Monday, February 14, 2011

Science Problem

I have assigned a dream project in Word & Image 2: design-slash-illustrate a pictorial display to accompany an explanation of a scientific concept to young people. I say "dream project" because it combines picture-making with serious visual thinking: from my perspective, fun as can be.

As promised, here's an example. This picture accompanies a text in The Question and Answer Book of Everyday Science, crisply and thoughtfully written by Ruth A. Sonneborn with terrific illustrations by Robert J. Lee. (Random House, 1961.) These things are so smart. Agreeable, clear, well-selected strategies for what to show and what to let the text do.

Here’s the copy:

Where does electricity come from?

Electricity for your house comes to you from a big power station. In the power station there is a huge piece of machinery called a generator. And inside the generator is an electromagnet. This is an iron core with wires which coil around it but do not touch it.

In a circle around the magnet–but also not touching it–there are other coils of wire. Power, usually from steam or falling water, makes the electromagnet whirl rapidly inside the coil. And this produces electricity, electric current in the outer circle of wire.

The electric current flows from the generator into cables that run sometimes underground and sometimes high up on poles. They carry the current everywhere it is needed. A special cable brings it into your house. When you flip a light switch or turn on your television set, you bring the electric current into your room.

Note that Lee does not bother with the electromagnet, which would be too much. He goes for a gestalt view of landscape with stuff in it. He chooses falling water as the power source and shows the power lines above ground. Both of which lend themselves to display. He shows the generator and the house as insets. Judicious use of labels, too.

A related note: for geeky informational pictures with a certain je ne sais quois, check out Mondorama 2000. Kooky-great illustrations from French encyclopedias, circa 1970. The headline for this image is Equipement de protection individuel.


Bill Koeb said...

I love that book! I used to have it. Thanks for bringing back a good memory.

DB Dowd said...

Bill, great to hear from you! I'll try to post a few other things from the book as the project unfolds. I'm extremely fond of books like this from the period. They take their young readers so seriously. No cajoling them into being interested–just the straight scoop, very thoughtfully constructed, both textually and visually.

Anonymous said...

I love that book too, always have. I came across it the other day and started reading it to my 5yo daughter. My copy is in quite good condition and upon opening its covers I recalled the sense of wonder, amazement and adventure that I felt as a curious young boy. Before the time I grew into a cynical nobody.

I just hope my daughter remains curious and inspired.