9 Fun Ways to Teach White Bird RJ Palacio

Teach White Bird by R.J. Palacio

Teach White Bird RJ Palacio: What It’s About? Click HERE for the full lesson on Teachers Pay Teachers

White Bird graphic novel teaching guide by R.J. Palacio is about Sara Blum, a Jewish girl in hiding for survival in Nazi-occupied France during WWII. She happens to be the grandmother, Grandmère, of Julian Albans, Auggie Pullman’s tormentor in “Wonder” and Auggie & Me. The story begins with Julian speaking to his beloved Grandmère over FaceTime. He asks her to share her experiences of growing up in France during World War II. She has shared bits of the story before in Auggie & Me. In White Bird, Julian asks Grandmère to expand on what she told him about Tourteau and how she survived the Holocaust. At first, Grandmère is hesitant as the memories are so painful. But eventually she agrees, telling Julian, “Those were dark times, yes … but what has stayed with me the most is not the darkness but the light. That is what I have held onto all these years … and that is the story I want to share with you now.” And Grandmere shares her painful past.

Teach White Bird RJ Palacio: 5 Characteristics of Graphic Novels

5 characteristics of graphic novels are essential to teach students prior to reading the graphic novel. What is a graphic novel? A graphic novel is a compilation of graphics and text structured on pages at the length of a novel. How long are graphic novels? Anywhere from 100-500 plus pages. The difference between a graphic novel and a novel is that the graphic novel has graphics (images). The difference between a graphic novel vs comic book is the length. Graphic novels text features are different than a novel just like nonfiction text features. The 5 characteristics of a graphic novel are: shapes, perspective of frame, angles, structure, and layout.

Teach White Bird RJ Palacio: Arguments Against GN

There are arguments against graphic novels. However, I have found that I can refute those arguments. The main argument is that students are not able to use their imagination to picture characters and setting. However, there are activities that can be supplemented to fulfill this standard. For example, providing text for a scene in a graphic novel and having students create an image of the scene based on text description. Another argument is that the length of words is to short in the graphic novel. However, Students can read more graphic novels, which beats the alternative of not reading at all.

Graphic Novel Basics

How do graphic novels work? When teaching a graphic novel, it is essential to teach students the basics. I pass out a graphic organizer and use a PowerPoint to go over the 5 characteristics of graphic novels

Teach White Bird RJ Palacio: Characteristics of Graphic Novels

The first out of the 5 Characteristics of Graphic Novels is:

Basic Shapes

1. Basic Shapes

Vertical=signals strength 

Horizontal=a calm and stable atmosphere 

Circles=signal unity 

Movement Triangle=a stable and unified atmosphere

Whole Diagonals=signal action

The second of the 5 characteristics of graphic novels is:

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Teach White Bird RJ Palacio: Perspectives of Frame

2. Perspectives of Frame

Close ups=establish an emotional relationship between the viewer (you) and represented subjects or characters

Medium Shot=establishes objective (without judgment) relationship between viewer (you) and represented characters or subjects.

Long shot=a long shot establishes a relationship between represented figures or characters and surrounding environment

Below is a long shot from the graphic novel, “New Kid” by Jerry Craft. What is being represented is students on campus having various conversations. This perspective allows the reader (you) a glimpse into the characters and their perspective relationships. The subject in this particular scene are students speaking about the various vacations they took over the holiday break.

The 3rd of the 5 characteristics of graphic novels is angles:

Teach White Bird RJ Palacio: Angles

3. Angles

Vertical Angle=situates the reader (you) and the subject/character on an equal level.

Low angle=situates represented subjects or characters in position of power. Imagine being down low, looking up high.

High angle=situates the reader in a position of power, omniscient view-point. Imagine being up high looking down as we are in the image above. We are situated as the “all-knowing” figure to what is happening on campus.

The 4th out of 5 characteristics of graphic novels is:

Teach White Bird RJ Palacio: Structure

4. Structure

Left-Right Structure

Given=information that is known to the reader, and taken for granted or not given much thought. An example would be the main character in “Smile” having braces in her mouth. This is not a surprise because we/the audience accompanied her to the dentist.

New=information that is previously unknown to the reader and therefore catches the readers attention. For example, when George Takei’s family is picked up by the American police and placed in a concentration camp in, “They Called US Enemy”. This would be new information in the book.

The 5th out of 5 characteristics of graphic novels is

Teach White Bird RJ Palacio: Layout

5. Layout

Layout Panel:

A distinct segment of the comic, containing a combination of image and text in variety. Most graphic novels have consistent panels with mixed-in-single panels.

Teach White Bird RJ Palacio: Panels

Panels: offer a different experience than simply reading text:

-The spatial arrangement allows an immediate juxtaposition of the present and the past. On one page we can see a character thinking about the past while being in the present, and looking forward to the future.

