As educators and librarians gear up for a new school year, we’re taking to opportunity to highlight our free resources designed to help students–and everyone else–love and appreciate comics! Today we feature the CBLDF Discussion Guides and Meryl Jaffe’s regular column Using Graphic Novels in Education, both of which aid in incorporating specific comic titles into reading groups or classroom instruction.
CBLDF Discussion Guides
Given their visual nature, comics are easy targets for would-be censors. CBLDF Discussion Guides are tools that can be used to lead conversations about challenged graphic novels and to help allay misconceptions about comics.
CBLDF Discussion Guides can be used by librarians, educators, retailers, or anyone who wants to lead a conversation about a graphic novel. In each guide, you will find the following:
- Synopsis: A brief summary of the major plot points in the graphic novel
- Themes: The overarching ideas that the creator(s) express in the graphic novel
- Reasons Challenged: The reasons why people have tried to censor the book
- Suggested Age Range: The age group for which the book is most likely suitable
- Discussion Questions: Tiered questions organized by cognitive complexity, from basic recall to higher-order thinking
- Activities: Projects and activities to take the conversation about graphic novels beyond the library or classroom and to encourage greater engagement with comics
We’ll be adding more discussion guides in the future, so be sure to check back for updates. In the meantime, you can use to following to lead amazing discussions about comics books!
Batman: The Killing Joke is a touchstone in the Batman universe. It begins with Batman discovering that his long-time nemesis, the Joker, has escaped from Arkham Asylum. Joker, on a mission to prove that “one bad day” could lead to insanity, shoots and paralyzes Barbara “Batgirl” Gordon and kidnaps her father, Gotham City’s Police Commissioner James Gordon. The Joker then humiliates and terrorizes Commissioner Gordon in an debilitated former amusement park, hoping to drive him mad. Batman ultimately faces off with the Joker, and flashbacks of the Joker’s past are woven throughout the story.
Download a PDF of The Killing Joke discussion guide here.
Blankets tells the story of Craig, a painfully shy Christian teenager who lives in a very small town in Wisconsin. He is awkward and has few close friendships outside of his relationship with his brother Pete. The two were close when they were growing up, but drifted apart in Craig’s teenage years. During Bible camp, Craig meets and shares an almost immediate bond with Raina, a girl from Michigan. As the two correspond after camp, their friendship deepens. Craig convinces his parents to let him stay at Raina’s house for two weeks, during which time Craig wrestles with his faith, his desire for Raina, and the knowledge that his time with her short.
Download a PDF of the Blankets discussion guide here.
Dragon Ball follows the adventures of Son Goku and his friends as they embark on a quest for seven mystical orbs called Dragon Balls, each of which summons a wish-granting dragon when gathered. Loosely based on traditional Chinese storytelling and myth, this story is strictly played for laughs.
Download a PDF of the Dragon Ball discussion guide here.
Fun Home is Alison Bechdel’s memoir about growing up in a small town, where her father was a high school English teacher and also ran the family business: a funeral home. Bechdel’s father projected a carefully cultivated image as a dedicated family man, but as Bechdel comes of age and accepts her own sexuality, she discovers her father is a closeted gay man. Soon thereafter, her father dies by what many believe to be suicide, leaving Bechdel and her family to cope with their family secrets and the reality of her father’s life and choices.
Download a PDF of the Fun Home discussion guide here.
In the fictional town of Ice Haven, a young boy goes missing, a poet seethes with envy, a self-conscious teen pines for love, a pair of married detectives drift further apart, and a giant blue rabbit returns to town after his recent release from prison. Through an artful weaving of vignettes, Clowes captures the apathy and angst of a small town.
Download a PDF of the Ice Haven discussion guide here.
Maus, art spiegelman’s two-part graphic memoir, which won the Pulitzer Prize in 1992, details his family’s survival of World War II as Polish Jews, including time in death camps, while also exploring spiegelman’s troubled relationship with his father and coping with the suicide of his mother. spiegelman’s technique of depicting different ethnicities as animals — for example Jews are mice and Germans are cats — is a profound and deeply effective metaphor for racism.
Download a PDF of the Maus discussion guide here.
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.
Download a PDF of the Persepolis discussion guide here.
During an American bombing of Baghdad in 2003, several lions escaped from the Baghdad Zoo. Pride of Baghdad is the fictionalized account of the pride roaming through the city before finally being shot by American soldiers. While yearning for freedom within their enclosure, the lions find that the outside world is far from simple as they seek food and safety while bickering amongst themselves. This story can easily be read as an allegory about the effects ofwar upon noncombatants.
Download a PDF of the Pride of Baghdad discussion guide here.
In the first volume of Sandman, readers are introduced to the series’ central character, Dream. After 70 years of imprisonment y an occultist and his son, Dream must undertake a journey to recover thee objects of power: a pouch of sand, a helm, and a ruby. In doing so, Dream battles a drug addict, demon, and madman and incurs the wrath of Lucifer. The volume collects the first eight issues and the series and also introduces readers to Dream’s older sister, Death.
Download a PDF of the discussion guide for Preludes and Nocturnes here.
