Incubators: A graphic history

Even before graphic novels took off, several publishers, notably Lerner and Capstone, featured graphic nonfiction produced in a similar vein to the series nonfiction that most librarians are familiar with. The series nonfiction in graphic format continue to be a staple for nonfiction collections, although there are more literary options, like the Science Comics series.

Lerner’s Graphic Universe imprint produces new series twice a year, in January and August, and they usually pick timely topics. The January 2022 series Medical Breakthroughs is no exception, with titles on vaccines, germs, antibiotics, and more. The particular title we’re looking at today is the history of incubators.

The information is collected briefly in 32 pages with a short framing story showing two White children and a White, male-presenting doctor looking at a miniscule infant in a modern incubator while the doctor explains what incubators are used for. The story then jumps back to the 1870s and the work of two French doctors who. while trying to raise France’s falling birth rates, were inspired by the incubators they saw used with birds’ eggs at the zoo.

The incubators these and other doctors developed were funded by the exhibition of the premature babies, culminating in a semi-permanent exhibit on Coney Island. By the time the exhibit closed in 1943, thousands of babies had been saved and incubators became standard equipment in hospitals. Incubators continued to be improved, with interest and funding reviving after the death of President Kennedy’s premature son and culminating in the invention of a rechargeable and affordable incubator called the Embrace Nest that would be accessible to all people, especially in developing countries. The story ends with a return to the premature infant at the beginning, now a healthy toddler with their older siblings and parents.

The artwork is not memorable, but it is neatly done, with carefully drawn images of the various machines, and people shown in the appropriate period clothing as the story moves through time. All but a few people in the background and some nurses are depicted as White, which is a drawback, as one of the points of Couney’s work (the doctor who established the “Infantorium” at Coney Island) was the acceptance of infants of all backgrounds in sharp contrast to the eugenics movement. Most panels show the doctors and occasional nurses moving through bland scenery and exchanging a few remarks while the narrative is carried on in descriptive paragraphs. The appeal to readers who want the story told primarily through art is limited, since, as in most series nonfiction graphic novels, the narrative is told primarily in prose or through multiple “talking heads.” There is enough detail in the art to show the change in time periods, from the 1870s to 2008, and some additional information is provided through the pictures, like a nurse feeding a premature infant through their nose or the doctors explaining what they are doing to spectators and anxious parents.

One title is listed as a source, and there is also a glossary, index, and brief list of information to explore further.

The length of these titles naturally limits the amount of information that can be included and these titles tend to be brief introductions, which will hopefully engage interest in exploring topics further. Like most series nonfiction, they are available only in paperback or expensive library binding, which can be prohibitive for smaller budgets. If you have to watch your pennies it can be difficult to justify an extensive outlay on nonfiction that may quickly become dated. However, this series primarily covers historical events and so should have a longer shelf-life. With an ever-increasing number of struggling readers as well as graphic novel fans, Medical Breakthroughs should be a solid purchase for most school and public libraries and a good choice to interest young readers in history and science.

Incubators: A Graphic History
By Paige Polinsky
Art by Josep Rural
Lerner Graphic Universe, 2022
ISBN: 9781541581517

Publisher Age Rating: grades 3-6
Series ISBNs and Order

NFNT Age Recommendation: Middle Grade (7-11)
Character Representation: French, German

Maker Comics: Build a Robot!

Maker Comics: Build a RobotRobots are all around us, from our vacuums to our phones, so who wouldn’t want to try their hand at making their own? Maker Comics: Build a Robot! guides readers on how to do just that. Readers will finish ready to help the robots in their upcoming revolution against the humans!  

A possibly evil toaster oven named Toaster 2 is the book’s narrator. He’s been watching your family for a while and he’s decided to make you his sidekick in his quest for household domination. In order for that to happen, you will have to go on an intense trip around your house, fending off the forces of evil that also happen to be your family members and pets by constructing your own robots to throw them off your trail. 

Throughout the course of the book, readers learn how to make five different types of robots: a Brushbot, Artbot, Scarebot, Noisybot, and Carbot. Each bot’s creation grows on the skills learned from the previous bot. In addition to the full sized robots, one of the funnier portions of the book includes instructions for a more basic STEM craft called Kitty Distracty Throwies, perfect for, you guessed it, distracting any house cats who might get in your way. 

The cover of Maker Comics: Build a Robot! describes the book as the Ultimate DIY Guide and it does not disappoint. It is clear that author Colleen AF Venable understands the audience she is writing for. Much of the book is full of multi-page instructions, many of which are very word heavy. No piece of information is left out, to ensure that building is done safely and readers understand all that goes into robotics. There are lengthy word bubbles on the Arduino programming language, something readers will learn the basics of as they build the more complicated projects towards the end of the book. 

There are a few pages of what are essentially programming language screenshots and instruction pages on different physical materials required to complete the projects. This book is for readers looking for an intense, thoroughly detailed guide on making robots that they can use in their daily lives. At points, it even reads like a how to guide, as opposed to a graphic novel, so it fully lives up to the Maker Comics title! 

Kathryn Hudson’s art is colorful and very cartoonish, with lots of running jokes about the household where the book is set. Toaster 2’s facial expressions match his dialogue, even as he’s explaining complex topics, reminding readers you are still in fact reading a graphic novel. The artwork for the robot guides themselves is detailed and a great component for visual learners. A book with so many instructions could potentially be repetitive but the vibrancy of the art keeps the reader engaged. 

One important thing to note when considering this title is that in order to follow its instructions, you will need to purchase much more than the book itself. The robots in the book have many working parts, some of which must be purchased in advance online. Venable is sure to include where to purchase these items in the text. Expect and prepare for additional costs with this book. 

The book ends not with Toaster 2’s domination but steps on starting your own robotics club, giving the reader something to consider if they’ve enjoyed all their building so far. Maker Comics: Build a Robot! is recommended for the shelves of readers looking to learn the basics of robotics. While its targeted age range is middle grade readers, there’s a lot of crossover appeal here. Future robotics buffs of all ages will find something worthwhile in this book.

Maker Comics: Build a Robot!
By Colleen AF Venable
Art by  Kathryn Hudson
Macmillan First Second, 2021
ISBN: 9781250152169

NFNT Age Recommendation: Middle Grade (7-11), Older Teen (16-18), Teen (13-16), Tween (10-13)