Using Graphic Novels in Education is an ongoing feature from CBLDF that is designed to allay confusion around the content of graphic novels and to help parents and teachers raise readers. In this column, we examine graphic novels, including those that have been targeted by censors, and provide teaching and discussion suggestions for the use of such books in classrooms.

The list below includes all of the titles we’ve covered so far, but we add two to three titles per month throughout the year, so come back to discover more amazing graphic novels to use in your classroom!

Some teaching suggestions follow, but the sky’s the limit when it comes to graphic novels! Many of the books listed under one heading below would suit another, so visit your local library or comic book shop to explore these amazing classroom tools!

Books for younger readers:

Using Graphic Novels in Education: Amelia Rules!

Jimmy Gownley’s Amelia Rules! is a New York Times bestseller. It has been nominated for 13 Eisner Awards (four nominations in 2008 alone), has been nominated for five Harvey Awards, and was a short list finalist for the Howard E. Day Prize in 2002. In 2007, Volume 3: Superheroes won the Cybil Award for best graphic novel for readers aged 12 and under. In 2008, Gownley won the Pennsylvania Library Association One Book Award, and in 2012, Volume 8: Her Permanent Record became the first Amelia Rules! book to make the New York Times bestseller list. Read the full post

Using Graphic Novels in Education: Squish

Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm Squish is a comic book-loving, Twinkie-eating, blubbery, super-swell amoeba “kid” who wrestles with good and evil in life around him and learns about life’s responsibilities. He faces all sorts of challenges with his friends Pod, a nerdy, mooching amoeba who’s always working on some lay-brained science scheme to help him tame his world, and Peggy, a clueless, huge-hearted, super-sweet, happy-go-lucky loving paramecium. In the first four books, they face challenges in school, summer camp, soccer games, and much more. Read the full post

Books for teaching about war, regime change, and a first-person perspective on living through upheaval:

Using Graphic Novels in Education: Persepolis

In Persepolis, author Marjane Satrapi tells of her experience growing up during the Iranian Revolution, the subsequent war between Iran and Iraq, and the rise of the Islamic Republic. Against these tumultuous events, readers get a glimpse of Satrapi’s teenage angst and her struggles to express herself under the burgeoning social repression of the new regime. Read the full post

Using Graphic Novels in Education: Boxers & Saints

Gene Luen Yang’s Boxers & Saints revisits the Chinese Boxer Rebellion (1899-1900), sensitively and evenhandedly relating Chinese peasants’ perspectives from each side of the conflict. Boxers tells the story of the illiterate peasants tired of being hungry, tired of failing farms, and tired of Chinese Christian ruffians who would steal, cheat, and beat them while under Western protection. Saints tells the story of a peasant girl, who is shunned by her family but finds compassion and belonging with Christian converts. Read the full post

Using Graphic Novels in Education: Barefoot Gen

Barefoot Gen by Keiji Nakazawa, translated by Project Gen (Last Gasp of San Francisco, 2004) is considered one of the most important anti-war manga ever written. The series focuses on the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and the aftermath of the Pacific War. Barefoot Gen has been repeatedly banned in its home country of Japan, but remains one of the most read manga in the world. Read the full post

Books for Black History Month (February), teaching the Civil Rights Movement, and addressing racism:

Using Graphic Novels in Education: King

King by Ho Che Anderson (Fantagraphics, 1993; reprint edition 2010) is a highly acclaimed award-winning biography integrates interviews, narrative, sketches, illustrations, photographs and collages as it pieces together an honest look at the life, times, tragedies, and triumphs of Martin Luther King Jr. For King, Anderson won the Harvey Awards for Best New Talent (1991); Best Graphic Album (1993); and Parents’ Choice Award (1995). Read the full post

Using Graphic Novels in Education: Nat Turner

Kyle Baker’s Nat Turner received the Glyph award for Best Artist, Best Cover, and for Best Story of the Year, 2006; the Eisner Award for Best Reality-Based Work, 2006; and the Harvey Award for Best Graphic Album — Previously Published, 2009. This work also received an Eisner Award nomination for Best Limited Series, 2006; and Harvey Award nominations for Best Writer, Best Artist and Best Single Issue or Story, 2009. Library Journal gave it a starred review noting, “Baker’s suspenseful and violent work documents the slave trade’s atrocities as no textbook can, with an emotional power approaching that of Maus.” Read the full post

Using Graphic Novels in Education: March: Book One

March: Book One begins the trilogy of Representative John Lewis’s graphic novel memoir, co-written with his aide Andrew Aydin and illustrated by Nate Powell. It is a critically acclaimed best-seller that received the 2013 Coretta Scott King Honor Book Award by the American Library Association and has been named one of the best books of 2013 by USA Today, The Washington Post, Publishers Weekly, Library Journal, School Library Journal, Kirkus Reviews, The Horn Book, ComicsAlliance, and others. Read the full post

Using Graphic Novels in Education: The Silence of Our Friends

The Silence of Our Friends by Mark Long, Jim Demonakos and Nate Powell (First Second Books, 2012) is a semi-autobiographical story told from the perspective of Mark Long, as a boy. It centers around civil rights incidents covered by his father, a television reporter in Houston, Texas, in 1968, following the Texas Southern University student boycott after the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) was banned from campus. It ends with Dr. King’s assassination and the mourning of the larger Houston community as they marched in his memory. Read the full post

Books for Women’s History Month (March):

Using Graphic Novels in Education: Pretty in Ink and Bad Girls

Pretty in Ink: North American Women Cartoonists 1896-2013, by Trina Robbins, is a more traditional biography that discusses the lives, times, struggles, and contributions of women in the world of cartoons and comics. (Recommend for high school and older.)

