sciencehockeyConnecting complex concepts to a series of visuals doesn’t make those complex concepts easier to understand.

Assuming that graphic novels are “easy” or appropriate for “reluctant readers” is like assuming that a videotaped philosophy lecture with subtitles should be easier to understand than the lecture without subtitles. The medium may have changed slightly; the message has not.

High school physics is one of those complex topics. Sure, the formulas are easy to memorize, but I’m pretty sure it took me at least three weeks to even wrap my head around the idea that a car on cruise control at 65 mph down the highway experiences no acceleration. That same car has a whole lot of momentum but zero force. As students slowly begin to realize these words and the concepts they imply have been ever-present in worlds both visible and invisible to humans. Whether or not we know or care, planetary motion will continue to be regularly irregular, and quantum physics is, well, quantum physics.

That’s what I appreciate about The Science of Sports with Max Axiom series. It attempts to give students a reason to care. Organized into four volumes: basketball, football, baseball, and hockey, these books connect what students are doing in school with what they are doing after school.

Through introducing velocity, force, momentum, torque, and other concepts that are included in most high school physics courses, readers can learn why holding out your hands to catch a ball lessens the ball’s impact (answer: by increasing the time it takes the ball to change speed from moving to still, you decrease its force.) It also briefly explains why two baseball bats with the same weight might have that weight distributed differently.

It’s unfortunate that all of this rich source material is presented so weakly. If Max Axiom counts as a character, it’s only because he talks, and my infant nephew’s bounce-and-play talks as well. He’s only there to talk about physics and coach the faceless teen who is featured in each volume on a sport. There’s not much of a plot to these either: instead of chapters or a clear narrative arc about beating a rival team through knowledge of physics, there are sections based on the athletic techniques introduced (e.g. skating around the rink, fielding).

The artwork here is minimally useful as well: occasionally Max brings out a magic watch or a pair of eyeglasses that will illuminate a graph or a formula for us readers, but otherwise the artwork is simplistic and emphasizes the shading of Max’s muscles more than anything else. Here’s an unfortunate lost opportunity: given that high school physics is already a highly visual academic subject with boxes, arrows, and lowercase letters going every which way, there is a rife opportunity for an artist to take the standard free body diagram and re-make it into something beautiful.

It’s books like these—well-intentioned though they are—that make me yearn for a rock-solid science textbook that introduces complex concepts slowly, gives lots of examples, and allows the reader plenty of practice and reinforcement before moving on to the next concept. Physics alone, if presented the right way, is fascinating. The sports applications can wait.

Science of Baseball with Max Axiom, Super Scientist
by David L. Drefer
Art by Maurizio Campidelli
ISBN: 9781491460870
Capstone Publishing, 2016
Publisher Age Rating: 8-14

Science of Basketball with Max Axiom, Super Scientist
by Nikole Brooks Bethea
Art by Maurizio Campidelli
ISBN: 9781491460887
Capstone Publishing, 2016
Publisher Age Rating: 8-14

Science of Football with Max Axiom, Super Scientist
by Nikole Brooks Bethea
Art by Caio Cacau
ISBN: 9781491460894
Capstone Publishing, 2016
Publisher Age Rating: 8-14

Science of Hockey with Max Axiom, Super Scientist
by Blake Hoena
Art by Caio Cacau
ISBN: 9781491460900
Capstone Publishing, 2016
Publisher Age Rating: 8-14

  • 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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