Making Curriculum Pop

Here, in NYC public schools, it is a high-stakes testing week. These weeks make me pause to reflect on the ways in which the "educational industrial complex" use standards and testing to pander uninspired teaching materials to school districts across the country. Without going into a diatribe about how legislation like NCLB can make curriculum fizzle - I was looking for a silver lining today - so I thought of a "Big Text" (read like "Big Oil") resource that is worth checking out.

This year I've been on the lookout for a new World History textbook and wanted to check out one that Glencoe had done in partnership with National Geographic. When we received their sample materials I was intrigued by a supplemental text, Glencoe World History: In Graphic Novel. Because graphic novels have taken such a strong hold in English classrooms, Big Text did not want to be left behind. This collection of teachable little comics are a bit stiffer than what you'd find in regular comics. You can tell the writers were more interested in wrapping standards into a narrative than crafting engaging stories. That being the case, it's still a worthwhile resource with chapters like "The Wrath of Genghis Khan," "Galileo's Universe," "The Silk Road" and the standout "Napoleon's Little Empire" with some of the most playful illustrations I've seen of a man and his complex.

I've found a lot of "period" graphic novels but they tend to be better suited to literature classes than history classes - standouts in this category include The Age of Bronze series about the Trojan War, Marvel's Iliad (now collected) and Odyssey series (likely be collected) and Osamu Tezuka's appropriately zen Buddha series. But finding texts like Maus, that really explore the major historical issues along with a compelling narrative, are harder to come by. I think Adam Gopnick's Cartoon History of the Universe I, II, II and A Cartoon History of the Modern World are some of the best history as comic resources I've come across but there must be more out there, right?

Obviously, there are tons of amazing children's books that explore these topics (see the Horrible History Series and David Macaulay's books) but it seems like the traditional content of world/global history is not as easy to find in comic form. I've done a lot of global history work around popular films but I have to imagine that there must be more five star graphic novels for history teachers besides Maus.

So you may not be a social studies person - but if you know someone who is please ask them to join this discussion - maybe they know about more history comics that live on the DL!

If your inquiry yields fruit please share below.

Stay Groovy!


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have you come across marjane satrapi's pesepolis 1 and 2 yet??? also, marvel 1602 is a bit of a reach, but interestingly historical in basis. i will keep thinking about this....... :) katie
Have you seen this LP from NCTE for Persepolis?

Gaining Background for the Graphic Novel Persepolis: A WebQuest on Iran

Marvel's 1602 a cool one I hadn't heard of - Thanks!!!
some more thoughts....first second publishers is my FAVORITE gn publisher, and they have a few gns that might work.....

alan's war (guibert), wwii memories of g.i. alan cope put into gn format
bourbon island 1730 (appollo & trondheim), NOT necessarily based in clear history, but a GREAT text for teaching race relations and historical conflict and debate, etc....resolution/conflict/politics type stuff......i think it is accessible for students too b/c it has animal characters, kind of like an animal farm type thing.....which i think sometimes makes discussing hard things a little easier

some others by first-second: deogratias (about the rwanda conflict), notes for a war lost colony (kind of an americana take with animals like bourbon island above) oh!!!! laika is a GREAT gn about the race btw us and russia to send something alive into space....great great GREAT!!!! to other things for now......staying groovy for sure! katie :)
Yeah, First Second is really going hard after the Ed market but their books have lot of pluck ....

Have you seen their Lesson Plan Collection?

I haven't read Deogratias yet - would you give it three thumbs up?

I have something about women in science in graphic form that is pretty good--I'll have to get the title later. It's at school and we have a snow day today. It has a reallly interesting story about Heddy Lamar, the actress, who was originally a scientist. She invented a way to track torpedoes that was never used by the U.S. military, but it became the basis for cell phone technology, though only after her patent expired.

Graphic texts certainly have a powerful potential to reach kids, but at this point, I've been disappointed in the results--at least those produced by what you call Big Text. A lot of the comics produced specifically for school, for me at least, is almost as boring as reading the textbook. To use an old example, I was teaching the Odyssey and so got the Classic Comics version. It's the most depressingly dull version of the Odyssey I've seen. It's way too prosy and the artist didn't seem to understand the form of comics. A number of the books I've gotten from Educational Catalogues are equally wretched. Of course, perhaps that is only from my perspective. Others out there may find them perfectly fine, and if they reach the kids, that's all that matters.