In the second volume of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman, The Doll’s House, Dream embarks on another quest: the retrieval of four escaped dreams. In doing so, Dream encounters a false Sandman, battles his most terrifying creations, takes down a convention of serial killers, and threatens the life of a young woman who can break down the walls between dreamers. The book also introduces three more members of the Endless: Destiny, Desire, and Despair.
Download a PDF of the discussion guide for The Doll’s House here.
Dream Country is a collection of four independent stories: “Calliope,” which focuses on the imprisonment and abuse of the muse Calliope; “A Dream of a Thousand Cats,” in which cats seek to change the world through dreams; “A midsummer Night’s Dream,” during which William Shakespeare puts on a play for Faerie; and “Facade,” which portrays the despair of an immortal superhero.
Download a PDF of the discussion guide for Dream Country here.
In Season of Mists, Dream is goaded by Desire and Death into returning to Hell to free Nada. Upon his arrival in Hell, Dream discovers that Lucifer has abdicated his throne and evicted everyone from Hell. Dream accepts the key to Hell and soon finds himself entangled with various factions who are seeking ownership of the abandoned domain.
Download a PDF of the discussion guide for Season of Mists here.
SideScrollers recounts the adventures of three teenaged slacker geeks who are roused to action when a female friend becomes romantically involved with loutish quarterback Dick. Along the way, the trio engages in mildly vulgar but realistic teenage banter and vandalizes Dick’s car with anatomically correct graffiti.
Download a PDF of the SideScrollers discussion guide here.
Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ Watchmen is an alternate history in which a group of retired crimefighters investigates the murder of one of their own during an era in which costumed vigilantes have been outlawed. The graphic novel incorporates Cold War-era anxieties and non-linear storytelling to function as commentary on both the superhero genre and American society. It received a Hugo Award in 1988 and was instrumental in garnering more respect and shelf space for comics and graphic novels in libraries and mainstream bookstores.
Download a PDF of the Watchmen discussion guide here.
Using Graphic Novels in Education
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:
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
Kazu Kibuishi’s Amulet is an award-winning graphic novel series about Emily and her brother Navin who, through extenuating circumstances, find themselves battling for the freedom of a parallel world and face mounting dangers with new-found friends.Emily and Navin move into their great-grandfather’s country house outside a town called Norlen after their father’s death. While the locals believe the house is haunted, Emily and Navin’s mom, Karen, has no choice but to fix up the old house and move in. Times have been hard without their dad, and the home is all they can afford. While cleaning the cobwebs and dust, Emily discovers a locket — the Amulet — and Karen, Emily, and Navin are transported into an alternate world through a small door in the basement. They soon discover that they’re descended from a line of Stonekeepers, people charged with protecting the alien world. They also find shortly after their arrival that something is terribly wrong. Read the full post
Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm’s Babymouse is an award-winning graphic novel series that showcases the trials and tribulations of elementary school students and teachers, as seen through the eyes of Babymouse, as spunky, lovable mouse who wrestles with popularity, quirky lockers, competition — in the school band, school play, math Olympics, and even the best birthday party ever — and more. The series has won multiple Children’s Choice awards, the 2006 Gryphon Award, the 2006 ALA Notable Children’s Book Award, the 2006 New York Book Show Award. Read the full post
The Misadventures of Salem Hyde is a wonderful series about a strong-willed, spunky, impulsive young witch living in a non-witch community, who has a slight problem: Her spells tend to backfire. However, with the help of Whammy, her companion cat, she slowly deals with her “spelling” issues while boldly facing her nemesis Shelly and her teacher Mr. Fink (who “dislikes all kinds of kids but especially Salem”). The Misadventures of Salem Hyde received starred reviews from Kirkus Reviews and Publishers Weekly, and was named one of the Top 10 graphic novels of 2013 by The School Library Journal. These books contain fun-filled adventures and wordplay that make them an awesome read for kids of all ages (even though it is geared for 7- to 10-year-olds). Read the full post
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:
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
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
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
Books for Black History Month (February), teaching the Civil Rights Movement, and addressing racism:
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
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
March: Book Two is the second volume of Representative John Lewis’s graphic novel memoire, co-written with his aide Andrew Aydin and illustrated by Nate Powell. March: Book Two details the real-life heroes of the 1960s, from the Civil Rights leaders of SNCC and the SCLC to the black and white protesters who risked life and limb for what was right. In Book Two, Lewis’s story continues with the events that took place on November 10, 1960, in Nashville, Tennessee, as “…our young organization had successfully ended segregation at the lunch counters downtown and turned its attention to fast food restaurants and cafeterias using the same strategy.” It then continues with events that took place in the South between 1960 -1963, culminating with the March on Washington on August 28, 1963. Read the full post
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
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):
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
