Saturday, February 28, 2015

Top ten graphic novels for teaching science, math, and engineering (except there are only nine).

Doxiadis, Apostolos; Papadimitriou, Christos H.; Papadatos, Alegos; DiDonna, Annie (2009)  Logicomix: An Epic Search for Truth.  New York: Bloomsbury


The thing I love the most about this graphic novel biography of Bertrand Russell (even more than the fact that there is such a thing) is that it is a fascinating story about Russell's struggle with two fields, Mathematics and Philosophy, which, at the time he was tidying, didn't seem to have room for somebody who deeply wanted to discover everything he could about the way the universe works.  Now, I know that you might be thinking that such a story sounds pretty abstract and you are having trouble imagining a student reader actually enjoying reading about such a thing -- but you see, this is the amazing thing about graphic novels when they are done well -- they can turn that which is abstract into something that is startlingly concrete. 
So what we have here is an excellent story about the life of Bertrand Russell and his attempt to discover truth through mathematics, philosophy, and physics.  It contains the sorry of explanations of geometry, paradox, infinity, and the difference between computation and higher math that make non-math and non-science folks get really excited that they are understanding it.  And the story is about Russell's life as well, which has a fair amount of secrecy, scandal, madness and mystery mixed in.
I would say this one would work best for high school and up, though I could imagine a really sharp math-or-science-focused middle schooled devouring it as well.
Hosler, J. (2000). Clan Apis. Columbus, OH, Active Synapse.

This is, without a doubt, the best, most accessible, and endlessly fascinating book about the life cycle of bees you have ever read. It uses a narrative approach to follow the life on a single bee.  Somehow Hotler does that in a way that we learn a learn a lot about hive life and so on without ever feeling like we are drowning in exposition.  The art is amazing and beautiful.  Smart fifth graders and up would enjoy this one.
Hosler, Jay; Cannon, Kevin; Cannon, Zander  (2011) Evolution:  The Story of Life on Earth  New York:  Hill and Wang.

    A alien scientist named Bloort 183 (who looks a bit like a one-eyed starfish mounted on a stack of inner tubes) has just put the finishing touches on the Glargalian Holographic Museum of Earth Evolution and is giving a tour to King Floorsh 727 and his son, Prince Floorsh 418  and on this tour, Bloort explains how different life on Earth is than it is on Glargal where all life reproduces asexually and without variation.  The result is a remarkably interesting and in-depth book that describes evolutionary theory very clearly.
     Hosler uses this contrivance of aliens trying to understand life on earth (as Mark Schultz, Zander Cannon, and Kevin Cannon did with the earlier book in this series, The Stuff of Life:  A Graphic Guide to Genetics and DNA) as a great way to explain complicated scientific ideas without too much jargon and in a way that offers a full explanation without insulting the readers' intelligences.  It also allow for a overarching story that we can escape to every now and then when the scientific explanations get too heavy.  Hosler and the Cannons (who are not related by the way -- they met in art school because they have the same last name and found that they collaborate rather well) also include a fair amount of humor which helps the science go down easier. 
     The images allow for the sort of visual aids that a really excellent science teacher would draw on the board (although here they are much easier to identify than the stick figures that seem to populate blackboards).  The science is extremely solid and accurate (Holser is a Ph.D. in Biology) but presented in a way that may really open science up for readers who haven't yet realized how cool it is.
      It has always seemed to me, by the way, that the creation-evolution controversy didn't make much sense.  After all, many of the pioneers of evolutionary theory were Chrisitans, or at least theists, and saw no reason why a divine creator couldn't use natural processes to get the job done.  No matter -- that really isn't what this review is about.  Jay Hostler (writer of the amazing graphic novel on the biology of bees--Clan Apis) and Kevin Cannon and Zander Cannon (both of whom worked on the excellent graphic novel about the space race T-Minus) have created a brilliant book that explains the ideas behind genetics,  If you think evolutionary theory is a lot of hooey, read this book -- it won't necessarily convince you of anything, but it will describe the theory fully enough that you can at least understand what you disagree with.  If you have no such concerns, read this book -- you might discover that creation is an amazingly intricate and connected thing --even more so than you thought. 
       Once again, probably high school readers are best for this one, though a smart middle schooled would be able to grasp at least a majority of it.