At this point in the field, Satrapi's Persepolis, Guibert's Alan's War, Speiglman's Maus, and others like it seem best for teaching history. I'm also interested in following Katie's advice and checking out first-second graphic texts. I've only read American Born Chinese from that publisher, and it is brilliant.

I'm not entirely sure what my point is here, except perhaps to complain about how little Big Text understands comic book form, and to celebrate artists who aren't producing specifically for schools but whose works would be wonderful for students. On the other hand, maybe it's just me. : - )
Here are some links to info about comics that have ties to global or U.S. history. Unfortunately most of these are probably only appropriate for older teens and adults, but definitely worth knowing about if this is your area of interest…

Usagi Yojimbo - Feudal Japan

Times of Botchan - Meiji Era Japan

Louis Riel – biography of the 19th century Canadian revolutionary

Northwest Passage – Rupert’s Land, 1755

Aya – Africa’s Ivory Coast, late 1970s

Treasury of Victorian Murder
Treasury of 20th Century Murder

Hyperion/Center for Cartoon Studies biographies:
- Harry Houdini
- Satchel Paige
- Henry Thoreau

Nat Turner

Journalism comics by Joe Sacco – Conflicts in Palestine, Bosnia, more…

Barefoot Gen – Japan following the bombing of Hiroshima

First in Space (to complement Laika)

Fallout: J. Robert Oppenheimer, Leo Szilard, and the Political Science of the Atomic Bomb


Exit Wounds – modern day Israel

King – 3-part bio of Martin Luther King Jr.
Catilin you are a rockstar - you should put an image of Mic Jagger or Bono in your profile. Thanks for sharing these links. What do you teach?

John, Oh man, I guess your lament above was totally what I was talking about - they end up almost as stiff at the textbook with Big Text tries it - I guess that's why we can keep looking to these cool independant artists who are interested the comic form before the content - Obviously, First Second and then the Women in Science dude is based in Ann Arbor, MI - all science themed comics - in fact one of them is mentioned below by Caitlin...

Hope page...GT Labs:

Thanks for joining in these discussions! How big is your high school in PA? Are you a Penn State fan - if so - Go Blue!

I'm surprised nobody has mentioned Watchmen yet-- not appropriate for younger students, of course (as many of the graphic novels are not) but I would certainly incorporate at least some of it into my curriculum during discussion about the Cold War, or show a clip from the movie. I think it does a great job illustrating the tensions, conflict and fear in American society during that time.
Hey Ryan

Back in Toronto, my brother's teacher used Louis Riel, the graphic novel by Chester Brown to teach Canadian History. That's one part of the Canadian History that he's never forgotten.

Here is a website for a high-school teacher who uses comics to teach in class: In the bibliography he has some interesting references for books on how to teach using comics as a medium.

There's also Palestine by Joe Sacco. It might make for an interesting discussion to compare the perspective in Palestine with Waltz with Bashir
These are all great texts... Regarding a couple, I know that INKSTUDS (Vancouver comics podcast) has some illuminating interviews:
Specifially on THE PHOTOGRAPHER:
And also in series like this one, on COMICS AS MEDIA, which begins here:

Also, do you know the wordless book THE ARRIVAL by Shaun Tan?
[the best I can do is this link: ]
Telling of the immigrant experience in pictures, this story really gives you the sensation of arriving in a strange place and figuring it out. Highly recommended for all grades -- older students will enjoy exploring and explaining the real-world connections, and younger students love to note all the amazing details you can find in the sequential graphics.

And of course INKSTUDS has this incredible interview with Tan, which just throws back the curtains on the book and explains a TON of cool stuff about Tan's career and creative process:

I've posted a link list of some of the graphic novels I've used in history (& other subjects) here:
Ryan,please take the time to look at I am creating the history of art and architecture around the world starting with Prehistoric Art. These are micro lessons are short and question based.
I want to complete this project and need some additional help. If I could start with a teacher now for next year we might get something wonderful for the world.



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