The Secret Science Alliance and the Copycat Crook
By Eleanor Davis
Inked by Drew Weing
Colored by Joey Weiser
Ages 9 and up
On shelves September 1st.
Finished copy from fellow librarian.
You know a book’s gotta be good when the first thought that enters your brain after reading it is, “I bet this took the author YEARS and YEARS to finish!" If you’re reading a novel then it’s probably a good bet you thought that because the story is long and convoluted. But if you think it about a graphic novel, there’s really only one reason for that. It must be heavily detailed, complicated, well written, and intense. Meet The Secret Science Alliance and the Copycat Crook then. A little book that, at the outset, didn’t interest me much. The cover failed to lure me in and the title was meh all over. It really wasn’t until my boss handed it to me to read that I decided to give it a go and see whether it was worth checking out. I’m so glad he did too since this is one of the most eye-popping, ambitious, intelligent graphic novels for kids I’ve seen in a long time. And I can guarantee you that it’s like nothing your children have ever seen before.
When Julian Calendar starts school in a new town he is determined to fit in. No longer shall he be unceremoniously dumped into garbage cans for the crime of being a nerd. No! Julian is determined to hide his intelligence and smarts for as long as it takes to fit in. His plans, as it happens, are thwarted when two of his classmates (a girl and a jock) discover his secret and let him in on one of their own. Unbeknownst to the population at large, these kids are science geniuses. With Julian as their third they begin “The Secret Science Alliance”. But dark machinations are afoot. When their Invention Notebook is purloined and a local scientist of questionable morality takes credit for their inventions, they are determined to get their property back. In doing so, however, they find that the villain plans to rob the local museum for an item of inestimable cost. Will they be able to stop him in time? Stay tuned, faithful readers.
Since I grew up with comics I’ve always been a little baffled by adults who tell me that they never “learned to read” comics. There’s something about the sequential art that throws them for a loop. They have problems integrating the words and the images in their brains (thereby giving lie to the assumption that comics are less sophisticated than literature and art merely because they combine the two formats). Anyway, I always thought this was a pretty silly thing to say. Reading The Secret Science Alliance, however, suddenly I understand that perspective. It’s a logical series of sequences, but Davis is playing with some incredibly sophisticated paneling here. Open up to the first page and you’ll see what I mean. The book begins with a four part cause and effect sequence where the arrows containing the “before” sections lead you to see the “after” effects. The first three lead to the right and the last one leads downward. And amazingly enough, on this single page you learn everything you need to know about the character of Julian. Now kids with a love of comics will be able to figure all this out on their own, but it will take some effort on their part. Davis is making you work for her storyline and she’s basically warning you of the complexity right from the start.
And speaking of complex, I don’t think I’ve ever encountered a graphic novel for kids this chock full of tiny details. Some of them I’m pretty sure are in-jokes (Julian reads a paper that declares an Ann, E, and Leta as being the number one family in town) but others are there for the noticing (as when Julian is discovered to be excessively intelligent and behind his head the seal of “Operation Act Ordinary” appears with a large “Failed” sticker on top of it). Every single page is just teeming with the tiniest elements (love The Great Kablovsky Skiffle sheet music, by the way). Do you think Ms. Davis would get offended if I called her the Chris Ware of children’s literature? Like Ware, Davis has a fine appreciation for a neat cutaway. Her crisp clean lines are indicative of Ware too (though she is diametrically opposed to him in terms of cheeriness). To be fair, let’s just say that Eleanor Davis is the literary lovechild of Chris Ware and British artist Peter Cross (with maybe a touch of Jill Barklem for spice).
And can I tell you how much I love a book where a brilliant character does badly in school and it’s because he’s not good at tests? Davis takes her time thwacking preconceptions over the head when she has a notion to do so. Sure, Julian is pretty much your stereotypical nerd. But Ben is a jock who also happens to be brilliant, though his poor testing convinces him that he’s actually dumb. And Greta may appear to be a dangerous maniac at first (Julian’s words, not mine) but she’s also brilliant and willing to take risks (and not wear pink unless she’s in disguise).
Interestingly enough, the book this comic bears the closest resemblance too is a similarly strange concoction that has never been replicated. Got kids inspired to make their own inventions after reading The Secret Science Alliance? I think it’s time you handed them Howtoons, a book that uses comics to show kids how to create everything from marshmallow guns to tiny ecosystems. Pair the two books together and you’ve a miniature Edison in the making. Heck, throw in Sir John Hargrave’s Mischief Maker’s Manual while you’re at it, since Davis is particularly good at working in innovative pranks when she has half a mind to do so. But really, this book isn’t like anything else out there. I’ve had a hard time reviewing it because every time I pick it up I start poring over the pages, finding new things to see and additional things to read. I don’t know what else Ms. Davis has up her sleeve, but if she doesn’t kill herself with overwork, I hope we can look forward to more books in this series soon. This is the kind of title that rewards the reader over and over again. Kids’ll get their money’s worth.
On shelves now.
Other Blog Reviews:
- Does this woman’s name strike you as particularly familiar? That may have something to do with the fact that she won herself a little old Geisel Honor as well as a The Russ Manning Most Promising Newcomer Award for her easy reading TOON book Stinky not too long ago.