I must start off by saying, I’m not a graphic novel reader. In the past year I’ve read (or listened to) close to 60 books, and only two have been graphic novels. It’s not that I don’t find them useful, they just aren’t my thing.

One of the graphic novels I read was Illegal by Eoin Colfer and Andrew Donkin and illustrated by Giovanni Rigano. I read a tweet about Illegal last January from someone I follow in the U.K. and knew it was a book I needed. So I went to Amazon and found that it wouldn’t be released in the US until August. Because I was determined, I found a copy on Amazon UK that would ship to the states.

I read it in 35 minutes, because it was that good. And I made a note that when I cover migration and refugees this year, that I wanted to use it. And up until a month ago, that was my plan.

The first week of school I got a text from our Learning Common (our word for library and such) director saying that Eoin Colfer and Andrew Donkin are coming to town in September and we might be able to get them to do a school visit for us. I begged and pleaded and offered to do endless favors for her if she could make this happen, and… she did!

Author visits in the first three weeks of school are a bit rushed. We didn’t have time to prep something elaborate – we barely know our students at this point, but we got copies of the book and tried to read it.

I say tried because reading a graphic novel isn’t like a novel or a picture book, it’s something different. I had to project the book using a document camera so students could see everything. I had to learn that boxes were different then bubbles, but my students helped me by pointing out that different color boxes seemed to mean different things. One color represented what was going on in Ebo’s (the main character) head and another color represented setting and other voices.

The book alternates between “Now” when they are trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea and “Then” which shows their journey from Ghana to the Libyan coast. Every chapter seems to end with a cliffhanger that makes my students want more. So when the authors came to my school, my students were EXCITED!

Things my students learned from Eoin Colfer and Andrew Donkin.

1. Ignorance about refugees and migration knows no borders.

Eoin Colfer showed his son a picture of a “cathedral boat” and asked if his son knew what it was. His answer? That the people on the boat were coming to steal away his taxes. And at that point Eoin knew this was the book to write because young adults don’t understand the refugee crisis.

2. Co-writing a book means that both authors need to be on board, or the book doesn’t happen.

I tell my students all the time that collaboration is a skill that they need. They proved my point.

3. There is so much planning that goes into a graphic novel.

They described writing a graphic novel as writing a movie script. Each panel had to be storyboarded out with thought, dialogue, and descriptions of the images they would need drawn (more on their amazing illustrator later).

4. We can reach global issues through fiction.

My students empathized with Ebo and Kwame. They applauded every time something good happened and they were upset (yes, there were tears) when things were tough. But they asked a lot of questions about how much of this was real.

5. People from different cultures can work together.

Eoin is from Dublin. Andrew is from London. Gio, their amazing illustrator, is from Lake Como, Italy. But between email, phone calls, and occasional face to face meetings, they put together an amazing product.

A week later, The local bookstore, Anderson’s Bookshop, that connected them to our school brought them back to their store for an in store event. I brought two of my kids back to see them. What made this event amazing, was World Strides, and organization that supports refugees was there. Jerome, a refugee from Burundi, was there to tell his story. It was powerful to see the real life connection to a fictional account. After hearing his story,  Eoin and Andrew spoke, while Gio stood at an easel with tablet paper and drew. What I couldn’t create if I had the next five years to do it, he did in 40 minutes.

The visit was a success, because my oldest, Oliver, told my youngest, Innis, about the Artemis Fowl series, so we ended up buying the first book of that to get autographed. Most importantly, this author visit got my 3rd graded to ask some questions. He wanted to know why people would run away from their homes, and why people wouldn’t want to help them. And that’s a question the world needs to answer.

Have you ever brought authors in? How did it go? Was it impactful? Let me know in the comments or find me on Twitter at @cheffernan75!

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