The Twelve Best Comic Books for the Classroom
Today we offer our recommendations as to the best comics for teachers to explore the concept in their own classrooms. We have pounded the Internet pavement and read the reviews of sellers and independent critics alike to try to find a list that is unequivocally strong.
To be sure of academic support for the concept as well as to create a literature focus we have gone a bit more with traditional tales set to graphic formats. The obvious key is that such comics share the basics of a famous tale and set the stage for reading the real text later in school. Our approach may upset the real proponents of the movement but we believe that administrative buy-in for the concept is critical.
The choices we made that are not quite the traditional famed story line truly teach students about the world around them. We went with five choices at grades 2-6 and seven at grades 7-12 thinking that the choice for middle school and high school would be far more challenging.
Lastly it should be noted that many of these tales are actually enjoyable for all age levels and operate at various levels of sophistication simultaneously. Without further ado.
Five for grades 2-6:
The comic heading up our list is an absolute no-brainer. The immensely popular Bone Series is one of the most critically acclaimed as well as one of the most beloved by children. Jeff Smith’s Bone series has been described as a group of “Looney Tune type characters dropped into a Tolkien-esque landscape with neither a map nor a friend.” The lovely Thorn is considered one of the great fantasy heroine’s of all time. The series creates the classic tension of all good stories, humor balanced against the serious demands of adventure.
Chris Wilson selects Beowulf (Wilson recommends the Storrie or Hinds versions as well as Petrucha) as a perfect choice for youngsters 8-11 years of age. Of course the comic introduces the epic story of Beowulf, one of the most powerful story’s of all time, yet seeks to get past the archaic language and into a more modern translation. The comic obviously brings the basics of the epic tale yet sets a perfect stage for one day approaching the original text.
A third comic that hits most experts list is Clan Apis. Though the story is of the birth, life and death of bees, they of course can talk and also have human like feelings. Otherwise the tale is described as “strictly an informational book about bees and their habits and behaviors.” The author, Jay Hosler, is a neurobiologist; this comic teaches children how the bees construct a hive, the design principles utilized and the different roles members of the hive play. The story even features a dung-beetle by the name of Sisyphus.
Another on Chris Wilson’s list is the group of comics called Amelia Rules. The Jimmy Gownley series offers an extremely like-able yet flawed character. In addition, life is never easy for the characters yet they are always happy with life (a strong message given the emotional difficulties many youth experience today). Readers will see characters who laugh, fight, and most importantly have fun. The ability to relate to those issues is clearly a high point for kids. Wilson notes the series even tackles the subject of Santa Claus and calls the Amelia Santa tale one of the most poignant Christmas stories he’s ever read.
Another popular adventure series is Alison Dare, a set of tales about a twelve year-old described as the Indiana Jones of comics. Her mother is an archaeologist and her dad a librarian who moonlights as an Egyptian superhero; their work/life creates a wealth of opportunities for Allison to get into trouble. Somehow, someway she always manages to get away from the various villains even if she finds herself in hot water with the supportive adults in her life, her parents and teachers.
Middle School/High School (Grades 7-12)
We agree with Chris Wilson who sites the 9/11 Report in graphic form as a must have as it presents an unusual opportunity for teachers. Though some may see this as older than middle school it can certainly be used at that level to introduce students to the tragic date in US history. The Commission enlisted the talents of comic book creators Sid Jacobson and Ernie Colón to create the graphic text format. This is a great option to begin the exploration of non-fiction materials with older readers.
The graphic story of Dracula from Bram Stoker is a great way to introduce a classic to today’s readers. Featuring revenge in huge quantities, the gory story may not be welcomed by all middle schoolers yet many others will find that aspect mesmerizing. As with many others we have selected, this seems to be a great way to introduce younger readers to the classic tale with the idea that later in high school students could gain a better appreciation of the traditional tale in text form. Of course, an interesting approach would be to parallel the two texts at that time to ensure complete understanding.
Pedro and Me by Judd Winick will be familiar to those students who have followed MTV’s Real World. Winick was a cast member of MTV’s The Real World 3: San Francisco. The professional cartoonist’s tale is a tribute to his Real World house-mate Pedro Zamora. A close friend of Winick, Zamora was an AIDS activist and educator who died in 1994. The book strikes a great emotional balance and is never tawdry nor distant. The recommendation for the text is for ages 14 and up.
Maus by Art Speigelman is considered the quintessential comic to win over skeptics. Another memoir regarding the Holocaust, the book has won the Pulitzer Prize. Fully titled, Maus:A Survivor’s Tale: My Father Bleeds History/Here My Troubles Began, the book recreates the tale of Spiegelman’s father’s life. Though mice represent Jews, cats represents the Nazis, et al, the pain is real and the subject matter intense. Such a book again leads to the possibility of reading more in depth text-based novels as follow ups later on in school.
Age of Bronze: A Thousand Ships is Eric Shanower’s incredible recreation of the Trojan War. The attention to historical detail is considered exemplary and adding to its appeal is that the supernatural tendencies of the classic story are understated in favor of an approach the emphasizes the human element. The art work fleshes out the personal attributes of each character making this work a great example of how the graphic format can actually be an inspiration to the written word.
The Tale of One Bad Rat explores an abused girl’s attempt to reclaim her life. Written by Bryan Talbot, the story features a teenage runaway by the name of Helen Potter who takes refuge in the works of children’s author Beatrix Potter. As is typical with most abuse victims, Potter tends to blame herself. The book features symbolism galore though the subject matter may make this text inappropriate for middle schoolers.
Blankets is described by experts as a classic young man’s coming-of-age tale. Written by Craig Thompson, realism is the theme and Thompson is the protagonist of the story. There are religious issues as well as a number of the challenges any young man faces growing up. Its level of sophistication and story line render it a work for older high school students who have truly matured along the spectrum of life.