We’ve all heard the saying that a picture is worth a thousand words but when
it comes to chemistry a cartoon is worth ten thousand words and more. The
Cartoon Guide to Chemistry by Larry Gonick and Craig Criddle will have you seeing
complex ideas in chemistry such as ionic, metallic, and covalent bonding in a whole
new way. The authors’ fresh, interesting, and imaginative presentation of elemental
chemistry concepts will make you laugh and enjoy the process of learning like never
before. The illustrations help the reader visualize and understand the
fundamentals and the complexities of chemistry in a way that traditional textbook
formats simply cannot. The humor is catchy and fun and enlivens what can be for
some a very dry and technical topic.
Chemistry enthusiasts will enjoy this book for its unique and intelligent
illustrations and engaging insights on familiar topics. The book begins with a
skillful presentation of the history and study of chemistry. Gonick and Criddle
begin by introducing the reader to the major historical figures in chemistry such
as Democritus, Aristotle, Priestley, Lavoisier, and Mendeleev in a novel and
memorable way. The first chapter will stimulate your prior knowledge by jostling
your neurons into recalling fundamental science concepts and laws such as the law
of conservation of matter and the basics of atoms and elements in a way that will
also stimulate your funny bone. The facts and basics of chemistry come alive with
keen, concise interpretations of historical events. The chapter entitled Matter
Becomes Electric will have you recalling Benjamin Franklin and his contribution to
the discoveries of the properties of electrons in a shockingly clever way. This
chapter will also help you conceptualize the dual nature of electrons and electron
configurations or orbitals. Gonick’s novel and pioneering interpretation of the
periodic table with its looping format clarifies and solidifies the relationship
between the number of columns and the number of valence electrons in a way that
is much easier to comprehend than the traditional format. Chapter three entitled
Togetherness illuminates the topic of chemical bonding with the help of
illustrations of spark plug-like robots and furry troll-like creations. These
characters and their interactions shed new light on the processes of ionic, metallic
and chemical bonding and polarity. Chemical reactions and what to do if you find
yourself stranded on a desert island are covered in depth in chapter four.
Combustion, combination, and decomposition reactions come to life with Gonick’s
renderings and discussion on reactants and reaction products. Balancing equations
and the process of finding coefficients becomes comprehensible with step by step
directions accompanied by tables and practice examples. The book goes on to
cover heat of reaction, states of matter, solutions, reaction rates and equilibrium,
acid basics, chemical thermodynamics, electrochemistry , organic chemistry and
even throws in a bonus section on using logarithms. These topics are covered in a
comprehensive and lighthearted way so that reading it will be a pleasurable
experience. This book is an excellent read that can be used to review prior
knowledge or it can be used to introduce chemistry to beginners.
For me this book changed the way my students and I approached the subject
of chemistry. Gonick and Criddle present the major precepts of chemistry in such a
way that even reluctant learners will give this subject a chance. Last year and the
year before that I was assigned to teach eighth grade physical science to a small
group of reluctant learners. They were great kids but really seemed at first to
have little interest in science. I really began to worry about how I could reach
them and get them excited about what they were learning. When we covered topics
such as atoms, elements, states of matter, the periodic table and the history of
the major contributors to chemistry their eyes would gloss over and they’d
alternatively yawn or fidget.
I knew that they would never understand the
concepts if I continued to present the information with their current textbook. I
was fretting about how awful the year would be if we continued down this path.
Serendipity intervened on almost the same day when I received a small shipment of
The Cartoon Guide to Chemistry. I read the book myself and thoroughly enjoyed
the experience. I then linked material in The Cartoon Guide to the chapters of our
traditional text that we had already covered. The students’ interest was sparked
and we continued our study of chemistry fundamentals from thereon without any
glossy eyed, yawning students. The students even decided to write their own “All
You Need to Know about Chemistry “book.
We devised a system where we would
skim the material in the traditional text and then read the corresponding section in
the Cartoon Guide. We would discuss the illustrations and I would write the main
idea or concept on the board. The students would then copy the concept from the
board and then rewrite it in their own words. The students would then illustrate
the concept in a way that they thought would help people understand what they
were trying to communicate. We continued covering the topic this way with lab
activities correlated to each chapter. When the unit was finished, the students
had a great book that they created themselves. The eighth -graders then shared
their book and what they learned about chemistry with a class of fifth grade
students. Needless to say, these students could no longer be classified as
reluctant learners. In fact, with the help of Gonick and Criddles’ Cartoon Guide to
Chemistry these students became enthusiastic learners and I became one relieved
So, I wholeheartedly recommend this creative book as I am certain that it
will engage you and your students in chemistry in a way that is memorable and
lasting. And although the manner of presentation is light and playful, this book has
all of the substance, relevance, and importance of a traditional chemistry text.
Chemistry beginners will appreciate the cartoon drawings which help to create an
understanding of the ethereal and unseen processes that occur at the atomic level.
Experienced high school and even college level students and instructors will enjoy
it as well for the humorous insights and fresh take on traditional concepts.