14 Magnolia RoadWith Human Body Theater, Maris Wicks has invented an entirely new genre: the science slapstick. Wicks’s work is jam-packed with information for a curious science novice: she covers cells and atoms within a few panels to make way for the real fun of learning about the systems of the body and the functions that keep us alive.

While anatomical illustrations are aplenty, this book has a lot of characters, too. Anything bigger than a hydrogen atom appears to have a face and a distinctive personality. There are the lungs that belt out “Sure thang!” in unison and the armpit hair that announces its presence during puberty with a “Heeeeeyyyy.” Oxygen molecules sit on red blood cells and travel through arteries like lovers sliding down a lazy river on a raft. A small intestine recently relieved of constipation looks as peaceful as a yogi.

It’s clear that Wicks has asked herself the kinds of questions kids want answers to. When she drew a water molecule as an oxygen atom proudly holding up two hydrogen atoms on each of its shoulders as if giving piggyback rides, she decided that oxygen molecule wasn’t resentful of the additional burden and secretly longing for its other oxygen pair. If I remember high school chemistry correctly, this characterization plays itself out in the science, as both oxygen molecules and water molecules are fairly hard to break apart.

However, I also wish Wicks took the opportunity to ask even more questions that went beyond a high school anatomy textbook and had the patience for a curious if wandering mind. Which brings me to my bigger question about this work: where should it be shelved in a classroom library? Its sense of humor makes me think middle school, but its brisk pace through complex anatomical senses with only occasional rest stops make me think that this is a high school level treatment of a topic sheathed in the form of a middle school-ish graphic novel.

Human Body Theater
by Maris Wicks
ISBN: 9781596439290
First Second, 2015
Publisher Age Rating: 8-12

  • Amy Estersohn

    | She/Her Past Reviewer

    Amy Estersohn is a seventh grade English teacher at Hommocks Middle School in Larchmont, NY and the inheritor of a large classroom library. She has always been struck by the ability of graphic novels to convey a story that transcends written language alone. That story can be for developing readers, such as the time a five-year-old saw her reading Akira on the subway and snuggled next to her, insisting he “read” along, or it can be for proficient readers who want to explore a topic in more emotional depth, such as Don Brown’s depiction of a post-Katrina New Orleans in Drowned City. She holds a BA from the University of Chicago and an MA from Columbia University’s Teachers College.

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