One of the great and illusive qualities of non-fiction books, regardless of subject matter, is making it entertaining for young readers. Historical fiction is one way to get kids hooked into a subject. However, much like the disclaimer, based on a true story muddies audience’s reaction to a film; the ‘fiction’ element throws a monkey wrench as to how much of the story is actually true. Science Comics from First Second books doesn’t have that issue. Their latest book, Bats-Learning to Fly is 100% entertaining for upper elementary school and up. They’ll laugh, re-read it several times, learn lots of true facts about bats and maybe ask questions about what else they can learn about.
Bats is a mix between a graphic novel and a book. Its content is all graphic novel. The glossy pages to the overlapping panels of art that are different sized will immediately invite readers into its world. The cover is hardback, durable and built to withstand years of backpack trips, vacations to the beach or being checked out of the library hundreds of times.
Parents (and librarians) know that a well intentioned book that’s well made is mute if kids don’t want to read it. Bats does not have that problem. It starts off with brown bat talking to itself while flying over the dessert at night and realizing that it’s lost. There’s a group of nature tourists below who are leaning about the animals of the dessert when they start asking stereotypical questions about bats.
They’re scared, think that the bat will drink their blood and start swatting it away when it approaches their insects that their lamp is attracting. One of the tourists hits the bat’s wings, causing it to crash on the ground. The park ranger knows just what to do as he puts the bat into a paper bag and tells the group that there’s a local veterinarian that can assist.
Our bat wakes up with its wing being bandaged, as a veterinarian, playfully called Super Hands by our bat, wonders if she is really out to help him. Readers learn that bats do not get dizzy and that their strong arteries are one reason why. While bats are hanging upside down they’re not using their wings, so their heart can pump more blood to the rest of its body, to prevent it from getting dizzy. We also meet many other bats, all of whom are different shapes, colors and come from different places.
The book has a nice story narrative about a young girl who is volunteering with the veterinarian. She’s a typical teen, full of questions and feels a little bit like an outsider and not sure what to do with her life. By the end of Bats she’s full of bat trivia and accompanies the vet as they visit a farm to see a swarm of bats start their nightly journey to eat insects.
The art and text in Falynn Koch go with the theme of the book very well. This is education without feeling educational. From its text to art it helps readers understand new concepts about how bats live, eat or be safe so that readers will want to learn-and can do so with ease simply by following along. Science Comics should look into doing a book along these lines for snakes. Many people, myself included, need to learn more about them and this format is just the vehicle to do it.