Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The Harlem Hellfighters by Max Brooks, Illustrated by Caanan White

103 years ago African Americans in New York could not simply join up as soldiers in the Federal military. When African American men were finally able to establish an infantry unit, they had to do so within the disrespectful confines of segregation.  The Harlem Hellfighters is the story of Harlem’s highly-decorated trail-blazing unit as told by Max Brooks.  In his author’s note, Brooks explains his personal relationship to this lesser-known part of World War I history and his quest to bring it to light, first through a screenplay and now, here, as a graphic novel with detailed black and white illustrations by Caanan White.  More sophisticated readers will be better equipped to undertake the work of fitting together all of the pieces of the story and tracking characters.  The minimal text (usually less than five sentences per page), however, makes this a useful one for literacy instruction on comprehension strategies for older readers working with ELA teachers, reading specialists, or in pairs of peers. 

Here is a social studies lesson plan created by Thomas Malcolm for eighth graders in 1997.  It does not include Brooks' text, but may be of interest to educators nonetheless.  Here are documentary photographs of the Hellfighters, some of which Brooks includes in his backmatter.  --Jessica Fenster-Sparber

Brooks, Max.  Illustrated by Caanan White.  The Harlem Hellfighters.  New York: Broadway Books, 2014. Print.

N.B. At the time of this writing, Passages' libraries do not yet own a copy of The Harlem Hellfighters.  The copy reviewed for this post was lent to us via the MyLibraryNYC pilot program.  Thank you, MyLibraryNYC! 

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