Monthly Archives: January 2012

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The Holocaust: Graphic Novels

The term Holocaust, originally from the Greek word “holokauston” which means “sacrifice by fire,” refers to the Nazi’s persecution and planned slaughter of the Jewish people. The Hebrew word HaShoah, which means “calamity” or “devastation” is also used for this genocide.

The thought of what was wrought between 1933 & 1945, not just to the Jews but also to Gypsies, homosexuals, people with disabilities and many others is almost impossible to comprehend. It was inhumanity of a scale that dwarfs the imagination. I have known about what happened for years, it is taught in schools, many volumes have been written about what happened but until I visited the Holocaust exhibit at the Imperial War Museum several years ago, my knowledge was academic. Seeing the pile of shoes in the exhibit and the clothes worn by the inmates of the camps and everything else displayed there affected me so much that I am actually frightened by the thought of going back in to the exhibit.

In 2010 I was working for Brent Libraries and for Holocaust Memorial Day we were fortunate to have artist Maurice Blik a survivor of Belsen come in to Willesden Green Library to give a talk to a combined group from local secondary schools. I wept as I listened to him speak of his experiences as a child and the loss of his younger sister. He is a phenomenal artist and also a fantastic speaker.

That brings me on to graphic novels, it has been said that a picture is worth a thousand words and that is true of comic books. The belief that comics could be more than disposable entertainment had already begun to change when Art Spiegelman’s Maus: a Survivor’s Tale was published, but it was this book more than many of the other graphic novels published in the late 1980’s that helped change that supposition.

Maus is the tale of Art Spiegelman’s troubled relationship with his father Vladek, a Holocaust survivor, and, through his conversations with his father the story of his family’s experiences of Hitler’s Final Solution. In Maus the Jews were represented as mice, the Germans as cats (Katzies), the French as Frogs and so on. Maus has been described as ‘the most affective and successful narrative ever done about the Holocaust’ by the Wall Street Journal and after over 20 years of publication it is still a powerful and moving narrative of the Holocaust and the effect it had on the survivors. Art Spiegelman won the Pulitzer Prize in 1992 after the second volume had been published. A companion volume entitled MetaMaus was published in 2011.


In the pages of METAMAUS, Art Spiegelman re-enters the Pulitzer prize-winning MAUS, the modern classic that has altered how we see literature, comics, and the Holocaust ever since it was first published twenty-five years ago.
He probes the questions that MAUS most often evokes – Why the Holocaust? Why mice? Why comics? – and gives us a new and essential work about the creative process.

Auschwitz by Pascal Croci begins and ends in a squalid room in former Yugoslavia in 1993, another graphic novel rendered beautifully in black & white, Auschwitz is a fictionalized story of an elderly couple trapped in the midst of the civil war that presaged the breakup of Yugoslavia. They relive their memories of being trapped in Auschwitz and what they had to endure to survive. Pascal Croci interviewed a number of survivors to make sure that his story was accurate, and based a number of incidences within the book on events that happened to his interviewees during the war. Auschwitz is relatively short – only 70 pages of story but it is no less harrowing for its brevity, it also contains background information to the creation of the book, including extracts from transcripts of the interviews and a glossary of terms used.



Eric Heuvel is the author and illustrator of A Family Secret, using the ligne claire style of drawing pioneered by Herge the creator of Tintin to illustrate the book, he tells the story of Jeroen, who, while searching in his grandmother’s attic for items to sell at a flea market finds a scrapbook created by his grandmother in 1936. On enquiring about what it was about, Helena starts telling her grandson about her youth in Amsterdam in the 1930’s and the arrival of Esther, a young Jewish girl, and her family.
A Family Secret is a wonderful example of a family split apart by politics and duty, viewed from the perspective of Helena who is telling the story. Using a child’s view for the narration gives the tale of the invasion of Holland and the indignities heaped on the citizens of Amsterdam and the Jews in particular. Helena’s father was a police officer and after the German occupation he had to become involved in clearing the Jews from Amsterdam and one evening he has to round up Esther’s family.


