The third of five selections for our summer 2017 study of Young Adult books, Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood by Marjane Satrapi, is a graphic novel about the Iranian Revolution, told from the perspective of a young girl.
This page contains Amazon Affiliate links; if you purchase from Amazon after going through these links, Cult of Pedagogy receives a small commission at no extra cost to you.
Here is my video reflection, followed by a few notes:
- Readers would benefit from having background knowledge. This book centers on a specific period in modern Iranian history, and my own limited understanding of the Iranian Revolution caused me to feel like a lot of stuff was going over my head. Even though the author explained things in a prelude and through the main character’s voice, I still had trouble understanding them fully. I would imagine that a student audience would struggle even more so. I have looked for resources that break things down in an easy-to-understand way, but haven’t found any yet. This video actually does a good job, but it’s FAST, and all the information is delivered verbally—if he had added some words on the screen to help the viewer digest all the information, it would have been better. If you have taught this book with good supporting materials, I would be grateful to have you share links to them!
- This book has several strong female characters, so if you’re on the hunt for books where girls and women are represented as people with agency and guts, this would definitely fit the bill. This is especially notable because these characters live in the Middle East, which does not have a reputation in the West for giving women equal rights.
- The book would make an interesting conversation-starter about parenting. Throughout the book, Marji’s parents have to make decisions about how much freedom to give her, and how much to allow her to participate in the activism they are involved in. Some of these situations put Marji in danger. When studying this book with students, this universal topic of parenting would allow students to draw connections with their own families.
- Middle Eastern culture is explored in subtle ways, and there are surprises. As a way to enrich students’ understanding of life in Iran, Persepolis offers so much. We see girls and women at home without their heads covered (and much discussion of these coverings in general), a lot of peeks inside day-to-day family life, and some surprises: Marji asks for a poster of Kim Wilde, buys jeans, and headbangs in her bedroom. Paired with other texts (including film), this would help students develop a full picture of the people of Iran. (I am writing this from a Western perspective, obviously. If you and your students are from the Middle East, then you might appreciate the book for different reasons…I would love to hear your perspective on the book, by the way!)
- This is a graphic novel, which is a fast-growing genre that actually contains lots of sub-genres. See the link below to a blog post about teaching graphic novels.
- The book contains some “adult” content. Not much, but there is some profanity and one reference to sexual assault, so teachers of younger students should be aware of this.
- Video: Interview with Marjane Satrapi
- Video: Trailer for the film, Persepolis
- Book: Persepolis 2: The Story of a Return (sequel to this book)
- Blog post: Graphic Novels in the Classroom: A Teacher Roundtable
Please share your thoughts in the comments below.
Whoa. This book. I truly believe it will not collect a speck of dust on my shelves this year but will come back held by a thread. My 4 big reasons for making this a part of your classroom are at http://www.imthatteacher.com/persepolis. But if you’ve read it, you probably already have your own long list of its merits.
One big takeaway is the struggle I had at the beginning to keep up with the historical background. I craved paragraphs or timelines. That’s the format where I thrive in consuming informational content. This opened my eyes to how my students interpret text in formats I give them that they struggle with.
Amber, I loved reading your responses at your website. I wasn’t familiar with your blog/website before seeing your post, but I’ll definitely be returning!
LOVED reading your thoughts about this, Amber! You have made me want to read the sequel even more now. And YES about the struggle with the history. I swear I read that first page ten times and still didn’t get it. I finally just gave up and started in on the graphic stuff, hoping the story would help give me some context. I wish Satrapi would work on a graphic historical account of the revolution. That would be amazing.
Graphic novel is not a genre I generally choose, but it was interesting getting the story through pictures instead if just words. Like those before me, I would have benefitted from more historical context (the prologue left me a bit confused).
I really enjoyed the dynamics between Marji and her parents, and, as a 7th grade teacher, I think my students could really relate to the desire for independence and the need to still have their parents guiding them.
I had a very strong reaction to the reference to sexual assault so I imagine that would be a particularly sensitive portion of the story.
I am curious how my Iranian students would interpret the story.
Shelley, the longer I read, the more I appreciated the graphic aspect. Those who teach this genre often include study of the images themselves and how they convey what the text doesn’t. I was in love with Marji, and so much of that came from the images.
Persepolis was on my TBR list and I think I’d started it before, but hadn’t been able to finish or really get into it. This time, I found it very engaging and think that it would provoke a lot of conversation. I’ve read very few graphic novels, but I think that this format really “works” for Persepolis. The character or Marjane –her questions, her spunk, her “realness” made her very appealing to me, and I think that my students would find a lot to relate to or admire about her. I really liked the window into her life and this period of history. I sometimes teach The Kite Runner, and think that Persepolis might make an interesting companion to that work. Thanks for getting me to finally pick this up and finish it!
