Getting children to read can sometimes be a struggle, but with the right kind of motivation children will pour through different books soaking up every tidbit of information that they encounter. Fortunately, not only can a subject matter make something more interesting for children, but the format of the information can make a reading experience engaging for children. Graphic novels are the perfect way to mix up your class reading lists. Your students will forget they’re even doing school work as they pour through hundreds of new historical graphic novels this school year.

March is a graphical memoir of sorts, which recounts the events of Congressman John Lewis and his participation as a freedom rider and an activist in the 1965 Selma-Montgomery March. Lewis shares stories about his upbringing in the Jim Crow south and his origins as a nonviolent protestor inspired by the teachings of Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. John Lewis has also just recently published March: Book II, which takes place after the success of the Nashville sit-in movement as he and his fellow Freedom Riders ride into the deep South faced with beatings, police brutality, imprisonment, arson, and murder.

The Silence of our Friends is an excellent companion graphic novel to March, written as another graphical memoir surrounding events from the childhood of Mark Long during the civil rights movement era in a segregated Houston in 1968. The story is told from the perspectives of Long’s father, a white TV reporter and a black demonstration leader. The two men break tradition and become friends despite being viewed unfavorably in both communities. It showcases the violence, the prejudice, and the glimpses of humanity during a dark time in America’s history.
Maus is one of the best graphic novels for teaching about the Holocaust. I remember the excitement when I was given the opportunity to read Maus for the first time in middle school. Maus shares the horrifying experiences of the Holocaust, through the use of cartoon animals symbolizing different participants of World War II. The symbolic use of animal characters serves to clearly define their different roles, without making the atrocities appear any less serious. Read both Maus I and Maus II to help better understand the stories of the survivors of the Holocaust.
Showa 1926-1939: A History of Japan is the first in a series of graphic novels that recount the history of Japan in graphic form. The novels are thick and comprehensive, but nonetheless entertaining and informative. The first novel begins in 1926 during the Great Depression era that hurt many of the world’s economies including Japan. Showa documents the government and military corruption of a pre-war Japan along with the events that eventually led to their participation in World War II. You can also read the subsequent Showa novels, which showcase Japan during the war, the rebuilding of Japan, and their eventual rise to becoming a world economic power.
Trinity illustrates the story of the first atomic bomb, including the initial development and the ultimate decision to drop the bomb. Trinity acts as a witness to tragic events in Hiroshima and Nagasaki and chronicles the political and psychological effects of the atomic bomb.
Persepolis is the memoir of Marjane Satrapi that both chronicles the events of the Islamic Revolution in Iran and her own childhood growing up as an Iranian woman trapped between the Western and Islamic world. Her story is raw and unfiltered including every detail of her own life and documenting the tragedies of war. Persepolis is filled with tragedy, but is often glazed with a layer of comedic relief, providing great insight into the relatively misconstrued view of Iran that many hold in the West.

The 9/11 Report is a graphic adaptation of the 9/11 Commission Report of the events surrounding the September 11th terrorist attack and the collapse of New York City’s twin towers. The graphic adaptation stays true to the original report which identifies intelligence failures occurring before the attacks as well as airport security footage of the hijackers as they passed through airport security, excerpts from the United Airlines Flight 93 cockpit voice recording with the voices of the hijackers in the cockpit and the passengers’ attempts to regain control, and eyewitness testimony of passengers as they described their own final moments to family members and authorities on airphones and cellphones from the cabins of doomed airliners.