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Teaching Resource Highlight: The Civil Rights Movement

MARCH: BOOK ONE by John Lewis and Andrew Aydin/illus. by Nate Powell

Once in a while, a graphic novel comes along that tells a story so powerful, you just have to sit still when you’re done reading it, and process everything you’ve just seen and read. Congressman John Lewis’ visual memoir, MARCH: BOOK ONE is that kind of book.

Told in the Congressman’s voice, MARCH is the story of the civil rights movement and Lewis’ involvement in it. Book One takes readers from John Lewis’ childhood as the son of an Alabama sharecropper all the way through to the famous Montgomery lunch counter sit-ins, told against the backdrop of President Barack Obama’s inauguration day in January 2009. Eisner award-winning, New York Times artist Nate Powell’s black and white illustrations are powerful and haunting, using stark black and white to give a visceral meaning to the beatings and abuse suffered by the civil rights pioneers; it also provides a beautiful simplicity to the story that allows readers to focus on the story and the people.

MARCH: BOOK ONE is an incredible story, told by a man who helped make history. It should be read and discussed in every classroom. To help with that goal, MARCH’s publisher, Top Shelf Productions, offers a free, 11-page teachers’ resource, downloadable at the publisher’s website (link:

teachers-guide-introThe guide lays out the book’s alignments with the Common Core State Standards and the National Council for the Social Studies, and how they map to different areas of the guide; this helps teachers fit it into their teaching plans. There are discussion questions to ask before reading the book, to generate discussion and get classes in the mindset of the Civil Rights movement and March’s place within the movement. Worksheets and discussion questions to propose after the reading will get students thinking and working together to explore not only the Civil Rights movement and the America of the 1950s and 1960s, but the racial experience in America today. Online resources round out this teaching guide and encourage students to go online to learn more.

I particularly appreciate the guidelines for using the book to teach below-level readers and English Language Learner (ELLs). As the guide asserts, “the comics medium does not necessarily make things ‘easy’ for readers”. This is not taking the easy way out! Graphic novels challenge readers to analyze the connection between text and art, and provide the opportunity for students to pick up subtleties that they may not catch in text.

The MARCH: BOOK ONE teachers’ guide is absolutely worth the download for teachers, librarians, and parents who want to generate a meaningful discussion about the American Civil Rights movement. Read the book, use the guide, and create your own resources!

m00eTHE MONTGOMERY STORY, by The Fellowship of the Reconciliation 

Part of John Lewis and Andrew Aydin’s inspiration for writing MARCH: BOOK ONE in graphic novel format was THE MONTGOMERY STORY, a comic that was produced by the Fellowship of the Reconciliation in 1958 and distributed covertly throughout the South. It told the story of the burgeoning Civil Rights movement and offered advice and instructions on how to use “The Montgomery Method” of passive and non-violent resistance against segregation. This historic document also told the story that established the myth of Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks at the time that it mattered, mere months after news events occurred.

The authors chose the comic book format both to reach a wide audience and because at that time comics were seen to be for children; much of the “adult” literature produced by Civil Rights groups was destroyed. Despite this, it could be very dangerous to own a copy. Many Civil Rights leaders recognize THE MONTGOMERY STORY as one of the most important items in establishing or explaining their cause to the world, as well as giving many black youths the courage and direction to hold their own political protests. Many notable sit-ins and demonstrations are credited to this comic book getting into the right hands. A copy of this historic comic is in the Smithsonian.

THE MONTGOMERY STORY is referenced in MARCH: BOOK ONE and can be a powerful teaching tool in the study of Civil Rights. Download this compelling primary source here.

Reading With Pictures volunteer Rosemary Kiladitis is a longtime comic book reader, bibliophile, newly minted librarian, and mom of 3. She is a youth literacy advocate who loves reader’s advisory and thinks every classroom library deserves a graphic novel section.