Hosler, J. (2015). Last of the sandwalkers. New York: First Second.
The last time I went to the library, I may have gotten a little carried away. You see, our local branch has three sections of graphic novels. One section is for juvenile titles, one is for teen and the other adult. Being a huge comic lover, I have a weakness for graphic novels and spent an inordinately large amount of time selecting a rather large stack from the latter two sections.
Being that I have worked with entomologists in the past (that is a scientist who studies insects), I immediately noticed the insect on the cover and figured, if it turned out to be half-way decent I would let my former co-workers know (they have both retired), as they still help educate volunteers and the community. No harm, no foul. Right?
Unfortunately, my lackluster expectations led to this title sitting on my dining room table for 2 renewal cycles, until it made it’s way to the coffee table where my teenager picked it up during the summer break from school, and reported back that it was “good.” Gee. Thanks for the detailed synopsis, kid.
I should have taken that as a sign of its merit. I am constantly recommending books and media to my kid, who promptly tells me “Nah, no thanks,” only to decide a month or two down the road to tell me about about this great new book or media site…the exact same one, but obviously much more enjoyable now that Mom’s recommendation has passed some imaginary statute of limitations. Yes. This is where I am sticking my tongue out at my child.
With this glowing review, I thought, ok, I really should dig deeper into this pile of novels to get them back to the library. I picked it up, arrogantly glanced at the black and white panels, and thought about how the artwork is just as important as the storyline in a graphic novel, and how, to use a Jane Austen paraphrase, it wasn’t handsome enough to tempt me. UGH! I’m kicking myself now.
I got an email notice from the library to return the book, lest the unmentionable happen (therefore I’m NOT mentioning it), and figured, well, the kid said it was good, and if I’m going to assess that statement AND save my library account, I need to read it now. And read it I did.
Yes, the panels are in black and white. Some have a lot going on, which made it difficult for my over-stressed eyes to settle down and take it all in (I think it’s important to note my kid had NO problem with them, so I KNOW it was me). But, by page 3, I had adjusted fine and was starting to see scientific accuracy within the artistic expression . By page 6, the story-line had me dialed in and by the end of the book I was wishing it was a series.
This is a graphic novel about beetles, all sorts of beetles working with, and against each other; about chosen families; adoption; exploration; scientific discovery; treachery; villainy; the fight of science against ignorance; mystery; history; perseverance and science fact! It’s CHOCKED-full of facts about nature, beetle behavior and anatomy, and it’s woven effortlessly into the story-line. It’s absorbed organically, and then for those that want to know more information, there are notations in the back of the book.
Lucy has decided she wants to explore other life outside the oasis, New Coleopolis. She’s been granted a small stipend for her, and her team (Mossy, Raef, and Professor Bombardier), to venture out and record their observations. This might seem like small potatoes, save for the fact that no one has left New Coleopolis for generations, since the original Coleopolis was destroyed, in what citizens were told was the displeasure of a deity they failed to appease. Unfortunately, the government toadie, Professor Owen, has insisted that he tag along to oversee their efforts (IE. boss them around). The part he forgets to mention is his intention to sabotage their mission, dispose of the team and take credit for their findings, presenting his own spin on their meaning…all in a most insidious manner.
Initially, you can tell that Lucy’s team is close, though you never question they are colleagues. Later you learn their interpersonal relationships go much, much deeper. You watch their talents and capabilities emerge, their backstories and their natural traits. Then you find that the rabbit hole goes much, much deeper, in large part due to the actions of the two eldest team members when they were young, and a daring mission to do what was right, versus what they were told.
Add to that a cyborg beetle, heroic rescues, exiled storytellers, gadgets, assassination attempts, intrigue, love and triumph and by the end, you wonder how in the world all of that plot came out of so few words. It’s one of the things I love most about graphic novels…good graphic novels. They tell stories and convey information across multiple receptors, multiple dimensions. Just as written word and verbal storytelling are/were traditional during different periods of time, I see the rise in graphic novels as a 21st century storytelling tradition building out of 20th century roots. It’s a new era of storytelling that combines elements of previously accepted types, and has the ability to reach broader audiences and different types of learners, especially reluctant readers, helping to educate on topics that may be sensitive or complex in ways that allow increased information retention. I’ve been saying that for years!!!
The good news is, this is not the author’s (Jay Hosler) first rodeo! In addition to being a professor and biologist, he makes science comics…on all sorts of subjects! Before this book he wrote a book on bees. He has others on mites, evolution and the eye. And his comics…oh my gosh…his COMICS!!! (if you can’t tell, click on that giant, underlined, contrasting word “comics” (see, I did it again!) to go to his website and see individual science comic strips) Where were these when I was a kid trying to learn basic science concepts?! I mean, I got most of them, but this would have made some of the trickier nuances SO MUCH EASIER to remember, especially in a non-neuro-typical brain!
So what did I do? I ran straight to the entomologist I used to work with and started absolutely gushing over Hosler’s work and she is pretty jazzed to read it. I will admit, the online list I maintain for her, of science books and resources, was definitely on my mind when reading Last of the Sandwalkers, as a great way to encourage kids in elementary, middle school and up, to give science concepts they may have struggled with, one more chance. This work proves that a book can be both fiction and non-fiction at the same time. These novels and comics make science relatable, entertaining and easy to understand and that’s the way that information sharing SHOULD be.
Major kudos to Jay Hosler for the reminder that learning should be fun, joyful, exciting and riveting and for showing us all what kind of a difference a good story makes.