My fifth grade son is madly in love with the Science Comics series. Each time I get a new book he reads it over and over and over again. I’m super thankful to have the series in my classroom. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a series get kids so excited about expository nonfiction.
I hope you enjoy this interview with the author of Coral Reefs: Cities of the Ocean Maris Wicks.
Why is science awesome?
That’s like asking why is the world awesome…Science is all around us! Want to bake cookies? There’s science involved: measuring, ratios, chemical reactions. Want to ride a bike? More science: simple and complex machines (like gears), force, mass, gravity, friction. Want to go to the playground? Even MORE science: animals, plants, fungi, bacteria all living in the grass, trees, and dirt nearby, different materials that the playground is made of, the weather up in the sky. Science is all about learning about the world around you through observation. You’re doing science most of the time, and you don’t even realize it!
What makes comics a particularly amazing format to tell science nonfiction in?
Go flip through science textbook – you’re going to see more than just words. Illustrations, diagrams, graphs, charts, and tables are found throughout textbooks. Combining words and pictures is a great way to share information and to teach people. Lots of instructions include pictures in addition to words to show you how to do something. Comics takes it one step further: putting together words and pictures, and then stringing them all together into longer stories that can be a fun and effective way to teach science (and other subjects)!
How did you do research to make your book?
I read. A LOT. I went to the library and read every book I could find related to the book I’m working on. I also watched documentaries and educational videos. I talked to scientists. And sometimes, I got to go out into the world and study what I’m researching in real life!
Tell us a little about the process of creating your book!
Every book starts with an idea. From there, I write a summary. It’s just a couple of paragraphs, but it sums up what the book is going to cover (this is helpful for both me and the people who are going to publish the book). Next, I make an outline. While I make this outline, I’m also doing a lot of research – taking notes, sketching, asking lots of questions (questions that I hope the book will be able to answer for readers). After the outline, I make a script. From that script, I draw little tiny versions of the pages of the book, called “thumbnails”. Thumbnails help me see the book as one big story, and it’s like having a first draft or sketch version of the book before I go and make the final art. Once the thumbnails are finished, I pencil each page. Then I ink each page. Then I color each page. And last but not least, I letter each page. All along the way, I have an editor, and they help me make the book the best that it can be. An editor looks over my outline, script, thumbnails, pencils, inks, colors and letters to make sure the book makes sense. (It’s kind of like a teacher looking over your homework or even better, a book report. Except I don’t get graded.)
What’s the coolest thing you learned while you were researching your book?
For Coral Reefs: Cities of the Ocean, I think the coolest thing I learned was how to scuba dive! I had never seen a coral reef up close before; I had only seen them in books, videos, and aquariums. I took a class to learn to scuba dive, and then I went to the Caribbean to dive where there are coral reefs! (There are no tropical coral reefs near my home state of Massachusetts…)
What’s the toughest part of turning science research into a comic?
The toughest part? I think it’s what gets left out. I learned so many amazing things about coral reefs, marine animals, and the ocean, but I couldn’t fit all those amazing things into my book. I think the same goes for all areas of science; the world is full of so many interesting things that it’s impossible to fit them all into one book!
Have you always loved science since you were a kid?
I have! It started with animals: I was fascinated by animals big and small. I’d watch ants work around their anthills, I’d spy on frogs on the edge of a pond, I’d be entertained by birds at the birdfeeder for hours. In elementary school, and up through middle and high school, I gravitated towards science. I liked anything that was hands-on, so it just made sense for me to like science (oh, and art too!).
What do you recommend for kids who want to learn more about science and do more science?
Start with school: Does your school have any science-y clubs or after school programs? Next, look towards your community: Are there organizations that offer classes or workshops? (Your local library, community center, or museums are good places to look.) Is there a BioBlitz coming up soon? (A BioBlitz is a huge nature survey that everyone can do, and lots of them happen throughout the year all over the world.) Science isn’t just about learning a bunch of facts, it’s about experiencing the world. So get out there and have fun!