Sunday, April 9, 2017

Book Review of Science Comics: Flying Machines: How the Wright Brothers Soared by Alison Wilgus and Molly Brooks

The latest installment of Science Comics, a series of non-fiction graphic novels catering to an MG reading level and audience, is Flying Machines: How the Wright Brothers Soared by Alison Wilgus and Molly Brooks. If you aren't familiar with the Science Comic series from :01, each volume features a full, information-packed narrative explanation of the titular concept, which has been reviewed by an expert in the field. After the guided tour, which reminded me of a more in-depth lesson from Miss Frizzle herself (win!), and is tailored to readers ages nine and up, the book also includes a section of notes and a bibliography for readers whose interest hasn't been quelled by just this one volume and who would like to learn more about the topic at hand.

In this volume, author Alison Wilgus introduces readers to a historical figure they may never have heard of: Orville and Wilbur Wright's younger sister Katharine. Just like many little siblings, Katharine took a great interest in the exciting project her big brothers were involved with, and was their biggest champion along the way. She was an interesting choice to serve as a narrator for the story, because many readers of Flying Machines have no doubt either been the little sibling who watched from the sidelines, or had such a brother or sister. Also, it is surprising to note that she was so integral to the Wright brothers' development of their flying machine, but that, without having read this book, I never would've heard of her. Katharine really humanized the narrative, adding in colorful commentary and emotion, and keeping Flying Machines from being simply a list of historical dates and facts. It was an effective storytelling choice, for sure!  One of my favorite parts of the book was the mini biography of Katharine Wright included near the end.

I also appreciated that Flying Machines incorporated a depiction of the race to invent a flying machine. Many kids (including me) probably grew up with the belief that the Wright brothers were the only ones working on such an invention, so I think it is important to note that, actually, several other parties were toying with similar ideas at the time. It was fun to see how they fed off of each other's concepts, and how one person's obstacles might lead to another inventor's breakthrough.

Molly Brooks' illustrations really won the day. Her drawings of planes (and other mechanisms) in flight really captured the motion of each one, so they came alive from the page. Reading Flying Machines was kind of like watching a Miyazaki film, due to her lively and imaginative drawings. I also loved the colors she selected for the settings and clothing of her characters--the warm brown and gold tones and cool blues really added to the story and set the time period in my mind. Brooks' depictions of Orville and Wilbur made them stand out in my imagination, whereas when I'd read about them previously, the brothers were somewhat interchangeable. Her characterization of Katharine was endearing and kept me interested even in parts of the story where the narrative lagged where it was held down a bit by lots of technical detail.

Coming out on May 23rd, teachers, parents, and aviation fans alike will be thrilled by this detailed, educational graphic novel history of the origins of heavier-than-air flying machines. You can preorder it now. If that isn't enough, previous titles in the series cover coral reefs, dinosaurs, volcanoes, and bats. (I really wish I'd gotten my hands on the one about dinosaurs, myself, as anyone who knows me knows my love of dinos is deep and profound!) I can really see these books being useful for science teachers or homeschool parents to build lesson plans (especially with the bibliography, glossary, and notes inclusions at the end of the texts), or as wonderful gifts for curious scientifically-minded young readers to learn independently, because of the lively dialogue and colorful illustrations. But, even as someone who isn't particularly interested in flight, and who read the book as an adult, the strong partnership of Wilgus' writing and Brooks' illustrations kept me hooked until the very last page. Highly recommended!