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Nonfiction graphic Novels

Among publishing trends in recent years is the growth of the market for “graphic novels.” The dictionary website defines a graphic novel as “a story that is presented

in comic-strip format and published as a book.” To put it simply, these are actual books done in comic-book style layout of images and speech bubbles. Though the word “novel” is normally used to describe fiction books, it’s often used more loosely in regard to graphic novels. Some of these books are actually nonfiction; some of them are very good.

My first serious reading of a nonfiction graphic novel was last August, when I read “Fever Year: The Killer Flu of 1918” written and illustrated by Don Brown. This is what I wrote immediately after reading it:

I never really saw the appeal of graphic novels. I’m primarily a verbal learner, not visually oriented. But I noted a suggestion years ago at a children’s literature conference that the graphic format could be very useful to get young people interested in history and other nonfiction topics. So when our Jr. Library Guild order brought us a graphic nonfiction treatment about the 1918 Flu Pandemic, I thought it worth a look.

I was impressed.

There’s a lot of information in that slender volume Fever Year by Don Brown. I’ve read several books and attended a presentation by a history professor on the subject, but I learned some new things from this book. This book takes its history seriously — it is complete with notes and a bibliography. The illustrations help bring home just how awful the flu pandemic was.

Highly recommended

My interest in graphic nonfiction has continued.

There has been a documented increase in hate crimes against Asian-Americans recently, and I find this quite distressing. Of course, this is not a truly new problem, as one popular graphic nonfiction publication makes clear. May was Asian-Pacific Heritage Month. Therefore, I made it a point to read They Called Us Enemy, written by by George Takei, Justin Eisinger, and Steven Scott; art by Harmony Becker. Here is the review I posted on

In this graphic nonfiction volume, we have the true story of how George Takei (of Star Trek fame) and his family were imprisoned in the internment camps for Japanese-Americans during World War II, when he was a child. As I read, I alternated between outrage at the overtly racist nature of the internment — all that garbage that claimed the Japanese were “inscrutable” and as a race couldn’t be trusted — and my admiration for the Takei family. How could this happen in America? I found the telling just a little bit disjointed as it moved between what happened in the 1940’s and Takei later recounting the events. But I think those changes of perspective were necessary so that the adult Takei could reflect on what he experienced as a child. One thing that was really touching was how George Takei discussed how his perspective as a child when they were taken prisoner affected how he perceived, reacted to, and later remembered events during their time in the camps. This book should be required reading for every high school student in the U.S. Seriously! These are just two of the graphic nonfiction books we have in our library. Come check them out!

The Library Lady


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