Best Graphic Novels for Teaching History

Treaties, Trenches, Mud, and Blood: A WWI Tale

Nathan Hale

World War I set the tone for the 20th century and introduced a new type of warfare: global, mechanical, and brutal. Nathan Hale has gathered some of the most fascinating true-life tales from the war and given them his inimitable Hazardous Tales twist. Easy to understand, funny, informative, and lively, this series is the best way to be introduced to some of the most well-known battles (and little-known secrets) of the infamous war.
Other titles in the Hazardous Tales series:

  • Raid of No Return – Doolittle Raid
  • Alamo All Stars – Battle of the Alamo
  • Big Bad Ironclad – US Civil War
  • One Dead Spy – Nathan Hale, spy
  • The Underground Abductor – Araminta Ross (Harriet Tubman)
  • Donner Dinner Party – Westward Expansion

March

John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, Nate Powell.

Congressman John Lewis (GA-5) is an American icon, one of the key figures of the civil rights movement. His commitment to justice and nonviolence has taken him from an Alabama sharecropper’s farm to the halls of Congress, from a segregated schoolroom to the 1963 March on Washington, and from receiving beatings from state troopers to receiving the Medal of Freedom from the first African-American president. Now, to share his remarkable story with new generations, Lewis presents March, a graphic novel trilogy, in collaboration with co-writer Andrew Aydin and New York Times best-selling artist Nate Powell (winner of the Eisner Award and LA Times Book Prize finalist for Swallow Me Whole).

The Complete Maus

Art Spiegelman

The Pulitzer Prize-winning Maus tells the story of Vladek Spiegelman, a Jewish survivor of Hitler’s Europe, and his son, a cartoonist coming to terms with his father’s story. Maus approaches the unspeakable through the diminutive. Its form, the cartoon (the Nazis are cats, the Jews mice), shocks us out of any lingering sense of familiarity and succeeds in ‘drawing us closer to the bleak heart of the Holocaust’ (The New York Times).

Meta Maus
Art Spiegelman
This is a must-buy companion to Maus for a social studies teacher, as it gives so much research information – including a DVD of the interviews with Spiegelman’s survivor father, historical documents, and much of his notebooks and sketches.

Tales of the Talented Tenth, Vols. 1 and 2

Joel Christian Gill

Book One – Bass Reeves
Tales of the Talented Tenth, Volume 1 tells the story of Bass Reeves, an escaped slave who became one of the most successful lawmen of the Old West. Volume I chronicles his life from winning shooting matches in early childhood to traveling with his master, living with Native Americans in Indian Territory, and finally becoming a U.S. Marshal.

Book Two – Bessie Springfield
Imagine a five-foot-two-inch-tall woman riding a Harley eight times across the continental United States. Now imagine she is black and is journeying across the country in the pre-Civil Rights era of the 1930s and ’40s. That is the amazing true story of Bessie Springfield, the woman known today as The Motorcycle Queen of Miami and the first black woman to be inducted into the American Motorcyclist Association Hall of Fame and the Harley Davidson Hall of Fame. Springfield was a pioneer in motorcycling during her lifetime; she rode as a civilian courier for the US military and founded the Iron Horse Motorcycle Club in Miami, all while confronting and overcoming Jim Crow in every ride (Kirkus Reviews).

Anne Frank, the Anne Frank House Authorized Graphic Biography

Sid Jacobson and Ernie Colon

Drawing on the unique historical sites, archives, expertise, and unquestioned authority of the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam, New York Times bestselling authors Sid Jacobson and Ernie Colón have created the first authorized and exhaustive graphic biography of Anne Frank. Their account is complete, covering the lives of Anne’s parents, Edith and Otto; Anne’s first years in Frankfurt; the rise of Nazism; the Franks’ immigration to Amsterdam; war and occupation; Anne’s years in the Secret Annex; betrayal and arrest; her deportation and tragic death in Bergen-Belsen; the survival of Anne’s father; and his recovery and publication of her astounding diary.

The Complete Persepolis

Marjane Satrapi

Persepolis is the story of Satrapi’s unforgettable childhood and coming of age within a large and loving family in Tehran during the Islamic Revolution; of the contradictions between private life and public life in a country plagued by political upheaval; of her high school years in Vienna facing the trials of adolescence far from her family; of her homecoming–both sweet and terrible; and, finally, of her self-imposed exile from her beloved homeland. It is the chronicle of a girlhood and adolescence at once outrageous and familiar, a young life entwined with the history of her country yet filled with the universal trials and joys of growing up. (There is also a companion motion picture available on DVD).

