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Find more Using Graphic Novels to Promote Belonging through DEIB
In the face of book banning and restrictions on classroom curricula, it is more crucial than ever to promote books that foster a sense of acceptance. This is the time to consider Diversity Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging (DEIB) when selecting graphic novels for libraries and classroom collections. An awareness of the components of DEIB will help students develop empathy and compassion for others, and promoting these books that explore belonging and acceptance is important because these are essential components to a feeling of self-worth. Students are drawn to graphic novels and can be presented books on these diverse topics in a format that they enjoy.
The National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) defines the elements of DEIB:
Belonging is essential to one’s sense of well-being. Stephanie Johnson writes about belonging the concept in the book Inclusify (2020): “On some level we all want to be accepted by others—so much so that social exclusion causes the same areas of your brain to light up that physical pain does.” A strong sense of belonging can build self-esteem and encourage empathy and positive social change. A lack of belonging can be devastating.
In a column for American Libraries entitled “”Belonging as Technology: Growing ALA’s Impact through Connectedness and Teamwork,“ Tracie D. Hall, Executive Director of ALA, states that, ”I’ve come to believe that you cannot change any society unless you take responsibility for it, unless you see yourself as belonging to it and responsible for changing it.“ Feeling valued and cared for by a community allows one to take on responsibilities for positive change in the community.
The graphic novels listed below all emphasize the importance of belonging and acceptance in a safe and healthy home, peer group, team, school, refuge, community, or country. They present the challenges different people face on the journey to finding acceptance and a sense of belonging. This selection of books features diversity through the lens of LGBTQIA+, Indigenous Peoples, socioeconomics, gender, people with disabilities, ethnicity, and cultural, and religious diversity.
DEIB Book List
Akim Aliu: Dreamer. By Akim Aliu and Greg Anderson Elysée. Art by Karen De La Vega and Marcus Williams. 2023. Scholastic/Graphix, $24.99 (9781338787610). Gr. 7–12.
Akim was born in Nigeria, moved to Russia, then back to Nigeria, and immigrated to Canada. In this graphic memoir, he details how everywhere that he lived, he dealt with racism. Canadians told Akim that Black boys do not play hockey, and even members of his own hockey team were physically and verbally abusive. In 2020, Akim and other ethnically diverse hockey players started the Hockey Diversity Alliance to fight the racism in the sport and to offer community and support for players who feel marginalized.
Borders. By Thomas King, Art by Natasha Donovan. 2021. Little, Brown, $24.99 (9780316593069). Gr. 5–10.
This fictional tale depicts the experiences of a woman and her son who are leaving Canada to visit her daughter in Salt Lake City. At the U.S. border, a patrol guard asks a series of questions; the woman replies she is Blackfoot when asked her citizenship. The Guard explains that there are Canadian Blackfoot and U.S. Blackfoot: which are you? The woman responds: Blackfoot. Over the next few days, the mother and child sleep in the car between the borders because both sets of border guards would like her to identify a country instead of Indigenous American People or First Nations.
Fire Starters. By Jen Storm. Art by Scott B. Henderson and Donovan Yaciuk. 2016. HighWater, $18.95 (9781553796855). Gr. 8–12.
White students and Indigenous members of a Canadian First Nations Reserve attend high school together. Two brothers who live on the reserve are accused of starting a fire at a gas-station store. They are innocent, but the white student who starts the fire does not admit he committed the crime. Tensions escalate between the white and Indigenous students. The police are convinced that the brothers are guilty until they find evidence that exonerates them.
Frizzy. By Claribel A Ortega. Art by Rose Bousamra. 2022. First Second, $12.99 (9781250259639). Gr. 3–7
Marlene is born with curly hair, but her mother thinks it is important to straighten her hair every week. When Marlene decides to go to school with curly hair, some of the students make fun of her. Marlene is confused because her mother tells her to be herself, but to straighten her hair. Her aunt helps Marlene find a sense of belonging by revealing that she can be comfortable with her appearance, cherish those who accept her for who she is, and be proud of her Black Latinx heritage.
Invisible. By Christina Diaz Gonzalez. Art by Gabriela Epstein. 2022. Scholastic/Graphix, $12.99 (9781338194548). Gr. 3–7.
