Monday, September 7, 2015

I Kill Giants: Classroom Guide for One GREAT Graphic Novel (Dealing with Legends and Loss)

I-Kill-Giants-Cover-620x981I Kill Giants, by Joe Kelly and JM Ken Niimura, won the IGN Best of 2008, was voted one of the 10 Best Comics of 2009 by New York magazine’s Dan Kois; was a YALSA (Young Adult Library Association) 2010 Top Ten Great Graphic Novel for Teens, and won the Gold Award at the 5th International Manga Award I 2012.

Through the prose and art of I Kill Giants, Joe Kelly and JM Ken Niimura provide a timeless, honest rendering of a child’s reaction to critical illness as eleven-year-old Barbara struggles to face an untimely loss, first through escapism and then gradually through acceptance. With Kelly’s insightful text and Niimura’s powerful images, we feel Barbara’s pains and struggles as she faces life’s challenges.


page1I Kill Giants opens with Barbara Thorson— a clever, glib fifth graders who is a loner in school and seems to talk more with faeries and goblins than with friends — sitting behind a makeshift tent made from blankets and sheets and a tapestry image of a knight fighting vile monsters. We see her sewing. We aren’t sure yet what it is, but she is intently focused. We slowly see she’s embroidering a design on a heart-shaped purse, a purse we will see with her throughout most of the book. We later find out that this purse is the coveted home of her secret weapon — the Coveleski war hammer — the only effective weapon to battle and kill giants.

Barbara is a wealth of information when it comes to giants. She teaches us about the first giant, Ur, and helps us distinguish between titans and giants. And she knows just how to battle them. She tells everyone, including faeries and goblins, about her strategies. They help support her and help warn her.

page2As the story unfolds, we must evaluate whether Barbara is escaping into a world of fantasy, whether her quest to kill giants is just a metaphor for life, or if, in fact, she does kill giants. Kelly’s prose paired with Niimura’s bold black and white manga-style art successfully relays Barbara as a real child, a stubborn pre-teen with few friends. She is ready to fight anyone and everyone. She’s caustic, lonely and determined. And we’re all rooting for her. The story, prose, and art make this book an outstanding read for all ages.

I Kill Giants is an empowering story. Through the text and images, we struggle along with Barbara.  We struggle through her tantrums, her trips to the principal and school counselor, and her conversations with imps and faeries, and in her critical battle with an equally fearless titan.. Throughout the book we feel Barbara's pain as she fights  bullies and her older sister. But most of all,  we struggle with her as the “truths” she’s facing are slowly revealed and her fears are finally confronted and conquered.

page4Are the faeries real? Does Barbara really see them? Are they her only friends? And are there real giants threatening Barbara’s very existence or are they a metaphor for the fears she must face? Or, are they simply part of a made-up world Barbara’s created to help her escape from the fears and horrors around her? These questions are for you to explore as you read and enjoy I Kill Giants.
In short, I Kill Giants is an insightfully honest and empowering story of a girl who struggles with loss, bullying, and friendship. It is about, how, as Joe Kelly writes “we’re all stronger than we think.”
In addition to Kelly’s wonderfully nuanced central character and his sensitive rendering of facing life’s challenges, this powerfully illustrated and told story deals with:
  • the power of friendship, especially when things get tough;
  • finding the courage to deal with loss;
  • the powers and perils of escapism; and
  • the long reaching effects of bullying.

Cultural Diversity, Civic Responsibilities, and Social Issues
  • Barbara is clearly different from the other kids in her school and class. Discuss how the text and art depict her differences and how others treat her as a result. Discuss issues of social tolerance in this story and compare it to social tolerance in your own school.
  • Throughout the story, but particularly in Chapter 5, Barbara deals with the school bully. Have students visually depict Barbara’s strategies while evaluating their effectiveness. Brainstorm other strategies students might use when dealing with bullies.
Language, Literature, and Language Usage
  • Discuss how Barbara’s battle with a titan takes on mythic and epic proportions.
  • Define and discuss metaphor. Evaluate Kelly’s use of metaphor in this story.
  • Compare giants of myth (i.e. Greek Titans, the Celt’s Green Knight, the Bible’s Goliath, etc.). Discuss how Barbara’s giants and her facts on giants do or do not fit with these classic giants.
  • Discuss the hero archetype as described by Joseph Campbell (see resource below). Discuss Barbara does or does not fit the prototype.

