Julian is sick of being a loser, tired of getting bullied, fed up with rejection. So when his parents announce that they’re moving to a new town, he decides that the time is right for a makeover: from nerd to normal. Unfortunately, it’s hard to hide who you really are inside, but fortunately for Julian, there are two people at his school who like him for his nerdness. Together the three of them form…The Secret Science Alliance!
The Secret Science Alliance and the Copycat Crook
Ages: 8-12, Grades 3-6
Bloomsbury, September 2009
ISBN 978-1-59990-142-8(hc), 978-1-5990-396-5(pb)
160 pages, $18.99(hc)/$10.99(pb)
I was thrilled when a copy of Davis’ new full-length graphic novel appeared in my mailbox. I loved Davis’ work on Stinky (Toon Books, GCFK review here) and was excited to see what she’d do with a longer format. I was even more excited after reading the first adventure of the Secret Science Alliance and discovering that Davis’ talent can’t be hidden any more than Julian’s nerd qualities can.
Davis starts off with three characters who are rather archetypal: the nerd (Julian), the wisecracking genius (Greta), and the popular jock (Ben). Ordinarily I would want characters who were a little less stereotypical, but Davis makes them perfect stand-ins for kids that her readers will see in their school. She also gives them depth–Greta has lost her mother, Ben cannot see his own intelligence, and Julian, who seems the least pulled together, turns out to be the most stable and also a terrific prankster. Their smarts complement each other and even though the ideas that they come up with are far-fetched for middle school students, readers will still find a lot of enjoyment in their Saturday-morning-cartoon creations.
There is a lot going on in this volume. After the introduction of the characters and the formation of the Secret Science Alliance, there is the inevitable interference of a bad guy, who steals from our heroes and forces them to concoct a daring plot to foil his nefarious schemes. The almost old-fashioned level of adventure is refreshing and comforting. This is obviously the beginning of a series, as some elements–such as how Greta and Ben first discovered each others’ love of inventing and the history of Professor Kablovsky, the inventor the kids look up to–are not discussed much, but their absence merely feels like they’ve been left for a later work, not as if they’ve been forgotten completely.
Davis’ art, which was simple and colorful in Stinky, is complex and colorful here. Using a palette of "autumn colors" keeps the book from looking too young for the intended audience. Each panel is jammed full of background details, encouraging readers to stop and admire. But even with the many elements on each page, the pages are easy to follow. This is probably because Davis uses her panels fluidly, not limiting herself to the square or the rectangle and feeling free to overlap where needed. The reader’s eye flows smoothly from one element to the next. Unfortunately the chapter divisions are not always clearly marked, making finding a stopping place tricky for readers who don’t want to read the entire book in one sitting.
Davis’ newest title is a terrific addition to comic collections in elementary schools and middle schools. Readers, especially those who don’t always feel like they fit in, will appreciate Julian’s struggles for a "normal" life. Pair this with Capstone Press’ Graphic Science series featuring super scientist Max Axiom and Nick Dragotta’s HowToons comics about inventing and you may kick off a science and invention craze at your school or library!
This review is based on a complimentary copy supplied by the publisher. All images copyright © Bloomsbury.