Capstone continues its nonfiction blend graphic novels with the Nickolas Flux series. I’ve read a lot of these nonfiction blends from various publishers and while they’re generally not award-winning in terms of writing or art, kids love them and they do a good job of educating and entertaining at the same time. This series blends nonfiction (information about historical periods) with fiction (Nickolas Flux’s time travel).
Nickolas Flux has a special ability. Without warning, when he touches an object, he can find himself thrown back in history. Each book opens with two examples: contact with an ice cube in a science lab sends him back to the Titanic, and practicing with a sword flips him into being chased by what appear to be Samurais. Each book ends with “Flux Files,” a set of facts about the historical event featured, a brief glossary, index, and resources for additional reading.
In this review, I am looking at four samples from the series which are by different authors and illustrators. Peril in Pompeii! transports Nick through time when he touches his friend’s volcano experiment. He barely has time to make friends with a few locals and figure out where he is when Vesuvius erupts and he’s desperately fleeing the city to survive. At the last possible moment, he flashes back to his own time. Flight to Freedom! covers a much longer period. A historical exhibit sends Nick back to the 1800s and he gets involved in the Underground Railroad. He’s zapped back barely in time to avoid capture, but did his new friend escape? Surprise Attack! is another story with lightning fast action. Nick barely has time to realize that falling overboard in a pond has sent him back to Pearl Harbor when the attack begins. He helps out as best he can, but will he survive long enough to make it back to his own time? Tracking an Assassin! is another long-term adventure. A prop in a play sends Nick back in time to a pivotal moment at Ford’s Theater and he joins in the hunt for Abraham Lincoln’s assassin, dropping back into his own time just as the action is revving up.
Pompeii and Freedom were illustrated by Mark Simmons and Assassin and Surprise Attack by Amerigo Pinelli. Both have very similar art styles. The art generally has darker earth or sepia tones, since much of the action happens at night. The characters are mostly interchangeable. Nick is identified primarily by his clothing, a green and red shirt with a star, and historical characters by stereotypical clothing, uniforms, or race. Pinelli’s art has slighter finer, more defined lines and Simmons’s tends to be more blocky and expressive.
The stories are short, a page or two of set up, then about 20 pages of historical story, and the concluding framing contemporary plot. Readers won’t get to know Nickolas Flux’s family or friends in contemporary times or much about the lives of the people he meets in historical times. As an adult reader, his casual response to often tragic events is somewhat jarring. The family he meets and stays with in Pompeii along with all the other people are killed—some of them a few feet behind him—and he is transported back to his time with their screams of agony ringing in his ears (ok, one of them yells “ARGH,” but still…) His only comment is to wish that he could have helped those poor people… and then he gets on with helping his friend move.
So these stories are not going to take readers deep into the emotions and lives of historical personages, or even the context of major historical events. But that’s not their purpose. They give readers a quick, exciting glimpse that stirs up interest in finding out more about a particular event, and then leave the reader with some simple tools to learn more.
Although the stories include major disasters, wars, and many characters dying, there’s nothing graphic or frightening about the art or storylines. Nick’s detached responses to the events he witnesses make these appropriate for younger children, who haven’t truly grasped the idea of historical tragedies yet. Fans of the popular I Survived historical fiction series will be thrilled with these. Just be prepared to stock more information about the events described.
Peril in Pompeii! Nickolas Flux and the eruption of Mount Vesuvius
by Nel Yomtov
Art by by Mark Simmons
Tracking an Assassin! Nickolas Flux and the assassination of Abraham Lincoln
by Nel Yomtov
Art by Amerigo Pinelli
Flight to Freedom! Nickolas Flux and the Underground Railroad
by Mari Bolte
Art by Mark Simmons
Surprise Attack! Nickolas Flux and the attack on Pearl Harbor
by Terry Collins
Art by Amerigo Pinelli
Publisher Age Rating: 9-12