The Search, also by Eric Heuvel is a companion volume to A Family Secret and tells the story of Esther, and what happened to her before and during the war. Both volumes are told via flashbacks from contemporary Holland and America and focus more on what happened to Jewish families during and after the war and how some survived.
Out of all the graphic novels I read it was A family Secret and the Search that affected me the most, I found myself welling up whilst reading, this was in part due to my being a massive Tintin fan and seeing similar much-loved artwork being used to illustrate a heartbreaking story, these books are also the most positive, sad as they are.

A Family Secret and The Search are published by MacMillan, Teaching guides for both books are available from the US site.

Not all the graphic novels are black & white, Marvel Comics published a five issue mini series called Magneto: Testament, this is the backstory of Magneto, the greatest foe the X Men have ever faced. At first I questioned the idea of wedging a comic book villain into the story of Auschwitz and the events leading up to the final solution. It is not a super hero story, it is a story of the Holocaust and a boy who has to grow up quickly in the midst of the most inhumane conditions to not only survive but save the woman he loves and himself.
Writer Greg Pak and artist carmine Di Giandomenico bring you this heartbreaking and historically accurate look at one of the most popular characters in the X-Men canon.
Magneto: testament also contains extensive notes at the back of the book about the creation of the book and historical facts about Auschwitz as well as topics for group discussion.


Marvel Comics is not alone in publishing a Holocaust comic book, DC Comics published the amazing what if… story by Joe Kubert, titled Yossel April 19, 1943.

In 1926 Joe Kubert’s family tried to emigrate to America, but owing to the fact that his mother was pregnant with him at the time, their request was denied. Fortunately not willing to give up his family tried again shortly after his birth and they were successful with their second attempt.
With Yossel, Joe Kubert imagined what his life would have been like if his family had not made their second attempt.
As he wrote in his introduction:

If my parents had not come to America, we would have been caught in that maelstrom, sucked in and pulled down with the millions of others who were lost…
The usual procedure in cartooning is to do the initial drawings with pencil, then to apply ink over the pencils with brush and pen. The pencil drawings are then erased, leaving only the ink rendering.
The drawings in this book are pencil drawings…

As a concept the idea of a comic book composed of rough sketches does not sound too appealing, but when you open the book that does not matter anymore! You forget that these are only rough sketches; the sense of movement in them is amazing. I think that so much vitality would have been lost if they had been inked and coloured.
Again this is a fictionalised account of what might have happened to Joe (Yossel) and his family had they not left Poland. The date in the title is significant; the 19th April 1943 is the date of the beginning of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. The Germans thought that they would be able to put down the revolt by the by then starving Jews in the ghetto in three days, but they were in for a shock, although poorly armed and hemmed in the Jews resisted until the 16th of May making the Nazi forces pay in blood for each foot of ground they took.

I have recently come across two biographies involving the Holocaust, the first the story of Lily Renée who was fortunate enough to be evacuated to England but her story is no less interesting – her ordeal as a refugee in England was one shared by many who escaped. The second is the official graphic biography of Anne Frank, adapted from her diaries and other works documenting her families life in Germany and Holland.

In 1938, Lily Renée Wilhelm is a 14-year-old Jewish girl living in Vienna.

Her days are filled with art and ballet. Then the Nazis march into Austria, and Lily’s life is shattered overnight. Suddenly, her own country is no longer safe for her or her family. To survive, Lily leaves her parents behind and travels to England.

Escaping the Nazis is only the start of Lily’s journey. She must escape many more times – from servitude, hardship, and danger. Will she find a way to have her own sort of revenge on the Nazis? Follow the story of a brave girl who becomes an artist of heroes, and a true pioneer in comic books.

Drawing on the unique historical sites, archives, expertise and unquestioned authority of the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam, the New York Times bestselling authors Sid Jacobson and Ernie Colon have created teh first authorised graphic biography of Anne Frank. Their account is complete, covering the lives of Anne’s parents, Edith and Otto, Anne’s first years in Frankfurt; the rise of Nazism; the Frank’s immigration to Amsterdam; war and occupation; Anne’s years in the Secret Annex; betrayal and arrest; her deportation and tragic death in Bergen-Belsen; the survival of Anne’s father; and his recovery and publication of her astounding diary.

