Who hasn’t turned to David Macaulay’s original The Way Things Work (1988) or The New Way Things Work (1998) to understand how something works by seeing it explained using illustrations, instead of just text? His books are standard reference sources in many libraries where I’ve worked. I’m really happy to know that an even newer revised and updated edition called The Way Things Work Now will be published in October 2016.
I’m a visual learner and it really helps to see how something works with images, as opposed to just with text. Many teens learn visually as well. Science concepts that are hard to imagine are much easier for teens (and adults) to grasp if we can visualize them. So much of what we are familiar with can be explained using science. Kids on a playground may not realize that everything they’re playing on uses physics: a swing is a pendulum, a see-saw is a basic lever and a slide is friction and gravity.
To accompany some of the other recent posts relating to science books for teens, here are just a few graphic novels where science is made more fun, interactive and understandable for teens in a graphic novel format. The books listed range from middle grade books with appeal to older readers, to those published for adults with teen appeal.
In 2016, First Second will begin publishing its Science Comics series. Coral Reefs written and illustrated by Maris Wicks and Dinosaurs by MK Reed and Joe Flood are both being published May, 2016. Volcanoes, written and illustrated by Jon Chad will be published in October 2016. (all Gr. 4 & up)
Every volume of Science Comics offers a complete introduction to a particular topic. Coral Reefs examines the biology of coral reefs as well as their ecological importance using Wicks’ signature appealing and accurate illustrations.
Human Body Theater: A Nonfiction Revue written and illustrated by Maris Wicks. (2015) (Gr 4-8)
A talking skeleton tells all about the human body as part of its “all- singing, all-dancing” stage show. The skeleton entertainingly but accurately explains how each body system works, what can go wrong with it, and how to care for it. Lots of humor is reflected in Wicks’ colorful and detailed illustrations. (2016 Great Graphic Novels for Teens)
Jay Hosler’s The Last of the Sandwalkers (2015) written and illustrated by the author. (Gr. 5 & up)
In this fun and informative graphic novel, Lucy is a tiny field scientist who is also a beetle. She lives in a beetle civilization where beetles write books, run restaurants, and even do scientific research. But, the powerful elders don’t want too much research to be done because they guard a terrible secret about the world outside the shadow of the palm tree. Lucy defies them to lead a team of researchers into the desert to discover more of the wider world…but what lies in wait for them is going to change everything Lucy thought she knew.
Howtoons: Tools of Mass Construction by Dr. Saul Griffith, illustrated by Nick Dragotta (2015) (Gr. 4-8)
This 360 page part graphic novel, part instruction manual, features siblings Tuck and Celine who are urged to make something out of household treasures to keep them out of trouble. Howtoons was originally created by scientists Saul Griffith, Joost Bonsen and artist Nick Dragotta from MIT. Just a few of the science projects here include ice cream in a bag, an electric motor, bugeye lens, an underwater scope, a terrarium, a mini-submarine, spring-loaded chopsticks, pneumatic muscles, and rockets.
Howtoons: [Re]ignition by Fred Van Lente, illustrated by Tom Fowler. (2015) (Gr. 4 – 8)
Part graphic novel story, part science/energy instruction manual and energy history lesson, in which siblings Celine and Tuck and their parents are in suspended animation riding out an energy crisis. When the kids wake up, and find their parents gone, they must try to find them. As they cross a strange new world, they have to rely on their science knowledge to save them – and the world. Along the way, they learn to build such projects as a wind turbine, a solar cooker, and a go-kart.
Jim Ottaviani and illustrator Maris Wicks’ Primates: Fearless Science of Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, and Biruté Galdikas (2013) (Gr. 6-9)
Science writer Jim Ottaviani explains the personalities and scientific breakthroughs, of these three women scientists, accompanied by the appealing illustrations by Maris Wicks. Their stories are enlightening and very entertaining.(2014 Great Graphic Novel for Teens)
World without Fish by Mark Kurlansky and Frank Stockton (2011) (Gr. 5 & up)
This is a graphic novel hybrid that combines text, sometimes in huge font and in caps, with illustrations that exposes the alarming depletion of our planet’s oceans. Kurlansky explains how as the planet’s temperature, food sources, and weather patterns change, certain species (such as the jellyfish) will begin to flourish even as other animals (like the fish that feed on jellyfish) die out – and how these processes are occurring more quickly than scientists have predicted. The text is accompanied by comic book panels that tell the story of Kram, a fictional scientist, and his daughter, Ailat, who witness the very destruction Kurlansky describes. It’s a dire vision, but Kurlansky also offers specific things that readers can do to help restore the planet’s oceans.
Evolution: The Story of Life on Earth by Jay Hosler, illustrated by Kevin Cannon and Zander Cannon (2011) (Gr. 9 & up)
This fun history of evolution takes the reader on a tour with an alien over 4.5 billion years from earth’s beginnings when it was a primordial soup up to evolved humans. The award-winning illustrators render the complex clear and everything cleverly comedic.(2012 Great Graphic Novel for Teens)
Charles Darwin’s on the Origin of the Species: a Graphic Adaption by Michael Keller, illustrated by Nicolle Rager Fuller (2009) (Gr. 9 & up)
This graphic novel translation of Darwin’s original text includes sections about his pioneering research, the book’s initial public reception, his correspondence with other leading scientists, as well as the most recent breakthroughs in evolutionary theory, beautifully rendered in color. It breathes new life into Darwin’s classic work.
Jay Hosler’s The Sandwalk Adventures: An Adventure in Evolution Told in Five Chapters (2003) (Gr. 4-8)
In this entertaining graphic novel, Darwin engages in discussion with follicle mites that live in his left eyebrow. The mites believe Darwin is a god, one of the myths they have handed down from generation to generation. Darwin sets them straight about that and other mite fables as well, the result being lessons in natural selection.
Clan Apis by Jay Hosler (2000) (Gr. 5-7)
Biology professor and entomologist Jay Hosler tells the story of a honeybee Nyuki (the Swahili word for “bee”) from birth to death in this black & white graphic novel. It’s an often moving tale that also includes a lot of action, as well as the explanation of swarm behavior, the metamorphosis process of bee larvae, and a fascinating look at the steps of a honeybee dance, among other things.
Who knew there were so many ways to present information in graphic novel format about bees, mites, the way the human body works, how to make a rocket or evolution? These are only a few examples of the many science-themed graphic novels out there. If you’ve read one I missed, please share!
— Sharon Rawlins, currently reading Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys and listening to Daughters Unto Devils by Amy Lukavics