Dawn Land

No caption.Dawn Land, story by Joseph Bruchac, graphic novel adaptation by Will Davis
Published by First Second
ISBN: 978-1-59643-143-0

To be a graphic novel storyteller, an author-artist must be able to create iconic storylines and images that will stand the test of time.  Will Davis is just that man.  Aided and supported by master storyteller Joseph Bruchac's print-text Dawn Land, Davis has re-envisioned Bruchac's story in graphic novel format, and, in doing so, offered the graphic novel community what should certainly be deemed a legendary work of storytelling art.

Based on an ancient story set ten thousand years in the past -- in what is now ironically known as New England -- readers will find themselves learning about a time when giants roamed the earth and native tribes used their spiritual intuitions and knowledge of the earth to guide their life's paths.  In fact, this legendary story focuses on the life path's of two brothers.  While Weasel Tail represents evil, his younger brother represents good.  But it's really not that simple.  A legendary and literary level story, Davis' Dawn Land calls on the reader to question the idea of free will verse fate, especially as it applies to Weasel Tail's life path.  An older brother who is literally scarred by an evil giant while saving his younger brother's life, Weasel Tail has done a great good.  But his scar seems to overpower his good deed, and the reader is left to struggle along with him as he questions and struggles with the giant, evil voices that now seem to be in his head.  

Readers will also be intrigued by the two epilogues that follow this graphic novel story.  Both Bruchac and Davis provide, engaging epilogues.  After reading Davis' epilogue I asked him what it was like to retell Bruchac's print-text story in graphic novel format: "I was haunted by the rich imagery that Dawn Land evoked, and Joe's writing seemed to touch an ancient cadence and rhythm of thought and speaking that seemed so eerily real and familiar to me."

A beautiful graphic novel with en epic-level story to tell, Dawn Land ranks highly on my favorite graphic novels for middle school and high school level teachers, librarians, and students. 

English Language Arts Elements of Story 

Plot: Entrusted with a secret weapon, Young Hunter represents the people of the Abenaki nation when he sets out to defeat the Stone Giants 

Setting: The story of the Abenaki nation and Young Hunter is set ten thousand years in the past (in what is now ironically known as New England)

Major Characters: Young Hunter, Weasel Tail, Elk Hunter, Young Bear Woman, Sweetgrass Woman, Rabbit Stick, Kuai, Bear Talker, Willow Girl, Swaying Reed, Oldest Talker, Brave One, Owner-Creator, Thunder Beings, the Salmon People, the dogs (Agwedniman, Pabetciman, Danowa), the Hawk Brothers, Medicine Plant, the Only People, One-Eye, Fire-Hunters, Long Lodge People, White Buffalo Woman, Redbird, Long Tooth, Holds the Stone 

Themes: Legend, Heroism, Fate and Destiny, Good and Evil, Coming of Age, Native American Folklore

Fiction Literary Pairing Suggestions: Joseph Bruchac's Dawn Land, Matt Dembicki's Trickster, Jack London's The Call of the Wild, Homer's Iliad and Odyssey, Gilgamesh, Beowulf, James E. Seaver's A Narrative of the Life of Mrs. Mary Jemison, James Fenimore Cooper's The Last of the Mohicans

Some Teaching Recommendations For Middle School and High School Teachers and Librarians

Suggested Alignment to the IRA /NCTE Standard(s):*

- standard #s correspond to the numbers used by IRA/NCTE

1. Students read a wide range of print and nonprint texts to build an understanding of texts, of themselves, and of the cultures of the United States and the world; to acquire new information; to respond to the needs and demands of society and the workplace; and for personal fulfillment.  Among these texts are fiction and nonfiction, classic and contemporary works. 

2. Students read a wide range of literature from many periods in many genres to build an understanding of the many dimensions (e.g., philosophical, ethical, aesthetic) of human experience. 

3. Students apply a wide range of strategies to comprehend, interpret, evaluate and appreciate texts.

Recommended Grade Levels: Middle school and high school  

Suggested Guided Reading Lesson Plan:



Guided Reading
(Fountas & Pinnell, 1996)Lesson Plan for Middle & High School Readers








Before Reading



Write the themes for Dawn Land on the board: Legend, Heroism, Fate and Destiny, Good and Evil, Coming of Age, Native American Folklore.

Briefly discuss each theme with students, and ask them to perform a Book Walk reading strategy.  With Dawn Land’s themes in mind, ask students to page through the graphic novel and make predictions about why they think each theme will be important to the story. 

IRA/NCTE standard alignment: 1, 2, 3.



During Reading


To follow up on the students’ Book Walk predictions, divide students into groups.  Each group should be assigned one of the themes discussed in the before reading strategy: Legend, Heroism, Fate and Destiny, Good and Evil, Coming of Age, Native American Folklore.

While they read Dawn Land ask each group to identify the elements of story – characters, plot, settings, conflict, rising action, resolution, and so on – that speak to their theme. 

Note: It may be a good idea to briefly discuss and define each of these elements of story before students read.

IRA/NCTE standard alignment: 1, 2, 3.


After Reading

 When students are done reading Dawn Land, ask them to create a poster that illustrates how their theme was evident in the story.  Respectful of the graphic novel format, encourage students to use both print-text literacies and image literacies to make their poster. 

Finally, ask students to present their theme and poster to the class.  Students should be able to define their theme and explain the significance behind each of their print-text and image text examples.  

After students present their ideas, open up the discussion to the entire class.  The class should feel free to ask questions and/or suggest even more examples.

IRA/NCTE standard alignment: 1, 2, 3.

*NCTE/IRA. (1996). Standards for the English Language Arts. Urbana, IL: NCTE.

Katie Monnin, PhD, is an assistant professor of literacy at the University of North Florida and author of Teaching Graphic Novels: Practical Strategies for the Secondary ELA Classroom (2010) from Maupin House. To learn more about Teaching Graphic Novels or Katie Monnin, please go to this link: http://www.maupinhouse.com/monnin.php.