Banned Books Week: Celebrate the Freedom to Read with Graphic Novels

Posted by Julia Rappaport on September 24, 2014

September 21-27 is Banned Books Week in the United States, an annual event celebrating the freedom to read and to express our own views, and share the views of others. This year, the focus of Banned Books Week is on graphic novels, which despite their popularity, are often subject to censorship.
In fact, the Top Ten Most Frequently Challenged Books of 2013 list includes two graphic novels.

Many books taught in Facing History and Ourselves classrooms have been challenged at one time, including The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou, Maus II by Art Spiegelman, and To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (register on our website to receive updates on our new guide to the classic novel slated to come out later this fall).

Below are recommendations from the Facing History library for five graphic novels that engage readers of all ages – sometimes even those who are reluctant to read traditional texts. Each of these titles is rooted in history, and can be found in bookstores and public libraries.

The Arrival by Shaun Tan

How do you tell a story without words? Tan uses powerful illustrations and an invented alphabet to tell the story of one man as he leaves his family and beloved home country and arrives in an unfamiliar and disorienting new world. The book poignantly captures many universal aspects of the immigrant experience, particularly what it might feel like to encounter an unfamiliar language. Appropriate for readers in grades 7 and up.

Go Deeper: Our resource Stories of Identity: Religion, Migration, and Belonging in a Changing World shares the experiences of immigrants in America and Europe through memoirs, journalistic accounts, and interviews.


The Complete Maus: A Survivor’s Tale by Art Spiegelman

The first graphic novel to ever win the Pulitzer Prize, Maus depicts author Art Spiegelman interviewing his father Vladek about his experiences as a Polish Jew and Holocaust survivor. The graphic novel uses visual metaphor (Nazis are depicted as cats, while the Jews are mice) to explore the history of the Holocaust, and themes of survivor guilt, difference, and what it means to carry the legacies of previous generations. This edition includes Maus I: A Survivor's Tale and Maus II. Appropriate for readers in grades 9 and up.

Go Deeper: Our teaching strategy “Analyzing Visual Images” helps students interpret visual sources.

American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang

This award-winning graphic novel presents three touching and often humorous stories about two young, first-generation Chinese Americans – and one monkey deity – as they navigate the universal adolescent experience of trying to belong. The book explores themes of identity, conformity, immigration, and stereotype, and captures the struggle to figure out how to fit in with family traditions and the traditions of our larger communities. Appropriate for readers in grades 7 and up.

Go Deeper: Our Becoming American Study Guide includes connection questions and primary source documents that explore the history of Chinese immigrants in America.

Nelson Mandela: The Unconquerable Soul by Lewis Helfand and Sankha Banerjee

An engaging graphic biography of Nelson Mandela, Nelson Mandela: The Unconquerable Soul focuses on the civil rights leader’s formative childhood and young adult experiences, his growing role as an activist, his 27-year imprisonment, and his release and election as president of a newly democratic South Africa. With its glossary, poems, key dates and facts, and a pull out poster, the book is an accessible way to study the history of apartheid and South African politics. Appropriate for readers in grades 5 and up.

Go Deeper: Our Facing the Truth with Bill Moyers Study Guide explores the efforts of South Africans to confront their past – specifically the years of apartheid.

March: Book One by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell

In this newly-released book, civil rights leader and congressman John Lewis – the last living speaker from the 1963 March on Washington – bears witness to his experiences as a child growing up in rural Alabama, his life-changing meeting with Martin Luther King, Jr., the birth of the Nashville Student Movement, and the battle to tear down segregation through nonviolent lunch counter sit-ins. It leaves you eagerly awaiting the publication of books two and three. Appropriate for readers in grades 5 and up.

Go Deeper: Watch John Lewis discuss the civil rights movement and the important role history plays in shaping society; download our Eyes on the Prize Study Guide to further examine the civil rights movement in America.

More Resources:

Check out Facing History’s complete Literature Resource Collection.

Find out how Facing History can help you meet the Common Core State Standards in reading, writing, media skills, and speaking and listening.

The National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE), a sponsor of Banned Books Week, created an anti-censorship center, which has resources for teachers that face challenges to works used in their classrooms.

Is one of your favorite books to read or teach on this list of titles challenged between 2004-2011? Comment below!

Topics: Classrooms, Civil Rights Movement, Books, English Language Arts, Choosing to Participate, Immigration, Identity, Common Core, Holocaust

At Facing History and Ourselves, we value conversation—in classrooms, in our professional development for educators, and online. When you comment on Facing Today, you're engaging with our worldwide community of learners, so please take care that your contributions are constructive, civil, and advance the conversation.


Welcome to Facing Today, a Facing History blog. Facing History and Ourselves combats racism and antisemitism by using history to teach tolerance in classrooms around the globe.

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