Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Try Some Graphic Novels with a History Theme

By Margaret Duncan, Ed.D.

I fully admit I am an adult that still gets excited to go into a comic book shop.  I am also a parent who has used children’s books, comics, as well as graphic novels to introduce reading to my girls. So, I have also combined all three to try to get them to love History as much as I do.  Periodically, I have also used graphic novels to spark a love of history in my students.  For my girls, they will devour volumes of Manga in one sitting.  So, I am happy when they will devour a graphic novel I recommend to them, sometimes not realizing it was full of history and they actually liked it!

There are a plethora of really good graphic novels that cover a variety of historic topics and time periods.  These are just a sampling of my favorites.

The United States Constitution: A Graphic Adaptation by Jonathan Hennessey takes one of our founding documents—The Constitution and puts it into graphic form.  As a teacher, I enjoy the graphic novel because it takes something students seem to feel is ancient and breaks it down through explanation and illustration.  The novel also does a good job explaining the historical context for when the Constitution is written. 

Harlem Hellfighters by Max Brooks is a fictionalized account of the segregated, all African-American 369th Infantry.  The unit is real but the novel is a fictionalized account of their action in World War I.  The name, Harlem Hellfighters was given to the unit by the Germans they were fighting.  The novel can be brutal and bloody, but so is war.  I first introduced the novel to my National History Honors Society members and quickly realized that they were finishing the book within a day and passing it on to friends to read.  Students who went out of their way to read a novel not assigned, showed me that it was definitely worth incorporating into my class. 

Maus I & II by Art Spiegelman is the story of Vladek Speigelman, a Jewish survivor of the Holocaust.  I first read Maus when I was in college in a World History course.  It was my first introduction to a graphic novel that could teach me about history.  Reading Maus showed me that history could be as real and informative in a graphic novel as well as the traditional novel.  As a World History teacher, I always used Maus in my class.  When my girls were old enough, it was a must read for them.  The novel illustrates the Holocaust by using a cartoon approach.  The Nazis are cats, while the Jews are the mice.

March by John Lewis is a memoir of the Georgia Congressman’s life from his Civil Rights activism to President Obama’s inauguration.  As a native of Atlanta, I have known of Congressman Lewis story since I can remember.  The novel shows the violence of the police crackdown on the 1965 Selma-Montgomery March.  This is a wonderful novel that covers a narrative that is not always in historic novels.

Marvel 1602 by Neil Gaiman is one of my absolute favorite graphic novels.  However, it is not overtly historic but does contain all my favorite Marvel Superheroes.  The novel takes place in the Elizabethan period. Nick Fury and Doctor Strange are advisors to Queen Elizabeth. Charles Xavier is in charge of mutants known as the witchbreed. The familiarity of superheroes in one of my favorite time periods is one of the reasons that this is a wonderful graphic novel.  Throw in the evil King James of Scotland and this is a must read. 

These are just a few of my favorite graphic novels.  What graphic novels based in history would you like to read or recommend?

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