Above the Dreamless Dead: World War I in Poetry and Comics

Above the Dreamless Dead: World War I in Poetry and ComicsAbove the Dreamless Dead: World War I in Poetry and Comics
Written and illustrated by:
Edited by: Chris Duffy
Publisher: First Second
Format: Hardcover, 6 x 9, 144 pages, Black and White, $24.99
ISBN: 978-1-62672-065-7


I'm not sure how to review Above the Dreamless Dead. It is both awesome and terrifying. Both pulse-racing and gasping for air.  

Above the Dreamless Dead is pivotal in its own right because it is one of the first books to give a well-researched, thoughtful mainstream voice to the trench poets of World War I, men who served and wrote their reflections trapped in 500 miles of trench warfare stretching from Belgium and into modern France from 1914 - 1918.

Each man in his own right speaks for himself. Some are hopeful. Some are delusional. Some are extremely aware that they may never make it out of the trenches.

My advice: Certainly for a secondary reading audience Above the Dreamless Dead is one of those books you and your students will read and never, ever forget. In fact, it's so powerful you and your students may want to follow-up with further research and exploration about the war and its role and significance in world history. Certainly a much-needed text in every high school, Above the Dreamless Dead is about to open an entirely new and deserving area of World History that deserves much more exploration.    

Elements of Story

Plot: Written by WWI troops who were dug in the trenches and known as the Trench Poets, these poems offer an often brutal, often surprisingly-humanitarian look at how the Great War affected young men from many nations.

Characters: Wilfred Owen, Siegfried Sassoon, Charles Sorley, Isaac Rosenberg, Wilfred Gibson, Robert Groves

Settings: 500 miles of trench warfare stretching Belgium to modern Northern France during World War I

Themes: War and Peace, Individual and Community, Faith and Reason, Identity, Family, Friends and Foes

Recommended Common Core Standards for Young Adult Readers

Key Ideas and Details
1. Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.

2. Determine central ideas or themes of a text and analyze their development; summarize the key supporting details and ideas.

3. Analyze how and why individuals, events, and ideas develop and interact over the course of a text.

Lesson Plan:

Directions: Because this graphic novel is pieced together like a mosaic educators can ask students to choose one of the poets (individually or in groups). And with that choice then create a piece of the mosaic to represent that poet. The following guiding questions may be helpful to students as they create their poet-based mosaic piece:

  • "What/which words are REALLY significant to this poet?"
  • "What/which images are REALLY important to the artist representing this poet?"

When students are finished with their piece of the mosaic ask them how they would like to piece it together with the rest of the class' pieces. From that brainstorm session and conversation a mosaic will be created somewhere for the whole class to see. Next, educators can ask students to explain and share each of their mosaic pieces and how their piece relates to the key ideas and details in other pieces of the mosaic as well.  


Dr. Katie Monnin is an Associate Professor of Literacy at the University of North Florida.  Besides the joy that comes with reading comic books and graphic novels, Dr. Monnin enjoys a Peter Pan-ish life of researching and writing her own books about teaching comics, graphic novels, and cartoons: Teaching Graphic Novels (2010), Teaching Early Reader Comics and Graphic Novels (2011), Using Content-Area Graphic Texts for Learning (2012), Teaching Reading Comprehension with Graphic Texts (2013), and Get Animated! Teaching 21st Century Early Reader and Young Adult Cartoons in Language Arts (2013); Teaching New Literacies in Elementary Language Arts ( in press, 2014).  When she is not writing (or sitting around wondering how she ended up making an awesome career out of studying comics and graphic novels), Dr. Monnin spends her time with her two wiener dogs, Sam and Max.