Five Latine students are put in the same group to earn community service credit by working in the school cafeteria. Some people at their school assume that since these students speak Spanish, they are all from Mexico. They are actually from Mexico, the Dominican Republic, Cuba, Venezuela, and the U.S. As the story progresses, these multicultural students with diverse interests, home lives, learning styles, and socioeconomic backgrounds unite to help a homeless mother find a job.
Living With Viola. By Rosena Fung. Art by the author. 2021. Annick, $17.95 (9781773215495). Gr. 4–7.
When Livy starts sixth grade, her life changes because she develops an anxiety disorder. (The author mentions that she herself began experiencing anxiety in sixth grade.) Viola is the voice in Livy’s head that spews negative thoughts. Livy tries to battle Viola’s tirades, but she doesn’t have the tools to be successful. Her mother takes her to a therapist who teaches Livy coping strategies so she can deal with her anxiety and panic disorder. These strategies help her feel connected to her family and fellow students.
The Magic Fish. By Trung Le Nguyen. Art by the author. 2020. Random/RH Graphic, $16.99 (9781984851598) Gr. 7–12.
Le Nguyen writes a compassionate portrayal of a high schooler who wants to reveal he is gay to his Vietnamese American parents. The writer uses folk tales to help the protagonist and his mother share their feelings and inner turmoil. This LGBTQIA+ graphic novel grapples with the intricacies of coming to terms with separation from family and accepting your sexual identity.
Maybe an Artist. By Liz Montague. Art by the author. 2022. Random House Studio, $24.99 (9780593307816). Gr. 8–12.
Montague’s graphic memoir reveals her struggles with learning and the inequity, discrimination, and microaggressions that she dealt with during her school years and in the workplace. She relays how these difficulties motivated her to embrace art, which lead to a sense of belonging and accomplishment.
Marshmallow and Jordan. By Alina Chau. 2021. First Second, $15.99 (9781250300614) Gr. 3–7.
Marshmallow and Jordan, set in Indonesia, introduces the reader to Indonesian religion, culture, and vocabulary. Jordan was paralyzed in an accident and is not allowed to play basketball anymore, so she joins the water-polo team. Her new teammates assume that Jordan will not be a good player because of her physical restrictions. They even verbally harass her. Marshmallow, a magical white elephant, comforts Jordan, and introduces the reader to Indonesian culture and Hinduism.
New Kid. (series) By Jerry Craft. Art by the author. 2019. Harper. $12.99 (9780062691194) Gr. 4–7.
Jordan’s parents decide that he should attend seventh grade at an elite independent school where he is one of the few Black students. From the first day of class, white students make racist remarks about Jordan. Later, Jordan confronts a teacher who has been oblivious to her racial and socioeconomic slights. Throughout the year, Jordan gathers a group of friends that accepts him.
Speak Up! By Rebecca Burgess. Art by the author. 2022. Quill Tree, $13.99 (9780063081192). Gr. 3–7.
Mia deals with being bullied by students at school because she is autistic. The students don’t realize that Mia is the creator of their favorite online music videos. Mia records the videos with Charlie, her nonbinary neighborhood friend. Her friendship with Charlie, writing music, and performing in videos give Mia the strength and courage to stand up to the bullies at school. Gender identity is also explored in this graphic novel for younger students.
When Stars Are Scattered. By Victoria Jamieson and Omar Mohamed. Art by Victoria Jamieson and Iman Geddy. 2020. Dial, $13.99 (9780525553908) Gr. 6–8.
Omar and his younger brother, Hassan, have escaped the war in Somalia and now live in a refugee camp in Kenya. They are separated from their mother, so Omar takes care of Hassan, who is nonverbal, a disabled person, and has seizures. An older woman offers to watch Hassan so Omar can go to the refugee school, which becomes his place of belonging. Finally, after many years in the refugee camp, Omar and Hassan are offered an opportunity to immigrate to the U.S. where they find a home and community.
As the Director of Library Services at The Willows Community School (CA), Cathy Leverkus has collaborated with faculty members to develop the information literacy, media literacy, and source literacy programs. She integrated DEIB in the library curriculum and understands the importance of running an ongoing DEIB audit. Graphic novels with DEIB topics are an important part of the library collection.
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