-Unlike other- visual media, transitions are instant and direct, but the exact timing of the reader’s experience is determined by focus and reading speed. In the traditional novel we have foreshadowing and hints of what is to come in the future, whereas in a graphic novel, at times we can see what is coming right around the corner, even when a character cannot. This is really helpful for struggling or young readers.



The lines and borders that contain the panels; akin to a picture frame that lines around a picture.



The space between framed panels. The thin space that separates the frame or metal from the actual picture. In the case of an actual picture, this would be the cardboard space.



An image that extends to and/or beyond the edge of the page, this can include a single image on one page.



The panel closest to the viewer. The author may structure the foreground in relation to importance of what he wants the audience to focus on. The background may contain the small details, less important to the plot.

Below: Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi. Note: the clever way the author separates the main character from the panel on the right to the panel on the left. The author also notes that we won’t be able to recognize her although all characters look the same. At-this-time in the novel everything is orderly, at peace-hence the  straight lines and perfect panels, gutters, frames, etc. Also note that the panel on the left would be considered the foreground-it is closest to the reader because it is slightly larger than the other images.



Allows centering of image by using a natural resting place for the reader’s vision. The artist deliberately decides to place the image where a viewer would be most likely to look first. Placing an image off-center or near the top or bottom can be used to create visual tension but using the midground permits the artist to create a more readily accepted image.



Provides additional, sub-textual information for the reader. For example the way characters may be described by how they look in the background. A class-clown wearing a hat sideways, a unique character holding a dummy, etc.

Graphic Weight

Graphic weight:

A term that describes the way some images draw the eye more than others, creating a definite focus using color and shading in various ways including: The use of light and dark shades; dark-toned images or high-contrast images draw the eye more than light or low-contrast images do.  Colors that are more brilliant or deeper than others on the page.

Figures Faces

Figures Faces:

Faces can be portrayed in different ways. Some depict an actual person, like a portrait; others are iconic, which means they are representative of an idea or a group of people. Other points to observe about faces include:  They can be dramatic when placed against a detailed backdrop; a bright white face stands out. They can be drawn without much expression or detail; this is called an “open blank” and it invites the audience to imagine what the character is feeling without telling them.



The positioning of hands and feet can be used to express what is happening in the story.


Hands that are raised with palms out suggest surprise or confusion.

The wringing of hands suggests obsequiousness or discomfort, or confusion.

-Hands over the mouth depict fear, shame, shyness or surprise.

Turned in feet may denote embarrassment-think Goofy in most pictures.

Feet with motion strokes can create the sense of panic, urgency, or speed, example, Speedy Gonzalez.

New Kid” by Jerry Craft: in this image the author uses a malapropism of a movie, as a light-hearted way to introduce each chapter. Note the character on the right. She is floating which is an indicator of her as a very flakey, unique, really out there character. She also has one palm up and open facing upward which suggests surprise. Meanwhile her puppet which makes her a “weird” student on campus lies heavily and exaggerated on her left hand. A student that is considered “cool” and collected, has his feet firmly planted on the ground with hands in fists.

Text Captions

Text Captions:

These are boxes containing a variety of text elements, including scene setting, description, etc.

Speech Balloons

Speech balloons:

These enclose dialogue and come from a specific speaker’s mouth; they vary in size, shape, and layout and can alternate to depict a conversation.

Types of speech balloons: External dialogue, which is speech between characters Internal dialogue, which is a thought enclosed by a balloon that has a series of dots or bubbles going up to it

Special-effects Lettering

Special-effects lettering:

This is a method of drawing attention to text; it often highlights onomatopoeia and reinforces the impact of words such as bang or wow.

White Bird Graphic Novel: After Filling Out Notes on Graphic Novels

Upon completion of the graphic organizer to fill in the graphic novel information above, we use this organizer to analyze various scenes in the graphic novel. In addition I create reading comprehension questions to keep students on their toes. You can practice inference, you make copies of a scene and block out the dialogue asking students to fill it in. You can give a scene cut out and mixed up and have students put it in chronological order. There are so many things you can do with a graphic novel! And it’s so much fun! Click HERE for the full lesson for White Bird on Teachers Pay Teachers.

White Bird Graphic Novel: In Conclusion

By teaching some basics: basics of shapes, perspectives of frames, angles, hands and faces, structure, layout panels, and text captions, students and teachers alike can effectively complete a graphic novel unit. If you teach students and teachers the basics the graphic novel experience can be a great one!

I would love to hear about your favorite graphic novels! I’m always looking for the next graphic novel read. Please share in the comments below! To learn more specifics about the popular graphic novels mentioned above check out my blog on the top 15 teen reads.

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