A well-researched, idealistic tribute.

THE CHALLENGER DISASTER

TRAGEDY IN THE SKIES

From the History Comics series

In the distant future, a diverse classroom spends a day giving presentations about the tragic and still relevant accident of the space shuttle Challenger.

It’s “Challenger Day” on the fictional Space Station Sagan, exactly 400 years after Challenger’s 1986 explosion. The kids on Sagan, drawn with cartoon-style big heads and wide-eyed expressions, sound like today’s middle schoolers but use holo-pads and virtual reality instead of paper and projectors. Fatima, who is brown-skinned and wears a hijab, presents first, showing labeled diagrams of the shuttle and its flight path. The presentation assumes knowledge of aerospace terms such as propellant and thrust; classmate Chris, also dark-skinned, might be speaking for many readers when he exclaims, “I feel like you gotta be some sort of rocket scientist to understand all this!” He then introduces the class to holographic projections of the Challenger crew, who cheerfully—and quite eerily—explain their backgrounds and give the 24th-century kids a chance to decry racism as “hatred” that no longer exists. Next, the teacher, who presents White, goes over the events of the launch in the most straightforward, evocative, and beautifully designed and illustrated part of the book. Max, a White-presenting student, describes the investigation into the accident, lionizing Richard Feynman without mentioning his sexism. Carmen, who has light-brown skin, waxes lyrical about space and other pioneers who faced “setbacks” but “kept going.” The facts are there, seen through rosy lenses.

A well-researched, idealistic tribute. (introduction, afterword, additional facts) (Graphic nonfiction. 9-12)

Pub Date: Oct. 27, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-17429-1

Page Count: 128

Publisher: First Second

Review Posted Online: Sept. 1, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2020

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Contentwise, an arbitrary assortment…but sure to draw fans of comics, of science, or of both.

FLASH FACTS

Flash, Batman, and other characters from the DC Comics universe tackle supervillains and STEM-related topics and sometimes, both.

Credited to 20 writers and illustrators in various combinations, the 10 episodes invite readers to tag along as Mera and Aquaman visit oceanic zones from epipelagic to hadalpelagic; Supergirl helps a young scholar pick a science-project topic by taking her on a tour of the solar system; and Swamp Thing lends Poison Ivy a hand to describe how DNA works (later joining Swamp Kid to scuttle a climate-altering scheme by Arcane). In other episodes, various costumed creations explain the ins and outs of diverse large- and small-scale phenomena, including electricity, atomic structure, forensic techniques, 3-D printing, and the lactate threshold. Presumably on the supposition that the characters will be more familiar to readers than the science, the minilectures tend to start from simple basics, but the figures are mostly both redrawn to look more childlike than in the comics and identified only in passing. Drawing styles and page designs differ from chapter to chapter but not enough to interrupt overall visual unity and flow—and the cast is sufficiently diverse to include roles for superheroes (and villains) of color like Cyborg, Kid Flash, and the Latina Green Lantern, Jessica Cruz. Appended lists of websites and science-based YouTube channels, plus instructions for homespun activities related to each episode, point inspired STEM-winders toward further discoveries.

Contentwise, an arbitrary assortment…but sure to draw fans of comics, of science, or of both. (Graphic nonfiction. 9-12)

Pub Date: Feb. 2, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-77950-382-4

Page Count: 160

Publisher: DC

Review Posted Online: Jan. 13, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2021

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Like oil itself, this is a book that needs to be handled with special care.

OIL

In 1977, the oil carrier Exxon Valdez spilled 11 million gallons of oil into a formerly pristine Alaskan ocean inlet, killing millions of birds, animals, and fish. Despite a cleanup, crude oil is still there.

The Winters foretold the destructive powers of the atomic bomb allusively in The Secret Project (2017), leaving the actuality to the backmatter. They make no such accommodations to young audiences in this disturbing book. From the dark front cover, on which oily blobs conceal a seabird, to the rescuer’s sad face on the back, the mother-son team emphasizes the disaster. A relatively easy-to-read and poetically heightened text introduces the situation. Oil is pumped from the Earth “all day long, all night long, / day after day, year after year” in “what had been unspoiled land, home to Native people // and thousands of caribou.” The scale of extraction is huge: There’s “a giant pipeline” leading to “enormous ships.” Then, crash. Rivers of oil gush out over three full-bleed wordless pages. Subsequent scenes show rocks, seabirds, and sea otters covered with oil. Finally, 30 years later, animals have returned to a cheerful scene. “But if you lift a rock… // oil / seeps / up.” For an adult reader, this is heartbreaking. How much more difficult might this be for an animal-loving child?

Like oil itself, this is a book that needs to be handled with special care. (author’s note, further reading) (Informational picture book. 9-12)

Pub Date: March 31, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5344-3077-8

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Beach Lane/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Nov. 24, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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