First Second started publishing Science Comics in the spring of 2016 and teachers, students, librarians, and critics alike have been enjoying them ever since. I reviewed one of the first volumes, Dinosaurs by MK Reed and Joe Flood, and have now gotten to the point where I am replacing the earlier and most popular titles (dinosaurs and sharks, if you’re wondering) with new copies.

Science Comics stand out even in the relatively small world of graphic nonfiction with their focus on science, blend of humor and fact, well-researched information, and attractive art. I generally skim through them as they arrive, then put them right into the waiting hands of kids, but when the latest title, Crows: Genius Birds, arrived, I had to take it home to peruse myself.

Like many, I am fascinated by corvids, these unique, intelligent birds, and nothing excites me more than the occasional flock of crows visiting my small backyard. I loved Crow Smarts by Pamela Turner, and was excited to see what Science Comics could do with these smart, playful, and clever birds.

Vanderklugt uses a framing device similar to a previous volume by Falynn Koch, Bats: Learning to Fly, where a member of the species informs other animals about their biology and abilities. After an introduction by wildlife science professor John Marzluff, the story opens with a small flock of crows planning a raid on the dog food. A smart-aleck crow, with a wicked glint in their eye, leads the sweet but dopey dog away on an adventure while the crow’s comrades raid the dog food. Buddy, the dog, cheerfully follows the crow and they investigate garbage cans, visit the park, and enjoy the day together, all while the nameless crow tells Buddy just what’s so special about crows. Readers, along with Buddy, learn how crows’ brains work, their ability to create and use tools, their flock structure, history, and current research.

The art showing Buddy and the crow together focuses on the two characters with small glimpses of their setting. Buddy’s facial expressions are mostly limited to confusion, while the crow shows arrogance, humor, intelligence, amusement, and even sometimes regret as they reflect on their species’ strengths and weaknesses. Interposed between the storylines are illustrations of the crow’s points, shown in slightly more sepia-toned colors, that give the feel of an old-fashioned documentary.

Back matter includes a glossary, cartoon series answering common questions like what to do if you find a baby crow on the ground, and a bibliography.

Science Comics are a must-have for school and public libraries, and this latest title is no exception. Hand it to kids who love science, birds, or research and those reluctant to tackle nonfiction but who enjoy comics.

Crows: Genius Birds
By Kyla Vanderklugt
Art by Wharton
ISBN: 9781626728035
First Second, 2020

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NFNT Age Recommendation: Middle Grade (7-11), Tween (10-13)

  • Jennifer

    | She/Her Youth Services Librarian, Matheson Memorial Library


    Jennifer Wharton is the Youth Services Librarian at Matheson Memorial Library in Elkhorn, Wisconsin where she maintains the juvenile and young adult graphic novel collections and was responsible for creating the library’s adult graphic novel collection. She is constantly looking for great new comics for kids and teens and new ways to incorporate graphic storytelling in programming. Jennifer blogs for preschool through middle grade at JeanLittleLibrary and has an MLS from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

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