Lisa, when I started reading, I had serious doubts about whether I’d be able to finish it, because I was so lost. But I knew how popular it was, so I pushed through, and I’m glad I did. I think any teacher who has had a similar experience should share that with students, so they can see how these kinds of reading struggles are overcome. I’m glad we both finished it! 🙂
I learned so much about the history of Iran by reading this book, and like you I am now curious to find out more. I think that it would be an excellent book to use for an integrated ELA/SS unit. In North Carolina this matches our 7th grade social studies curriculum. While this wasn’t my first graphic novel, I also struggled with the format and found myself wishing there was more text to give me additional details. I think that students will love the format, but agree that they will need a lot of front loading on the history and background. There may be issues with some of the language at the middle school level, but given the historical significance of the book I think that it could be addressed and does not outweigh the merits of using the book.
Liz, I think pairing is almost essential with this book. I would think that most students who attempted it without any scaffolding would abandon it early on, and that would be such a loss!
I have used this graphic novel for several years in my 9th grade World Cultures class as part of our Middle East unit. Students are always pleasantly surprised by the format and think that the book is an easy read, yet they often don’t understand all of the concepts. For example, it’s important to explain the historical context in addition to information like Shi’a Islam, Karl Marx, and the anti-American position of the Iranian government. You might want to show the Crash Course video on the Iranian Revolution or have students create a timeline of Iranian history to create some context.
Students connect to this graphic novel because there are so many universal experiences, yet Marjane’s experience living through repression and war provides a strong contrast to my students’ own lives. Freedom of speech, the ability to be creative and express oneself through music and personal style tend to be the most important rights young people cherish, so they really connect with Marjane’s turmoil.
I suggest providing discussion questions to consider while students are reading. The fishbowl discussion was a valuable instructional strategy to help students discuss the content of the book and their own thoughts and feelings in regards to the various themes.
On another note, I keep several copies of the book displayed in my classroom throughout the year. Students in my other classes often pick up the book and read it even though it is not assigned to them. The first page draws them in and they can’t put it down. For as many years I have been teaching this graphic novel, it is still a treasure to teach.
Melanie, thanks for sharing your experiences here! I like the idea of having students create a timeline, especially if it’s something they can build over time as they read the book and pull in information from other resources.
I tried the Crash Course video and it just went too fast for me (also, it was delivered all verbally with just images and no words on the screen, which I really need to help me process unfamiliar names and information).
I have avoided graphic novels because I love creating my own visual image. Persepolis completely changed my mind. Quick and engaging read, well supported by images. I’m fairly well versed about this time period, but have never heard about it from a Iranian girl’s perspective. I learned a lot. Argo is a great film to go with this (at least for adults). Can’t wait to read her other books and The Kite Runner as well.
I absolutely loved the artwork in this one – the stark black and white worked so well to visualize the extremes that Marjane experienced. It also emphasized how dehumanizing public life was for her in Iran.
I really struggled with the ending. It felt so incredibly abrupt – I’ll have to grab Persepolis 2!
There was one part where (I think) Marjane’s dad is talking about how for so long being Iranian was a “golden ticket” to the West, but after the Revolution, it made people pariahs. Many of the students I’ve had from Iran (and their families) don’t call themselves Iranian, but rather Persian. After reading Persepolis, I wonder if this is a learned tactic to lessen the immediate demonization that people coming to the US from the Middle East sadly experience.
If we’re talking about parallel reads, it would be really interesting to pair this with Maus. Different periods of history, but to compare how authors use images to communicate oppression and resistance would be intriguing.
I read The Complete Persepolis last fall after an ELA co-worker recommended it. The second half of the Complete Persepolis addresses Marjane’s schooling in Austria, her return to Iran, and at the conclusion of the book her departure to France. The themes, naturally, are more mature in the second volume.
After reading the novel, I ordered the DVD, but I haven’t watched it yet. It is now on a living room ottoman, and I plan to watch it very soon! I thank the book study for bringing me back to Ms. Satrapi’s works.
I teach seventh grade world history, and my curriculum spans prehistory to medieval times, so I won’t be teaching Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood in my classroom. I do teach a chapter that includes the Persians, and when studying the Greeks, the Persian Wars are examined. I wonder if Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood is a work that the seventh grade ELA teachers would be interested in teaching as a complementary text to the world history course. It, of course, would require a curriculum review and approval beforehand.
