Have a kid who wonders about how the universe works? Want them to know a quick history of a scientific subject while learning about where the future will take us? First Second’s series Science Comics is the perfect graphic novel for the kid in your life. The most recent, Robots and Drones, covers the science of robotics from the days of ancient Greece and its automatons to modern drones and robotics used by the military and in our homes.
Along with its adorable automaton narrator, Pouli, children are taken on a journey through time to learn about machines, computers, and robots. From the start, the book does an excellent job explaining the criteria for something to be considered a robot, describing how sensing its environment and reacting is key to robotics. The short explorations of ancient machines, known as automatons, and their simple operations allow children to get an idea for how machines have been built and perfected across the centuries. Examples include machinations from Persia, Japan, and ancient Greece.
A key point to understanding robots in a real sense is knowing not only their capabilities, but also their limitations. Kids, along with Pouli, find that robots are very good at simple, repetitive tasks, while humans are needed for more complex and creative ones. My 8-year-old tore through the comic, fascinated by the connections to the first automatons – he found the story of the weighted water fountain hilarious – and the exploration of drones in particular.
I, on the other hand, love that author Mairghread Scott included a cameo by Isaac Asimov to explain his Three Laws of Robotics and that artist Jacob Chabot made sure to diversify the race and gender of the kids portrayed throughout the book. I am a huge believer in kids being able to see themselves in not only comics, but also in important career fields.
Any student who picks up this book will learn everything they could possibly want to know about robots and drones, including repeating, ad nauseum, the list of “25 Robots You Should Know” included in the back. The factoids are fun and clever, taking readers on a journey from the first use of the word “robot” – in a play called Rossum’s Universe – to the companion robot Jibo, still currently in production. As all the books in this series have, Robots and Drones delivers the goods with a dose of humor and whimsy that is perfect for the STEAM-obsessed elementary or middle school student while also having enough good info packed in its pages to enlighten the adults as well.