Science Comics: Plagues-The Microscopic Battlefield, by Falynn Koch, (Aug. 20017, :01First Second), $12.99, ISBN: 9781626727526
Recommended for readers 8-12
The latest issue of Science Comics introduces readers to Bubonic Plague and Yellow Fever – no, really, they’re characters in this volume – a white blood cell, and a scientist charged with studying pathogens via simulation in order to “recruit” them to help fight disease. Kids learn how the body trains white blood cells – leukocytes – to fight infection and will meet the different kinds of leukocytes on the job. We also get a closer look at different germ classifications, bacteria, viruses, and fungi: it’s a biology class in the form of a graphic novel. We learn about scientists who studied germs, meet a black plague victim (yikes), and see the evolution of disease prevention from medieval times to the present.
Science Comics have been a valuable addition to my nonfiction collections since First Second introduced the series. They’re comprehensive, breaking a wealth of detailed information into readable, digestible panels. The art never disappoints, blending fun artwork like germs with personalities and detailed cross-sections and diagrams of cells, and historical representation. A fictional narrative wraps around the nonfiction information, creating a comfortable reading and learning environment for voracious and reluctant readers alike. A brief glossary provides definitions for terms that appear throughout the book, and there is a timeline outlining milestones in the fight against disease. Footnotes provide further reading for those interested in learning more.
I’m a big proponent of comics in the classroom, and books like Science Comics are why. There’s solid, scientific information presented in a way that never talks down to readers, yet manages to make complex subjects accessible to kids and adults alike. I learn something new every time I pick up a Science Comic.
Author Falynn Koch also wrote the Bats Science Comic. You can read her blog, see more of her illustration, and see a calendar of her appearances at her website.
Tabula Rasa, by Kristen Lippert-Martin (Sept. 2014, Egmont USA), $16.99, ISBN: 9781606845189
Recommended for ages 14+
A teenage girl undergoes a procedure in a hospital. She doesn’t know who she is, has no memories, doesn’t even know what she looks like, but she’s pretty sure the soldiers who just attacked the hospital are after her. Someone has slipped her three pills and instructions, and she’s pretty sure she’s recovering her memories – is she a murderer? A vigilante?
Sarah – she knows that’s her name – was part of a Tabula Rasa (Latin for “blank slate”) program that medically and surgically wiped the memories from teenage delinquents considered beyond help, but as Sarah’s memories return, the story goes far deeper than that. There’s someone in the hospital who knows Sarah’s real story, and wants her dead. With the help of a computer hacker and a group of soldiers – themselves, a botched test group – she may be able to put together the pieces of the puzzle before her time runs out.
Tabula Rasa is a tense, fast-paced story that teens will like. There’s a touch of Bourne Identity here, and a mystery buried under layers of narrative, slowly peeled away until the truth is revealed. While the “big bad” in this is a bit of an over-the-top villain, it was a book that kept me committed. The idea of a society rehabbing anyone, let alone teens, by wiping them clean, is downright horrifying and can be fodder for a great book group talk. Dystopian fans, espionage/thriller readers, and Divergent fans will enjoy this one.
Kristen Lippert-Martin’s author page links to her social media, and blog, provides information about Tabula Rasa, and promises some extras in the near future.
The Vault of Dreamers, by Caragh M. O’Brien, (Roaring Brook Press, Sept. 2014). $17.99, ISBN: 9781596439382
Recommended for ages 14+
In a not-too distant future, environmental upheaval and economic collapse have left many Americans in poverty. For creative teens who want a way out, the Forge School is the answer. A school for the most creative minds, and a reality show all at once, The Forge School/The Forge Show accepts students and keeps 50 out of 100 based on their “blip rate” – how many viewers watch their feed. After making it past the first cut, students’ popularity allows them banner ad income that they can receive, upon graduation, along with opportunities for success. Rosie Sinclair, aspiring filmmaker, is a student at the Forge School, and has discovered that the school has some big secrets. What is going on while the students sleep?
Vault of Dreamers is one of those books that takes a few chapters to build as O’Brien builds a solid story. We learn about Rosie’s background and the backgrounds of other students; we see family dynamics come into play, and we understand the motivation for many of these students to take part in a reality show that not only films you everywhere but the bathroom and shower, but a school that distributes sleeping pills to the student body on a nightly basis to assure that they will have a full 12 hours of sleep for maximum creativity. By the time the story kicks into high gear, we see what Rosie risks in order to learn Forge’s secrets: she’s putting her future and the future of her family on the line.
By the time we understand all of this, the story goes white-knuckle, non-stop. Is Rosie an unreliable narrator? Who can we trust? The reader is just as thrown off as Rosie is, and the need to know what was going on consumed me. The reality show setting will click with teens who have grown up with reality TV and popularity based on “likes” and approval ratings.
The ending nicely sets up a sequel, and even as a standalone work, offers a conclusion that will fuel some great discussions. You may howl in frustration, but you’ll be waiting for the next installment of this series.
The Vault of Dreamers will be published on September 16, but you can pre-order it from Amazon now.