Saturday, April 18, 2009


(EDITOR'S NOTE: This week’s reviews come from a graduate-level, special topics English class at the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP). The instructor is Dr. James “Bucky” Carter of EN/SANE fame. He and his students graciously agreed to allow The Graphic Classroom to reprint the students’ reviews. Three of the students are teaching K-12 or are on track to do so soon. The others are more interested in the university setting. The articles are reprinted as they appeared sans interior art.)

by Marcy Alvarado
Student Reviewer, UTEP

AMERICAN WIDOW, by Alissa Torres, portrays the harsh reality of a young widow desperately searching for answers about her late husband Eddie Torres, who was killed during the attacks of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. The themes of loss, surviving through adversity, and the search for a new identity are a few possible themes portrayed in this touching graphic novel. What I found most appealing about this novel was that a woman’s memories and heart-wrenching experiences were so clearly and passionately illustrated. It’s almost as if Alissa Torres were sitting next to me, describing in detail the horrific aftermath of losing a husband and fighting to make a new life for her and her child.

AMERICAN WIDOW can be used in secondary classrooms to teach different themes that may be relevant to the lives of secondary students. Before teaching this graphic novel, I would begin class with a mini-history lesson of September 11, 2001 to refresh students’ memories and thoughts about this historical tragedy. If I were teaching a class of juniors, I would remind myself that these students were only 7 or 8 years old when this occurred so they will have to discuss what they remember about this day, who was involved, and the resolutions this nation took to defend itself.

  • Students will learn new themes through this graphic novel.
  • Students will compare/contrast themes with other novels or whole texts.
  • Students will apply meaning to reality or real-world situations.

When studying a unit on surviving adversity and fighting to create a new life, teaching AAMERICAN WIDOW as part of the Holocaust would be relevant because there are numerous Holocaust survivors’ stories and memoirs just waiting to be read and discussed in the Language Arts content. When choosing to study a novel such as NIGHT by Elie Wiesel, AMERICAN WIDOW can be used as a secondary source of loss, survival, and forming new identities after horrific life changing experiences. Both main characters in these stories are faced with loss of faith, a search for answers, and eventually choosing to write about life’s unfair struggles and tribulations to reach diverse audiences.

Secondary Lesson Idea
High school juniors would begin with front-loading activities by reading AMERICAN WIDOW first to establish the three themes of these novels. By exercising “front-loading” in the classroom, students do most of the unit’s activities before reading the primary or whole text of the unit to gain a better sense of similar themes characters experience during different time periods.

While students are reading AMERICAN WIDOW, they will be asked to select significant lines, phrases, or quotes they feel are important and write their explanations using a double-diary entry log. Since this is a graphic novel, students may also choose to write about significant panels that contribute to the themes or emotions portrayed by the author. After reading this graphic novel students will discuss the relevance of the themes and the significance of the author writing about her experiences of September 11, 2001.

Discussion Questions
  • After reading Alissa Torres’ graphic novel, what do you think gave her the motivation to create her true story in a graphic novel format instead of a traditional novel format?
  • Select a scene, picture, or panel and discuss why it was significant to you.
  • If Alissa Torres was in our classroom, what question would you ask her about this novel or her life-changing experience?
  • If a sequel was created for this graphic novel, what do you think it should be about? What are your suggestions for a sequel?
  • How does this graphic novel relate to today’s conflicts and controversial war?

Mini-Lesson Idea
Introduce Pablo Neruda’s works and discuss their importance in this graphic novel. “You will remember that leaping stream where sweet dreams rose and trembled” (Neruda).

Post-reading Activity
After reading NIGHT and AMERICAN WIDOW, students will create a visual representation of the two texts using any methods the students would like to use to demonstrate similarities in significant historical events that have shaped the nation’s history and future.

Using AMERICAN WIDOW in a secondary classroom is a unique teaching method because it addresses many English Language Arts standards and because it is a non-traditional approach to understanding the history of the Holocaust and the history of the United States. Survivor’s memoirs and true stories are an excellent way to engage all readers of all ages.

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