MAD SCIENTIST: If you flattened out the neocortex, it would be about half a meter square, or the size of a newspaper or pizza box.
FAHAMA: That’s both gross and cool!
MAD SCIENTIST: Most things in biology are.
That’s just one of the great exchanges between characters in the latest graphic novel of the science comics series put out by First Second. Tory Woollcott and Alex Graudins have created The Brain. The Ultimate Thinking Machine, which is probably my favorite so far. Partly because I love biology, but also because it is really funny. As I parent, I know that humor is the best way to keep a kid interested in learning, and The Brain delivers constantly. There are so many visual jokes, I was chuckling the entire time I read it. (Also, because when I first read the title I immediately thought of Pinky and The Brain, and had nostalgia feels.)
I know you probably want to hear about the great learning inside these pages like how the authors/illustrators manage to pack in what makes our complex organ works, but, really, I want to write about the jokes. Like when the Mad Scientist is explaining that the brain is part of the nervous system which is made up of the central and peripheral nervous system, and their functions, and the peripheral is made up of the somatic and autonomic nervous system, and their functions, and then the difference between the sympathetic and parasympathetic systems. All of this is shown in graphic detail accompanied by visual gags and comedy bits. My favorite is when the autonomic nervous system is shown as a Star Trek-like ship with the sympathetic system as a Kirk-like figure, always putting situations in red alert, and the parasympathetic system as a Spock-like figure bringing the body back to homeostasis. The visuals are really well done. And it gets the point across.
For many non-fiction books aimed at kids, there is a character that explain everything, a friendly guide. Sometimes there is a tie-in with the subject matter, but not usually their own plot line. In The Brain, there is a pretty hilarious plot happening between bouts of dense biology information. Fahama is the main character with a diabolical younger sister intent on winning a merit badge at all costs. But our main girl gets kidnapped by a Mad Scientist (a brain floating in a jar controlling a robot body) with his zombie butler to cut out Fahama’s brain because it’s so amazing (and they’re lonely). Fahama has to stall the Mad Scientist by asking more and more questions about why the brain is so cool to give her little sister time to come to her rescue.
This graphic novel explores everything from sensory perception to regions of the brain and their functions, neurons and how they work, what intelligence is, and more. The learning is deep, the jokes are constant, and the illustrations are bright and engaging. Altogether a win. Highly recommend The Brain for ages 9 and up.
50% Speaking female characters (woo!)
Diversity: Yes! (The main character and her family have brown skin, and she wears a Muslim headscarf.)
GeekMom received a copy for promotional purposes.