Aya: Life in Yop City by Marguerite Abouet and Clement Oubrerie is loosely based on Abouet’s life and centers around 19-year old Aya, her friends, and their families in the Ivory Coast working class suburb of Abidjan in the 1970s. Aya was the winner of the Best First Album award at the Angouleme International Comics Festival, the Children’s Africana Book Award, and the Glyph Award. It was also nominated for the Quill Award, YALSA’s Great Graphic Novels, and the Eisner Award. It has also been included on best of lists from The Washington Post, Booklist, Publishers Weekly, and School Library Journal. It has been adapted into a film, Aya of Yop City (produced by Joann Sfar and Antoine Delesvaux). Read the full post
Books featuring protagonists with disabilities:
Cece Bell’s El Deafo, a 2015 Newbery Honor Book has also received starred reviews from Kirkus Reviews and Publishers Weekly. El Deafo’s Newbery Honor “for outstanding contribution to children’s literature” is the first given to a graphic novel. In this graphic memoir, Cece Bell discusses with humor and honesty the challenges she faced as young girl after losing her hearing to illness. No one likes being different, and having to wear a bulky hearing aid strapped to her chest certainly didn’t help. Reading El Deafo, we experience what it is like living with severe to profound hearing loss, we see how lonely it can be when communication is difficult, and at the same time we realize that all of us are similar in some ways and different in others. The key is finding the inner strength to embrace our weaknesses and differences, and becoming stronger because of them. Read the full post
Books for dealing with grief:
I Kill Giants, by Joe Kelly and JM Ken Niimura, won the IGN Best of 2008, was voted one of the 10 Best Comics of 2009 by New York magazine’s Dan Kois; was a YALSA (Young Adult Library Association) 2010 Top Ten Great Graphic Novel for Teens, and won the Gold Award at the 5th International Manga Award I 2012. Through the prose and art of I Kill Giants, Joe Kelly and JM Ken Niimura provide a timeless, honest rendering of a child’s reaction to critical illness as eleven-year-old Barbara struggles to face an untimely loss, first through escapism and then gradually through acceptance. With Kelly’s insightful text and Niimura’s powerful images, we feel Barbara’s pains and struggles as she faces life’s challenges. Read the full post
Books for coming of age, finding oneself, and transitioning friendships:
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
Larry Marder gives you everything you’re going to need to navigate through Beanworld in the first few pages. He introduces you to the characters in, under, around, and traveling through Beanworld. It is a wonderful story about the forces and cycles of life, about responsibilities, about learning, and about growing. It’s about friendships and love. It’s about rivalries, creativity and balance. From Marder’s use of language, wordplay, slang and puns to his play on cultures and life and his simply drawn but far from simple images, it’s pure fun. Read the full post
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
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
Raina Telgemeier’s Drama is a fictional story about seventh-grader Callie, who, like many kids her age, wrestles with a pesky, snooping little brother while navigating middle school friendships and crushes. The interesting thing about Callie is her passion around being on the Drama Club’s tech crew and interacting with her friends in the club. What makes this book so special though, is its message to young girls. Specifically, what makes Callie happiest is not being cool or popular or even winning “the boy.” Instead, it’s working hard on her set ideas, becoming the best stage manager ever of the Drama Club, and refining her voice, her vision, and her skills within that role. Read the full post
Ms. Marvel: No Normal by G. Willow Wilson and Adrian Alphona features Kamala Khan, a 16-year-old Muslim girl from Jersey City, New Jersey who becomes the new Ms. Marvel. Wilson, Alphona, and the Marvel team create a modern twist offering fun and diversity for tween readers and beyond. Ms. Marvel is a finalist for the first Dwayne McDuffie Award for Diversity (nominees range from independent to mainstream comic books) and one of YALSA’s Top Ten 2015 Great Graphic Novels for Teens. It is also one of YALSA’s 2015 Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers. Read the full post
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
The Plain Janes is a graphic novel by written Cecil Castellucci and illustrated by Jim Rugg. It’s about Jane, who after barely surviving a terror attack in Metro City, must readjust to a “safer” life in suburbia. There, Jane decides that instead of sitting with the cool kids (where she used to belong in her previous school), she’d prefer a more interesting group of friends. She finds herself at a table with three other girls named Jane (or Jayne), and encourages them to form an all-girl gang: the P.L.A.I.N. Janes, or People Loving Art in Neighborhoods. This group incorporates Jane the athlete, Jane the artist, Jane the theater geek, and Jayne the science nerd. Through their “sabotage artistique,” Main Jane hopes they can save the disaster that is high school while showing her mom that the world’s not that scary a place. Read the full post
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
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
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
This One Summer (First Second, 2014) by Jillian Tamaki and Mariko Tamaki rocked the publishing, library, and literary world by being the first graphic novel to receive the Caldecott Honor for “Most Distinguished American Picture Book for Children” and the Printz Honor for “Excellence in Literature for Young Adults.” Told in warm prose and exquisite monochromatic blue images, This One Summer delicately balances the nostalgic power of summer traditions with the often harsh and intruding lessons of life. It embraces readers of all ages as two tween girls, local townie teens, and one set of parents all tangle in the delicate balances of friendships and relationships, grapple with the pains of growing up, deal with the torments of depression and of wanted and unwanted pregnancies, and cope with the heartbreaks and hopes of life. This One Summer has received outstanding praise and unprecedented honors for its stunning art and thoughtful, sensitive content. Read the full post