In 2018 I was awarded the Frances E. Russell Grant from IBBY Canada “to initiate and encourage research in young people’s literature in all its forms.” I was so thankful to have the resources to be able to pursue questions I had regarding the representation of Canadian history in graphic novels and comics for children. In 2012, I published a chapter on the graphic novel, Louis Riel: A comic strip biography, which was lauded as a groundbreaking Canadian history narrative but was incredibly sexist in (re)affirming a version of the past in which women were absent, helpmates, or shrews. In 2017, I also engaged in a series of blog posts for ActiveHistory.ca, where I deconstructed children’s Canadian history picture books. I found that although these histories interacted with each other, their stories never crossed each other in the books leaving a reader with a distinct impression of separate histories.
For my IBBY proposal, I was interested in merging these two areas of research: What Canadian history graphic novels are available for young people? What stories to they tell? How are they similar or different to a picture book or textbook telling of these histories? Are we telling new stories in this media or the same stories in different ways?
Receiving the grant has allowed me to meet with graphic novel booksellers, librarians, writers, illustrators, and publishers to better understand the landscape of graphic novels for children in Canada. I have found is that Canadian history graphic novels can be separated into two types: traditional histories told graphically and newly told histories because of the graphic medium. Canadian history graphic novels specifically created for children are usually traditional histories told graphically; a type of graphic novel that is arguably less discursively rich as newly told graphic histories. If used as a teaching tool, these types of books need to be brought to the classroom with a more critical eye – an argument I made at workshop at the 2018 Ontario History and Social Studies Teachers’ Association annual conference. However, it is the power of graphic novels to use this form of storytelling to push the how and why of children engage in the fiction or non-fiction of Canadian history and so it is these types of books which I have found particularly powerful during my research. Thus, to make these type of literature more known, I am currently working on a blog post for ActiveHistory.ca with comic book writers and illustrators on how they understand telling histories through the graphic narrative format, which I hope will lead to further collaborative work combining pedagogy and comic book creation. While I was unable to travel to Vancouver for the 2019 Congress, I am excited to propose my research on the landscape of graphic histories for children as teaching tools at the 2020 Canadian Society of the Study in Education association conference held during this year’s Congress. Furthermore, since receiving the grant, my work as History Education Strategist and educational consultant more generally, has led to work on the Digital Humanities and the future of commemoration, and I am hoping to find collaborators that can help me explore the potential of what graphic narratives for children can do in online spaces as a way to speculate on a more youth-centric historical imaginings. Because of these exciting possibilities, I want to again thank IBBY Canada again for this award and acknowledge the rich discussions that have been afforded because of it.