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First Second

Deogratias Lesson Plan

Graphic Literature as a Mirror of Current Events with Deogratias

Grade Level: High School


First Second Books
ISBN-10: 1-59643-103-2
Please Note:

Because of some language and violence issues in this fictional account of the unthinkable real-life atrocities of the Rwandan genocide, you may be hesitant to assign the entire graphic novel to your high school class. To avoid some of the language and violence in the book, one suggestion is to only use certain panels and pages from the graphic novel. Students can then compare the events from newspaper, internet and broadcast news accounts to the same event as depicted in the graphic novel.


Throughout history, literature has been used to illustrate the times in which we live. While history simply documents these events, literature provides the underlying heart and soul and shows us the lives of the people who experience history.

From the first prehistoric man to depict the great hunt on a cave wall, to the Egyptians’ use of hieroglyphics, graphic literature has also been a tool for portraying history. One of the most harrowing and horrific events in recent history, the Rwandan Genocide during the 1990s, may not be as well known as the Holocaust, but is just as important in teaching us about the atrocities mankind is capable of.

The award-winning graphic novel, First Second Books’ Deogratias, is an example of literature that is able to shed light on historical events shrouded in darkness. Because your students may not be familiar with the time period depicted, the novel (which has received raves in School Library Journal and Booklist, as well as Starred Reviews in Publishers Weekly and Kirkus Review) can both inform and enlighten


After reading selections from Deogratias, the student will be able to read, comprehend, and critique the work; identify text organization and structure and connect prior knowledge to support reading comprehension.

Time Allotted:

Depending on class length. One 90 minute class or two 45 minute classes.


Rwanda, Hutu, Tutsi, genocide, ethnic cleansing.

Anticipatory Set:

Before assigning Deogratias, your class will need background information on the history of the Rwandan conflict. You may want to spend time researching news accounts from 1994 that detailed the situation in Africa. It may also be helpful to draw parallels between the Rwandan genocide and other similar historical events such as the Holocaust and the Rape of Nanking.

Additionally, make sure to assign the book’s introduction, “From the Depths,” by translator Alexis Siegel. At 10 pages, the introduction is an excellent overview of the events depicted and also provides the proper context for the story itself.

Direct Teaching:

1. Reading of the story can be done independently, with partners or as a whole class. The teacher will need to make a decision based on grade level and reading ability. In case some are unfamiliar with the graphic novel format, it is recommended that the first few pages be read as a whole class until the students have mastered the format and language. Stop periodically during the story to check for comprehension. After reading the story, have the students complete reflection questions. [See below for a brief sampling of questions you can use.]
2. Be sure to review the definitions of vocabulary terms.
3. Lead students in a discussion in which you have them identify the various aspects of the graphic novel, drawing parallels and connections to aspects discussed in the anticipatory set.

Sample Reflection Questions:

1. The author uses a non-linear narrative throughout the graphic novel (juxtaposing scenes of a pre genocide Deogratias engaging in typical teen behavior with a Deogratias who has obviously been driven mad). How does this technique affect your understanding of the story? Is it effective?
2. How does the author implicate the West (America, Europe, the U.N.) as contributing to the causes of the Hutu-Tutsi conflict. Cite examples from the story.
3. The author spends a significant amount of time depicting events before and after the actual genocide, but very few pages or panels depicting the actual atrocities. Why do you think Stassen made this storytelling decision?
4. Part of the appeal and advantage of graphic novels is the ability to juxtapose art and text. A perfect example of the uniqueness of this style can be found on pages 52-53. How does Stassen’s depiction of Deogratias’ physical transformation relate to the his internal (and external) dialogue? What is the significance of portraying Deogratias as a dog?


A lesson using Deogratias can spawn further discussion and other activities that can expand on what was learned. It is a perfect opportunity for your students to engage in web-searching activities (using, the New York Times archives, etc.) to compile a compendium of related links. Additionally, students can research and write a biography of Paul Rusesabagina, the heroic figure who emerged from the Rwandan conflict and the subject of the Academy Award-nominated film, Hotel Rwanda.

See below for information on the graphic novel used for this lesson plan. For more information on this and other titles for your school or library, please contact Allan Greenberg by phone at (800) 452-6642, ext. 864, or by email at[email protected].

by J.P. Stassen
Winner of the prestigious Goscinny Prize. In 1994, Rwanda was the site of a swift and gruesome genocide; the world watched and did nothing. In less than a hundred days, eight hundred thousand human beings were hacked to death. Stassen’s interweaving of the aftermath of the genocide and the events leading up to it gives powerful expression to the unspeakable, indescribable experience of ordinary Hutus caught up in the violence. SC, 79pg, 7×10, FC (First Second Books)

Cataloging Information:

Dewey: 450.43 STA
Subjects: Genocide—Rwanda—History—20thcentury—Pictorial works; Genocide in art; Tutsi(African people)—Crimes against—Rwanda—History—20th century—Pictoral works.; Hutu(African people)—Rwanda—Politics and government—Pictorial works.; Rwanda—Ethnic relations—History—20th century—Pictorial works