Hooked on Manga: Comic Science
If your readers are fans of one comic format or another, you may find that science-themed manga titles are a welcome addition to your younger and middle students' summer reading lists.
If your kids gravitate toward graphic novels like dinoflagellates to nutrients in an algal bloom, feed their interest and give them a boost of summer science at the same time! We've got suggestions for manga and comic titles you might consider for your readers, but if you have questions or need additional help evaluating graphic novels, you might talk with your local children's librarian or look at A Parent's Guide to the Best Kids' Comics: Choosing Titles Your Children Will Love.
Science All Summer
Our list of summer science suggestions offers just a few great hands-on science explorations from our library of Project Ideas. Roller-coasters and marble runs, too, make our radar for summer fun, and we will be highlighting other summer-friendly ideas all summer long. How about submarines? With a bit of soda bottle construction, students can explore hydrodynamics and submarine science in the "Bottled-up Buoyancy" project, based on an activity from Howtoons. Presented in full-color comic style, Howtoons: The Possibilities Are Endless! is a collection of DIY projects the main characters cook up after a parent challenges them to "make something other than trouble."
In my house, manga and the graphic novel format rule. For years, my students have been devouring manga titles, a reality that made me even more thankful for the library early on when I realized they were zipping through titles in under an hour—and ready for more. With some favorite series containing 40-50 volumes, we've put our library account to sizzling use through the years. Although there's no Da Vinci-esque script involved, my students read backwards with the same ease as they do forwards.
While there are themes they prefer, I've discovered that their affinity for the genre—and the comic format—crosses all boundaries. We've read through the graphic novel shelves at the library and broadened our appreciation of traditional-style comics with healthy doses of classic and unforgettable strips like Calvin and Hobbes. Their willingness to read virtually anything presented in panels opens up exciting terrain when it comes to science content.
Many students, even students who are excellent readers, enjoy the comic genre (at large), which makes it wonderful that there are increasing numbers of titles available, including a wide range of science-themed graphic novels. There are cartoon-style collections of project ideas, comic book stories of science clubs and science-studded plots, biographies presented in graphic novel format, and illustrated guides devoted to major areas of science.
Earlier this week, we posted a super-sized list of great summer reading selections for older students and adults from the popular science shelves. That list included Feynman, a graphic novel biography of Richard Feynman, co-winner of the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1965 and known for his eccentric personality, spotlighted both in famous classroom lectures and in a series of autobiographical titles. For readers with an interest in physics, quantum mechanics, subatomic particles, and nanotechnology, Feynman may be an interesting launching point. As a follow-up—or a starting point in a different area of science—these titles from the "Manga Guide" series are ones your middle-to-upper-grade students might enjoy over the summer as a supplement to some hands-on exploration.
- The Manga Guide to Physics
- The Manga Guide to Electricity
- The Manga Guide to Molecular Biology
- The Manga Guide to Relativity
- The Manga Guide to the Universe
- The Manga Guide to Biochemistry
When it comes to full-color graphic novels aimed at the younger audience and with few illusions of being truly educational, there are a range of titles for students to latch onto. From the Amulet series to Jellaby and Zita the Spacegirl, the genre is brimming with books to entice young and middle readers. Because many of these stories are quasi-science fiction in nature, science often lurks within, even if it isn't center stage. Reading about characters who are scientists, explorers, and inventors is a fun alternative to other character archetypes and might help engage students in their own science exploration—and in the possibilities offered by science-related career paths. Even Babymouse did a stint as a scientist before the team behind the series introduced Squish, the school-aged, Twinkie-eating amoeba who stars in a series dubbed "a tale of microscopic proportions" (see Super Amoeba, Brave New Pond, and The Power of the Parasite).
When science is presented as cool, fun, and often-accompanied by a bang, a bit of time travel, or a world-changing discovery, there's fertile ground for the imagination—and for growing awareness of science. For fun downtime reads for your middle readers, books that offer less textbook science and more story, you might consider graphic novels like The Secret Science Alliance and the Copycat Crook, Knights of the Lunch Table: The Dodgeball Chronicles (there's a science teacher in the mix), and The Knights of the Lunch Table #2: The Dragon Players (building robots takes center stage). Similarly, the titles in the Daniel Boom AKA Loud Boy series also have science, engineering, and invention as underlying themes. The kids who are part of this group each have a questionable super ability, but you'll find that there's something scientific afoot in each adventure. Or, for a greener spin on the graphic novel, Luz Sees the Light explores the importance of sustainability and reducing one's reliance on fossil fuels.
A Taste for More Traditional Books?
While the graphic novel format seems to have gone viral for many school-age readers, the format isn't for everyone. We'll be posting a list of summer choices for chapter books and novels for elementary and middle readers. Here are a few non-comic titles to get you and your students started:
- The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate (fictional story of a young naturalist)
- Doyle and Fossey, Science Detectives (see our review)
- Who Was Thomas Alva Edison? (or Albert Einstein, Leonardo da Vinci, Ben Franklin, etc.)
- The Hive Detectives: Chronicle of a Honey Bee Catastrophe
- The Case of the Vanishing Golden Frogs: A Scientific Mystery
- The Magic School Bus series (Who can resist Ms. Frizzle and her science-traveling school bus? Look for chapter book versions for your elementary school readers.)
- Blockhead: The Life of Fibonacci
- Kakapo Rescue: Saving the World's Strangest Parrot or other titles from the Scientists in the Field Series
- Science Fair (a Dave Barry tale that puts a science fair project in the middle of an international espionage plot)
We would love to hear about science-themed titles you and your students enjoy!
- An audio book version of an interesting novel can be perfect for time spent in the car, either on a long trip or just back and forth from camp and other activities
- Titles above may deal with typical (or far-fetched) elementary school or school-age scenarios and themes. Know your readers.
- For a list of science-themed titles for older readers (and adults), see Summer Science Reading.
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- Nick and Tesla Build a Gadget Glove: Science Reading
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