The phrase “removed from the school library” is becoming all too frequent in our national discourse on the place of comics and graphic novels in both the classroom and the library. Graphic memoirs which illustrate the lived experience of queer youth, comics depicting Holocaust survivors, and graphic novels infused with childhood memories of political violence are once again being targeted. Amongst this discourse, educators and librarians are working together to keep comics in the library, but what to do once they return to the shelf? What about bringing them into the classroom?
For some educators, banned comics are already a part of their lesson plans. For others, this discourse is an opportunity to teach with banned comics for the first time.
Gender Queer by Maia Kobabe
Gender Queer is a graphic memoir about Maia Kobabe and eir meandering journey to the land of the asexuals and non-binary folks where e finds not only companions but emselves. The frequent bannings and challenges to Kobabe’s autobiography led to the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund (CBLDF) issuing a statement in support of this essential work “that benefits both those who identify as nonbinary and those who wish to better understand nonbinary identity.” CBLDF further writes, “Public schools and libraries have an obligation to support intellectual freedom and to meet the needs and interests of their entire community, including those who would like to read Gender Queer.” While public librarians in Wake County, North Carolina are taking steps to return the series to the shelves, a Loudoun County School Board committee overruled another committee to ensure the graphic memoir remains banned and thus inaccessible to readers. Fairfax Schools and Canutillo Independent School District inspired this blog post as the challenge towards Gender Queer at these schools ended with the graphic memoir returning to the shelf.
Lesson Plans & Teaching Resources
- 💻 Diamond Bookshelf Lesson Plan: Gender Queer: A Memoir
- 💻 NBC News: Author of ‘Gender Queer,’ One of Most-Banned Books in U.S., addresses controversy
- 💻 The Washington Post: Opinion | Maia Kobabe: Schools are Banning My Book. But Queer Kids Need Queer Stories
- 💻 The Washington Post: Opinion | We’re LGBTQIA+ Students in Fairfax County. We’re Tired of Our Lives Being Used for Political Gain.
Expanding the Discussion to Other Frequently Challenged LGBTQIIA+ Comics
- 💻 CBLDF Case Study: Drama
- 💻 Pop Culture Classroom Graphic Novel Teacher’s Guide: Drama
- 💻 CBLDF Case Study: Fun Home
- 📕 Approaches to Teaching Bechdel’s Fun Home as edited by Judith Kegan Gardiner (info)
- 💻 CBLDF Case Study: This One Summer
- 💻 CBLDF Using Graphic Novels in Education: This One Summer
Maus by Art Spiegelman
Many school children first learn about the Holocaust from survivor speakers – formally at schools and cultural institutions and informally from family members. As they progress through their schooling, Jewish literature – from banned comics to banned prose – further illuminate the atrocities to those who came after. Art Spiegelman’s graphic memoir Maus tells of the author’s Holocaust survivor parents’ life in Poland prior to the war to their liberation from the Nazi concentration camps. The New York Times reports, “A school board in Tennessee voted unanimously this month [January 2022] to ban “Maus,” a Pulitzer Prize-winning graphic novel about the Holocaust, from being taught in its classrooms because the book contains material that board members said was inappropriate for students.” This move follows a long history of suppression of the Jewish voice, and is being met with outrage by both comic creators and readers together with action by booksellers offering to ship the series to any Tennessean who requests it.
Lesson Plans & Teaching Resources
- 💻 B&ECPL Graphic Novel Classroom Kits’ Support Materials for Maus
- 💻 CBLDF Case Study: Maus
- 💻 Museum of Jewish Heritage’s Curriculum Guide: Maus
- 📕 The Graphic Novel Classroom: POWerful Teaching and Learning with Images (chapter 5) by Maureen Bakis with a foreword from James Bucky Carter (info)
Expanding the Discussion Beyond Maus
- 💻 CBLDF Using Graphic Novels in Education: Teaching the Holocaust with Comics
- 💻 CHUTZ-POW! Superheroes of the Holocaust as published by the Holocaust Center of Pittsburgh
- 💻 Holocaust Center for Humanity: Anne Frank’s Diary: The Graphic Adaptation by David Polonsky and adapted by Ari Folman
- 💻 United States Holocaust Memorial Museum: Fundamentals of Teaching the Holocaust
- 📕 We Spoke Out: Comic Books and the Holocaust by Rafael Medoff, Neal Adams, and Craig Yoe with an introduction and afterword from Stan Lee (info)
Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi
Persepolis is a graphic memoir stretching from Marjane Satrapi’s childhood in Iran to her adolescence in France and eventual return to Iran as an adult. Stark black-and-white imagery welcomes the reader into this “memoir-in-comic-strips” illustrating the revolution and war which dramatically altered both Marjane’s future as well as the life of her fellow compatriots. Persepolis also stands as one of the most frequently challenged works by an Iranian author, and in 2014 reached second place on the American Library Association’s Top 10 Most Challenged Books list. More recently, Persepolis was challenged by the Wicomico County Board of Education while a few states away the series was removed from Commack School District’s required reading list.
Lesson Plans & Teaching Resources
- 💻 B&ECPL Graphic Novel Classroom Kits’ Support Materials for Persepolis
- 💻 CBLDF Adding Persepolis to Your Library or Classroom Collection
- 💻 Pop Culture Classroom Graphic Novel Teacher’s Guide: Persepolis
- 📕 The Graphic Novel Classroom: POWerful Teaching and Learning with Images (chapter 4) by Maureen Bakis with a foreword from James Bucky Carter (info)
Expanding the Discussion Beyond Persepolis to Iranian Literature
- 💻 Asian American Writers’ Workshop: 100 Essential Books by Iranian Writers
- 💻 Library of Congress Online Exhibition: A Thousand Years of the Persian Book
- 💻 National Iranian American Council #IAAuthor Series: Celebrating Iranian-American Writers
- 💻 The Guardian: Top 10 Books about Iran
Bannings and challenges to graphic memoirs remain an ongoing issue for educators, librarians, and the students they serve. This piece only briefly contributes to our discussion on how to bring these banned comics to your classroom. Want to know what’s happening in your state? Check out the National Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC)’s Youth Censorship Database, an online resource featuring an interactive map of on-going and past challenges which can be filtered by reason, type, year, impacted population, and challenger. As always, please report any censorship occurring at your library.
Victoria Rahbar is an early career web services librarian. She has a Master of Arts in East Asian Studies from Stanford University’s Center for East Asian Studies and a Master of Library and Information Science degree from the University of Washington iSchool. She conducts research on the global dissemination of Japanese anime, manga, and video games through a DEI lens. She applies her research to the needs of libraries, speaking on issues around cultural representation in manga at academic conferences and anime conventions. She is especially interested in how current digital publishing practices disrupt past ideas around censorship and challenges to manga.