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Telling a terrible truth: #GNCelebration

8 Oct

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I have a penchant for non-fiction, and the increasing number of graphic non-fiction books warms my heart. These are excellent tools to expose kids to difficult or complex topics, and discover the joy of reading non-fiction.

In 1993, five-year-old Michel Chikwanine was kidnapped and forced to become a soldier in a brutal militia in the Democratic Republic of Congo. He tells his story in Child Soldier: When Boys and Girls Are Used in War, written by Michel Chikwanine and Jessica Dee Humphreys, and illustrated by  Claudia Davila.

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Michel’s rather brutal story is told in a way that kids could understand without being graphic. Ironic in a graphic novel. But Davila’s illustrations help the reader understand how terrifying the ideal must have been.

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Narrated in the first person, the story open with Michel’s idyllic childhood as the son of a civil rights lawyer. This is sharply contrasted with the life he experienced in the camp, from which he eventually ran away, and how alienated he felt after returning to his family. Although Michel escaped the militia, his family continued to suffer. His father was arrested and he and his sisters fled the DRC eventually settling in Canada after years in a refugee camp.

One of the last things Michel’s father told him was that everyone can do something to make the world a better place. Michel has become an activist, retelling his story and working to make people aware of the plight of child soldiers all over the world. Backmatter tells more of his story after arriving in Canada and about the work he does. It also provides information about child soldiers in other parts of the world and organizations that are working on their behalf.

Pair this graphic novel with War Brothers:The Graphic Novel,  by Sharon E. McKay and Daniel LaFrance, which is  graphic novelization of McKay’s YA novel about child soldiers in Uganda.

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 Both of these books tell a disturbing story in a deeply humane manner and will give kids cause to pause and think.

You can join the Nerdy Book Club’s  Graphic Novel Celebration, or read about more great graphic novels HERE.

Gavrilo Princip: A Graphic Assassination

1 Oct

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We have a tendency t think that young people who go off and become radicalized are a new phenomenon. It isn’t really so, and Henrik Rehr’s Terrorist: Gavrilo Princip, the Assassin who Ignited World War 1 gives us some insight into how it can happen.

Let me start off by saying that the realistic illustrations are top notch. In black and white, the emulate the newsreels and photographs of the era that would have informed people about the assassination. In fact, when I first opened the book, I almost gasped, astonished at the research Rehr must have done to so faithfully portray the events of the assassination.

Here is an illustration

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Here is a photo taken that day

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The publisher categorizes the book as fiction, and I think rightly so. Although it is filled with excellent research and historical fact, the nature of a graphic retelling of history, full of speech bubbles, almost demands fiction status. The conversations Princip had with colleagues and coconspirators probably rings true, but we will never know exactly what was said.  This is an issue in narrative nonfiction generally, where we see quotes in books, which, when endnotes are checked, revealed that they come from interviews or memoirs. they are what someone remembered themselves or someone else saying. As we work on our personal narratives in writer’s workshop, I tell student to write the gist of what was said as we practice adding dialogue and I suppose that is what Rehr has done here. It works for this book because it is really historical fiction.

All that aside, I found this to be an excellent book and a good introduction to issues of World War 1.

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