Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Science Fun With Maris Wicks

Anyone who thinks science is boring has never met Maris Wicks. A self-described "gigantic nerd," Maris combines science and comics in a way that makes things like marine science just irresistible reading, even for those who think they aren't interested in science. Maris also is a fabulous presenter, which is not surprising given her years putting on programs for kids as an educator with the New England Aquarium.

Maris recently visited my library during a book tour for her newest science comic, Coral Reefs: Cities of the Ocean. In the book, Maris uses a gobie fish narrator to engagingly teach readers things like that fact that a coral actually is an animal, not a plant. The bright colors, clean lines, and cartoon style of Maris' illustrations, plus the text's ever-present humor, make it incredibly fun to learn all the information she presents. Maris herself is full of energetic high spirits, as she demonstrated as she taught us a dance about the water cycle. Her enthusiasm for science is both inspiring and contagious.

In our library program, Maris also talked her first two books, Primates: The Fearless Science of Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, and Birute Galdikas, and Human Body Theater. In giving us a glimpse into the basic biology highlighted in Human Body Theater, Maris taught us another dance and song, which had these words: "Eating up the Co2222222, and farting out the oxy...gen....." Of course, the kids loved it.

Maris then did a bit of live drawing, asking kids for some of their favorite denizens of the deep and then drawing them on the spot. Things got wild as she drew a narwhal -- which has at least one and sometimes two horns that are actually teeth-- coming face-to-face with a unicorn.

The kids got so excited by it all that they also wanted to do some drawing, and we quickly supplied them with pencils and paper.

The program concluded with Maris not just signing books but drawing a personalized illustration in each one. This took time, but kids were more than willing to wait, and in fact, they really loved watching her draw.

Creating science comics and making presentations about them seems to be a perfect mix for Maris, who majored in illustration at the Rhode Island School of Design before embarking on her career as a science educator. Over the years that she worked in education, Maris continued to draw and create comics, both for the Aquarium, and for places like Spongebob Comics, Marvel Comics, and DC Comics. Her work caught the eye of the folks at First Second Books, the renowned graphic novel imprint of Macmillan, who chose her to illustrate Primates, which was written by Jim Ottaviani. That launched her career in a big way, as Ottaviani is well-known for his graphic novels on science and scientists. These days, Maris focuses full-time on creating science comics -- and giving wonderfully fun and inspiring presentations.

Maris drew Jane Goodall riding a whale shark for Alison Morris.

END NOTES: Thanks to Maris Wicks for opening my eyes to how fun science can be! Thanks to publicist extraordinaire Gina Gagliano of First Second Books/Macmillan, for working out all the program details and sending a review copy of Coral Reefs. Thanks also to Politics & Prose for booking Maris at my library. Thanks to Maurice Belanger for taking such great photos, and to Alison Morris for her great tweets about the event.

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