Maus is already a staple in many library collections with the other titles not being as well-known but also deserving a space.
The Holocaust was not the only attempt at genocide in the 20th century, but it is the most well-known and reviled. To learn more about this and the Armenian Genocide, Rwanda, Darfur, Cambodia and others visit

Teen Librarian Monthly: January 2012

Good news everybody! The latest edition of TLM is now available to download: Teen Librarian Monthly: January 2012

Creative Writing: Zombie Poetry

It is a quiet evening in the boarding house (apart from being a school librarian, these days I also take some duties as a house master in the boys boarding house) I was reading the New York Times online edition and came across this extremely interesting article:

What Rhymes with ‘Undead’? Some Poets Know

It made for interesting reading.

I have worked with a number of teens that would respond well to the idea of creating zombie poetry. It is quirky enough to attract even some of the hardest to reach kids and with zombies becoming more mainstream it would not put off too many of the more normal young people.

Creating a Zombie-themed writing event could be run over two or even more meetings. It is a little-known fact that Night of the Living Dead – the movie that started the zombie movement is now in the public domain and can be shown freely in libraries without the need for permissions. The film itself is below:

The film can be used to discuss how zombies in cinema & on television have changed over the decades, from the slow shambling monstrosities of Night of the Living Dead to the faster shambling monstrosities of 28 Days Later and The Walking Dead. You can bill it as a mixed media Zombie poetry writing session, including movies, books, comics including The Walking Dead, Marvel Zombies and more. There are even musicians that have written songs about zombies but they may not be appropriate for the audience, for an example take a listen to Voltaire singing Zombie Prostitute.

There are examples of zombie poems online in case you need to provide inspiration, including the Little Boof of Zombie Poems by Tom Beckett.

Night School by C.J. Daugherty

Allie’s world is falling apart. She hates her school. Her brother has disappeared. She’s just been arrested. Again. And now her parents are sending her away.

I am SO glad that C.J. Daugherty changed the name of my school in her novel Night School as the secret chiefs of the world would not have been pleased to have the location where their children are educated out there for all to know.

She was a little too close to accuracy in her descriptions of the school for comfort though – the forest, the chapel, the library carrels and the dormitories were spot on. None of the staff made it in though…

Night School is a teen global conspiracy theory novel that makes Dan Brown look like a hack (well he is).

Allie is a girl with problems – kicked out of her last school for rampant acts of vandalism and frozen out of what remains of her family she is sent to posh private school Farringto um I mean Cimmeria Academy where the only things richer than the students are their parents.

Night School is that rare beast – a novel about attractive, powerful people that does not involve the supernatural! The rich girls are bitchy in a non-werewolf way and the rich boys act like over-entitled dicks because they are wealthy, over entitled and never have anyone say no to them not because they have some vampiric power.

Awesome stuff!

There are also mysterious happenings, dark warnings about not disturbing the students of the Night School and an air of secrecy and mistrust directed against Allie as she does not (according to some of the students) fit in, her face is wrong, her pedigree is unknown and someone like her is not just let in to an exclusive establishment because she is a problem child.

None of the characters are caricatures and there is no black or white morality; none of the characters are completely obnoxious or amoral and there is some character development as well as love rivalries, crazy behaviour, amazing night sports and some excellent villainous scenery chewing.

Night School is a brilliant start to a new series and I am looking forward to the next book in the series!

Dark Parties by Sara Grant

Neva keeps a list of the missing – people like her grandmother who have vanished. The people that everyone else pretends never existed.

In a world isolated by the Protectosphere – a dome which protects, but also imprisons – Neva and her friends dream of freedom.

But a forbidden party leads to complications. Suddenly Neva’s falling for her best friend’s boyfriend, uncovering secrets and lies that threaten to destroy her world – and learning the horrifying truth about what happens to The Missing…

In writing Dark Parties, Sara grant has combined elements of The Handmaid’s Tale, 1984 and some of the grimmest practices torn from today’s newspapers, Dark Parties is one of the darkest books I have read recently.

When he created Star Trek back in the 1960’s Gene Roddenberry used science fiction to hold a mirror up to the issues of the ‘60’s and Sara does something similar with Dark Parties.

