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Find more Classroom Connections
Take the intimidation factor out of math and science with high-energy illustration and storytelling.
As many educators can attest, comics are wonderful tools to teach, reinforce, and maintain reading skills in young children. But literacy isn’t the only area where graphic novels can be used in classrooms. Whether they feature math and science firmly in the foreground or as integral components in winning stories, these books are prime candidates to help make tricky concepts and intimidating subjects more inviting.
Babymouse: Dragonslayer. By Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm. Illus. by the authors. 2009. 96p. Random, paper, $5.99 (9780375857126); lib. ed., $12.99 (9780375957123). 741.5. Gr. 4–6.After she gets an F-minus on a math quiz, Babymouse is forced to join the Mathletes team. Pitted against the reigning champions, the Owlgorithms, the team’s goal is to take home the Golden Slide Rule trophy. Babymouse’s daydreams send her to an imaginary fantasyland, where she must confront her fear of geometry and arithmetic, neatly transformed into a conquerable dragon.
Howtoons: The Possibilities Are Endless! By Saul Griffith and Joost Bonsen. Illus. by Nick Dragotta. 2007. 112p. HarperCollins/Regan, paper, $15.99 (9780060761585). 741.5. Gr. 5–8.Griffith, a MacArthur “genius,” combines forces with Bonsen and Dragotta in this windfall for young inventors. The story is framed around a brother and sister who are challenged to “make something other than trouble.” Lessons, diagrams, and suggestions are all presented in a comics format and encourage readers to take on exciting projects using household items, including marshmallow shooters, soda-bottle rockets, terrariums, and more. Built on solid science and engineering principles, this encouraging, hands-on manual is both practical and fun.
Meanwhile. By Jason Shiga. Illus. by the author. 2010. 80p. Amulet, $15.95 (9780810984233). 741.5. Gr. 4–8. It may seem that introducing middle-graders to the fairly abstract notion of the multiple-worlds view of quantum mechanics is a little incongruous, but part of the genius of this book is how seamlessly the format does all the heavy conceptual lifting for you. With charm and panache, the book uses an updated Choose Your Own Adventure–like structure and a trio of mad-scientist inventions to illustrate the ways in which every choice or action splits reality into distinct universes. You might never imagine that choosing between vanilla and chocolate ice-cream cones could lead to the complete annihilation of life on earth, but that’s just one of the thousands of mind-bending scenarios at play here.
The Sandwalk Adventures. By Jay Hosler. Illus. by the author. 2003. 152p. Active Synapse, paper, $20 (9780967725512). 741.5. Gr. 5–8.An elderly Charles Darwin and a family of follicle mites who live in his eyebrow are the stars of this graphic-novel introduction to evolution. The mites are convinced that Darwin is their Creator, so he enlightens them by explaining the theory of natural selection. Whimsical cartoons and light potty humor are balanced by concrete examples that illustrate survival of the fittest and other building-block biological concepts.
The Secret Science Alliance and the Copycat Crook. By Eleanor Davis. Illus. by the author. 2009. 160p. Bloomsbury, $18.99 (9781599901428); paper, $10.99 (9781599903965). Gr. 4–6.Outwardly a nerd, inwardly an ultra nerd, Julian Calendar tries to play it cool in his new school. Much to his dismay, he finds his love of science and gadgetry just can’t be bottled up, but happily he soon meets two other kids who harbor a similar love of invention. When their top-secret notebook is stolen by a scheming scientist crook, the trio employs a bevy of neato gizmos concocted in their underground lab hideout to get it back. It’s one thing to tell kids that science is cool; it’s a whole other thing to prove it, and the Secret Science Alliance is up to the task.
T-Minus: The Race to the Moon. By Jim Ottaviani. Illus. by Kevin Cannon and Zander Cannon. 2009. 128p. Aladdin, $21.99 (9781416986829); paper, $12.99 (9781416949602). Gr. 6–8.This lightly fictionalized but largely true graphic novel tracks the history of the race to the moon. After first looking back at the dreamers of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the story then follows the parallel Soviet and American sides of the space race and the dedicated scientists who made the dream a reality. Loaded with technical information on the particulars of rocketry and space flight, this reads like a graphic-novel documentary on what may be the most thrilling journey in the history of humankind.
