Saturday, April 19, 2008

Maus I: A Survivor's Tale: My Father Bleeds History, by Art Spiegelman

Maus I: A Survivor's Tale: My Father Bleeds History has had a reputation since the late 1970's as being one of the hardest hitting graphic novels ever written. Art Spiegelman wrote Maus as a biography of his father, Vladek Spiegelman, and did it through very straightforward but well drawn and written metaphor.

The metaphors I'm talking about are Spiegelman's portrayal of the Jewish as mice, the Nazi's as dangerous looking cats, of Russians as noble looking dogs, and of the Polish as pigs. Spiegelman himself described this metaphor as stupid but necessary, which you can see by watching the 1 minute and 5 second clip at the end of this review.

You have to be cautious when teaching this book in class, cautious to make sure you approach it correctly. Right now, I am using this book in my 5th grade class, and feel that my students are getting quite a lot out of it. We're using the book as a discussion on the holocaust, something that we studied in depth a little over a month ago, and we're also using it as a discussion on literary and visual devices, and how they work together to make a graphic novel. Students are working on their own autobiographical graphic novel as well, attempting to use the same visual cell types and word play used in Maus.

Graphic novels are still considered fringe in terms of their value in the classroom. Many teachers, parents, and literacy experts argue that graphic novels do nothing more than give students something they want (comic books) other than something they need (a valuable, learning literacy experience). I have found graphic novels to be valuable, when considering that, on top of the words on the page, students have to understand the immediate connection between words and pictures.

Maus is a great story, it's one of my all-time favorite reads, and considering that I didn't read it for the first time until earlier this year, that means that, as an adult, it's one of my favorite reads. I am currently doing research on the book, and am teaching it in my class. I will provide updates on both of those things as they move along over the next few weeks. But for now, I would consider reading Maus I (and II), and seeing if you think it would be a valuable classroom experience.