by Maris Wicks
First Second, 2015
Graphic novel, nonfiction, informational
Interest level: 6-8
Reading level: 5.7
5 out of 5 stars
I absolutely loved reading Human Body Theater: a nonfiction revue by Maris Wicks. The text and illustrations are engaging and fun, while at the same time packing a huge amount of facts and interesting information into a very accessible graphic novel. Formatted as if the reader is watching a stage production, the skeleton emcee tackles 10 systems of the body, as well as the 5 senses. The descriptions and illustrations provide just enough detail to inform, yet are simple enough to be grasped by middle school readers without being offensive or disturbing. I especially love the positive message that Wicks conveys when she repeatedly assures the reader that body functions that we consider embarrassing are actually perfectly natural and that everyone does or has them, such as farts. She also provides related information, such as a sign language alphabet when discussing hearing impairment, or ways to relieve a headache when discussing the brain.
I definitely feel this book should be a part of every middle school and high school library collection. While primarily targeting middle school, this book is great for high school hi/lo reading needs, as well as providing a straightforward explanation that is understandable in ways that textbooks sometimes are not.
I was reading the book with an eye for its inclusion in an elementary school library. There is so much in this book that I can see being a benefit to readers in an elementary school. Our fifth grade does a study on the human body and I believe a text like this would make a great supplemental reading to help students understand the different systems. My only concern is Act 8: the reproductive system.
Wicks provides information on male and female reproductive organs and does an amazing job walking the line between detailing the parts of both organs while also keeping the illustrations abstract enough that they might not have meaning for younger children. Human Body Theater is definitely a book intended for a middle school audience, but I saw discussions on Twitter that indicated reviewers of the book had children as young as six and seven who love the book.
The following journals have reviewed the book and recommend it for different audience levels:
Booklist: grades 5-8
Kirkus Reviews: ages 12-14
Publisher Weekly: ages 10-14
School Library Journal: grades 4-8
I have often recommended books for elementary library collections when reviewers recommend them for grades 5-8. The fact that School Library Journal even lowers the grade to 4th is another factor that would make me feel this book would be appropriate in elementary school.
However, I also searched my school district, as well as two neighboring school districts and found that no elementary schools have Human Body Theater in their collections. Until I can do further research and talk to some teachers in my school, I would have to say that I would highly recommend this book for middle and high school libraries.