Zig and Wikki in Something Ate My Homework. By Nadja Speigelman. Illus. by Trade Loeffler. 2010. 40p. Raw Junior/TOON, $12.95 (9781935179023). K–Gr. 2.This first science-centric comic in the much-lauded TOON Books lineup takes an unusual approach to the subject—namely, from a spaceship piloted by a one-eyed alien named Zig and his computer-screen pal, Wikki. Zig’s homework assignment is to find an animal to bring to the class zoo, so the two intrepid cosmonauts head for the nearest planet, the funnily named Earth. There, they run into (and run from) a fly, dragonflies, a frog, and a raccoon, and interesting educational information about each pops up on Wikki’s screen. A clever and painlessly integrated blend of natural science and zingy space story.
Graphic Novel Series
Graphic Dinosaurs series. Rosen/PowerKids. Individual books, 32p., lib. ed., $25.25. Gr. 2–4.With stories starring dinosaurs from the mighty T. rex to the relatively wee Ankylosaurus, this series combines paleontology with eye-popping visuals and no shortage of lizard clashes. The fact-filled prehistoric slices-of-life are supported by an introductory spread outlining the highlights of each beast and an account of fossil evidence at the book’s end, along with a picture gallery that shows just how puny we humans are in comparison.
Graphic Science series. Capstone/Graphic Library. Individual books, 32p., lib. ed., $20.99. Gr. 3–6.One of the first series to really implement graphic storytelling to deliver scientific information, these books star super scientist Max Axiom, who follows the lofty tradition of acquiring his superpowers from a freak accident. Instead of saving cities from supervillains, though, his mission is to educate and inspire. Brightly colored artwork details his exploits as he covers everything from the scientific method and basic safety to lessons in photosynthesis, genetics, and magnetism.
Inventions and Discovery series. Capstone/Graphic Library. Individual books, 32p., paper, $7.95. Gr. 4–6.The titles in this series use a comics format to introduce kids to a wide range of technological advances, including not only old standbys, such as the printing press, cotton gin, and Model T, but also recent and perhaps more relevant subjects, such as the Zamboni, personal computer, and skateboard. These accessible distillations of scientific history are grounded by background information presented in boxes, while dialogue and sturdy art add personality to the major players and events.
Mandrill Mountain Math Mysteries series. Windmill. Individual books, 32p., lib. ed., $22.80. Gr. 1–3.The best monkey-based education since “monkey see, monkey do,” these stories star a group of assorted primates who have washed up on the shores of a strange island. There, they use their problem-solving abilities to survive and outwit a band of hostile apes. The humorous adventures provide a lighthearted and exciting way to demonstrate various mathematics-related skills. The story begins in A Storm at Sea: Sorting, Mapping, and Grids in Action and continues in Castaway Code: Sequencing in Action; Crocodile Teeth: Geometric Shapes in Action; Mirage in the Mist: Measurement in Action; and The Mystery of Nine: Number Place and Value in Action (all 2010).
Manga Math Mysteries series
. Lerner/Graphic Universe. Individual books, 48p., lib. ed., $29.27. Gr. 2–4.Four kids at Sifu Faiza’s Kung Fu School use their knowledge of math and powers of perception to solve a mystery in each book in this lively and surprising series. These American-style comics outfitted with manga-influenced artwork have built-in visual appeal, and the stories reinforce how basic math concepts are used in the real world. The first four volumes of the series are The Lost Key: A Mystery with Whole Numbers; The Hundred-Dollar Robber: A Mystery with Money; The Secret Ghost: A Mystery with Distance and Measurement; and The Kung Fu Puzzle: A Mystery with Time and Temperature (all 2010).
Ian Chipman is a Books for Youth associate editor at Booklist magazine.
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