Ottaviani, James; Myrick, Leland (2019) Hawking. New York: First Second.
Opening Lines: Is. / Isn’t. / Is. / Is not. / Still isn’t. ? Wait a minute, Stephen. Is there life on other planets like in the Arthur C. Clark books? / Yes. / Proves nothing, that does. What does he know?
Short Summary: This graphic novel biography follows astrophysicist Stephen Hawking from his youth, through college and grad school and his rise to a position of prominence as one of the most respected scientists of our age. It also follows the progression of ALS, a degenerative neuromuscular disease as it took away his ability to walk, speak clearly, and eventually early everything (but not his ability to think. It also follows Stephen’s relationship with his wife and children, his divorce from his wife, and his remarriage. All three strands are woven together in a well-balanced, well-written, and masterfully-illustrated narrative that will give the reader plenty to think about.
Why should I read this book? This book does an excellent job of highlighting both the ways that Hawking is exactly the same as any other human being, and the ways in which he is different. We see his frustrations and foibles, the ways in which he loved thinking about the way the universe is structured, and the ways in which that thinking often left his first wife, herself a talented and smart person, with the bulk of the responsibility for the kids. We see the ways in which he was a generous and excellent friend, and the ways in which he could be selfish and inattentive. All in all, it paints a clear picture of who Stephen Hawking was. The art work is well-suited to the tale and more than carries its own weight in terms of portraying the story, asking the reader nuanced questions, and combining with the text to get across remarkable detail of Hawking’s life.
Who is this book best for? While bright middle school students could certainly follow it, I think it is perhaps best suited for high school students. And while it might be tempting to set it aside for students who are especially interested in science, I would encourage teachers and librarians to think of a wider audience for this book. There is plenty of social story in here for anyone who likes reading how people get along (or don’t get along) with each other.
Is this book likely to be challenged? I wouldn’t think so. There is some alcohol consumption, some mention of evolution, and some people who are not nice, but there is little here that I imagine would rise to the level of objectionable.
Hirsch, Andy (2019) Science Comics: Cats: Nature and Nurture. New York: First Second
Opening Lines: MRRRMPH, mrmph. / Oh, did I doze off? / Where is my sunbeam? / There! / Sorry, this lifestyle really takes it out of you.
Short Summary: Bean the Kitten is a star of countless cat videos, but takes time out of her busy schedule to describe everything you ever wanted to know (and some things you didn’t know you wanted to know) about the anatomy, behavior, and distinguishing characteristics of pretty much every variety of domesticated and wild cats on the planet. With Bean as our guide, and Hirsch’s mastery of panel movement providing the structure, readers will enjoy learning about cats and exploring their world.
Why Should I Read This Book? Honestly, I have never been much of a cat person. I had a dog growing up, my daughters had a couple of rabbits, and my wife has a turtle as a classroom pet. So I am quite certain that I am not the target audience of this book. Having said that, I found it to be fascinating. There are diagrams showing how cats extend and retract their claws, explanations of how they track their prey, stories about how people who think they have seen a black panther are likely mistaken, and an endless array of different adaptations that help varieties of cats survive in almost any environment. Sometimes the narrator, Bean the famous internet cat, is a little annoying, but mostly she is funny and the book is a lot of fun.
Who is this book best for? Fourth-graders through middle school would enjoy this one. Kids who like nonfiction might be especially interested in it.
Is this book likely to be challenged? There is some explanation of evolutionary theory, but other than that, I can see no reason why anyone might object.
Viola, Jason; Giallongo, Zack ((2019) Science Comics: Polar Bears: Survival on the Ice. New York: First Second.
Opening Lines: Hmmm. You cubs stay back a bit. / Quit it! Mom! / The ice is not thick enough yet. Anik, stop pestering Ila.
Quick Summary: A mother Poral Bear and her two cubs allow us a glimpse into their lives in their graphic novel exploration of survival in the arctic. As the mother polar bear teaches the cubs about which sorts of ice are strong enough to walk on, what it means to be a carnivore, how to stay cool, how to swim, how to catch seals, and all sorts of other vital knowledge to be a successful polar bear.
Why should I read this book? The story is interesting, the scientific knowledge is solid and clear, and the illustrations are a delightful combination of a cartoonish style in some panels, and a much more realistic depiction in other panels. This allows the artist to insert some humor at times, but at other times to remain serious. Also, I love that one of the two cubs is a self-proclaimed ice-nerd.
Who is this book best for? Fourth graders and up who like non-fiction will enjoy this book a great deal. Polar bears are both cute and cuddly (especially the cubs) and huge and ferocious (particularly the fully-grown males who may weigh up to nearly 2,000 pounds) so there is something for everybody in this book.
Is this book likely to be challenged? I wouldn’t think so.
Kerschbaum, John (2019) Science Comics: Skyscrapers: The Heights of Engineering. New York: First Second.
Opening Lines: In a large bustling metropolis, people rarely have the time to look up. But sometimes there appears something so remarkable they can’t help but stop and say…// Look! Up in the sky! / Gasp!
Short Summary: A superhero who looks remarkably similar to another guy with a cape and an S on his chest, along with his sidekick Quiz Kid, finds out of about the history, engineering, and design of skyscrapers by literally running into them during patrols of the city and going back in time to look at the design elements of the pyramids, medieval cathedrals, and the first real skyscrapers. Along the way the reader learns about the forces of gravity, compression, wind shear, and other aspects of physics that are part of designing a skyscraper.
Why should I read this book? Mostly because this book is clever. Providing a narrative to keep students interest in a graphic novels that is mostly a non-fiction informational book can be hard to pull off. It is easy for such a the story to seem too weak to support the information and see hackneyed and fake. Or sometimes that srt of story is too strong and it is hard to work in all the detail and information. Kerschbaum treads that line well, and has a bit of fun with it along the way. There are plenty of veiled superhero references and jokes along the way that sharper kids will enjoy catching. Kerschbaum also presents information about skyscrapers in terms of larger concepts, which helps keep it from becoming a list of facts. The art come across as a wonderful combination of comic book backgrounds, angles, and panel and page design, and characters that owe a lot to Matt Groening’s style on “The Simpsons.” The bottom line is that the book is a lot of fun to read
Who is this book best for? I would say fifth or sixth graders who are really interested int eh topic would like it. On up through high school where they might think the illustrations are beneath them, but will find the explanations to be really helpful.
Is it likely to be challenged? I don’t think so.