Written by Johnathon Hennessey
Art by Aaron McConnell
Appropriate for Grades: Middle School and up
In interesting times such as these, the laws and traditions of the United States are finding themselves hotly debated on a daily basis. Coming of age in the 21st Century means that your students’ social feeds are filling with confusing political news, bold declarations by leaders, and loads of conflicting opinions. Questions emerge constantly about checks and balances, the limits of power, and the nature of our government. As teachers of social studies, it is incumbent upon us to help our students develop a clear understanding about the document that finds itself at the center of the struggle time and again: The Constitution.
At first glance, it may seem that breaking down a heavy primary source like the Constitution would be less appealing than the adaptations of novels and works of literature available to our friends in the English department. In actuality, Hennessey’s work divides into very intuitive chapters; it progresses just like the document itself with portions devoted to the Preamble, Articles, and Amendments respectfully. In addition, each section is accompanied by relevant details, illustrations (duh!) and entertaining stories!
Why This Graphic Novel is Awesome
Try this experiment: Call up friend and explain the 9th Amendment in detail to them. Unless your friend is a constitutional scholar or history teacher, it might look something like this:
Once you’re done holding them hostage, you might feel the pain and frustration that comes along with trying to teach the less “sexy” portions of the Constitution to students.
To combat this, The United States Constitution: A Graphic Adaptation takes that amendment and explains it clearly in just 2 1/2 illustrated pages. Among the relevant details of the Amendment, no less than SIX supreme court cases are referenced with cool nonchalance. There’s also the clarifying use of a superhero of the author’s design called The Penumbra. Immediately, The Penumbra provides a concrete retrieval cue in the minds of students that will make this otherwise painful moment of learning into a highlight!
Mr. Hennessey’s graphic novel gives this same treatment to every part of the Constitution, with an almost frenetic shift in imagery between each section to help keep students interested.
Use In the Classroom
When teaching, I’ve found that Social Studies comics tend to be most useful when divided into smaller pieces. I personally would never have students read this dense and intimidating graphic novel from start to finish. Be forewarned: This is NOT a beginner’s book; it’s better suited to being read a few pages at a time followed by an opportunity to digest and discuss.
Hennessey’s book goes in the same order as the Constitution itself, providing context and clarification. He took care to plan out clear markers and stopping points so that readers will definitively know when the topic is shifting. Use this to your advantage. Small, 20 minute reading activities over the course of a semester will work well here.
Some portions might also work well as full-class projects. In one team-taught classroom, we enjoyed success in organizing a jigsaw of the Bill of Rights. We assigned very small groups of students to analyze the pages of one specific amendment. This is followed by a creation of their OWN illustration accompanied by a short explanation for their classmates. I’ve tried this activity using other methods (e.g., guided internet research), but Hennessey’s book has generally proven to be the fastest, most easily accessible resource for students and teachers alike.
Through this graphic novel, Jonathon Hennessey has created a new, unique, and exciting way for students to engage with the Constitution – a text that has and will continue to affect all of our lives for decades to come. Please support him by buying all of his excellent books like I did!