Graphic Novels That Address Racism: A Family Comic Friday Extra!
Family Comic Friday wishes to address a very complicated subject. The past couple of weeks have been difficult to watch. From the needless murder of George Floyd by members of the Minneapolis police department to the numerous peaceful protests that sometimes turned into needless acts of violence and destruction when the sun went down. If you think this is hard to experience as an adult, imagine how our children must feel.
On Wednesday, The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund released a list of graphic novels that would be ideal for teachers and educators to use to introduce anti-racism. The link for that post can be found here. There’s some excellent resources here. I highly recommend Mat Johnson and Warren Pleece’s Incognegro about a light-skinned African American reporter who goes into the segregated South posing as a white man to investigate a lynching. The biographical KING by Ho Che Anderson is another great graphic novel that was suggested by the CBLDF.
I had not read many of the books of the recommended reading list. Most however, seemed more appropriate for readers in high school. So Family Comic Friday decided to add a few graphic novels to the list that were more age appropriate for younger readers.
Fast Enough: Bessie Stringfield’s First Ride
An all-ages look at Bessie Stringfield: the first African-American woman to ride a motorcycle across the United States.
Fast Enough not only has an important message about race and gender but it also seeks to educate more about the life of Stringfield when she grew up. The last 4-6 pages is filled with historical information about the accomplishments and firsts Stringfield held in the world of motorcycle enthusiasm. While I found those pages very informative, these are the most difficult pages for a youngster to follow alone.
There’s some pretty big words for a preschooler here. Also, the concept of racism explained in this section will most definitely require some explanation and perhaps some uncomfortable (but manageable) Q&A sessions. But this is a great introductory book on race for the youngest of readers.
Readers aged Pre-K to 6.
Satchel Page: Striking Out Jim Crow
It’s not a book about the career of the great baseball pitcher. Satchel Page is used as a framing device for the Jim Crow laws that dominated the South. Fantastic storytelling by James Strom that explores issues of class and race. Told from the standpoint of a white baseball fan, this graphic novel ‘exposes the racial prejudice and privilege that existed in people’s attitudes and everyday behaviors.’
Readers aged 10 and up.
Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales: The Underground Abductor
I am a big fan of the Nathan Hale books. They pull zero punches when it comes to the underbelly of American history. This volume delves into the life story of Harriet Tubman. There are a few moments of levity between narrator Nathan Hale and his captors. But for the most part, you learn of how a young girl named Minty was given a vision from God to lead escaped slaves to freedom in the North via the Underground Railround. Very powerful but does have a slight bit of fancy. Tubman is supposed to be gracing $20 bills sometime very soon. This is a great introduction as to why she was chosen for that honor.
Readers aged 8 and up.
March, Book One
The story of the Montgomery marches from someone who wasn’t just there- they led the protests! This is the first of a trilogy. Yes, read those other two books. But this opening chapter really lays the foundation of the racial issues of that time period as well as introduces you to the major players of the story including Dr. King and author John Lewis.
Readers aged 11 and up.
To Kill A Mockingbird: The Graphic Novel
Another selection FCF has previously reviewed.
The Harper Lee classic in graphic novel form. Large chunks of her amazing writings are captured in the adaptation by Fred Fordham. It’s required reading in high schools and the illustrations help the story come even more alive. The courtroom scene is a bit graphic as the narrator’s father is a lawyer who defends a black man accused of raping a white woman. The language is sometimes raw and I’m not talking just about the use of the N-word. Definitely not a book for young children. But this could be a great Summer read for those who students who will be reading Mockingbird in their American Lit classes in the fall.
Readers aged 13 and up.
There’s dozens more books out there. But we wanted to share some books that we’ve actually read before. If you or the young reader in your life is interested in extending the dialogue on racism further, these are some good recommendations. And don’t be afraid to explore racism as seen from not just the black community. Art Spiegelman’s MAUS I & II, Gene Luen Yang’s American Born Chinese and George Takei’s They Called Us Enemy give factual accounts of racism through the eyes of Jews, Chinese-American and Japanese-Americans respectively.
Lastly, if you are deciding to purchase any of these book, please consider supporting your local comic book shop or local bookseller. They need your support more than ever in these very dramatic times.
Link photo credit: Dennis Huls / San Diego Historical Society