Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Science Comics

First Second is celebrating their tenth anniversary with a bang, introducing a new series called Science Comics. Each volume has a different focus, and they have some top notch creators lined up for these titles. The first two just came out, and they contain lots of information, vocabulary, and features that make them ready for classroom use. Also, they take different approaches to their storytelling and I found them both great in different ways.
The first one I read was Coral Reefs: Cities of the Ocean by Maris Wicks. I had read and enjoyed her prior book Human Body Theater as well as her collaboration with Jim Ottaviani Primates, and they were both excellent. This one focuses on marine biology, obviously, and I was impressed by two things off the bat: the bright, expressive, info-rich artwork and the gentle narration provided by a bespectacled bony fish.
As you can see the artwork is gorgeous and engaging, and I really enjoyed the balance of information and vocabulary text and images with playful imagery and asides that add a dash of humor to the proceedings. Wicks is an excellent artist and storyteller, and her chops are on display throughout.

As you can see this book contains lots of facts about coral reefs, but it also gets into other territory like ecology, climate change, and environmental factors that affect marine life. I think it would have been impressive to simply detail as much as this book has about underwater plants and animals, but it goes the extra mile to place all of these organisms in a larger context. I am glad to see how it engaged in serious issues that involve the future of planet Earth in thoughtful and documented ways. Overall, it is quite exceptional how the narrative, exposition, and artwork range back and forth from simple to complex as the author entertains and explains throughout the book.

The reviews I have read about this book have been glowing. Johanna Draper Carlson concluded, "I had no idea there was so much to know about coral reefs. While obviously targeted at the educational market, this comic is a good read for all ages." Sarah Stevenson wrote that "I personally learned a lot, was reminded of knowledge I hadn't thought about in a while, and enjoyed myself in the process." Kevin wrote, "Unlike some content-area graphic novels out there in the world (and I have read more than my share) that seem thrown together to make a buck off the graphic novel movement, Coral Reefs: Cities of the Ocean seems more like an act of love by someone who is deeply immersed in the ocean." Let's hope Maris Wicks has lots of oxygen with her, if that is the case (Smile).
There is a part of me that thinks that books about dinosaurs are pretty easy to sell. Just pack them full of pictures of the wide array of these reptiles and the rest takes care of itself. I certainly read my share of such books when I was young, and I loved them. Dinosaurs: Fossils and Feathers is smart in that it engages in such displays of dino-diversity, but it goes far beyond simply showing beautiful pictures of these prehistoric creatures. What really impressed me is how much if focused on the science and archaeology of dinosaur discovery, going in historical fashion over how these and other creatures were discovered, theorized, and studied over the past centuries.
Like the coral reefs book, this one also went into a much broader context of science, and in different areas summing up the state of science during different time periods. I was especially taken with this feature as it shows readers how science and theories change and evolve over time. The book really confronts many potential controversies and confusions head on, but it also dramatizes the constantly revised view about dinosaurs as scientists debate how they lived, ate, and whether or not they were warm-blooded or had feathers.

I think that it is difficult for a book like this to make an impression about a well-covered topic like dinosaurs, but it manages to do just that with extensive research and an excellent synthesis of multiple fields and studies. It will change how you look at birds, or at least I know it has for me. Those cute feathered things might just be tiny decedents of velociraptors. And the book also puts a human face on those who have studied these "terrible lizards." That parade of strong personalities is as engaging as all the facts and beautiful pictures.
The collaboration here between MK Reed and Joe Flood is seamless and rich. I very much enjoyed their prior book, The Cute Girl Network, and I am happy to say that they are maybe more adept at nonfiction as they are at fiction. There is certainly a lot of ground covered in this book, and there was much I found new, exciting, and interesting.

The reviews about this book were more mixed, though I have to say that I felt I enjoyed it just a tad bit more than the corals reefs volume. Johanna Draper Carlson felt that it tried to tackle too much and wrote, "There’s a lot more history, a lot less animal study than one might think here. And this book needs its own annotation guide!" The folks at The Comics Alternative called it "a great non-fiction graphic novel that entertains and instructs. It can also be enjoyed by a wide range of ages, giving younger readers a great, fun look at dinosaurs, and providing older readers with the history of dinosaur research and discovery."

Both volumes of Science Comics were published by First Second and you can find previews and much more here (for Coral Reefs) and here (for Dinosaurs). I feel these are both excellent books and an auspicious start to this series. I am eager to see the future volumes, which include books on bats and volcanoes.

Thank you, Gina, for the review copies!

No comments:

Post a Comment