Saturday, February 23, 2013


Recently a co-worker and I were supposed to present a discussion of using graphic novels and non-fiction to teach diversity and justice.  Unfortunately, our presentation was cancelled due to lack of participants in the workshop, but I am not about to let my annotated bibliography go to waste so I will present it here.

My people are a bit put off by graphic works, viewing them as too simplistic or silly.  Perhaps people are remembering the many hours that they spent illicitly reading comic books by Marvel and the like under the blankets after being told to go to sleep.  Such memories are generally too pleasant to have possibly been good for a growing mind.  Recent research seems to be pointing to the opposite being true.  There are strong suggestions that reading a work in graphic format actually increases the ability to remember it.  I don't know if this is true, but I do know that graphic works open up worlds to kids that they might otherwise never enter.  Many of the students who use my library gravitate to the graphic works as a jumping off point to reading more traditional formats.

Don't write off these works until you have had a chance to read them and, perhaps, witnessed a young person reading them.  Graphic works have a lot to offer.  Start with some from this list and then go on to read more.  They are addictive.  (P.S.  They are not just for kids anymore either.  More and more adult level graphic works are being published, especially memoires.)


Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword and Hereville: How Mirka Met a Meteorite by Barry Deutsch—Grades 4-7   This book will capture readers so completely with trolls and magic and adventure that they will not realize how much they are learning about and appreciating Orthodox Judaism and its customs. Mirka wants to fight trolls and dabble in magic but she does not want to forget the meaningful traditions of her faith. This is a good way to look at communities that we may not understand while discussing religion, self-identity, and women’s rights.

Sticky Burr: Adventures in Burrwood Forest by John Lechner –Grades 1-4   This carries an overt
anti-bullying message along with a story of crazy adventure and some facts (and plenty of imagined
information) about burrs. Toss in a generous dose of humor and kids will find that this book sticks to
them like a burr to wild dog.

Take What You Can Carry by Kevin C. Pyle—Grades 7 and up   In 1978, Kyle, a troubled teen, can only take what he can carry when he shoplifts from a convenience store. In 1941, Ken and 110,00 other Japanese Americans sent to internment camps were instructed to only take what they can carry. These two stories are told side by side unit as it gradually becomes evident that Kyle is stealing from Ken. This novel offers both history and compassion.

Satchel Paige: Striking Out Jim Crow by James Sturm and Rich Tommaso—Grades 5 and up   It is not easy to separate fact from fiction in this story of a young man who hopes to follow Satchel Paige into the Negro League. Emmet, the narrator, tries out against Paige in 1929 but suffers an injury that keeps him back home as a sharecropper but always following baseball and his heroes. There are short updates of his life and world affairs until on September 2, 1944, when Satchel Paige and the All-Stars play against the local all-white team of the Tuckwilla All-Stars. With all the excitement of a good baseball game, readers learn about Jim Crow, standing up for your rights, and pride in one’s actions in this powerful story.

The Arrival by Shaun Tan—Grades 7 and up  My co-worker and top-notch 7th grade teacher, Beth Nazario, uses this wordless book to teach writing along with helping students experience what it means to be an immigrant.  The students write about what they are reading and imagine themselves being one of the un-named immigrants depicted inside the front cover.  After much discussion and introspection, the students each experience an imaginary interview with a customs officer who does not speak English.  Older students or adults who are fluent in another language interviews the student with typical questions.  The experience is often quite powerful.  Even without this in-depth study, this is a powerful book.

Lost and Found by Shaun Tan—All Ages   It takes a more sophisticated reading and guidance to get all of the nuances of the short graphic stories in this collection which will be enjoyed by all ages for their quirky humor. For discussing the reception to immigrants (“the immigrant problem”) my choice would be to read and discuss “The Rabbits” (words by John Marsden). It resonates especially if you have seen the documentary movie “Rabbit Proof Fence” which also comes from Australia.

Drama by Raina Telgemeier—Grades 6-9 This novel won a Stonewall Honor Book Award in January 2013 for its balanced portrayal of gays in a middle school setting. The story follows members of a drama department in their budget strapped production of a musical. The protagonist, Callie, is the set designer who dreams big both for the production and for finally finding a meaningful relationship. Will one of the two cute boys be the answer to her dreams? She deals with declarations of sexual orientation in a way that seems very realistic and appropriate.


Trickster: Native American Tales: A Graphic Collection edited by Matt Dembicki—Grades 5 and up   Dembicki sent requests throughout North America to find Native American storytellers willing to tell their traditional stories and let noted graphic artists illustrate them. The tellers selected the illustrator who they thought would best fit their story. Everyone loves a good trickster tale, making this book an especially good introduction to Native American folklore. Whether you are selecting based on the graphics, the moral, the humor, or the adventure, you are sure to find several here that will be appealing.

The Shark King by R. Kikuo Johnson—Grades 1-5   First and foremost, this is an intriguing telling of the Hawaiian tale of Nanaue. It is also simple enough for emergent readers while engaging enough to keep older readers interested until the final page. Nanaue is the son of a mortal woman and the shark king.  His father disappears before his birth, leaving a cape and instructions that his son will need it. Parental separation is one topic dealt with in the book, but more intense is its discussion of bullying and survival.

The Legend of Hong Kil Dong: The Robin Hood of Korea by Anne Sibley O’Brien—Grades 3-6 Folktales from Korea are not in abundance so you will want to give this award winning graphic novel a try for many reasons. First of all it tells a story little known in this part of the world. Add to that the
comparison to the European Robin Hood and then top it off with the colorful illustrations and you have an enjoyable way to dig deeper into the culture of Korea.


Little White Duck: A Childhood in China by Na Liu and Andres Vera Martinez—Grades 4-7 China in the 1970s was in flux so being a child in that time and place could not have been easy. The eight short stories in this collection are based on the author’s life and give a unique glimpse into life in China before and after the death of Chairman Mao. The text and illustrations provide a glimpse not only into the life of the author, but also the history of China and the wealth and beauty of traditional Chinese teachings.

Best Shot in the West: The Adventures of Nat Love by Patricia C. McKissack and Fredrick L. McKissack, Jr. Illustrated by Randy DuBurke—Grades 4 and up   This biography uses the writings of Nat Love to follow his life from his 1854 birth into slavery through his life as the most famous African-American cowboy in the Old West. He knew such luminaries as Bat Masterson and Billy the Kid, was well known for his skills in roping, shooting, and roping, and was a real character of the time. Love published his autobiography in 1907; his words are mixed with a little bit of creative fiction to make a compelling read.

Around the World by Matt Phelan—Grades 4 – 8    Phelan is an award winning graphic novelist and historical fiction writer who has turned to the true tales three daring adventurers of the nineteenth
century who circumnavigated the globe in ways never seen before. Former miner Thomas Stevens rode his bicycle around the world in 1884 when bikes still had that amazing big wheel in the front; reporter Nellie Bly only needed 80 days in 1889 for her trip; and retired sea captain quietly set sail in a small sloop in 1895 and became the first person to sail around the world alone. This stories encourage bravery, creativity, endurance, and the power of both sexes to do the impossible.

Smile by Raina Telgemeier—Grades 5 and up   Here is a memoir that will resonate with tweens and
teens. When Raina was about to start Middle School, she fell and damaged her two front teeth. To fix
this dental nightmare required that she experience surgery, implants, and most embarrassingly for a
girl trying to fit in with the cool kids, headgear and false teeth. Use this book to begin discussions about disability, bullying, or just trying to fit in when you are obviously very different looking.


No comments: