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Strange Fruit, Volume I: Uncelebrated Narratives from Black History Paperback – June 3, 2014

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Editorial Reviews


Still more thoughtful reflections come from Joel Christian Gill’s graphic novel Strange Fruit: Uncelebrated Narratives from Black History, which unpacks its power through drawings and pointed text that chronicle the trials and triumphs of black Americans who struggled against prejudice more than a century ago. At a moment when racial inequities have ignited this nation, Mr. Gill offers direction for the road ahead from the road behind. — The New York Times

These offbeat stories of heretofore-obscure African-American pioneers are filled with heartbreak and triumph. Without whitewashing the realities of slavery and racism, Strange Fruit has a wry, welcoming tone — much aided by Gill’s dynamic, inventive storytelling. After reading about such real American heroes as chess master Theophilus Thompson, bicycling champion Marshall “Major” Taylor, and lawman Bass Reeves, I’m eager to learn more!
— Josh Neufeld, writer/illustrator of A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge

By the time I finished reading Strange Fruit, I thought, let the comic-book sellers have their mythic superheroes; through Joel Gill, we can have our own. But, instead of flying around in capes or spinning webs, the superheroes in Strange Fruit are extraordinary-ordinary black folks making 'a way out of no way.' The difference: they really lived. — Dr. Henry Louis Gates, Jr. Alphonse Fletcher University Professor, Harvard University

Strange Fruit is an evocative and richly illustrated tour through the shadowed corners of Black History. Gill shares these nine stories simply and with deep thoughtfulness and reverence to voices that-- the reader will quickly be convinced-- need to be heard. — Andrew Aydin, author (with Rep. John Lewis) of March: Book One

Strange Fruit is black history as you've never seen it before. Working with a striking palette of ruby reds, rich browns, bleached-out blues and deep piney greens, author/artist Joel Christian Gill conjures up forgotten firsts and impassioned everymen in a cartoon style that's at once cheeky and epic, naive and majestic. — The Chicago Tribune

If you think comics and graphic novels are the domain of “superheroes and stuff” and “for kids,” then brace yourself for an epiphany. Yes, you’ll find some superheroes and kids’ comics within these pages, but you’ll also find ordinary people striving for the extraordinary. — Foreword Reviews

The short narratives are conversational in tone and the accompanying detailed images convey tragic beauty. Gill doesn’t shy away from portraying brutal scenes, but does so without sensationalism. — School Library Journal

Are you always on your child to READ SOMETHING, anything, except a comic book? Well, Strange Fruit is a graphic historic novel, and you’ll want him to read it. — Terri "The Bookworm Sez" Schlichenmeyer

What Gill has done in this first volume of his collected Strange Fruit mini-comics is pretty remarkable. He’s infused each of these stories with a huge amount of information, humor for kid readers (“Slavery stinks”), humor for adults (when a child is born it appears to be launched out of the mother by jet propulsion, making the umbilical cord not unlike a bungee cord), and a full spectrum of comics storytelling devices. — The A.V. Club

Readers of the short stories in Strange Fruit quickly learn to appreciate the playful succinctness of Gill’s iconographic language. He knows when to use humor and sight gags to advance the story. (On the experience of enslavement, Henry ‘Box’ Brown remarks: ‘This stinks.’) But Gill knows when more serious cultural cues are needed too, as in the two-page spread where Brown’s body, shown curled inside a wooden box, silently tumbles from slavery to freedom. —The Hooded Utilitarian

One of the most interesting heroes in the book is Marshall “Major” Taylor (1878–1932), America’s first black champion in any sport — and in cycling, no less, which remains one of the least diverse athletic endeavors even today. Just as the bicycle was beginning to play an important role in the emancipation of women, Taylor, known as The Black Cyclone, attained another feat of equality on two wheels as he bulldozed through the walls put up by racism to break numerous world records and win the world one-mile track cycling championship in 1899. — Maria Popova of the blog, Brain Pickings blog

Superbly penned and illustrated, STRANGE FRUIT: Uncelebrated Narratives from Black History, Volume 1 is indubitably a work of love. Earmarked as one-of-a-kind, this graphic novel is not only an additional masterpiece to black history, but also a delightfully educational read for both young and old. — Anita Lock of the blog, 20 Something Reads

From the original black pro basketball star to a magician’s greatest illusion, become more familiar with these lives which made a positive difference, despite prejudice. —Katie Mack of the blog, YA Love

Gill’s book fills a definite void in America’s painfully white history books, but on top of that, it’s just a really good read. Gill doesn’t sugarcoat—not everyone gets a happy ending—but the book is visually witty, engaging, and well researched. History truly comes to life under Gill’s skillful hand. — Foreword Reviews

Astonishing, inspiring, and enraging true stories from American history that you should have been taught in school. — Unshelved

This is a must for all libraries, classrooms and homes. It is the perfect way for all of us to start exploring that shared history we have, in new and different ways. —Nancy Joyce of the blog, What'cha Reading

I was really impressed by this book. Gill clearly did his research to get his point across, and is clearly saying there are more African American people who did cool things that aren’t being recognized. And he’s right. — Emily Althea of the blog, Fangirls Are We

Gill’s graphic novel series is a tool with which to discuss African Americans, social justice and a shared history. — The Philadelphia Tribune

Voted a Great Graphic Novel for Teens by the Young Adult Library Services Association.

Chosen as a Finalist for the Best Young Adult Graphic Novel by the Cybils Awards (Children's and Young Adult Bloggers Literary Awards).

