February 24, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Resources for Teaching Graphic Novels in the Classroom

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Good stuff: ten great graphic novels for schools; online resources; information about publishers; and other recommended reading. 

 Ten Great Graphic Novels for Schools


Benjamin Bear in “Bright Ideas!” by Philippe Coudray (TOON Books, 2013) Age 4 up
Each page of this book is a short story that turns on some sort of puzzle or visual pun.

Nursery Rhyme Comics edited by Chris Duffy (First Second, 2011) Ages 3-8, grades P-3
Fairy Tale Comics edited by Chris Duffy (First Second, 2013) Ages 6-12, grades 1-7
Both these anthologies collect short comics stories based on traditional tales, and many add an unusual twist.

nathanHale_gn_coversNathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales by Nathan Hale  (Abrams, 2014) Ages 8-12, grades 3-7
Nathan Hale (yes, that is really his name) has written four graphic novels so far, about the Revolutionary War figure Nathan Hale, the ironclad steam warships used during the Civil War, the Donner Party, and World War I. The books are irreverent, and often funny, but also meticulously researched.

Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword by Barry Deutsch (Abrams, 2010) Ages 8-12, grades 3-7
An Orthodox Jewish girl dreams of slaying dragons someday. After an encounter with a witch, she knows she must battle a troll to get her sword—but that means deceiving her close-knit family.

olympian_gn_covers“Olympians” series by George O’Connor (Roaring Brook) Ages 9-14, grades 4-9
O’Connor devotes each volume of this series (six so far) to the story of a different Greek god. Well told and beautifully drawn.

A Game for Swallows: To Die, to Leave, to Return by Zeina Abirached (Lerner/Graphic Universe, 2012) Ages 10-14, grades 5-9
As bombs drop and snipers shoot on the streets of Beirut, Zeina and her brother must depend on neighbors for support and love as they wait for their parents to return home.

Primates: The Fearless Science of Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, and Biruté Galdikas
By Jim Ottaviani and Maris Wicks (First Second, 2013) Ages 12 and up, Grades 7 and up
This group biography highlights the curiosity and dedication of three outstanding women working in science, giving students a solid introduction to their lives and work. This title works especially well as a starting point and encourages further research.

boxers-saintsBoxers & Saints by Gene Luen Yang (First Second, 2013) Ages 12 and up, Grades 7 and up
Two volumes tell two sides of an historical event, the Boxer Rebellion. Yang uses engaging personal perspectives to raise questions about how history is recorded and whether there’s ever a clear right side in any conflict.

Town of Evening Calm, Country of Cherry Blossoms by Fumiyo Kouno (Last Gasp, 2007) Ages 12 and up, grades 7 and up
In a wrenching yet hopeful look at Hiroshima after the bomb, two interconnected short stories follow the lives of a young woman living in post-war Japan and of her granddaughter growing up generations after the bomb dropped.

The Arrival by Shaun Tan (Scholastic, 2007) Ages 12 and up, grades 7 and up
In this wordless book, a man must immigrate to avoid the dark shadowy creatures that threaten his family. Strong visual metaphors reward close reading, but even younger readers will be drawn to the superb artwork.


Online resources

cbldf_logo_shadowComic Book Legal Defense Fund (CLDF) A nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting the First Amendment rights of the comics medium.

Reading With Pictures  A national organization that advocates for the use of comics in the classroom. Their graphic textbook Comics that Make Kids Smarter has just been published by Andrews McMeel.

No Flying, No Tights  Graphic novel reviews by librarians.

Good Comics for Kids Graphic novel news, reviews, and interviews by librarians and other critics.

The Comic Book Teacher High school English teacher Ronell Whitaker reviews graphic novels and discusses how he uses them in the classroom.

Comics in Education  Gene Luen Yang, the author of a number of acclaimed graphic novels including American Born Chinese and Boxers & Saints, is also a high school teacher. This website is the online version of his Masters degree in education project and includes information on the history of comics in education and the use of comics in education as well as other resources.

Diamond Bookshelf This monthly newsletter from Diamond Book Distributors, which specializes in graphic novels, features information about graphic novels for children and teens, as well as graphic novel lesson plans.


Additional reading

Banned Books Week Handbook, available for free download from the CBLDF website.

CBLDF Presents Manga; Introduction, Challenges, and Best Practices, edited by Melinda Beasi (Dark Horse, 2013)

Graphic Novels and Comics in the Classroom: Essays on the Educational Power of Sequential Art edited by Carrye Kay Syma and Robert G. Weiner (McFarland, 2013).

contentareaUsing Content-Area Graphic Texts for Learning: A Guide for Middle-Level Educators by Meryl Jaffe (Maupin House, 2013)

Graphic Novels in Your School Library by Jesse Karp (American Library Association, 2012)

GraphicNovelClassroomThe Graphic Novel Classroom: POWerful Teaching and Learning with Images by Maureen Bakis (Corwin Press, 2011).

Teaching Graphic Novels: Practical Strategies for the Secondary ELA Classroom by Katie Monnin (Maupin House, 2010). The author is an assistant professor of literacy at the University of North Florida.

Graphic Novels and Comic Books edited by Kat Kan (Reference Shelf, 2010). A collection of essays on using graphic novels in libraries and classrooms, including writings on graphic novels as literature and interviews with Marjane Satrapi, Gene Luen Yang, and other creators.

22_tencentThe Ten-Cent Plague: The Great Comic Book Scare and How It Changed America by David Hajdu (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2008). A very readable account of the anti-comics movement of the 1940s and 1950s and the effect it had on the industry in subsequent decades.

Going Graphic: Comics at Work in the Multilingual Classroom by Stephen Cary (Heinemann, 2004).

The Power of Reading: Insights From the Research (Second Edition), by Stephen D. Krashen (Heinemann/Libraries Unlimited, 2004). Krashen devotes a chapter to comics as light reading.



These publishers provide lesson plans and other teacher resources to go with their graphic novels:


First Second Books

Lerner/Graphic Universe


Toon Books

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  1. A book that is partially a gn seems to have been missed in our world and should be more considered for high school teaching is Trevor Getz’s and Liz Clarke’s Albina and the Important Men, winner of the 2013 Children’s Africana Book Award. I highly recommend it.