Friday, April 7, 2023


When a writer begins a work of historical fiction, she must start with research. For me, that means hours of reading Holocaust websites and books.  

As I mentioned in my first blog about Escape from Nuremberg, I decided to try my hand at writing a graphic novel. So, of course, that meant reading them to understand the genre. Here are the first few that I found at my library. 

GAIJIN by Matt Faulkner

Matt Faulkner's story of a Japanese-American boy is based on Faulkner's great-aunt's experiences. 13-year-old Koji Miyamoto faces prejudice and persecution after the attack on Pearl Harbor. He worries that his father might be fighting for the Japanese but doesn't receive word from him. 

Koji is put into an internment camp and his mother chooses to go with him. There he faces even greater pressure from the other boys who call him "Gaijin" (foreigner); he is a stranger and alien in his own country. He is pressured into committing petty crimes but eventually chooses to do the right thing. 

In the end, six years later, Koji is reunited with his father in Japan.

Since this was my first WWII graphic novel, I was interested to see how the passage of time is shown simply through small text boxes on the page and how much of the story is communicated through the illustrations.  It made me appreciate the art behind the graphic novel genre--a book told through vivid images and sparse text. 

In the Author's Note, Faulkner describes his great-aunt's trauma of being sent to an internment camp.

BOMB written by Steven Sheinkin and illustrated by Nick Bertozzi

This graphic novel adaptation of Steve Sheinkin's novel, BOMB: The Race to Build--and Steal--the World's Most Dangerous Weapon, was hard to put down. The recommended reading level is from 10-14, but it's a complicated story with flashbacks and multiple characters. I think it would be challenging for the average ten-year-old although it would show him the immense story behind the bomb's development, and probably demand a second read for true comprehension. Full of science such as physics and chemistry and history, I think it's suitable for older readers and adults as well.

BOMB is a story within a story. The "bookends" of the book are images of the FBI coming to arrest Harry Gold in May 1950 and then showing him put in prison. The story of the bomb's creation is set within the context of Harry telling the FBI agents how he leaked atomic secrets to the Soviets. 

A ton of information is included: world politics and politicians,  prestigious scientists who played different parts, places where the bomb was tested, the spies and unsung heroes, and the men who dropped the bomb are all mentioned. Although Sheinkin clearly shows why the bomb was developed and detonated, he and Bertozzi also show the devastation and destruction in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. 

In keeping with the serious nature of the book, the colors are dark and foreboding. 


MAUS by Art Spiegelman

Although MAUS: A Survivor's Tale, was not written to be a graphic novel, it has become a classic that tells the Holocaust story from the perspective of a survivor (William Spiegelman) as told to his son, Art Spiegelman. Notably, it is the first comic book to win the Pulitzer Prize in 1992 and is graphic in its portrayal of the Holocaust and its effects on victims and their children. 

Like BOMB, this story is also bookended by the narrator and there is the same story-within-a-story motif. The reader gets a brief glimpse into Art's childhood which foreshadows what William experienced in the war. The books moves quickly to Art's adulthood in which he is estranged from his father. The book shows Art's desperation in capturing his father's story. Was this so he can write and publish it? Or is it because he longs for reconciliation with his father. One can only wonder. 

The reader views William's trauma as the Polish Jews are terrorized and murdered, but we also see Art's trauma following his mother's suicide, his conflicts with his father, and his feelings of worthlessness and despair.  The multi-generational effects of the Holocaust are disturbing. 

Spiegleman's art is very different than Bertozzi's. His panels are in black and white as seen from a scene in the opening of the book. (I found it on this Pinterest board).

I SURVIVED: The Nazi Invasion, 1944 from the novel by Lauren Tarshis, adapted by Georgia Ball, illustrated by Alvaro Sarraseca, and colored by Juanma Aguilera.

This book follows Max and his younger sister, Zena, who live in a ghetto in Esties, Poland. Their father was taken away by the Nazis and they're on their own. Finding a chance to escape, they hide in a hayfield where a sympathetic farmer gives them shelter. 

Much to their surprise, they find their aunt hiding in the same farm. She is a member of a partisan group that is resisting Hitler and conducting raids against Nazi factories and trains. 

Max and Zena are led to their hideout in a swamp, but their journey is filled with peril as the Nazis spot them. 

The ending is satisfactory as the children are reunited with their father, but the devastating effects of war are not minimized. 

The graphic novel is adapted by Georgia Ball from the award-winning novel by Lauren Tarshis. The text and illustrations (by Alvaro Sarraseca and colored by Juanma Aguilera) move the story along quickly. I had read about the partisan effort in Germany, but particularly appreciated learning more about their work in Poland. The book includes back matter about the Holocaust. 

All of these powerful books would be great curriculum resources in either middle school or high school. 


Marci said...

Thank you for sharing these books. It seems these formats are very powerful, as well as educational.

Carol Baldwin said...

Thank you, Marci. The more I read graphic novels, the more I appreciate them!

Barbara Baldwin said...

Thanks for posting these reviews. I plan to share the book information with my foster children (13 and 14 years old) and wonder if they are mature enough to handle the content? I'll let you know.

Carol Baldwin said...

Thanks for your comment, Barbara. Talking to them about the content and/or reading them with them would be a good idea.

Natalie Aguirre said...

Thanks for all the graphic novel recommendations. Matt's book sounds especially interesting to me.

Carol Baldwin said...

You're welcome, Natalie. They're all good!

Greg Pattridge said...

I hadn't heard of any of the titles you presented, although I've read quite a few in the I Survived series. I'll be sure to share your list with a with middle and high school teachers I know who teach classes about WWII. Thanks for featuring on MMGM.

Brenda said...

Looks like you selected some great graphic novels. I too am enjoying the opportunity to read more graphic novels and love the artwork and different styles they're illustrated in.

Carol Baldwin said...

Thanks, Brenda. yes, the artwork is amazing and type face and text--everything!

Carol Baldwin said...

Thanks, Greg, for sharing my blog with teachers. I think these are great assets to a classroom.

Valinora Troy said...

Fantastic selection of graphic novels covering WW2 from different perspectives, I think Maus is very clever, but they all sound interesting. Thanks for sharing!

Carol Baldwin said...

Thank you, Valinora! I'm learning a lot about graphic novels in this process.

Mrs. Robinson said...

All of these sound amazing. So many of my students are very into graphic novels, and this is a great way for them to learn about some events that happened in history through stories. I Survived graphic novels are very requested, and I do have this one, but have not read it yet. Thanks for sharing all of these! Lots for me to check out!
Stephanie at Fairday’s blog

Carol Baldwin said...

Thank you for stopping by, Stephanie. Glad to have made some suggestions that might intrigue your students. Carol

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