Museum Fellowship Lesson Plans

  Sosnowiec portrait
Teenage boys wear Jewish badges, Sosnowiec.
Courtesy of USHMM Photo Archives.

Introduction to the Graphic Novel Maus 
Doug Wadley
Bradley-Bourbonnais Community High School
Bradley, Illinois




High school students gain an understanding of a most tragic period of world history through the reading of the Pulitzer Prize winning novel by Art Spiegelman. The introductory lesson to the complete Maus unit is presented here along with some assessments used throughout the unit. The complete unit explores historical events of the Holocaust, survivor testimony and post-war adaptation, as well as the effects on children of survivors. The author of this unit, Doug Wadley, has created the website The Holocaust: Teaching the Shoah to High School Students.


  • Students will be able to state fundamental differences between Judaism and Christianity.
  • Students will be able to recall important facts about the Dreyfus Affair.
  • Students will be able to state why Art Spiegelman used various animal metaphors for different nationalities/ethnic groups.
  • Students will recall and explain important facts and situations from Chapters 1 and 2 of Maus, Volume I.

Time Required

One class period of approximately 55 minutes

Grade Level

Grades 10-12 

Curriculum Fit

World History

Procedure / Strategy

  1. Review fundamental beliefs/practices of Jews and Christians through lecture and handouts.
  2. Review Dreyfus Affair account from world history text.
  3. Students discuss the significance of various animal representations found in both volumes of Maus. Teacher leads off the discussion by asking the following questions:
  1. What is a ________ like?
  2. Why would this animal represent this group?
  3. What is the historical relationship between Jews and _______ that has lead to the relationships weíll see in the 1930ís-í40ís?
  1. Students brainstorm possible answers to these questions as results are recorded on chalkboard or overhead.
  1. mice - Jews: pestilence, breed rapidly with large amounts of offspring, live silently among people, hard to get rid of.
  2. cats - Germans: hunt mice, protect the home from pestilence.
  3. pigs - Poles: Jews donít eat pork and consider the pig a dirty animal; for the prodigal son, having to take a job living with pigs was for him the ultimate disgrace.
  4. fish - British: the British have been long renowned for their navy.
  5. dogs - Americans: ďmanís best friendĒ; the liberators.
  6. frogs - French: double meaning Ė frogs are slippery, slimy (Dreyfus Affair); frogs can change into princes (Artís wife, a Frenchman, converted to Judaism).
  7. reindeer - Scandinavians: from the north.
  1. Students read chapters 1 and 2 of Maus, Volume I in class and refer to Glossary of Terms and Pronunciation (Microsoft Word Document).

Materials / Resources

  1. Beck, Roger B. Modern World History: Patterns of Interaction. Evanston, IL: McDougal Littell, 2003.
  2. Glossary of Terms and Pronunciation (Microsoft Word Document).
  3. Leinwand, Gerald. The Pageant of World History. Needham, Mass.: Prentice Hall, 1994.
  4. Overhead projector and transparencies.
  5. Spiegelman, Art. Maus : A Survivor's tale. New York: Pantheon Books, c1986.
  6. Spinner, Gregory. Audio presentation on Maus.

Evaluation / Assessment

  1. Class discussion after reading time.
  2. Worksheet answers.
  3. Multi-chapter quizzes.  See example provided by Attachment A.
  4. End of unit exam with essay. See Attachment B.

Attachment A

  1. Art Spiegleman uses animals to tell his fatherís story of the Holocaust. Give reasons why certain animals were chosen to represent the various groups in the story.
  1. Mice (Jews)
  2. Cats (Nazis)
  3. Pigs (Poles)
  4. Fish (British)
  1. What is a black market? Why did the Jews have to use it?
  2. List three (3) instances of Jewish persecution by the Nazis in Maus.
  3. We find out in Chapter 5 that Artís mother, Anja, committed suicide when Art was a teenager. Give evidence from Anjaís life that made this not seem surprising; that is, what events or instances can you cite that would show her suicide as a definite possibility (give at least two (2) examples).

Attachment B

Essay Evaluation of Volumes I and II

In Chapter Two of Maus: Volume II, author Art Spiegelman ties together his anguish at the scope of his project. He has many issues, from balancing his new success with the already-published Volume I to dealing with the death of his parents as well as 10 million Holocaust victims. He visits his psychologist and they get into a discussion on survivors and victims. The doctor states, ďThen you think itís admirable to survive. Does that mean itís NOT admirable to NOT survive?Ē Later, ďAnyway, the victims who died can never tell THEIR side of the story, so maybe itís better not to have any more stories.Ē

The Holocaust has been mandated in the United States as a part of the history curriculum. Do you agree that it is necessary that we teach this period in history? What elements of the Maus books have you been affected by the most? What have you gained from Artís telling of his familyís story that will help you to become more informed and better citizens?

How effective is Maus and the comic book format in telling the story of the Holocaust? Would this story have been as effective if it was told in the traditional format?

From the book, how important was it for Art to tell his fatherís story? Why does the title include ďA survivorís taleĒ?


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