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The Complete Maus

Book review by
Michael Berry, Common Sense Media
The Complete Maus Book Poster Image
Unforgettable graphic memoir of the Holocaust.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

The Complete Maus presents a true story of survival during World War II and is set partially at the notorious concentration camp Auschwitz. It offers an opportunity to discuss the Holocaust and its aftermath.

Positive Messages

The Complete Maus celebrates human resilience and the family bonds that sustain people even in the midst of great tragedy.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Vladek is a complicated person: clever, brave, and resourceful as a young man; neurotic, manipulative, and needy as an old man. 

Violence

The Complete Maus includes many instances of violence: shootings, hangings, poisoning, beatings, starvation, and much more. Sensitive readers should beware.

Sex

One of Vladek's girlfriends has a breakdown because he wants to leave her.

Language

Vladek refers to African Americans as "Schwartzers," a German word for blacks.

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Artie smokes cigarettes.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Art Spiegelman's The Complete Maus is a powerful graphic-novel memoir of the Holocaust that features disturbing content. Jews are drawn as anthropomorphic mice; Germans are cats, Poles as pigs. Characters are starved, beaten, shot, gassed, poisoned, and hanged. Others commit suicide. Sexual content is minimal. Adult characters smoke cigarettes.

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What's the story?

At the start of THE COMPLETE MAUS, cartoonist Art Spiegelman wants to interview his aging father, Vladek, about his experiences in World War II Europe. The older man is reluctant at first, but gradually he talks about his days as an enterprising young man in Poland. When the Nazis arrive and steal the Jewish-owned businesses and factories, Vladek is drafted and quickly becomes a prisoner of war. He escapes, only to be rounded up with his family and sent to the dreaded concentration camp, Auschwitz.

Is it any good?

Some works of art change their medium forever, and this graphic memoir is a sterling example of a book that upended all expectations about what comics could accomplish. With a sharp eye and skillful hands, Art Spiegelman tells the story of his father in two time periods, each rendered with powerful emotion. Even though they wear the heads of mice, cats, dogs, and pigs, the characters are all recognizably human in their struggles to survive in the midst of war and terror. Mature readers can learn much about how the Holocaust affected three generations of Europeans.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how The Complete Maus uses the comics medium to tell its story. Why are some topics particularly suited to becoming graphic novels?

  • Some of Vladek's associates are slow to realize the danger they're in. How do authoritarian regimes take power without much resistance?

  • How do his experiences in the war affect Vladek's behavior as an old man? How do survivors of deep trauma cope with their emotions?

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For kids who love graphic novels and Holocaust stories

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