I enjoy the graphic novel genre. Specific to my content, I particularly like 300 by Frank Miller and Lynn Varley and Marathon by Boaz Yakin and Joe Infurnari. In addition, when we last adopted textbooks in 2008, a graphic novel supplement came with the order. A concept from each chapter is depicted in the format. I do use the supplement periodically throughout the school year, and it is usually well-received by my seventh-graders. The supplement is classroom friendly, so I do not have to worry about the use of adult language and the depiction of adult content.
I’m glad that the novel was recommended to me and I was able to revisit it as a summer read because I was in fourth and fifth grades during the Revolution, and it wasn’t really a part of my worldview at that age, although I do remember its news reporting. I definately learned more about Iran’s modern history and the Revolution by reading The Complete Persepolis.
In addition, I appreciate the bold starkness of the novel’s graphics. Their effect further impacted my emotions and reading experience that I may not have felt if the story was strictly prose. I’m curious how the images will transfer when I watch the film.
I feel like I didn’t have enough historical perspective in this story, like others, so it was a little hard for me to follow some things that happened and who was whom. That’s more my issue than an issue of the book, but it impacted my ability to feel personally connected with the main character. I didn’t really appreciate the graphic format and felt this also was part of my lack of connection. Interestingly, how many students feel this same way about whatever format I pick? So something to think about for me. My format issues aside and connection issues aside, the book still really made me think. I wondered what it would be like to have freedom similar to how it is here, and and then to have it taken away. What would that be like? What would I do? What would kids do? Would you fall in line or would you be like Marji and kind of rebel? While the topic was serious and people were killed, I feel like parents would have less concern about this book being read at middle school. I do agree the female characters were strong, which I appreciated. Overall I appreciated what I learned from the book and it made me want to learn more about this time and place.
This is one of my favorite books! I don’t think she or the genre gets the recognition they deserve! Please keep plugging graphic novels because they are worth exploring and teaching! If you are not teaching one…you should be.
(Side note: I really appreciate your blog. )
Hi Nick! I’m Holly, a Customer Experience Manager and former freshman comp instructor. I taught Persepolis and wholeheartedly agree with you! Thanks for writing in.
Persepolis is one of my favorite books to teach! We will start it again in a couple weeks. I love to show the picture of Iran in 1970 vs 1990. It is an awesome display of how the change in politics directly affected the people. I am actually planning on using that visual for a qfocus for a qft to start the novel. I have never used a picture as a qfocus but thought with the graphic novel, it would be a good time to start!
With this book, we practice making inferences because it really forces them to go back to the graphics and connect them together. BUT my favorite reason to teach it is just to watch their eyes open up to the world…a world many of them know nothing about.
Thanks for sharing!
I am greatly by all the posts I have read today. I am teaching Persepolis to 12 graders in the next quarter, and I am happy I chanced on this blog. It is my first time teach a graphic novel, but I am so excited about the abundance of context in facilitating the appreciation of Persepolis. Thanks for this.
I am the parent of a 16 year old, ADD student who besides his struggles with routines and comprehension, he is a very bright young man. We are a conservative family, but we are open to knowledge that integrates our kid into the trend of today’s society. My son spent the last part of the past semester on Feminism, roughly a month. I was so eager to see what is next in his curriculum. And there it was, the book Persepolis. I opened and first thing I saw was a soldier with an assault weapon. I thought, we are told that there is 0 tolerance for images, references and even gestures that mimic weapons. OK, I said and I started going thru the book. Here is a list of a few items depicted in here: Suicide, murder, decapitation, stoning, knife cuts, executions, body mutilation. Should I continue? I understand 99% of students will have a mature view of the political turmoil Iran went thru, of the struggle political dissidents had to endure ( I am a political refugee) but there is that small number of students who will retain these images that could trigger violent thoughts, or gore, violent tendencies. It’s overwhelming!
Why do we have to show gore in order to make a point on how bad it was in totalitarian regimes? It is very upsetting. Girls or boys who read books like this, will identify with the struggle the character went thru, and they will label themselves as victims, not of the same depicted Iranian regime, but of a entity of their choosing (today’s government, any opposition, a group of people, etc) “I am oppressed too!”
I have a problem with anything extreme, taught or depicted in school. We need to raise a kind generation, with love in their heart, taught to look toward the future and not dwell in the dark pasts. I feel the same about movies, video games or comics. Thank you.
Thanks for sharing this perspective, Karoly!