Bad Girls: Sirens, Jezebels, Murderesses, Thieves and Other Female Villains, by Jane Yolen and Heidi Stemple, illustrated by Rebecca Guay, incorporates both prose and illustration to put the deeds of 26 women — who were both famous and infamous — in perspective. (Recommended for middle school readers.) Read the full post

Books for coming of age, finding oneself, and transitioning friendships:

Using Graphic Novels in Education: Stuck in the Middle: Seventeen Comics from an UNPLEASANT Age

Stuck in the Middle: Seventeen Comics from an UNPLEASANT Age, edited by Ariel Schrag, is an anthology of comics by critically acclaimed cartoonists who take a bitingly honest look back at their “awkward” middle-school years, reflecting upon them with sensitivity and some humor. Many of the pieces, however lack resolution, making them unsettling — much like those teenage years themselves. While some may find this format haunting and less kid-friendly, the stories serve as outstanding opportunities to brainstorm and problem solve. Read the full post

Using Graphic Novels in Education: The Color of Earth Trilogy

Kim Dong Hwa is a widely popular Korean comic artist. In the Color of Earth Trilogy, Dong Hwa tenderly tells the story of his mother’s growth into womanhood, as he imagined it might have been. This story is an incredible blend of prose, poetry, and penciled art. It is a story about young Ehwa’s growing curiosity about sex, puberty, and relationships. Based on Ehwa’s observations and interactions with friends, nature, and the villagers around her, she has wonderfully frank discussions with her mother, who tactfully and sensitively opens the world up for Ehwa. Read the full post

Using Graphic Novels in Education: Chiggers

Hope Larson’s Chiggers is graphic novel that takes an honest look at the timeless ritual of summer camp as seen and experienced first-hand by Abby, a young teen attending her last year as a camper at sleep-away camp. Chiggers is a Junior Library Guild Selection and YALSA Great Graphic Novel for Teens Nominee. It follows Abby from the moment her parents rush her out of the house and drive her through country highways and hills to get her to camp before any other campers arrive and concludes when her parents are the first car in line on the last day of camp to take her home. It’s a story about friendship, fitting in, love, and loyalty, and it interweaves realities and fantasies of summer life. Read the full post

Using Graphic Novels in Education: Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong

Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong is a graphic novel adapted and drawn by Faith Erin Hicks from the young adult novel Voted Most Likely by Prudence Shen. It’s full of unlikely friendships and nicely nuanced characters who bend and shatter stereotypes and expectations. The central characters are Charlie Nolen, captain of Hollow Ridge High School basketball team and his (best) friend Nate Harding, president of the robotics club. In a twist of fate, the robotics club and the cheerleaders are vying for student council funding. In an effort to win the funding, Charlie decides to run for student council president. The “Gestapo” cheerleaders decide to have Nate run against him with the hopes that they can manipulate Nate into funding their new outfits and not the robotics club. And while each group is convinced that their strategies are flawless, things don’t work out the way anyone had planned. Read the full post

Using Graphic Novels in Education: SideScrollers

SideScrollers by Matthew Loux (ONI Press, 2008) is one of those books that are well written but that are not appropriate for all classrooms. And while named one of the Top Ten Great Graphic Novels for Teens in 2008 by the American Library Association, the book was pulled from a ninth grade summer reading list in Connecticut based on a compliant by a person who was not even a parent of a child in the school for “profanity and sexual references.” CBLDF sent a letter to Enfield Connecticut School District Superintendent, Dr. Jeffrey Schumann asking that it be returned to the summer reading list and “restore freedom of choice to the parents and children in their school.” Read the full post

Using Graphic Novels in Education: Smile

In this autobiographical coming-of-age graphic novel memoir, Raina Telgemeier ruminates with humor and honesty on the tumultuous challenges and perils of her teen years: from the trauma of falling one night on her way home from a Girl Scout meeting severely injuring her front teeth, to dealing with boys, earthquakes and the true meaning of friendship. Read the full post

Using Graphic Novels in Education: American Born Chinese

American Born Chinese is a 2006 National Book Award Honor Book for Young People’s literature, the 2007 winner of the Michael L. Printz Award honoring literary excellence in Young Adult literature, the winner of the 2007 Eisner Award for Best Graphic Album, and a 2007 Bank Street Best Children’s Book of the Year. In this work, creator Gene LuenYang skillfully weaves three seemingly independent stories of Chinese folklore, a teenager’s need to fit in, and adolescents’ balancing of their Chinese American heritage. Read the full post

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