Voted a BEA Buzz Book by Shelf Awareness

Featured on HuffPost Live

Chosen by Publishers Weekly for their Notable African-American-Interest Titles of 2014

Chosen by the New York Times as “9 Books That Would Make Great Gifts”

10 Best Indie Comics / Graphic Novels of 2014 by ForeWord Reviews

Featured on the Black History Month Recommended Reading List from A Room of One's Own Bookstore

Included on the Top 100 Books for Holiday Gift-Giving from The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel


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Product Details

  • Age Range: 12 and up
  • Grade Level: 4 and up
  • Series: Strange Fruit (Book 1)
  • Paperback: 176 pages
  • Publisher: Fulcrum Publishing (June 3, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1938486293
  • ISBN-13: 978-1938486296
  • Product Dimensions: 0.5 x 8.2 x 10 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #101,588 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Joel Christian Gill is the Associate Dean of Student Services at the New Hampshire Institute of Art. He teaches, draws comics, reads history, and fights dragons.

Customer Reviews

4.7 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Paul Mastin TOP 1000 REVIEWER on May 19, 2014
Format: Paperback
In the annals of the history of blacks in the United States, some stories are told again and again. Seeking out some of the lesser-known African-American heroes has been the passion of artist Joel Christian Gill. In Strange Fruit, Volume 1: Uncelebrated Narratives from Black History, Gill introduces characters and events from U.S. history that probably haven't come onto the radar of most of us, black or white.

He found some great stories. Who knew that the first American stage magician was black? Or one of the greatest lawmen of the West was black? The stories of the world-record breaking cyclist, the pre-NBA basketball player whose coach reluctantly put him in games, and the black chess master are fun to read. But the best are the stories of the men who won their freedom and their families' freedom through their efforts. One man mailed himself in a box to freedom. Another joined the army and came back to take his daughter to freedom. There is a dark, vengeful side to some of these stories, and rightly so.

Gill's simple, comic-book style presentation makes the stories fun to read and highly accessible. He also provides a bibliography so that more advanced readers can pursue these the stories further. His illustrations make the stories feel lighter than they really are. I particularly enjoyed the crows which illustrate and personify Jim Crow laws and the way those laws try to hold back Gill's subjects.

Gill calls this Volume 1. Surely the number of volumes he could write has no end. The dark chapters of slavery, prejudice, and discrimination in U.S. history are, unfortunately, long ones. I appreciate Gill's approach: by focusing on these heroes and their heroic acts and lifestyles, the evil and villainy of slavery and racism are revealed.

Thanks to Edelweiss and the publisher for the complimentary electronic review copy!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Teen Reads on August 19, 2014
Format: Paperback
For those familiar with "Strange Fruit," a song performed most famously by Billie Holiday, one may assume that this title is a collection of lynching stories --- victims of the rope. Far from the truth! As Gill states, his debut graphic novel "tells stories of people who, in spite of the 'strange fruit' society where they lived, liberated themselves from the magnolia trees and tried to do something amazing...Billie Holiday sang about the time in which she lived. These stories are about amazing people during those times who, in many ways, cut their own rope."

In this first volume, Gill has assembled and unfurled a wonderful set of nine stories, infused with brilliantly elaborate illustrations, accompanied by painstakingly handwritten descriptions. There are a handful of stories that are not totally unfamiliar to readers of black history, such as Henry "Box" Brown, Marshall "Major" Taylor and Bass Reeves. But most portray obscure people and events, such as Harry "Bucky" Lew, the first competitive black basketball player; Richard Potter, the first black stage magician; and Theophilus Thompson, the first competitive chess player. Most notable are the horrific accounts of Malaga Island, Noyes Academy and the audacious letter of a black Union soldier to a slaveholder.

Gill's depictions are nothing short of inspiring as well as entertaining. The narratives are but a small yet powerful representation of emancipation. Most importantly, they are essential puzzle pieces critical to the completion of American history. Gill ends each story on a positive note, especially after such blatantly appalling accounts like Malaga Island and Noyes Academy.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Dolores, a teacher on June 21, 2014
Format: Paperback
because I would very much like to read more. These biographies in comic form were captivating and informative. I was vaguely familiar with only a couple of these stories; most of them were totally new to me.

The only thing I didn't like was that several of the stories ended kind of abruptly, but that is understandable given that there's no further documented history for these folks.

Every year my students do a historical timeline. They choose a historical character to research and then perform a monologue, in costume, for an audience of parents. We are always looking for obscure characters to shed light on. Hopefully, Volume II will include some female heroes.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Strange Fruit. I've heard the song and I know the story. These hidden narratives illustrated by Joel Christian Gill bring more light to the experience, and in a method that can be understood not only by the most serious of scholars, but by the 4th and 5th grade student just learning about the history of America and the blood that cries out from her "success" story. This book is an excellent way to introduce some issues that most have to search out on their own, in a mutually beneficial way to America and to her citizens. What an awesome talent, to tell the story in this way. Looking forward to Volume II.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
When the esteemed Dr. Gates is willing to write a foreword for a book, you know it's something special. And "Strange Fruit" delivers - this graphic novel uses amazing illustration and top-notch storytelling techniques to bring to life the untold tales of real-life African American heroes. Racism is shown with menacing illustrations of "Jim Crow" - readers of all ages will know just what is being conveyed, and the struggles that beset these amazing Americans. A beautiful and important first effort by an up-and-coming author!
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