Critical Thinking and Inferences
The authors make many inferences in this book both with language use and through imagery. You may want to discuss the following uses of inference:
  • At the end of Chapter 2, we see Barbara wearing a knight’s helmet and breastplate sitting at a bus stop and talking to some faeries. She tells them, “No one’s here. You don’t have to hide,” To which the faerie replies, “Oh really, miss tall and steely? You’re hiding.” Discuss the implications of this dialogue and what Barbara might be hiding from.
  • In Chapter 3, Barbara is talking with the school counselor who asks Barbara if her sister is “dumb.” Barbara is busy drawing a she responds, “No. She’s not dumb like other people. She’s ‘special.’” Then, in the next panel as the counselor continues by asking, “Does she make you angry like other people? What about your brother–?” at which point Barbara’s crayon snaps and breaks. Discuss what this dialogue and the snapped crayon are inferring and trying to tell us. What does Barbara think about her brother and sister?
  • In Chapters 3 and on, often when Barbara talks with the counselor or her sister, there are words that are crossed out. Discuss what those words are and why they’re crossed out. What is Kelly telling us and why is he doing it in this manner?
  • Chapter 6 contains Barbara’s epic battle with a titan. As she’s battling the Titan, Barbara tells him, “She’s going to live because I beat you…” To which the Titan responds, “Little warriorrrr….I diddd nottt come forrrr herrrrr….I came… forrrr you!” Discuss what he means.
Modes of Storytelling and Visual Literacy
In graphic novels, images are used to relay messages with and without accompanying text, adding additional dimension to the story. Compare, contrast, and discuss with students how images can be used to relay complex messages. For example:
  • Discuss how JM Ken Niimura’s art helps tell the story. In particular, discuss how and why the images at school and at home are so different. Discuss how this helps tell the story.
  • In Chapter 3, there is an incredible wordless one-panel image of the school hallway, full of kids talking, walking and interacting as Barbara moves by them. The hallway is also full of imps, faeries, and monsters. Discuss what JM Ken Niimura is trying to relay on this page.
  • In Chapter 3, we see Barbara in school wearing regular clothes (and bear ears) but after getting off the bus, we see she’s wearing her armor. Why?
  • In Chapter 4, in the school counselor’s office, there are several posters. Discuss these posters and their messages. How do they influence/ enhance the story?

Suggested Prose and Graphic Novel Pairings
For greater discussion on literary style and/or content here are some prose novels and poetry you may want to read with I Kill Giants:
  • Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse: An outstanding story told in poetic prose about a girl living in Oklahoma Dust Belt in the 1930s and how she copes with the loss of her mother.
  • Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White: A spider helps a pig evade the slaughter house, and he helps the barn animals deal with her eventual death.
  • Tiger Eyes by Judy Blume: The story of a fourteen-year-old girl whose father is shot during a robbery and how she, her mother, and her younger brother cope with his loss.
  • The Olympian Series by George O’Connor: An outstanding graphic novel series covering Greek Myth. (Note: Zeus: King of the Gods, the first of the series, has a nice section on the Titans.)
  • D’Aulaire’s Book Of Greek Myths by Ingri d’Aulaire and Edgar Parin D’Aulaire: A classic and timeless collection of beautifully illustrated stories of the ancient Greek gods and their myths.
  • The Norse Myths by Kevin Crossley-Holland: Contains thirty-two classic myths from the Viking world.
  • The Secret History of Giants by Ari Berk: A work of fiction that combines giants of new and old legends.
  • Odd and the Frost Giants by Neil Gaiman, illustrations by Mark Buckingham: About a boy named Odd who runs away from home and finds himself faced with a journey to save Asgard, the city of the Norse Gods, from the Frost Giants who have invaded.
  • The Golem by Isaac Bashevis Singer: A classic Eastern European legend about a monster giant who was created by a Jewish Rabbi to protect his people.
  • Help for the Hard Times: Getting Through Loss by Earl Hipp: A guide for middle and high school students to help them understand how they experience grief and loss.
  • The Fault in Our Stars by John Green: Two teens deal with and battle cancer.
  • Nana, What’s Cancer? by Beverlye Hyman Fead and Tessa Mae Hamermesh, illustrated by Shennen Bersani: An award-wining book offering loving conversations between and grandmother and granddaughter around questions about cancer.
  • What’s Up With Bridget’s Mom?Medikids Explain Breast Cancer by Dr. Kim Chilman-Blair and John Taddeo: A graphic novel explaining breast cancer.
  • What’s Up with Richard? Medikids Explain Leukemia by Dr. Kim Chilman-Blair and John Taddeo: A graphic novel explaining leukemia.
  • What’s Up With Jo? Midikidz Explain Brain Tumors by Dr. Kim Chilman-Blair and John Taddeo: A graphic novel explaining brain tumors.page11