Ottaviani, J. and L. Purvis (2004). Suspended in language: Niels Bohr's life, discoveries, and the century he shaped. Ann Arbor, GT Labs.
  This is perfect for a high school physics class.  Explains scientific theories and how they came to be in the context of Bohr's life. On particularly wonderful bit at the end tells a possibly apocryphal story of how Bohn, when asked to use a barometer to measure the height of a building, came up with dozens of different ways to do so (including dropping the barometer off the roof and timing how long it would take to hit the pavement) much to the consternation of his teacher.  Best for high school students.

Octavian, Jim; Wicks, Marisa (2013) Primates:  The Fearless Science of Jane Goodall, Dian Fosse and Birute Galdikas.  New York. First Second.
Ottaviani profiles three famous women scientists, all protégé of Louis Leakey, and how they studied and reported on the behavior of three different primate species.  Two things make this story fascinating.  First. Leakey tended to encourage researchers who didn't have much scientific background.  He was convinced that a lack of presuppositions made these three women better at observation.   Second, all three women left quiet lives to become adventurers -- living in jungles in far away countries.  The art is simple, but excellent -- especially the page lay-outs. 
         This one would work for about fourth grade and up (there is very subtle mention once or twice of Leakey making unwelcome advances toward Goodall, but such mention will most likely go right over the heads of younger readers.). High school readers may find the book too juvenile -- but if they give it a try, they may enjoy it more than they think they will.
Ottoviani, J. (1998). Dignifying Science: Stories about Women Scientists. Ann Arbor, MI, G.T. Labs.
If the previous graphic novel, Primates isn't enough to get female readers excited about science, this book will.  This is an excellent series of short biographies of women who made significant contributions to science, among them Hedy Lamarr, Lise Mietner, Rosalind Franklin, Barbara McClintlock, and Birute Galdikas.  A variety of writers and artists bring these stories to life.  This would be a good book for any science classroom library.  Middle school and up
Ottaviani, Jim; Cannon, Sander; Cannon, Kevin (2009) T-Minus, the Race to the Moon.    New York:  Aladdin.
When we think of the space race, we often think of astronauts -- brave men who were willing to risk their lives riding rockets into space.  There were other heroes of the journey to the Moon, however -- the scientists, engineers, and mathematicians who worked tirelessly to make the moon shot a possibility.  This graphic novel does an amazing job of highlighting both.  The illustrations are beautifully rendered and the story weaves together several decades of history, the science of rocketry, and the stories of the astronauts, scientists, and administrators who made it happen.
One of my favorite parts is where the representatives of the contractor working on the rocket, when asked if they can also build the liner Lander, refuse saying that they need to be able to concentrate on the rocket -- but they suggest one of their competitors would do a good job with that.  What a remarkable position for a business to take. 
Readers from 5th or sixth grade and up would like this. 

Octaviani, Jim; Myrick, Leland (2013) Feynman. New York:  First Second.

Richard Feynman is best known for being one of the scientists who worked on the atomic bomb project, and for being one of the scientists who discovered the problem with the O rings that caused the Challenger disaster, and best known for getting a part into he student production of "South pacific" when he was a professor at MIT.  He is a fascinating guy, and this graphic biography does a nice job of bringing that out.  It does not hide his flaw or exaggerate his quirks, but does a nice job of highlighting the different aspects of his personality.  It is thoroughly enjoyable.  Best for eight grade and up.

Hosler, J. (2003). The Sandwalk Adventures. Columbus, OH, Active Synapse.

This graphic novel imagines a discussion between two dust mites living in a hair follicle of Charles Darwin's bread and Darwin himself.  It does a nice job of explaining the elements of natural selection, but comes across pretty negatively regarding the value of subjective belief or non-scientific knowledge.
This would be a good one for high school readers.

Next time, some YA novels I have been meaning to recommend for a while.