Dark Parties is a subtly feminist novel with Neva our protagonist not a hard-core freedom fighter, but more realistically a young girl on the cusp of becoming a woman in a society where women have been reduced to almost second-class citizens fulfilling menial tasks as well as being housewives and child carriers to bolster a shrinking population.

Forget a bright future, the citizens of this society subsist on hand me downs and trading necessities with friends and neighbours, the technology where it exists has been repurposed to create a stasi-like spy network, with cameras on every corner and a population that does not know who to trust.

Brought up to believe that the world beyond the Protectosphere has been so utterly blighted and destroyed by war that their pocket of existence is all that remains, Neva and her friends know that something is wrong but they have no idea what, they just know that things must change, but they do not know how.
I found dark Parties to be a disturbing read, completely plausible and in that lay the seeds of my disquiet. I tend to moments of quiet paranoia and with the current fetishization of CCTV monitoring and tendencies to tighten up on laws especially those governing reproductive freedom I can see how such a society can develop… but I tell myself that it is paranoia and it will not happen (but that does not sound too convincing – even to me!)

Dark Parties has love, loss, betrayal, the now almost obligatory love triangle (between Neva, her best friend and best friend’s boyfriend), scenes of bleak horror that are all too real as well as redemption, reconciliation and release.

Dark Parties is thought-provoking and at times uncomfortable but is utterly compelling and eminently readable! It is dystopian science fiction at its best!

Authors Live: Celebrate Burns with Scotland's Makar Liz Lochhead, National Poet of Scotland

Event info:

Date: Thursday 26th Janaury 2012

Time: 11am – 11.40am

Age group: 9-16

Join the Scottish Makar, Liz Lochhead, National Poet of Scotland for a very special celebration of Robert Burns. Liz will be discussing why Burns means so much to her, as well as treating us to some readings of her own poems featured in her collections Liz Lochhead: Selected Works, Colour of Black and White and Dreaming Frankenstein. The event is suitable for P6-S4 (age 9-16) pupils and fans of Robert Burns, Liz Lochhead or just poetry in general!

Author biography:
Scottish poet and playwright Liz Lochhead was born in Motherwell in 1947. After studying at Glasgow School of Art she taught at art schools in Glasgow and Bristol while working on her poetry. She is a Fellow of Glasgow School of Art, an Honorary Doctor of Letters of Glasgow University, a Fellow of RSAMD and of Glasgow Institute of Art, and is an Honorary President of the Scottish Poetry Library. She was named as Scotland’s Makar in 2011. Liz firmly believes that poetry can transcend age boundaries and enjoys reading her poetry to a wide range of people.

Her poetry collections include Dreaming Frankenstein (Polygon 1984), True Confessions and New Clichés, Bagpipe Muzak, and The Colour of Black and White: Poems 1984–2003. Her plays include Tartuffe, Mary Queen of Scots Got Her Head Chopped Off and the Saltire Society Scottish Book of the Year Award-winning Medea. Liz Lochhead lives in Glasgow.

Click here for more details

Young Human Rights Reporter of the Year 2012

The Young Human Rights Reporter (YHRR) Competition is an annual competition for young people run by Amnesty, in partnership with the Guardian Teacher Network and MA Publications, publishers of SecEd, Headteacher Update and Primary Teacher Update.

The award encourages young people to become human rights reporters, to investigate what’s going on in the world and bring human rights abuses to light.

The 2012 competition is now open and will close on 31 January 2012.

Hallowed by Cynthia Hand

The Gentlemen Press Writing Competition

From the 12th September 2011 to the 31st January 2012 The Gentlemen Press, a new independent publisher based in Birmingham, West Midlands, is running a young writers’ competition. It is aimed at 13-21 year olds based in the UK and the winning short stories will be published in an anthology.

The judges will be Jean Ure, for the 13-15 category, Nine Arches for the 16-18 category and David Belbin for the 19-21 category.

For more information visit www.gentlemenpress.comYou can also see guest blog posts by some YA authors including Sherry Ashworth and Hayley Long.

The Gentlemen Press is an independent publisher based in Birmingham, West Midlands which is interested in producing inspiring publications. While the first anthology produced will be aimed at young adults there is the potential to branch out into other genres.