Manga Guide to the Universe

Explore our solar system, the Milky Way, and faraway galaxies with your intrepid heroines, Gloria, Kanna, and Yamane, in The Manga Guide To The Universe. Together, you’ll search out the universe’s greatest mysteries: dark matter, cosmic expansion, and the big bang itself. As you rocket across the night sky, you’ll learn about modern astrophysics and astronomy, as well as the classical findings and theories on which they’re built. You’ll even learn why some scientists believe finding extraterrestrial life is inevitable!

By Kenji Ishikawa
Publisher: No Starch Press
Age Rating: Teen
Genre: Educational
Price: $19.95
Rating: ★★★★★

I have been fascinated by space and all things astronomical since I was small. I watch obsessively all the shows about the universe on the Science Channel and Discovery Channel. So, I was really excited when I got the chance to read this book. And I wasn’t disappointed. It’s filled with a lot of great information about stars, galaxies, and the history of their study, and it’s done is a fun and engaging manner.

The Manga Guide To The Universe starts with Kanna and Yamane rehearsing for the drama club’s play for the Arts Festival. If the club doesn’t put on a play they could be disbanded. Enter Gloria, an exchange student and Japanophile, who wants to join the club. With just three of them, they decide to adapt the fairytale of Kaguya-hime, where instead of coming from the Moon, she comes from outer space. But to do the adaptation properly, they go to Kanna’s brother, who is in college studying astronomy. He in turn, takes them to Professor Sanuki, his instructor who explains to them not only the working of the universe, but also dispels several misconceptions about it.

Using the story of Kaguya-hime was a great hook for the book. With its science-fiction elements, it’s very easy to incorporate into a discussion of the universe. It’s introduction is used to look at primitive cosmologies, one of the first topics. The book explores early astronomers and their evolving views of the universe, and moves through the solar system, to our galaxy, to other galaxy and to finally discuss the universe itself; its mysteries, its beginnings, and its possible end. All through the title, references are made back to Kaguya-hime such as to discuss the viability of life existing in our solar system and even out into the universe. The references to her not only keep the text from becoming dry, it also keeps it tied into the manga portion of the book.

The book also uses other methods to keep the text fresh and interesting. The text portions are written in a conversational tone, and doesn’t assume any pre-knowledge of the material. It also uses one of the characters, Kanna, to state mistaken things that seem obvious, and then  explains them properly, such as the way it appears the sun goes around the earth and not visa verse. Some of the text is presented as a dialog between the characters with floating heads and text balloons, and there are a lot of figures to help explain the concepts. This is especially helpful when it gets to the shape of the universe.

I really enjoyed reading this book. The manga portion fit in perfectly with the instruction, and neither felt intrusive on the other. The art has a very cartoonish feel, and followed several manga conventions, such as the big eyes, (especially Gloria’s!), but it worked well. The material is presented in such a straight forward and uncomplicated manner that I could see this title being used in middle school and high school classrooms. The universe is a fascinating place, that inspires awe and wonder. And while The Manga Guide to the Universe does its best to explain it all, it never loses that wonder.

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