Kent State: Four Dead in Ohio
By Michael Berry,
Common Sense Media Reviewer
Common Sense Media Reviewers
Powerful account of national tragedy.
A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
Kent State: Four Dead in Ohio chronicles the events that led to the shooting deaths of four students in 1970. Based upon news sources and first-hand testimony, the graphic novel shows the protests and the aftermath from the perspectives of students, administrators, and members of the National Guard.
Peaceful protest can be an agent of positive change.
Positive Role Models
The four students killed at Kent State were individuals with differing feelings about protesting the war in Vietnam. Some resort to violence; others are merely going about their business on campus. The guardsmen mostly fear the students, and their superiors make terrible mistakes that lead to the death of innocents.
Violence & Scariness
Scenes of violent protest, culminating in the shooting deaths of four unarmed students and shooting injuries of nine others. Rock and bottle throwing. Arson. Bayoneting.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
A college-age couple kiss and hug briefly.
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Lots of swearing as students face off against troopers, including "ass," "bastard," "hell," "damn," "goddamn," "s--t," and "f--k." Between three and 10 of each.
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Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
A couple of scenes take place in a busy bar filled with smokers and drinkers.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Kent State: Four Dead in Ohio is a graphic novel chronicling the events leading up to the shooting of four college students in May, 1970. Author-illustrator Derf Backderf uses a journalistic style to spotlight the four dead students. Swearing is frequent: "bastard, "hell," "s--t," "f--k." Sexual content is minimal, a few casual embraces between college kids. Violent scenes throughout, as students confront National Guardsmen: riots, arson, rock throwing, beatings, bayonetings, graphic depictions of shooting deaths. Scenes set in bars feature beer and cigarettes.
Where to Read
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What's the Story?
From the start, KENT STATE: FOUR DEAD IN OHIO shows a school and a town in 1970 getting ready for a bloody confrontation. Students want the Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC) to leave campus as part of a protest against the war in Vietnam. The National Guard is desperate to maintain control. Tensions rise over the course of a week, culminating in a showdown that leads to the shooting deaths of four students and the injury of nine others.
Is It Any Good?
Journalistic graphic novels aren't common, but this powerful chronicle of a national tragedy uses the comics medium to full advantage. In Kent State, author-illustrator Derf Backderf builds his account of the Kent State massacre from interview transcripts and news reports, and he unearths details that remain haunting after five decades. The four students are treated with sympathy, their stories heartbreaking and infuriating. The National Guard is portrayed as a mix of gung-ho bigots and scared amateurs under incredible stress. Readers who can stand the intensity will find much food for thought.
Talk to Your Kids About ...
Families can talk about how Kent State: Four Dead in Ohio depicts student unrest at Kent State in 1970. Does the author's depiction remind you of any recent protests around the country?
What techniques can a cartoonist use that are not available to a writer of prose? What kinds of stories work best as graphic novel?
What factors contributed to the tragedy at Kent State? Could the shootings have been prevented?
- Author: Derf Backderf
- Illustrator: Derf Backderf
- Genre: Graphic Novel
- Topics: Activism, History
- Book type: Non-Fiction
- Publisher: Abrams
- Publication date: September 9, 2020
- Publisher's recommended age(s): 15 - 18
- Number of pages: 288
- Available on: Nook, Hardback, iBooks, Kindle
- Last updated: March 12, 2021
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