V O L U M E I , N U M B E R 8 • O C T O B E R 2 0 0 8
In this issue
For a list of books mentioned in this issue, see link below.
Masthead art © by William Steig, used with permission of Pippin Properties, Inc.
After revealing The Way Things Work (as well as the innards of cathedrals, castles, mosques, and motels), MacArthur fellow David Macaulay examines “the most remarkable thing we learn to take for granted” in The Way We Work: Getting to Know the Amazing Human Body. Written by Macaulay with Richard Walker and illustrated with hundreds of drawings and (frequently funny) diagrams, the book is a fantastic voyage into the biological particulars of the human condition for middle school, high school, and adult readers.
1. In creating The Way We Work, what was the most interesting fact you discovered about the human body?
There’s so much to discover. You can start by looking at the entire body and then zoom in to a particular part — the arm, perhaps — then in further to a finger, then in through the skin to the bones and muscles and then into bones, muscles, or skin to see the cells and then into the cells to see the molecules and then into the molecules to see the atoms of the elements of which we are made and then . . . You can get as close to the human body as you want and you'll never run out of things to look at.
2. What was the most difficult concept to convey graphically?
The most difficult thing to convey about the body is its density. Everything is jammed up against everything else. There are no empty spaces. My illustrations, on the other hand, are filled with white space so that the particular piece of information I'm trying to get across is clear and in focus. In a way, this is a disservice to the physical complexity of the body, but it’s essential in order to keep from overwhelming the reader.
There are a number of places in the book where I had to fall back on diagrams instead of more dramatic three-dimensional-looking drawings because there was so much to convey on a particular page that it was necessary to reduce it to a simple graphic language.
3. How do you decide where and when a drawing is needed to convey an idea?
Sometimes a subject is so complicated that showing it in addition to describing it is essential. At other times, the subject is so visually interesting or impressive that you want readers to really appreciate it. This might mean putting readers inside the subject or on its surface or simply showing the subject from an unusual point of view. The goal, in any case, is to get readers to care about the subject, to be curious about it. Once I've won them over, they are more willing (if they are anything like me) to read the text.
4. What did drawing buildings teach you about drawing people (and the other way 'round)?
The key to drawing buildings, people, or anything else, for that matter, is forcing yourself to see beneath the surface. It's hard to make a successful drawing of either a building or a body without understanding what is going on inside them. What holds them up? How do they move? What are they made of?
5. I can't decide if having, in your words, "up to a hundred trillion" cells makes us simple or complicated. What do you think?
Both. We are complicated because lots of things are going on at the same time in and between each of the systems our cells have built and upon which we depend. But on the other hand, each and every cell operates by following certain standard “rules.” It's only when a cell is prevented from playing nicely with all the other cells or decides not to that we have a problem.
Most elementary school–aged kids will be too young for Macaulay’s introduction to human physiology, but they still want to know about the way they work. The titles below offer some easy-to-digest information.
Your Skin Holds You In by Becky Baines is anatomical science for the very young. A brief, simple text runs across the top of each brightly colored page, giving basic facts in cheerful rhyme (“Your skin grows as you sleep. / It is three layers deep”), with additional information for the adult reader-along in smaller print. Photographs of kids and grownups of different ethnicities populate the exuberant double-page spreads. (5–8 years)
“How would it be to have no teeth?” Not much fun, says Edward Miller in The Tooth Book: A Guide to Healthy Teeth and Gums, before going on to show young readers the importance of oral hygiene. Bold, funny digital art illustrates tooth trivia and features how-to diagrams plus lots of toothy grins. Websites are included; beware of one about the tooth fairy that lets the cat out of the bag. (4–8 years) Alexandra Siy and Dennis Kunkel’s Sneeze! contains photomicrographs reproduced in vibrant colors on black backgrounds alongside black-and-white photographs of children. The first half of the book focuses on sneeze-inducers (pollen, pepper, dust), while the second half delves into the science of the automatic sneeze reflex. (7–10 years)
For a more in-depth approach, you can’t go wrong with Seymour Simon’s books about different body systems including Guts: Our Digestive System, The Brain: Our Nervous System, and The Heart: Our Circulatory System, all featuring Simon’s perfectly chosen, strikingly vivid photographic images. (5–8 years) In his latest book, The Human Body, Simon shows how these systems work together. (7–10 years)
