Plagues: The Microscopic Battlefield by Falynn Christine Koch
Plagues: The Microscopic Battlefield (2017) by Falynn Christine Koch is part of the SCIENCE COMICS series, a graphic series of books each of which explores a single scientific topic. In this case, as the title might indicate, it’s plague, but more broadly it’s an examination of how pathogens (bacteria, viruses, fungi, protozoa, parasites) infect and damage the human body, how the body (sometimes with medical help) tries to fight them off, and, to a lesser degree, how such illnesses have affected human history.
Plagues begins a bit roughly. The frame story is an unnecessarily confusing bit involving conversations inside a virtual body (that somehow still gets sick from virtual germs?) between the scientist whose virtual body it is, a T-cell, and two plagues — yellow fever and bubonic plague. The plagues are just as confused as most readers probably will be, but while the frame story still is an obstacle to clarity and fluidity now and then, once it’s mostly left behind the text becomes more expository and straightforward, and thus more clear, with the scientist explaining how medicine has progressed with regard to germs, the T-cell explaining the immune system responses, and the germ explaining how they attack the body and their various types and shapes. The language might at times be a bit much for the very young, but YA will be fine and MG will get either all or the vast majority of what is being said. There’s also a helpful glossary toward the end.
Stylistically, it’s pretty text heavy and, as noted, straightforward. The attempts at conversational tone or humor I didn’t find all that successful (at times I might even call it detrimental), and I wouldn’t call it the most engaging text, but it is certainly informative and, for the most part, clear and logical. In particular I liked the historical bits, as when the virtual simulation becomes a medieval street, for instance, to show how the lack of sanitation aided the pathogens.
The art in Plagues is not particularly aesthetic (of course, these are germs), and in the muddled frame story not very helpful, but similar to the narrative, once the frame is somewhat dropped and the artist is able to broaden the palette so to speak, the artwork becomes more clear and does a nice job of conveying meaning or supplementing the text. The medieval street is one such example. An even better one is the drawing of a medieval plague doctor in a large panel as it’s being explained how their “uniform” actually protected them from the plague, though the doctors themselves thought that to be the case for all the wrong reasons.
I would have preferred a smoother, more clear entry into the exploration of the topic, and it’s too bad that the book somewhat fights against itself in terms of clarity and engagement early on, but if one can get a reader past that point, then Plagues is a nice detailed and informative text to introduce young readers to the topic.