Tuesday, May 20, 2008

"The Search," by Eric Heuvel

As much as I adored real books as a kid, I was equally smitten with comic books...it's pretty certain that most of my allowance (and any other pocket money I had) was spent at the Stars and Stripes bookstore, which was located right next to the Post Exchange, which was situated smack in the middle of Kelley Barracks (the little Army post that my family called home during our first three years in Europe).  Kelley Barracks is in Stuttgart, Germany...you'll see why this is important if you can plow through the next few paragraphs.

It's thrilling, to me, to see the continued rise of graphic novels and watch as the lines between written words/illustrations/comic books and high falutin' literature become increasingly blurred.  We live in such a tremendously visual society that it seems crucial that we accept these changes, and the literary uncertainty that they bring, with open arms.  I find myself thinking, often, that the children who are growing up with the internet are becoming much more visually literate than we can actually comprehend...and, as long as we who are teaching them get to throw great ideas and good words into the mix, I believe this will be a very good thing.  Change is the one thing we can count on.

This brings me to "The Search."  As usual, I recommend the New York Times (02.27.08) for a well-considered and fascinating article on the topic.  "The Search," is--as the article says--"to be exact, a comic book about the Holocaust."  It's being used in trial programs in Germany as a text.  

It is, clearly, an unusual way to teach history, especially when one considers the gravity of the subject.  

The reason that the article stopped me in my tracks, though, was that it was published within a week of one of the most amazing conversations I have ever had: it was with a delightful and brilliantly talented illustrator (we had just met, through a mutual friend) who had grown up in Germany, only a few cities away from little Kelley Barracks.  {We are about 10 years apart in age, I think...when I was 12 and spending all my change on Scrooge McDuck comics--they were, I thought, the most well-drawn...something I became obsessed with early on--well, when I was 12, kindergarten was just a twinkle in my new friend's eye.}

What this brilliant illustrator said I cannot easily recount here, but I do remember that it brought tears to my eyes, and made me hope that, someday, should we become good friends (and I hope we might), she can tell me more of these stories so I can know what it must have been like for her to grow up, German, in Munich, in the 1970's, while I was growing up, American, in Stuttgart.  Also, so that--through her stories--I may learn more about many things that seem like they should be fairly clear-cut...but never, really, are.

I'd hoped this would be a short post.  Clearly, it ain't.  Still encouraging you to read the article from the New York Times,  I'd like you to remember that, if we really listen to children, we will often hear the most important truths.  I'll leave you with this, from--of course--the NYT:

"Ask many Germans now in their 20s, 30s and 40s, and they will describe elementary
 and high school history classes that virtually cudgeled them into
 learning about Nazis and the holocaust...'Students had to fight to talk freely
 about the war,' {Jutta Harms} recounted, 
'and, being confronted in class by the emotions of the teachers,
 there wasn't any space to feel for ourselves.'  The comic book, 
she went on, is therefore
 a welcome change."

Put together by the Anne Frank Haus in the Netherlands, "the comic is more heartbreaking for being understated and cautious about violence."  

Let's hope for one more thing: 
that great work like this will continue 
to encourage dialogue
between children and those who teach them.