Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood Provides Springboard for Discussion

Having a “universal book” in Upper Schoola book selected by the Summer Reading Committee and read by every member of the Upper School communityhas been a longstanding tradition at FWCD. This year’s universal read was Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood. Last week, on September 12, students engaged in scholarly discussions and lectures related to the book and its themes.
“Persepolis offers a unique insider’s perspective on Iranian history and the 1979 Islamic Revolution that goes beyond the hostage crisis,” said Head of Upper School Steve Stackhouse. “You get a young person’s view of the political disruption. I liked the setup of the universal book discussions this year because students could choose areas to explore and discuss. The book is a launching point for so many different topics—religion, art, fundamentalism, the Middle East and the refugee experience. Interestingly, the format of the graphic novel itself is a topic of discussion.
The activities, organized by Upper School Librarian Teresa Crafton, included two sessions in which students could choose from 13 diverse presentations. The topics (all listed at the end of this story) included the Five Pillars of Islam, Media Coverage of the Middle East, Visual Design in Persepolis, Energy and the Middle East, and Women’s Veil Coverings. All were presented by members of the FWCD community who are experts in their fields and have a passion related to their chosen topics. Committee members brainstormed session topics in order to provide a diverse array of options that would stimulate broader thinking related to the novel and to be inclusive of the novel’s different themes and its cultural heritage. “The ultimate goal of the universal book event was to help students find a personal connection to literature,” Crafton said.
“Shortly after I started working at FWCD, I attended a conference where I sat on the bus next to the Upper School librarian from the Horace Mann School. Horace Mann has an annual ‘Book Day,’ which is a full day of sessions devoted to a single book,” Crafton said. “For a long time, I have wanted to bring this idea to Country Day, especially since students and faculty were always commenting that we don't do enough with the universal book. Persepolis was the perfect book with which to try our own ‘Book Day’ type of event.
The morning’s conversations were stimulating and insightful, providing students an opportunity to hear from faculty members and fellow students.
Overview of Persepolis by Amazon
On the FWCD Summer Reading website, the following overview of Persepolis was posted (cited from Amazon):
Persepolis is Marjane Satrapi’s memoir of growing up in Iran during the Islamic Revolution. In powerful black-and-white comic strip images, Satrapi tells the story of her life in Tehran from ages 6 to 14, years that saw the overthrow of the Shah’s regime, the triumph of the Islamic Revolution and the devastating effects of war with Iraq. The intelligent and outspoken only child of committed Marxists and the great-granddaughter of one of Iran’s last emperors, Satrapi bears witness to a childhood uniquely entwined with the history of her country.
Persepolis paints an unforgettable portrait of daily life in Iran and of the bewildering contradictions between home life and public life. Satrapi’s child’s-eye view of dethroned emperors, state-sanctioned whippings and heroes of the revolution allow readers to learn the history of Iran and of her own family. Persepolis is a story of growing up and a reminder of the human cost of war and political repression.
Workshop Descriptions
Best of Graphic Novels, Jon Shipley
This workshop is an overview of some of the most significant graphic novels to emerge in the last 30 years.
Bringing Persepolis to Life in Film, Colin Douglas ’05 and Spencer Smith
Can a (graphic) novel’s message really carry over into film? To what extent is artistic adaptation possible? Where and how does adaptation become interpretation? Guided by these questions, and based on our reading of Persepolis, we will consider how to best identify the 2007 film by the same name.
Five Pillars of Islam, Steve Stackhouse
In this workshop, students gain an understanding of the basic beliefs of Islam by learning about the Five Pillars that guide Muslims in their daily life: belief, worship, fasting, almsgiving and pilgrimage.
Iran-Iraq War, Bill Arnold ’86
This workshop involves an analysis of the complex historical causes, methods and consequences of the Iran-Iraq War (1980-88).
Media Coverage of the Middle East, Rona Mattocks
This workshop includes an analysis of how Arabs and Persians are portrayed by Western Media juxtaposed with how they portray themselves in homegrown media. We will identify myths and stereotypes and come to understand the contexts in which we view Middle Eastern people.
POP Goes the Culture: Exporting Ideas Packaged as Entertainment, Shaen McKnight and Heather Peace
In Persepolis, Marjane wears a Michael Jackson button on her jacket and has rock posters on the walls of her room. She wants to play Monopoly with her parents. She celebrates punk rock by wearing chains and nails over a sweater with holes. Even with an embargo on American goods being shipped to Iran, American ideas and ideals were still arriving packaged as entertainment. Today, the flow of culture as entertainment is much more balanced, with ideas being imported as well as exported. While pop culture may seem light, bright and carefree, it is frequently used to reflect important issues and convey propaganda. What can we learn about a society from its pop culture, and what messages are we sending and receiving in our entertainment?
Should this Book be Banned?, Teresa Crafton
Persepolis is a controversial book that has been banned, not only in Iran, but in some schools in the U.S. as well. Learn more about the complex issues surrounding Persepolis and other banned and challenged books.
Small Group Discussion of Persepolis, Melodee Halbach and Laura Hayes
Discuss the book Persepolis in small groups led by students and faculty.
Visual Design in Persepolis, Lauren Cunningham
Discuss how design choices can help convey a story by looking at some of the images in Persepolis.
Energy and the Middle East (aka, Do I have to Drive a Prius), Peter Tunnard, FWCD Past Parent
Where do we get energy? Why is it so important? We will answer these questions and discuss the roles of exporting nations like those in the Middle East, as well as the growing importance of North America.
History of Comics and Graphic Novels, Clint Hagen
Comics and graphic novels have a long and intertwined history. In this workshop, we will look at the development of the genre from the cave paintings at Lascaux to the books that spawned modern superhero blockbuster movies.
What Makes a Survivor, Kathy Roemer
How can some people live through trauma when others cannot? Drawing upon Marjane’s experiences in Persepolis, we will examine the skills that people need to develop resilience.
Women’s Veil Coverings, Rona Mattocks
A survey of the types of women's veil coverings such as the hijab, niqab and the burqa. Together, we will examine the tradition of veiling in its historical and religious context both in Middle Eastern and Christian cultures. The goal is to arrive at a more complex understanding of why veiling has become so politicized in the current political climate.
The Upper School Summer Reading Committee, made up of students and faculty, came up with two universal read candidates, which were put to a vote by the Upper School community. The members of this year’s committee were Ainsley Dobson ’18 (Student at Large), Ryan Hamburg ’20, Christina Kelly ’18, Jonathan Maberry ’18, Bailey Melton ’20, Josey Reed ’19, Campbell Robinson ’19, Paige Chisholm ’87 (Faculty), Teresa Crafton (Faculty), Laura Hayes (Faculty), Shaen McKnight (Faculty), Laura Michaelides (Faculty), Heather Peace (Faculty) and Alison Robinson (Faculty).
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Fort Worth Country Day (FWCD) is a K-12 private, independent, coeducational, nondenominational college-preparatory school located on approximately 100 acres in Fort Worth, Texas. The mission of Fort Worth Country Day School is to foster the intellectual, physical, emotional, and ethical development of capable students through an academically rigorous college preparatory program that integrates the arts and athletics.