycees yard sale from 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. tomorrow at Mount Airy Carnival Grounds, Route 27 and Twin Arch Road.

Each spring and fall, thousands of shoppers go to the event. Vendors travel from West Virginia and Pennsylvania, and local residents looking to clean out their closets participate.

This is a major fund-raising effort for the Mount Airy Jaycees.

Information or space reservations: 301-829-6225.

Lesa Jansen's Southwest neighborhood column appears each Friday in the Carroll County edition of The Sun.

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