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Explaining the brain is not for the faint of heart. It seems straightforward enough since, well, we all have one. But once you start stringing words together to describe how the brain functions, what areas are responsible for certain tasks, it quickly becomes evident that there are no simple explanations and that there’s still more unknown about the brain than is known.
Nick Seluk’s new book, The Brain is a Big Deal (Scholastic), explains the organ and it’s importance to young readers. Mixing illustrations with concise explanations, the book balances a light-hearted, humorous approach with the necessity of conveying scientific facts. On top of that, there are enough pop culture references to keep adult readers amused.
SCIENTIFIC INQUIRER: Where did you come of with the idea for The Brain is a Big Deal?
NICK SELUK: I have always been fascinated by the brain and went so far as to study psychology in college. I was especially interested in areas like neuroscience that combined the psychology with the biology of the brain. This led to what eventually would be my comic series Heart and Brain, which is heavily influenced by psychological concepts and relatable subjects. When I had kids I really wanted to find ways to teach them that were fun and interesting, and the brain was the perfect subject to combine my comics with my love of teaching new concepts.
SI: I loved the opening pages with the album covers, especially Unknown Pleasures. Where did that idea come from?
NS: My editors and I had a great meeting where we brainstormed different themes like music, and we all loved the idea of doing album covers. I spent several hours looking at popular album covers, listening to music and creating parodies of some of the most iconic ones. I thought kids would like it, but it’s really nice for parents to have something to laugh about, too.
SI: It’s true that The Brain is a Big Deal, but it’s also true that the brain is very complicated. How did you approach breaking the brain down into digestible bits? How did you prioritize what’s important?
NS: Breaking down something as complicated as the brain was pretty difficult. There are so many complex structures and many debated areas. So the idea was to take the most recent science about the brain but focus primarily on how the brain affects a child directly. Explaining what it does in terms of what we experience day to day, rather than getting too hung up on terminology that they don’t really need to know at this age. Relating things back to my comic characters was very helpful.
SI: Was there anything you wanted to include but ended up not making the cut?
NS: There are always some subjects you have to leave behind, but with the brain being so incredibly complex, I don’t feel we left out anything that would be beneficial for such a young age group.
SI: What was the hardest part about writing and illustrating The Brain is a Big Deal?
NS: The hardest part was definitely distilling the information into something that’s not only comprehensible, but entertaining. I was fortunate to have already created this universe of organ characters, so writing the comics was like second nature. Just fitting it all into the book without overwhelming the reader with information was the tricky part.
SI: How much of The Brain is a Big Deal is an extension of your Awkward Yeti work and the Heart and Brain series?
NS: The Brain is a major extension – the characters are almost entirely the same, and even the comics have a very similar feel. The humor has been lightened a bit for the audience, but otherwise stays pretty true to the Awkward Yeti / Heart and Brain series.
SI: Who are your biggest influences?
NS: As a cartoonist, my biggest influences were Calvin and Hobbes and the Simpsons.
SI: Finally, you’ve done a book about the sun. You’ve also done the brain. Is the heart next? Or maybe even a Blue Yeti?
NS: There are so many great subjects that are “kind of a big deal” and the next one will be about the ocean!
For more of Nick Seluk’s wok, check out the Awkward Yeti.
IMAGE SOURCE: Screenshots/Scholastic Books