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Fleen Book Corner: Don’t Tug On That; You Never Know What It Might Be Attached To

Which is to say, Dr Buckaroo Banzai and Dr Sidney Zweibel are in the house and our topic is The Brain, the latest in the Science Comics series from :01 Books (who kindly sent me a review copy), written by Tory Woollcott and illustrated by Alex Graudins. What, you thought I was going to go with a zombie reference to braaaains or something? You wound me.

Let’s get one sad bit of business out of the way. Because of printing lead times, it was true when the book went to press that, as her bio says, that Woollcott [lived] with her husband, Kean Soo, and her minor internet celebrity dog, Reginald Barkley. Sadly, Barkley died before he could see himself immortalized in at least two cameo appearances in the book, and though Woollcott and Soo are now happy with Oliver Crumbwell, he is missed by all. RIP, Barkley.

Okay, onwards. Requisite reminder that there may be spoilers ahead.

Woollcott and Graudins weave a story of two sisters: Nour, who’s selling cookies for her Girl Scouts/Girl Guides analogue, Woodland Adventure, and who is absolutely ruthless in her pursuit of the Junior Vice President Of Marketing And Sales merit badge. She will see her enemies driven before her in her quest for all the badges! She even lets out a wild, 7-to-9 year old MWAHAHAHAHA recounting her destruction of the upstarts in Troop 12. ALL HAIL AND FEAR NOUR.

And then there’s her much more grounded older sister, Fahama; she’s got better things to do than help her kid sister sell cookies (even if Dad made them, even if they’re delicious), but Nour mentioned that the JVPOSAM merit badge comes with a video game system, and that’s up Fahama’s alley, so she’s in. Then, on page four, she rings the doorbell of a creepy old mansion, a trapdoor opens, and she finds herself the “guest” of a deranged brain-in-a-jar mad scientist who very much wants to remove hers. Her brain, that is.

Dr Cerebrum looks way too handy with the hacksaw, so Fahama borrows a trick from Scheherazade and starts delays her fate. Tell me about brain science! What are the evolutionary structures? What’s with all the wrinkles, and what functions take place in what part of the brain? How do neurons communicate? What about memory, and sensory processing, and executive function, and types of intelligence?

It’s a lot to take in, but Woollcott and Graudins dole it out in easily-digestible, bite-size chunks so that a reasonably motivated kid will retain the details. It helps that Graudins has created characters for the cellular actors in the brain’s activity, which visually relate their function and tie back the narration. Hey, it’s almost like they use several kinds of learning prompts and stimulate different kinds of intelligence in teaching you about learning styles and kinds of intelligence! Pretty sneaky, Sis!

Speaking of Sis, Nour’s a ninja. She tells her parents that she suspects her sister is in deadly danger (from a rival WA troop, naturally) and sets out to rescue her; they humor her game, never knowing what a force of nature they’ve unleashed on an unsuspecting world. She might have the wrong idea about why Fahama needs rescuing, and what dangers exist in the world¹, but when she finds the creepy mansion with the creepy braintaorium in the creepy basement, she’s more than ready to unleash some sister-saving whoopass. Don’t cross Nour, man.

The only thing I’d want from The Brain is the same thing I’d want from most of the Science Comics — pronunciation guides in the text. It’s a bit unreasonable to expect a kid (or even an adult without prior experience in a field) to know how to pronounce diencephalon or inhibatory neurotransmitters. There’s a lot of vocabulary in this one, and an editorial shift would make it easier to keep track of.

Science Comics: The Brain, by Tory Woollcott and Alex Graudins, hits stores everywhere on 16 October. You can give it to anybody you want to make smarter, or possibly give advice on how to destroy all who cross them. (Hail Nour).

Spam of the day:

Gwyneth Paltrow

Nope. This is something about Goop or some idiotic, nonscientific drivel that coincidentally makes her a lot of money. Get bent.

¹ Nour fears no rival troop, but don’t make her deal with clowns.


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