I don’t like to read nonfiction. Short articles and essays are okay and even tolerable, but an entire nonfiction book? I’d be hard-pressed to finish one. Yet, that’s all changed recently, as I’ve discovered graphic nonfiction. I’m not talking about the less than stellar titles that are being shoved at the school market. I’m talking about quality titles where publishers, writers, and artists are putting their hearts and souls into the project. (To read more about this topic, check out the November issue of SLJ. They feature two excellent articles on graphic nonfiction.)
So you want to know how our country went from counting a slave as 3/5 of a person to electing its first African American president? Then read the graphic adaptation of the constitution. It lays it all out there.
The United States Constitution: A graphic Adaptation
Written by Jonathan Hennessey Art by Aaron McConnell
Hill and Wang (A division of Farrar Straus and Giroux), $16.95
Like I said, I’m not a nonfiction reader, and even graphic nonfiction is dense with facts. So while it’s taken me quite a while to get through The United States Constitution, it was worth the time I took to digest it in bite size pieces.
The book begins with a beautiful two page spread – “We the people.” The artist depicts a large crowd, made up of people from all sorts of race, ethnicities, religions, and background. The writer and artist then go into the story of how the constitution came about, from the American Revolution to the Articles of Confederation and finally explaining the need for a better document to bring all the states together – the Constitution. That is the first of 10 chapters. The remaining chapters cover the preamble, 7 amendments, ratification, the bill of rights and the remaining 17 amendments.
While the text is easy to understand and gives a thorough, if only basic, understanding of the constitution, the artwork brings to life the idea that the constitution is a living document. Incorporating artwork that depicts the past as well as artwork that is set in the present day, readers glean that the constitution is a dynamic and living document. The artist also makes sure to not pigeonhole the document, by using specific examples, but rather uses icons to depict the more general ideas. For instance, when discussing the powers of the three forms of government, rather than draw a single president and have a reader think that the topic being covered only applied to the moment in time, the artwork shows a man with the white house as its head, making the illustrations whimsical as well as meaningful.
The book is not written with children and teens in mind, but is most definitely accessible to upper middle school and high school students. And readers will gain a solid understanding of the many topics that tie in with the document. On Election Day, I was able to explain to someone how Gore could have won the popular vote in 2000, while Bush won the electoral vote. I was able to do so, because I had just finished that part in the book.
Now that I’m done with the book, I’m going to first give it to the 7th grade social studies teachers I work with. Frankly, I’d add this as a supplemental text to their curriculum. In the meanwhile, this is a worthy addition to any library – whether you shelve it in nonfiction or graphic novel. And for those out there just looking for a good read, I’d add this to my list too. And it’s okay, you can read other books simultaneously. I did.
This review is based on a complimentary copy supplied by the publisher. All images copyright © Hill and Wang.
Macmillan’s website has a short video on how Aaron McConnell created the artwork for this book.
Here’s a trailer: