Throughout the month of December, AiPT! is spotlighting science-based books and activities for kids. Today, biochemist Mark Buckeldee looks at CheMystery, the educational graphic novel!
CheMystery, written by C. A. Preece and illustrated by Josh Reynolds, aims to educate the reader about chemistry in a way that will be fun for its teenage audience. The book focuses on a teenage super hero narrative, infusing the story with lots of chemistry facts and concepts. It’s often tough to balance a book so that it is both entertaining and educational. So is CheMystery a successful compound of facts and fun, or is it an imbalanced mixture?
As this is an educational story, lets look at the science first. CheMystery covers lots of different concepts and the artwork includes lots of diagrams and examples to go along with the science. The subjects start with basic chemistry concepts like compounds, mixtures and emulsification, before moving on into topics like atomic models, nuclear energy and electrons. I like how the first chapter had some experiments such as making paint or baking bread, and it would be nice to have had more of these in the book.
The diagrams and images used to highlight the science are generally very good and clear, the best being our developing understanding of the structure of atoms. That said, some diagrams do need a bit more explanation, as it feels like they ran out of space to properly explain the ones in the main story. My other main suggestion regarding the science would be to have focused on a specific subject in each chapter.
After the story, the book includes “CheMystery Lab Reports,” which expand on the included concepts. These really help to offset the lack of detail that inevitably happens when you balance facts, characters and plot. They’re clearly laid out and are a great addition to the book. Overall, the science is a good balance of covering multiple areas without going into too much depth.
Of course, this is also a story. I will admit that I am not a massive fan of the overall plot, which I feel is a fairly generic super hero story. That said, I appreciate that it helps provide a narrative that the scientific concepts can be applied to, and it’s successful in that regard. I feel this is a book of two halves: The first half, Chapter 1, is a story that looks at the science of the everyday with fun, experimental ideas. I actually think that this concept has a lot of legs and would definitely recommend a series of books based around the concept and style of Chapter 1.
The second half, Chapter 2 and onward, veers more into the super hero part of the story. While this is the more entertaining and ambitious storyline, I also feel that it is a little rushed and confusing at times. It may appeal more to the target audience and it does help the story explore the science at the atomic level. The ending leaves room for a follow-up and I feel that would be better, as it would be free of the shackles of establishing an origin and the characters.
The art style works well with the subject matter. While the character designs aren’t the most detailed, Reynolds’ expressions help the story and are a real strong point. I love how the electromagnetic spectrum and atomic particles are illustrated, and the only real negative would be that some of the diagrams on the latter pages look a little rushed. I also appreciate the Top Gear reference that was snuck in there.
In summary, I feel like CheMystery is a mixture of two different books, and while the mixture is good and achieves its goals, I think that the project would be more successful if separated out. This is a good first attempt that covers multiple aspects of chemistry and shows how much it influences the ordinary (and the extraordinary). A follow-up should find it easier to balance the story elements but I do wonder what areas of chemistry it would cover.
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