Happy Banned Books Week! In this series, we compile a list of comics that have diverse content and creators for which we have developed resources. For this column, we take a look at comics that deal with racial issues and feature racially diverse characters and creators.
CBLDF hasn’t had to deal with overtly racist attacks against comics, but some attacks have targeted books that bring racial diversity to classrooms and libraries. In early 2015, the critically-acclaimed comic collection Palomar by Gilbert Hernandez was called “child porn” by a parent in Rio Rancho, New Mexico. On its face, the challenge did not appear to be racially motivated, but Palomar reflects the Chicano background of its creator and would undoubtedly engage diverse students in the community.
CBLDF has taken action to defend other books from racially-motivated bans: In 2012, the Tucson Independent School District dissolved their acclaimed Mexican American Studies program in response to a state law that specifically targeted the program for fomenting “racial hatred.” Subsequently, several books by Mexican American and Native authors were banned. CBLDF defended the books and filed an amicus brief challenging the constitutionality of the law.
Let’s take a look at comics that would bring racial diversity to classrooms and libraries…
Amulet by Kazu Kibushi
Amulet is the fantastic story of a young girl, Emily, and her younger brother, Navin, and the adventures they have and the challenges they face when they discover a alternate world hidden behind a locked door in their grandfather’s basement. An award-winning series that spans six volumes, Kibushi depicits and fun coming of age tale and presents to readers a world teeming with a cast of diverse characters. Teaching readers acceptance and understanding as well as the importance of working with others, Amulet continues to be applauded for the value and enrichment that it brings to young readers.
- Diversity content: Japanese-American creator
- Using Graphic Novels in Education: Amulet
American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang
Celebrating its 10th anniversary this year, American Born Chinese is the story of social assimilation and identity discovery. Told in three parts, Yang captures what it means to be a first generation American and despite obstacles like negative stereotypes and open hostility from fellow community members, how important it is for everyone to celebrate their cultural heritage and be true to themselves. The message of American Born Chinese is very much the one of Gene Yang’s own mission as the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature — to “read without walls” and become fearless of exploring and accepting cultural diversity.
- Diversity content: Chinese-American creator, Asian protagonists, issues of immigration and assimilation
- Using Graphic Novels in Education: American Born Chinese
Barefoot Gen by Keiji Nakazawa
This seminal manga series, depicts the horrors of World War II and the disastrous impact the dropping of the nuclear bomb on Hiroshima had on the city and the citizens who called it home. A semi-autobiographical tale, Barefoot Gen tells the story of seven-year-old Gen Nakaoka and his experiences leading up to and after the dropping of the bomb. The book which has been embraced around the world as a harrowing cautionary tale of war has been voted the #1 most affecting manga in Japan, but has also faced numerous challenges due to concerns regarding violent depictions, discrimination, and the propagation of an anti-Japanese mentality.
- Banned & Challenged
- Diversity content: depiction of Japanese culture, Japanese creator
- Case study: Barefoot Gen
- Using Graphic Novels in Education: Barefoot Gen
- Adding Barefoot Gen to Your Library or Classroom Collection
Boxers & Saints by Gene Luen Yang
Recounting the Chinese Boxer Rebellion of the early 20th century, the two-part series Boxers & Saints depicts multiple perspectives of the events, and in that way is an educational vehicle for teaching tolerance of different opinions and critical thinking when it comes to conflict. From the perspective of the illiterate peasants–the boxers– who rise up against Chinese Christians; to the side of the saints found in the story of a young girl who converts to Christianity and devotes herself to uniting a divided China, Yang illustrates the necessity of understanding both sides to any story and different perspectives.
- Diversity content: depiction of Chinese culture, Chinese-American creator
- Using Graphic Novels in Education: Boxers & Saints
March Book One, Two, & Three by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, & Nate Powell
With the publication of the last volume in the award-winning and critically acclaimed March trilogy this year, Congressman John Lewis concludes his own personal account of the historical March on Washington. Tackling first-hand experiences under the Jim Crow and other segregation laws, this first -person narrative gives readers an intimate glimpse into the Civil Right Movement as well as some of the key events that occurred during that tumultuous time in United States history.
- Diversity content: depiction of the Civil Rights Movement, race relations, Black protagonist
- Using Graphic Novels in Education: March Book One
- Using Graphic Novels in Education: March Book Two
Ms. Marvel by G. Willow Wilson & Adrian Alphona
In this Marvel reboot, Kamala Khan, a 16-year-old Muslim girl from Jersey City, New Jersey, 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.
- Diversity content: depiction of Islam, Pakastani-American main characters, female protagonist, female writer
- Using Graphic Novels in Education: Ms. Marvel
- Muslims, Charlie Hebdo Counter Geller’s Divisive Narrative
The Silence of Our Friends by Mark Long, Jim Demonakos, & Nate Powell
A semi-autobiographical work set in Civil Rights-era Houston, Texas, The Silence of Our Friends tells the story of two families — one white and one black — who must contend with and overcome obstacles in a town ridden with poverty and racism. Following the events experienced by Mark Long’s own father, this books covers historical events like the Texas Southern University student boycott as well as the impact the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. had on the Houston community.