This Halloween season, there’s no shortage of spooky stories for your grade-school readers. For starters, check out the latest Babymouse book by Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm. Monster Mash, the ninth cheery graphic novel in the series, trades the books’ usual pink-and-black color scheme for a seasonal orange and black as Babymouse struggles to make the right decision: be something scary for Halloween (what she wants to do), or something pretty (class queen Felicia Furrypaw’s decree). You don’t need to be familiar with the rest of the books to jump right in to this one — but you may want to go back and enjoy the others once you’ve finished it. (6–10 years)
Talking fish and werewolves and pirates, oh my! Chris Mould’s new series, Something Wickedly Weird, is a perfect blend of the creepy and the witty. Eleven-year-old Stanley Buggles inherits an estate in the island village of Crampton Rock but then has to defend it from a werewolf (The Wooden Mile) and pirates (The Icy Hand). With detailed illustrations and a playfully solemn tone, this new series offers plenty of action and just the right amount of humor to balance the danger. As Stanley accurately says, “There’s never a dull moment here, is there?” (8–12 years)
Is your middle-grader a science buff? Take a look at Donna Jackson’s Phenomena: Secrets of the Senses. The book examines sensory phenomena (like dreams and amputees’ phantom limbs) and extrasensory phenomena (like haunted-house chills and psychic prediction) and explains the proven and posited scientific underpinnings of both with equal deliberation and curiosity. Kids will enjoy being in the know as Jackson carefully debunks the myths surrounding how we perceive the world. (8–12 years)
And for older readers, don’t forget Neil Gaiman’s new novel, The Graveyard Book. The tale of an orphaned infant raised by kindly ghosts, it has all the chills you could hope for in a ghost story — and all the twists you expect from Gaiman. (12 years and up)
—Claire E. Gross
Young adult chick-lit offers plenty of fairy-tale dreams come true, but for teens who like their realistic fiction a bit more, well, realistic, here are some recent titles to consider.
In The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks, author E. Lockhart brings readers to a tradition-bound boarding school, shows them a girl defying everyone’s expectations, and does so with a fresh voice. Part case study, part snarkfest, the novel relates how Frankie masterminds a series of pranks ostensibly instigated by the Loyal Order of the Basset Hounds, a fraternity so secret that Frankie is not supposed to know anything about its existence, much less its doings. Alabaster Preparatory Academy — and Frankie — will never be the same.
As Sarah Dessen’s Lock and Key opens, Ruby has been abandoned by her unstable mother — again. This time Ruby is sent to live with her long-estranged sister, Cora, who with her husband offers Ruby the possibility of a comfortable, even affluent, life. Far from a Cinderella story, Dessen’s novel shows Ruby struggling against feeling dependent on others, until she learns that others depend on her just as much.
Alice McKinley’s friends know they can depend on her, and so can readers. Phyllis Reynolds Naylor continues her frank and funny series with Almost Alice. In between the Sadie Hawkins Day dance and the prom with Patrick — yup, Patrick’s back — Alice speaks out for gay rights, keeps a buddy with leukemia in the loop, and contends with another friend's unexpected pregnancy. It’s clear that Alice and her gang have grown up — almost. (All 12 years and up)
Every classic children’s book has a wealth of history behind it: who wrote it, who published it, and how it claimed a spot in the literary landscape. The following books of interest to adults relate some of the stories that shaped the books your children read.
The world of children’s book publishing has been called a bunny-eat-bunny world, but it’s certainly had its share of drama. In Minders of Make-Believe: Idealists, Entrepreneurs, and the Shaping of American Children’s Literature, Leonard S. Marcus offers an enlightening survey of how children’s books came of age in this country, with insightful portraits of such legends as picture book author Margaret Wise Brown, Harper editor Ursula Nordstrom, and Dr. Seuss.
Contemporary artists are the focus of Dilys Evans’s Show & Tell: Exploring the Fine Art of Children’s Book Illustration, which looks closely at the work of twelve picture-book creators, including Trina Schart Hyman, Brian Selznick, and Lane Smith. Evans has the best eye in the business and knows how to share what she sees.
You might think that being named National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature would have finally made a man out of the incorrigible Jon Scieszka, but nope. In Knucklehead: Tall Tales & Mostly True Stories About Growing Up Scieszka, he channels his own boyhood, complete with five brothers and two very patient parents, with immediacy, honesty, and hilarity. Knucklehead is published for kids, but their parents should get a bang out of it, too, especially those who enjoyed Bill Bryson’s memoir, The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid.
I’d like to give a nod to our neighbor Reach Out and Read, now in its nineteenth year of bringing children and books together. Reach Out and Read champions the employment of books and reading as an essential part of pediatric care for young children, training doctors and nurses to promote reading with their patients and providing books and volunteer readers at healthcare centers. The program is offered at nearly four thousand hospitals, doctors’ offices, and clinics nationwide, serving more than 3.3 million children each year. It needs your “gently used” books, your reading-aloud skills, and your support. Visit their website to find a participating healthcare center near you.
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