Human Body Theater: A Non-Fiction Revue, the new graphic novel by Maris Wicks is a fantastic way to learn a vast amount of information in a very fun format. Wicks is the illustrator of one of my favorite non-fiction graphic novels, Primates: The Fearless Science of Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey and Birute Galdikas, written by Jim Ottaviani. In eleven acts, a skeleton takes readers through the main systems of the body, beginning with the skeletal system and working up at the excretory system just before intermission. After that, five more systems are visited, from the endocrine system to the reproductive, immune and nervous systems, ending with the five senses. And, as you can see, Wicks's illustrations are fantastic. Crisp and clear, with a bright color palette and images outlined in black, Human Body Theater is a treat to look at that you will find yourself poring over.
After a quick introduction to the hardworking stage hands, the cells, bones then muscles are explored. I'll be honest, I have vague memories of learning about the human body in my high school biology class and it was largely uninteresting and forgettable. However, Wicks's illustrations and presentation are so inviting that I genuinely enjoyed my trip through the human body! I guess giving faces and smiles to things like a cytoplasm, a Gogli body and atoms is just entertaining enough to keep my attention. To illustrate how the heart and the lungs work together to supply the body with oxygen, Wicks brings two, pink oxygen molecules in tutus on stage to dance readers through the process.
The Blood Bus takes readers through the cardiovascular system and a peanut butter and banana sandwich explains carbohydrates then, with a note of glee exclaims, "But what's really exciting is that I'm going to get eaten!" The scene ends with the natural conclusion. There is a splash in the toilet on stage and the skeleton thanking the sandwich for an "informative performance." There are also brief forays into heartburn, constipation and the fact that stomach aches, constipation, vomiting and diarrhea can be caused by the brain and the benefits of relaxing and removing stress for the whole body.
Human Body Theater very tactfully covers the reproductive system, starting with the endocrine system and hormones. Wicks very tactfully uses descriptions rather than depictions for this scene. While there is a sperm and an egg with faces that talk, along with anatomical images of the sex organs, many readers might not even realize what they are looking at. Menstruation and erections are covered along with other changes that puberty brings, like body odor, pimples, hair growth, voice changing and breast development. The scene ends with pregnancy, birth and infancy. After a romp through the five senses, the skeleton ends the show by putting on some skin, then quickly stepping behind the curtain for some clothes.
In an excellent move, Wicks includes a glossary, with the ASL sign for each letter starting off each section, then a bibliography and suggested reading section!
Besides being a first rate author and illustrator and graphic novelist, Maris Wicks has a background in oceanography and education, having worked at the New England Aquarium where she taught children about marine science. This month she can be found on the R/V Atlantis doing research for the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. This all makes perfect sense because Wicks's next graphic novel, coming later this month, can be seen below!
Source: Review Copy