These two recent titles by Jennifer Swanson both deal with similar subjects - the science of space - but in different ways. Dr. E's Super Stellar Solar System addresses the science of space through the lens of geology. Dr. Ehlmann is a planetary geologist. In her alter ego of Dr. E, a cartoon, faux-superhero, she takes readers through the study of geology and how it applies to space, from space rocks to weather, to following water patterns. The nonfiction sections, with photographs and more realistic information, is interspersed with short comic sections starring Dr. E and her robot Rover as they explore the universe. In addition to National Geographic's familiar layout - lots of panels with extra information, graphics, photographs, etc., there are also activities and science experiments included. This is part of the "Science Superheroes" series, which previously included Dirtmeister's Nitty Gritty Planet Earth. There is a huge amount of information packed into this book, and readers will learn about famous scientists, the parallels between outer space and earth, from volcanoes to storms, as well as the cutting-edge technology used to study space. Back matter includes a glossary, index, credits, and more resources.
The second book takes a more serious approach. Astro-naut/Aqua-naut compares the world of undersea research with outer space research, coming up with many interesting parallels. Readers will meet astronauts who study below the ocean with aquanauts, since in many ways conditions are similar to deep space. Each section connects the work done in the two different environments, for example, one section introduces the layers - first "going up" through the troposphere, stratosphere, mesosphere, etc. and then going down through the zones, epipelagic, mesopelagic, etc. The similarities and differences in blasting off and diving are shown, and the living conditions and challenges of a space or underwater habitat. Along the way there are activities, interviews with scientists, experiments, and historical tidbits.
While the first title feels geared towards a younger audience, especially with the cutesy cartoons, it's actually quite advanced, containing fairly dense text and a lot of mathematical and scientific vocabulary. In contrast, the second title felt more mature and for an older audience, but in some ways also felt simpler and more accessible. My own preference was for the second title; I've found that most of my readers aren't really interested in "fake" superheroes and the comic portions were a little too goofy. However, readers who are interested in space science are likely to enjoy both these titles.
Verdict: Dr. E's Super Stellar Solar System is an additional purchase if you have a lot of interest in geology, space, and younger readers with high reading levels. Astro-naut/Aqua-naut, with it's accessible language, wealth of photographs and information, and carefully planned layout, is a must for your science section and would make a great choice for any number of school projects as well.
Dr. E's Super Stellar Solar System
Published January 2018 by National Geographic; Review copies provided by the publisher; Donated to the library