Gut Punching Nonfiction Graphic Novels

Rise Up and Read image

Reading a graphic novel can be a powerful and unique experience. When words and art mingle, their total is far more than the sum of their parts. That intensity should be embraced because it's an opportunity to learn and to grow. The school district that banned Maus denied students the opportunity to engage with an important piece of art, an important story, and piece of history.  We have a responsibility to both teach and learn the truth about history, and graphic novels can tell that history in ways that differ from traditional media and can be more accessible! To aid you on your reading journey into nonfiction graphic novels, here are recommendations from our bookshelves to yours:


Great War ImageThe Great War: July 1, 1916: The First Day of the Battle of the Somme by Joe Sacco

I am a big fan of Joe Sacco, and I think that this graphic novel is an amazing work. It is a wordless panorama showing the progression of the Battle of the Somme, one of the bloodiest battles of the First World War in which over 500,000 men were killed or wounded. Sacco has arranged the panorama chronologically, so you begin with images of optimistic young men and follow along with them as they descend into the hell of the battle. I have never read anything that brought the horrors of war home to me as well as this graphic novel does. - Bruce





Persepolis ImageThe Complete Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

This is among the best biographies I have ever read. It tells Satrapi’s story of being a young girl in pre-Revolution Iran, living through the Islamic revolution, fleeing to France with her family, and finally returning to Iran as an adult. Satrapi puts a personal lens on the global events of the Islamic Revolution and reminds us that history is the story of untold numbers of individuals.  - Bruce






Fun Home ImageFun Home, A Family Tragicomic by Allison Bechdel 

This novel has been challenged and pulled from many school libraries. This is a biographical work, in which Bechdel weaves together the narratives of her childhood: her coming to terms with her sexuality and gender identity, her father’s suicide and the realization that her father had been a closeted gay man struggling with the same issues. Fun Home is amazing. - Bruce






Sapiens ImageSapiens: A Graphic History: The Birth of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari

Covering thousands of years of early human history in a very approachable style, Sapiens really shows the power of the graphic novel format to make a complicated mass of information on human history approachable and understandable.  - Bruce






March imageMarch by John Lewis

The powerful struggle of the American Civil Rights Movement is put on display here through the lens of former Congressman John Lewis’ younger years. Contrasted with the 2008 inauguration of Barack Obama, John Lewis invites us on a journey to see where that landmark event came from – and how much further we have to go. A lot of how I’ve come to understand the Movement is tied to this book. If I could share how it felt to read March for the first time with every graphic novel aficionado in the world, I would do it in a heartbeat.  - Kvothe





Called us the enemy imageThey Called Us Enemy by George Takei

Before George Takei became “That Guy From Star Trek” – as I knew him, anyway – he was a four-year old forced into an internment camp with 120,000 Japanese American citizens. His graphic memoir shows a different side of what that internment was like, one told from the point of view of a young boy who didn’t totally understand why his family was ‘moving out’ or where they were going but was eagerly up for the journey nonetheless. Takei’s initial hope and trust in the world compared with his serious and knowing retrospective from adulthood is hard to swallow sometimes. This book isn’t an easy read but, really, should it be? - Kvothe




Between Shades imageBetween Shades of Gray: the Graphic Novel by Ruta Serpetys

‘He threw his burning cigarette onto our hallway floor and ground it into the wood with his boot. We were about to become cigarettes.’ This passage stuck with me throughout the rest of this book. There’s an eeriness to it supported by the hazy, almost watercolor illustrations – a sense of displacement that fits right in with the themes and the plot. On one level, this is a tense and compelling story of Siberian forced labor camps. On another, more conscious level, Between Shades of Gray interrogates what it takes for a living person to commit atrocious acts – or to do anything at all to protect the people they love.-Kvothe