Five Great Graphic Novels for Science
COMICS IN THE CLASSROOM
Comics aren’t just for entertainment and casual reading. As you’ve seen in previous articles on this site, they can also be great teaching tools.
I’m sure we all remember the cartoons that taught us about the process of lawmaking, and can probably still sing at least part of the “I’m just a bill” song from Schoolhouse Rock. That song and its lesson stuck with us much longer than a text-heavy chapter in our Social Studies book.
Schoolhouse Rock also had a science series, and while I don’t remember any catchy songs from those episodes, I know it was a pleasant departure from the normal lesson. Unfortunately, Schoolhouse Rock is now part of the Stone Age (the science shows aired in 1978-1979), but there are hundreds of other options–specifically graphic novels–to take its place.
Kids want to have fun, and comics are great entertainment, so why not weave a bit of education into the story they’re reading? Story-driven science comics are becoming more popular with kids, and the comic format is especially friendly to reluctant readers and kids who would much rather play a video game than read a textbook.
Filled with adventure and compelling graphics, science-based comics explain scientific topics to kids in a way that engages their imagination. Stories, after all, were one of humanity’s original teaching tools.
GRAPHIC NOVELS YOU CAN USE
1. Max Axiom, Super Scientist – Pick a science subject and there’s probably a Max Axiom book that covers it. There are several dozen graphic novels featuring this POC super-scientist (they’re also available in Spanish). Targeted for grades three-nine (but probably best suited to grades four-seven), Max takes the reader to visit experts and often uses his shrinking power to to pull the reader into the microscopic universe. He even has a lab coat that lets him travel through time and space. (I wonder if he’s ever met Dr. Who?) Got a kid who likes the ball field more than the lab? Max also has a few books that venture into the science behind sports. All of the Max Axiom books feature a glossary, extra tidbits about the book’s subject, and links to online resources.
2. Mad Scientist Academy – Aimed at a slightly younger audience than Max Axiom, this is a fun group of graphic novels that follows the misadventures of the bumbling Dr. Cosmic and his wily movie monster students. Dr. Cosmic’s students must try to solve riddles and answer lesson questions while also trying to survive whatever mishap Dr. Cosmic got them into. Young readers will learn along with their monster counterparts, while hoping the characters make it through all right.
3. Science Comics – This series of graphic novels covers a wide range of topics including: dinosaurs, the solar system, dogs, and coral reefs just to name a few. Targeted at fourth grade and higher, these comics are a lot of fun to read. (I checked out the one from my local library on coral reefs because marine biology is a not-so-secret passion of mine. I love the little fish guide!) These graphic novels cover a diverse range of topics as they relate to a specific subject. In many of the books on biological subjects, readers learn about evolution, genetics, biology and the history behind the discoveries of what scientists know about the subject, as well as little known and well known facts. (Fun fact: corals are a symbiotic colony of both plants and animals.)
4. T-minus: The Race to the Moon – Science comics aren’t just limited to subjects you’d find in a typical classroom. There are many, like T-minus, that tell the stories of how things were done. This graphic novel follows a fictional group of scientists in both America and Soviet-era Russia through the real-life events of the space race. While done in a very traditional, newsprint style, the novel does have some asides that provide more information that doesn’t fit well into the narrative. Kids will learn things we never learned in history class. (Did you know that the Soviets’ space capsules were round and the cosmonauts ejected over land instead of landing in the ocean? Neither did I!)
5. Secret Coders – This graphic novel series is targeted at kids who want to learn about coding. Set in a private school, the students must solve mysteries and puzzles using computer code, logic, and sometimes magic. The code they use is laid out and explained every step of the way. For parents and teachers old enough to remember the coding language, Logo, I suggest picking up Secret Coders: Paths and Portals for a trip down memory lane. The Secret Coders website includes additional activities like 3D printing models, puzzles, and computer code kids can play with at home.
SOME DISCUSSIONS TO HAVE
All of these graphic novels and many, many more can be found in your public library’s junior non-fiction section. School libraries have added them to their collections as well, so if you can’t find one, ask your librarian! And of course you can find hundreds of science comics at your favorite online bookstore as well.
But let’s not stop there. There are other ways to bring mainstream comics into your science lesson, especially for older kids.
Traditional comics, and the movies based off of them, often feature mad scientists and super geniuses like Marvel’s Tony Stark (Iron Man) and DC’s Lex Luthor (Superman’s nemesis). Though their inventions are typically larger than life, who wouldn’t want to spend a class discussing why the Iron Man suit could or couldn’t really fly, based on physics and mechanical engineering? (I know I would have enjoyed physics more!) Try talking about thermodynamics in the context of Lex Luthor’s latest freeze-ray, or artificial intelligence (AI) and computer programming using Jarvis–Tony Stark’s AI assistant.
Why stop with super geniuses? How about using Marvel’s Storm (X-Men) to illustrate weather phenomenon, or use the Flash, DC’s super-fast super hero, to talk about friction, velocity, and metabolism.
Of course, such discussions can devolve into how any and all of the superheroes’ powers are impossible, but using them as examples can drive thought-provoking discussions with teens, and keep them engaged through a more in-depth study of the topic at hand.
Numerous studies have shown how comics can encourage reluctant readers to dive into reading. Why not try science comics and the science IN comics to do the same with your reluctant scientists?
For more suggestions and information on science comics, check out the following blog posts:
Buy Max Axiom: http://www.capstonepub.com/library/products/super-cool-mechanical-activities-with-max-axiom/
Buy Mad Scientist Academy: https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/series/MSA/mad-scientist-academy
Buy Science Comics: https://us.macmillan.com/sciencecomicscoralreefs/mariswicks/9781626721456/
Buy T-minus: The Race to the Moon: https://www.amazon.com/T-Minus-Race-Moon-Jim-Ottaviani/dp/1416949607