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Thoreau at Walden

Page history last edited by Michael Federico 12 years, 1 month ago

Thoreau at Walden

Creator: John Porcellino (from the writings of Henry David Thoreau)

Original Date of Publication: April 22, 2008

Publisher: Hyperion (presented by The Center for Cartoon Studies)


Plot Summary

In 19th Century Massachusetts, Henry David Thoreau, in order to live life on his own terms, builds a cabin on Walden Pond. While there, he farms, writes, and communes with nature. He often returns to town, and at one point spends a night in jail because he has not paid the poll tax for several years. This experience further opens his eyes about the society in which he lives. Thoreau continues to write, but soon realizes it is time to leave Walden.


Significant Features

The most significant aspect of Thoreau at Walden is that the text is almost entirely taken from the writings of Henry David Thoreau. It features pieces from Walden, “Civil Disobedience,” journal entries, and more. Porcellino edits and reorders pieces, and adds punctuation (and a very occasional word) in order to make Henry David’s story a linear one that follows the changing seasons.


The artwork is simple. The reasons for this are, according to many, two-fold. One, the simple art serves to highlight Thoreau’s own commitment to simplicity. Two, the book is intended to be accessible to younger readers who are not familiar with Thoreau or his work.


Publication History / Historical Context

Porcellino was approached by the Center for Cartoon Studies (CCR) about creating a Thoreau graphic novel for their series of American Biographies. Counting Thoreau as one of his major inspirations, Porcellino jumped at the opportunity. However, he did not approach the book as strictly a biography, nor is it a straight adaptation of Thoreau’s Walden. Porcellino sees it as “an impression of his [Thoreau’s] time at the pond.” The book is geared towards young readers (teachers can purchase the book along with study materials from the CCR). However, Porcellino hopes that it will inspire new readers, as well as those familiar with Walden, to further explore Thoreau’s writings.    


Impact / Influence 

The impact of Thoreau at Walden seems to be on young readers more than on other comics artists. It serves as an introduction to the writings of Henry David Thoreau to a range of students of different ages.


Critical Reception 

Critical reception (both popular and academic) remains consistently positive. The book has been lauded by the Thoreau Society, educators, children’s books reviewers, and comics scholars.  

Kirkus Reviews: “Spare, monochromatic panels present not a Classics Illustrated version of Walden, but an imaginary, hugely effective snapshot of Henry David Thoreau's life on the edge of that storied pond.

Diana Lutz stated in Natural History, “John Porcellino's simple line drawings and Thoreau's own words combine in this magical graphic journal to capture not just what Thoreau said but also what he meant.

  • Baker, Steve. “Thoreau at Walden.” School Library Journal 54.3 (2008): 226.
  • Gorman, Michele. “A New Take on an Old Tale: Classic Literature in Graphic Format.”    Library Media Connection 26.7 (2008): 53.
  • Kirkus Reviews 76.23 (2008): 21.
  • Lutz, Diana. “Reviews for Advanced Readers.” Natural History 117.10 (2008/2009): 46.






Further Reading




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