Teaching about Mythic Structure, Monomyth (The Hero’s Journey), and Heroes:
Background on the Golem legends:
Dealing with Death and Loss:


  1. Hi Meryl, I'm glad to see you on ABC Wednesday.
    This sounds like a wonderful book on dealing with tragedy, grief and loss.
    Thank you.

  2. That's not a kind of book which I would read ! :)

    ABC Wednesday Team

  3. Goodmorning

    An extensive entry, how wonnderful !! Though it not being a book wich i would read, maybe it if were translated in Dutch.

    Have a nice day!
    ♫ Mel☺dy ♫ (abc-w-team)

  4. So here's a question - what your five most significant graphic novels?

    1. That is a tough one, but "I Kill Giants" is definitely on the list. Also, is this a kid-lit list or adult?

    2. GREAT Question. Below are impressions (note though that I'm not really into the traditional super hero comics as you'll see below).

      I'd love to hear your take in response!!!

      Maus by Art Speigelman
      I Kill Giants by Joe Kelly
      The Sandman by Neil Gaiman
      Saga by Brian Vaugh
      Watchmen by Allan Moore

      I Kill Giants by Joe Kelly
      American Born Chinese by Gene Yang
      Smile by Raina Telgemeier
      Barefoot Gen by Keiji Nakazawa (while not all that known it should be - about life in Japan when we dropped the bomb)
      Amelia Rules by Jimmy Gownley - also not that well known but absolutely BRILLIANT!!!...OR... Ghostopolis by Doug Tenapel


    3. I'll obviously have to read some on your list. I DID read Barefoot Gen and Watchmen. Anyway,here are a few lists, one of which is mine.

  5. this is one book that may get interest from those that would not read other books. I have a few children who would be interested in this book more than many others and the lesson they would learn sounds powerful as well
    come see us at

  6. Did you know that you can shorten your links with AdFly and earn $$$ from every visitor to your short urls.

  7. Hi Meryl, I'm glad to see you on ABC Wednesday.
    This sounds like a wonderful book on dealing with tragedy, grief and loss.
    Thank you.


  8. This comment has been removed by the author.

  9. This Article is very nice with good information for more unique high quality content on how long does food poisoning lasts

  10. The hues in it ought to be close to 3-4 distinct hues. A structure that has such a large number of hues is diverting and removes its nature. logo design service

  11. Webroot is a best-known antivirus software protects your devices against phishing, ransom attacks, viruses and malwares. It can keep your data, files and essential information safe and also scan your files against online threat.

    Need Help Click Here.

