From fairy-tale archetypes turned into art to the mysteries of the universe and our own emotional landscapes, these books are full of thought-provoking entertainment for teen readers.
Charlie McDonnell’s Fun Science: A Guide to Life, the Universe and Why Science Is So Awesome uses accessible, illustrated examples and plenty of humor to explore why science is the best tool we have for understanding the world around us. The 26-year-old English YouTube sensation starts way out in the cosmos and explains his way down to a single cell, with stops along the way to look at evolution, the atmosphere and the human body. Did I mention how funny it is? From cartoonish illustrations to “editor’s note” blurbs talking back to McDonnell, it’s easy to be carried along by the jokes only to realize several pages in that you’re learning a ton. A science lover will like this, but a lot of readers will become science lovers after starting here.
You most likely know Eden Sher from the ABC comedy “The Middle”; the word “adorkable” may have been coined to describe her character, Sue Heck. Sher has more feelings than she can express without bursting at any given time, so she and illustrator Julia Wertz created The Emotionary: A Dictionary of Words That Don’t Exist for Feelings That Do to make sense of that overload. Words like losstracize (“to reject the support of others in times of grief”) are illustrated with short cartoons that exemplify the unique ways we manage to shoot ourselves in the feet when we’re feeling too much. Are you irredependent (irrationally independent and unable to ask for help)? That tends to end poorly; cartoon Eden won’t accept a hand with a dangerously heavy box and is ultimately squashed so completely her guts fly out like streamers. Her friend deadpans that she’s unlikely to get her deposit back when it’s time to move. It’s simultaneously sweet and laugh-out-loud (in painful recognition) funny.
The Singing Bones collects photos of small sculptures by Shaun Tan and displays them next to excerpts from the Grimm’s fairy tales on which they’re based. Don’t pick it up thinking you’ll be able to put it down when the phone rings, or it’s time for bed, or the house is on fire. These pieces are simple, almost primitive, and perfectly play with the fairy-tale archetypes. “The Companionship of the Cat and Mouse” depicts a large cat with an enormous saucer for a mouth, on which the tiny mouse has been perched, unbeknownst to him, for the entire story. Neil Gaiman contributes a foreword, and there’s an essay by Jack Zipes providing some background on the Brothers Grimm, both of which are helpful. But dive into the artwork and you’ll find creepy, cool, deceptively simple works sure to fire the imagination. It’s perfect for artists, writers and dreamers.
This article was originally published in the December 2016 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.