Human Body Theater by Maris Wicks is an extremely thorough comic book introduction to the inside of the body. The young reader who ventures into this book will learn not only about the skeleton and the skin, he or she will read about the individual bones, about the interior of cells (When was the last time you thought about the Golgi body?), and about muscles and muscle groups, and the circulatory system: In short, the entire body is broken down bit by bit and discussed in detail. The introduction gets right down to the atomic level and takes a look at the most common atoms. There is even a pie chart to give the relative proportions of different atoms in the human body. It is not the last such chart in the book, either.
All of this is presented by a gregarious skeleton who demonstrates the point, adding and subtracting parts as needed: The skeletal system is introduced by a bare skeleton, the muscular system shows it covered with muscles, the digestive system adds the various organs used in digestion, and so on. In addition, Wicks illustrate each part discussed. The speaker in each section provides lively patter, and there are puns along the way. The book is not for the faint of heart. When Wicks writes about something, she writes about it thoroughly, and that means that the section on the digestive system includes the mechanics of farts and causes of diarrhea. There is no way that this is not going to come up in conversation, probably at the dinner table.
The illustrations range from the mostly realistic when specific items like are introduced to the whimsically and memorably personified. The bones of the hand are drawn realistically and with labels, while the endoplasmic reticulum, maker of proteins, is knitting . Oxygen atoms show up frequently as a pair of round, smiley creatures holding hands. Similarly, the skeleton presenter is a fairly cartoonish fellow, but when it comes time to look at the spine, the illustrations are much more realistic. The balance works well, giving both a close look and an aid to memory.
Human Body Theater is a book that can be read many ways and many times. At one time, the child (or adult) reader may look through it quickly, at another, he or she may examine the details of the skeleton or the circulatory system (Quick, what’s the iliac artery?) closely, trying out all the names. It is a book meant for multiple readings. It is recommended for the curious and thoughtful child or for the adult who wants an accessible look at what’s going on inside. It may also prove a comforting gift for a child who has broken a bone or gotten sick; Wicks explains some of what the doctor is likely to do and how the body heals as well as how it works when well.