Howtoons: Why Graphic Novels ARE Educational!
I was more than surprised and pleased by the hits and response to my Thanksgiving weekend post about the literary worth of comics and graphic novels or, in the opinion of some thoughtful posters, the lack of it. My take: Whatever it takes to instill a love of reading and learning in children -- a daily newspaper, a Star Wars-themed cereal box, or comics -- is all to the good.
Whilst looking for interesting stuff out of the norm to feed this space, I stumbled across the site for Howtoons, based on a series of two-page stories developed by Joost Bonsen and Saul Griffith with comics artist Nick Dragotta for Make and Craft magazines that show kids how to create cool tools on the cheap and learn about science by experimenting on the world around them. If this sounds like more work and not much fun, you'll be surprised, amused and entertained as I was by this sample story about making a raincoat with a pair of scissors, duct tape and a trash bag, brilliantly told by Dragotta in the film noir style of Frank Miller's Sin City.
An interesting snippet from a recent interview with Griffith in Fortune Small Business explains the origins of Howtoons: When I was in grad school I came across these compelling books published near the turn of the last century with titles like The Boy Mechanic that taught children how to make gliders, and bows and arrows, and all sorts of cool things. But these books are not really transferable to the modern age because their instructions are like, 'Find two eight-foot lengths of straight-grain spruce and four 12-inch strips of leather thong.' Hard to find at Home Depot. So there seemed to be an opportunity for me to find analogous modern materials like soda bottles and bicycle inner tubes and chop sticks and show step-by-step how to build things like the Infamous Marshmallow Gun. The underlying philosophy is that it's critically important in this technological age to teach kids to see the world for what it can be, not for what it is, to have them question why they can't make the world better by experimenting, and to teach them not have a fear of the physical world. That failure is fun, and that the physical world is a really cool computer game if you want it to be.
The popularity of the how-to series inspired the first of what may become a series of Howtoons books, published by HarperCollins this fall. Kids of all ages will find 15 projects that describe "how to set up a workshop, create a marshmallow shooting gun, make ice cream without a freezer, play songs on a turkey baster flute, explore a homemade terrarium, launch a pressure–powered rocket, and more."
As you explore the Howtoons site throughly, you'll smile as I did when you reach the Legends page, featuring cloud like links to Wikipedia listings of geniuses the likes of Tesla, Jack Kirby, Newton, Alex Toth, Edison, Chuck Jones and Jane Goodall.