- Diversity content: depiction of the Civil Rights Movement, race relations, Black main characters
- Using Graphic Novels in Education: The Silence of Our Friends
Nat Turner by Kyle Baker
Pulled from the pages of historical figure Nat Turner’s own confessions, Kyle Baker’s Nat Turner is an intimate glimpse into the horrors of slavery and the events of August 21-22, 1831, the period during which Turner led an insurrection that resulted in the death of 55 people. This book is Turner’s story, from his capture in Africa to his ultimate death, and illustrates the impact of slavery and the necessity of understanding this violent moment in Unites States history.
- Diversity content: depiction of slavery, Black creator, Black protagonist
- Using Graphic Novels in Education: Nat Turner
King by Ho Che Anderson
King uses interviews, historical narratives, photographs, sketches, and collages to build a graphic biography of one of the Civil Rights Movement’s most iconic leaders, Martin Luther King Jr. Applauded in both the comic and mainstream publishing industries, King focuses on the man who would shape the Civil Rights Movement and incited both political and social change.
- Diversity content: depiction of the Civil Rights Movement, Black creator, Black protagonist, race relations
- Using Graphic Novels in Education: King
Palomar by Gilbert Hernandez
A collection of Gilbert Hernandez’s “Heartbreak Soup” stories, which originally appeared in Love and Rockets, Palomar explores the interconnected lives of different characters within the fictional South American town. The award-winning collection has been celebrated for its Chicano themes and the unique perspective that it brings to the Latin American experience. Despite it’s critical acclaim, though, in 2015 the book became the center of a heated battle in Rio Rancho, New Mexico when a parent called the book “child porn” after her son checked the book out of a local high school library.
- Banned & Challenged
- Diversity Content: Latino characters and setting, Chicano creator
- Case Study: Palomar
- Adding Palomar to Your Library or Classroom Collection
Pride of Baghdad by Brian K. Vaughn & Niko Henrichon
In 2007, this tale of escaped lions from the Baghdad zoo after an American bombing was voted one of the Top Ten Great Graphic Novels for Teens by the American Library Association and Editor’s Choice by Booklist. Despite its accolades and the message it sends as the literal story of the effects of war on non-combatants, the graphic novel has been challenged numerous times for alleged sexually explicit content.
- Banned & Challenged
- Diversity content: depiction of the Middle East, diverse characters (allegorical)
- Case Study: Pride of Baghdad
- Download a PDF of the Pride of Baghdad discussion guide here.
Saga by Brian K. Vaughan & Fiona Staples
This sci-fi epic adventure has literally taken the comic and mainstream publishing industry by storm. The multiple award winning series has been lauded as a modern classic and with its tackling of subjects like racial diversity and segregation in an alien universe has been embraced by the academic community for the value it adds to comic library collections. Despite its critical acclaim though the book has been challenged by would-be censors for its alleged “anti-family” and “age-inappropriate” content, holding the number six spot on the ALA’s 2014 Top Ten List of Frequently Challenged Books.
- Banned & Challenged
- Diversity content: female protagonists, female co-creator, diverse characters in terms of gender, race, and sexual orientation
- Case Study: Saga
- Adding Saga to Your Library or Classroom Collection
*Please note: Books are organized by approximate grade category based on publisher and creator recommendations as much as possible. A book that is listed as appropriate for one group is often appropriate for others, so please do your own research on the title to determine suitability for your students or patrons.
As you’re planning your events or developing your library and classroom curricula, be sure to check out these other valuable CBLDF resources:
- CBLDF Banned Books Week Handbook
- Raising A Reader: How Comics & Graphic Novels Can Help Your Kids Love to Read!
- Using Graphic Novels in Education
- Adding Graphic Novels to Your Library or Classroom Collection
- CBLDF Discussion Guides
- CBLDF Banned Comics Case Studies
- Comic Book Club Handbook
- Manga Book Club Handbook
- CBLDF Presents: Manga
- Working With Libraries: A Handbook For Comics Creators
- CBLDF Comics Connector
- Posters, shelf talkers, and more…
CBLDF is an official sponsor of Banned Books Week. Banned Books Week is also sponsored by American Booksellers for Free Expression, American Library Association, Association of American Publishers, Association of American University Presses, The Authors Guild, Dramatists Legal Defense Fund, Freedom to Read Foundation, National Council for Teachers of English, and People for the American Way Foundation. Contributors include American Society of Journalists and Authors, National Coalition Against Censorship, PEN America, and Project Censored. Banned Books Week is endorsed by the Center for the Book at the Library of Congress.
CBLDF’s education program is made possible with the support of the Gaiman Foundation and CBLDF’s Corporate Members — ABRAMS, Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab, BOOM! Studios, comiXology, DCBS, Diamond Comic Distributors, Dark Horse Comics, DC Entertainment, IDW Publishing, Image Comics, Half Price Books, Oni Press, Penguin Random House, ReedPop, TFAW.com, Scholastic, SPX, Valiant, the Will & Ann Eisner Family Foundation — and members like you. Thank you!