X-Men Magneto Testament

Greg Pak, Carmine Di Giandomenico, Matt Hollingsworth, Dave Lanphear, and Natalie Lanphear

In 1935, Max Eisenhardt (known as Magneto in the Marvel comics universe) is just a 9-year-old with a loving family and a crush on a Romanian girl named Magda. But as Nazi persecution inexorably leads to Hitler’s Final Solution, Max and his family begin a harrowing fight for survival that begins with the Nuremberg Laws and the Berlin Olympics, continues through Kristallnacht and the invasion of Poland, and ends with the unfathomable horrors of the Einsatzgruppen, the Warsaw Ghetto, and the crematoria of Auschwitz-Birkenau. While focused on a fictional character, the surrounding events in this book are well researched and a teacher’s guide is included.

Curie: Great Figures in History

YKids

Throughout her career, Marie Curie, the renowned scientist and first woman to win the Nobel Prize, had to overcome the objections of her peers and the many obstacles facing an early female scientist. This is the story of her work in discovering radium and explaining the mysteries, benefits, and dangers of radioactivity that would ultimately lead to her own death. It also recounts the enormous time and resources she devoted to the cause of peace, having witnessed herself the horrors of war. Combining the exciting style of manga graphics with biography, history, and science, these dynamic accounts of great leaders are accessible and entertaining to today’s children, as well as educational—a time line that puts the story’s events in historical perspective accompanies each story. Other titles: Leonardo da Vinci, Nelson Mandela, Einstein, Gandhi, Maria Theresa.

Superstars of History, the Good, the Bad, and the Brainy

R. J. Grant

Find out why Archimedes said “Eureka!” in the bathtub, how Thomas Edison changed the world, and whether or not Einstein’s brain was bigger than an ordinary guy’s. Discover what Abraham Lincoln, Gandhi, and Nelson Mandela did that made them famous for being so good, and what Attila the Hun, Hitler, and Stalin did that made them infamous for being so bad. Learn about great leaders like Charlemagne and George Washington and bold ones like Caesar and William the Conqueror. Superstars of History will feature fun text, loads of facts, and Basher’s cool illustrations to bring history’s greatest characters to life. This is not a graphic novel, but a series of two-page biographies of historical figures featuring an illustration complete with symbols, and a graphic organizer outlining biographical information. This is a perfect way to teach students the importance of symbols and how to create their very own history superheroes.

The Golem’s Mighty Swing

James Sturm

By reuniting America’s greatest pastime with its hidden history, the graphic novel tells the story of the Stars of David, a barnstorming Jewish baseball team of the depression era. Led by its manager and third baseman, the nomadic team travels from small town to small town providing the thrill of the sport while playing up their religious exoticism as a curio for people to gawk at, heckle, and taunt. When the team’s fortunes fall, the players are presented a plan to get people in the stands. However, by placing their fortunes in the hands of a promoter, the Stars of David find themselves fanning the flames of ethnic tensions.

The Plot: the Secret History of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion

Will Eisner

The Plot, which examines the astonishing conspiracy and the fabrication of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, has become a worldwide phenomenon since its hardcover publication, taught in classrooms around the globe. Purported to be the actual blueprints by Jewish leaders to take over the world, the Protocols, first published in 1902, have become gospel truth to international millions. Presenting a pageant of historical figures from nineteenth-century Russia to today’s ideologues, including Tsar Nicholas II, Henry Ford, and Adolf Hitler, Will Eisner unravels and dispels one of the most devastating hoaxes of the twentieth century.

I Am Rosa Parks (Ordinary People Change the World)

Brad Meltzer and Christopher Eliopoulos

“Kids always search for heroes, so we might as well have a say in it,” Brad Meltzer realized, and so he envisioned this friendly, fun approach to biography – for his own kids, and for yours. Each book tells the story of one of America’s icons in a vivacious, conversational way that works well for the youngest nonfiction readers. Each book focuses on a particular character trait that made that role model heroic. For example, Rosa Parks dared to stand up for herself and other African Americans by staying seated, and as a result, she helped end public bus segregation and launch the country’s Civil Rights Movement. There are many other titles in the series, including Martin Luther King, Jr., Amelia Earhart, Helen Keller, Sacagawea, Jane Goodall, Abraham Lincoln, etc.