  12. Here we provide the services for office/setup and Hp Customer Service. you can download the setups of office by clicking below and if you have any issue regarding Hp product if you need any feel free to call our toll free HP Customer Service +1-800-382-3046 || |

  13. Tutuapp iOS and Androidus very beneficial for iOS/android users because the can't use the application which are android and because of this app they all are cheering because users want Tutuapp in iOS version but after long time it comes in the market and helpfull for iOS users.

  14. Very nice blog. It is very useful for us. Thanks for good information.Visit here :game guardian mod apk

  15. This blog has very much information, but I recommend to you, get the best Aeromexico Booking service at best price.

  16. Nice article i was really impressed by seeing this article, it was very interesting and it is very useful for me.This is incredible,I feel really happy to have seen your webpage.I gained many unknown information, the way you have clearly explained is really fantastic.keep posting like this information. | mcafee activate | install mcafee with activation code |


  17. This Is Really Useful And Nices Information. lady hawk
    This are such great articles. lady hawk This articles can help you to make some new ideas. I appreciate for reading my blogs.

  18. Very Helpful Articles. lady hawk It might help you. lady hawk Thanks For Sharing
    lady hawk Thank you very much.

  19. Nice blog, If you have been facing any issues related to Southwest Airlines Flight Reservations then visit our website and book your flight tickets.

  20. I am amazed to read your fantastic article again and again. For KBC Lovers, get registered and become KBC Grand Prize Winner in 2021 season easily.

  21. Thanks for Sharing such an amazing article. Keep working... Your Site is very nice, and it's very helping us.. this post is unique and interesting, thank you for sharing this awesome information

    Haryana Mahila Samriddhi Yojana

  22. I appreciate you and hopping for some more informative posts. Thanks for sharing..

  23. Coinbase Pro login is a trading system for particular investors as well as additionally crypto enthusiasts. It supplies a safe and also easy methods to get, use, and trade digital possessions on-line immediately throughout different trading pairs.

    coinbase pro login
    coinbase pro login
    coinbase pro login |

  24. Your all articles are always awesome. I really liked them and loved to read too. Thank you for your efforts. And also I would like to suggest you a BSL Shaders pack for Minecraft. It's an amazing shaders pack which also helps to enhance your gaming experience. I am sure you loved it too.


  25. you can send money anonymously on Cash App. Check now
    Send money anonymously cash app

  26. I loved reading your Blog 💜. I have experienced the opening and closing of the heart or spiritual heart and message center. And have been releasing many testimonies that have been helpful and still were held in my heart. I have been writing and posting up over this past month and in it's help a lot of people with their health problems and have come greater expressions of love and compassion for myself and others. I found that these past testimonies that I have been posting at the time of mine get more attention in these blogs on information about herbal treatment of Dr Itua. I had no idea they were still being a hell of sick people around the world till the deep posting began and they came into awareness.
    Dr Itua herbal medicine cure my diabetes and my husband's erectile dysfunctions it's help us a lot and we thank Dr Itua very much on his good deeds to us so reason I have been writing about him on every blog I came across with for people with health issue can relate and get well with Dr Itua herbal medicines, Dr Itua can cure Hiv,Herpes,Als,Hepatitis,Cancer,Ms,Menstrual Pain,Parkinson and some other health problem human being can encounter.
    Contact him on or visit his herbs store Thank you for your love and opened to sharing your knowledge with us all through this blog site. All my love,

  27. I recently visited an indoor playground in Singapore and let me tell you, it was a blast! The place was packed with kids of all ages, running around and having a great time. The playground had everything from slides to ball pits to climbing structures. I was impressed with the cleanliness of the place and the attentive staff. The only downside was the noise level, but I guess that's to be expected in a place filled with excited children. Overall, I highly recommend checking out an indoor playground for a fun and active day out with the family.

  28. Yes, dear, the giant whom Daniel
    defeated by His slingshot isn't the
    one whom we should be concerned
    about; the ego/self that's FREE WILL
    is most relevant to God Almighty
    which we must conquer. Lemme
    show yoo how from the perspective
    of a head-injured-youth who's gotta
    lil time to live, miss gorgeous:
    ● ●
    Cya soon, girly-withe-curly...