I am a late convert to the graphic novels craze, but I am always pleasantly surprised by what a unique experience I have through the illustrations and organization of graphic novels. They are fast-paced and can cover more ground than a typical historical monograph or historical fiction book. Here are a few that have become favorites in my classroom.
If you teach US History this book will be incredibly useful to you. It has beautiful, color illustrations that are punctuated every so often with timelines, primary source documents and real pictures of Frederick Douglass. If you teach Douglass’s writings in an English class, this book provides important background information about his life in a gorgeous format.
The Life of Frederick Douglass
This was the first graphic novel I ever read, and it was actually assigned to me in one of my graduate History courses. The first section is a dynamic graphic history following the 1876 court case of a West African woman named Abina as she fought her wrongful enslavement. You can compare the story to the actual transcript of the case, provided in the next section. The last sections include historical context, a reading guide, and classroom resources to help you teach nineteenth-century colonialism in Africa. I would love to see more graphic histories published in this brilliant format.
This is my newest graphic novel purchase–I obviously couldn’t resist another Hamilton addition to my classroom! This definitely isn’t a “dumbed down” version of Hamilton’s story; it is a challenging and engaging read even for history buffs. This would make a great teaching tool for US History teachers, and your Hamil-fan students will beg to borrow it!
This story of Ebo, who is trying to find his way from Ghana to Europe is fast-paced, heartbreaking, beautiful and eye-opening. In my English classes we do a unit about immigration to the United States, but I think it’s important to look at migration from a global perspective as well. This story depicts the lengths that people–even children–must go to in order to survive famine, food shortages, and unemployment.
This graphic novel is probably the closest to the work that I like to do as a historian, so it was interesting to see how Max Brooks handled the story. Even though I wasn’t initially impressed with the illustrations, Max Brooks attended the University of the Virgin Islands so I knew I had to give this book a chance! It tells a story most students and teachers have never heard, and inspires readers to look for those hidden stories we don’t often find in history books.
The March books are a staple of historical graphic novels. Revered civil rights leader John Lewis chronicles his story of nonviolent resistance against segregation as a young man in Alabama with Martin Luther King Jr. Civil rights history easily becomes white-washed in classrooms as we move further away from the personal stories of resistance, so these first person accounts are essential to preserving the spirit of the civil rights movement.
Students often have a hard time picturing the Annex and the Frank family’s living situation. This beautifully illustrated graphic novel interpretation of her diary provides such useful images of the characters, the setting, and Anne’s imagination. I took pictures of pages with my phone and shared them on Google Classroom with my students to spark discussions as we read the play this year. It’s definitely one of my favorite graphic novels I’ve ever read!
I’m still building my graphic novel library! Please leave me any suggestions you have in the comments!