We are huge fans of First Second’s Science Comics series and we’ve really enjoyed their Maker Comics line as well. So we were overjoyed to learn about History Comics! Much like the other series, History Comics is a collaborative effort that brings together a variety of writers and artists to explore various events and themes throughout history. Each book is told through a sort of narrative that makes the subject matter easily approachable to young readers.
The first two books in the series are The Great Chicago Fire and The Roanoke Colony. Upcoming titles will cover the Challenger Disaster and the impacts of both mustangs and bison on American history.
The Great Chicago Fire
The Great Chicago Fire was a great topics for History Comics to tackle early on. It appeals both to kids who love history generally as well as kids who have gotten more interested in history thanks to the recent trend in historical survival books. The Great Chicago Fire follows two siblings from the onset of the fire as they try to survive. It also covers the aftermath including the changes in architecture that came after the disaster.
As J.P. and Franny (and their young puppy, Lucky) journey to safety, the book takes the time to address various different facts and misconceptions about the fire. It talks about the long held blame that Mrs. O’Leary lived with after she and her cow were thought to have caused the fire. (She was later pardoned by the city.) It also covers issues anti-Irish sentiments, post-tragedy efforts to help the displaced, and more. It actually ends with the Chicago World’s Faire in 1893 which is the segue that allows them to talk about the way the city rebuilt, changed building codes, and made things safer generally.
Hannigan does a great job of telling J.P. and Franny’s story and keeping the reader invested in them while at the same time covering the broader topics. It’s very much the kind of book that’s going to appeal to kids and Graudins’ illustrations are fantastic. I love her style and She does a lot with tends to be a more muted color palette intended to really bring out the flames and emphasize the smoke that haunts the characters.
Out of the first two History Comics, The Great Chicago Fire was probably my favorite! (I love historical survival (and puppies), too, what can I say.
The Roanoke Colony
The Roanoke Colony (subtitled: American’s First Mystery) focuses on the well-known first American settlement whose people seemingly disappeared into thin air. Some kids may be familiar with the story while others may learn of it for the first time through his comic. Chris Schweizer (who also wrote and illustrated How to Fix a Car!, one of of the first Maker Comics) does a really good job of making the book flow well while packing in a lot of history.
To understand the Roanoke Colony’s history you have to understand early American history. Schweizer manages to give young readers a crash course in both the Native American history of the region as well as the history of exploration. Then he ties it all in to the mystery he’s telling. The Roanoke Colony appears very well researched and at the end Schweizer goes through all the theories behind what happened to the colonists.
All in all, it’s a good read. I love Schweizer’s illustrations and the conversational storytelling by Manteo and Wanchese really keeps you invested in the story. It feels more fact-heavy story than The Great Chicago Fire but that’s because it’s a lot broader than just the mystery of the Roanoke Colony itself. That’s also probably the best part! Schweizer really does a great job of getting a lot of information across is an easy-to-understand manner.
You definitely don’t want your young readers skipping this one!
I love non-fiction graphic novels and I haven’t found a First Second book I wouldn’t recommend. Their non-fiction offerings for young readers (and those young at heart) are second to none. History Comics starts off strong and I’m sure they’ll be no exception.
Earlier this year I posted a list over Biblionaut Expeditions about the various non-fiction graphic novels that kids could check out to keep learning throughout the quarantine (and now summer) months. History Comics is going to make a great addition to any kid’s summer reading list.