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New England Literary News

History lessons through comics

History lessons through comics

Do comics deserve a place in the teaching of American history? Yes, say a group of historians and comics artists who joined forces to publish an anthology of 20 little-known stories about our nation’s past, each told in graphic-novel format. Jason Rodriquez, editor of “Colonial Comics: New England, 1620-1750” (Fulcrum), collected stories about figures such as slave owner Samuel Maverick, who lived on an island in Boston Harbor, and Elizabeth Glover, a widow who supported five children by operating a printing press. One of her printing jobs, “The Bay Psalm Book,” was the first book printed in Colonial-era New England. Eleven of the 1,700 first edition copies printed still exist, including one that recently sold for more than $14 million.


“Troublesome Sows” touches on the friction between Native Americans and the newcomers. The European settlers brought their livestock with them and allowed them to roam freely in the New World. The livestock ate food growing on land cultivated by Native Americans, heightening tensions between the two groups.

Rodriguez is coming to town during school-vacation week to lead two workshops in which children will create their own comics about history. He will be joined by other comics artists and historian John L. Bell for a hands-on program at the Massachusetts Historical Society on April 21 from 2 to 4 p.m. Admission is free, but registration is required. Call 617-646-0578 or register online at www.masshist.org/events.

Rodriguez will present “History, in Panels: Comic Book Making Workshop” from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. April 23 at the Concord Museum. The fee is $15. Register at www.concordmuseum.org.

Library renovation

The bright colors and the natural light are what I noticed first on a recent visit to the newly renovated second floor of the Boston Public Library’s Johnson Building, the addition built in 1972. There are colorful murals, furniture, and floor coverings where gray once dominated. Clear glass windows have replaced tinted ones.


The children’s room is twice as big as it used to be. It now features a wall with learning activities for toddlers and a storytime area with a throne for the storyteller. There are spaces for theatrical performances and craft workshops and a “parking lot” for strollers.

The teen room also has been moved to the second floor and now features not only comfy chairs to settle in with a book but diner-style booths, a lounge to watch movies, and space for groups to work and play together. There’s a 3D printer and computers loaded with graphic design as well as video- and audio-editing software.

Books, of course, still are the main attraction but the children’s and teen spaces now have more in common with a community center than libraries of old. Throughout, there are graceful reminders of the past. Card catalog drawers, repurposed as mini-bookcases, hang from the ceiling, and the green shades on new modern lamps are reminiscent of the old green ones in the main library building.

Coming out

 “The Liar” by Nora Roberts (Putnam)

 “Born with Teeth: A Memoir” by Kate Mulgrew (Little, Brown)

 “The Fishermen” by Chigozie Obioma (Little, Brown)

Pick of the Week

Fran Duke of Where the Sidewalk Ends in Chatham recommends “The Precious One” by Marisa de los Santos (Morrow): “In this tale of family secrets, love, rejection, and forgiveness, the point of view shifts between two half-sisters who have met only once: Taisy Cleary, 35, and 16-year-old Willow. Why would their father bring his daughters together now, after he has kept them apart for all these years? The story is both warmly funny and heartbreaking as the two sisters share their perceptions and insights into the man who abandoned his first family.”


Jan Gardner can be reached at JanLGardner@yahoo.com.