My first strong memory about Maus was when students could pick to read Night or Maus in English 10. My student teacher was leading Night, which had the majority of class. The other five or six students and I would retire to the library, but I have to say, I never “taught” or “led” that book.
This one boy who hated English class did. He was an artist. He was an excellent, passionate artist who never found roots in English classes. He led the discussion. We’d sit down and he would in midsts of his asking opinions and thoughts, he’d share his noticings of how elements of the art reinforced the author’s messages in ways I didn’t see. The ways the roads in the background, for instance, intersected. Small details but meaningful details that I, not a natural in graphic novels, would have never noticed.
I wasn’t a young teacher: I had repeatedly experienced the joy of turning over the classroom to the voices and capabilities of my students, but this was different. This was someone who had rejected (and likely been often rejected by) the discipline shining, with the analytical skills valued on full display. Our relationship changed. He changed.
My second strong memory about Maus was when a dear friend of mine’s father wanted to meet to voice his objections and wonderings on why our school, the school his grandchildren would go to, would study Maus.
We met over coffee and tea on my kitchen table and I was nervous. This couple had become dear to me, not just because of my friend, but because, in truth, without any parents, they had become a voice of a stage of life that I needed to hear sometimes. Because were wise and loving and full of life– role models.
The voice this man used was dripping with emotion. He wanted to know how a book could show history using animals as characters. He wanted to know how the Holocaust could possibly be acceptable in a comic book.
He shared with me that he was in the second family of his father. His father’s first family were murdered by the Nazis. He left unsaid what his voice hinted at– the sorrow, the wondering, the anger.
I shared my teaching experiences around Maus. I explained how this book, winner of the Pulitzer Prize, revealed the possibilities of an artform. I shared how subsequent books, like Persepolis and Fun Home, were reaching audiences that truly needed the stories and the knowledge. I shared what I knew of Art Spiegelman’s history. It was among the most meaningful discussions I have around the worth of books.
This lovely man read the books, and listening to him and his wife discuss them remains a treasure. They are full defenders.
In the last two weeks, a gunman opened fire on a synagogue. A book about the Holocaust was banned. The two are directly related.