Thing Explainer, by Randall Munroe (2015)

Nonfiction
8-13
Thing ExplainerStumped by jargon? Have you ever wished someone would just explain a complex idea using just a few common words? Roboticist turned cartoonist and author Randall Munroe does exactly that in this book of big ideas aimed at kids. He uses a blueprint style to explain “Complicated Stuff in Simple Words,” according to the subtitle. A thousand words, in fact, or as he puts it, ten hundred words. A helicopter is a “Sky boat with turning wings,” and “Tall roads” are bridges. Each idea is explained with simple line drawings, identifying tags with explanations that are often humourous as well as informative. For instance, he describes the trouble-prone wheels on the Mars rover Curiosity (“Red world space car”) in this way: “The rocks on the red world are very pointy, and these wheels have a lot of holes in them. Next time we will make them stronger.” The images are simple and easy to read, though the text is small enough that young readers may need some help.

Excerpt from Hand Computer, or a smartphone

Excerpt from Hand Computer, or a smartphone

Here’s an example of how he explains how a Hand Computer (smartphone) works. There are 60 pages that explain 45 big and small ideas, from batteries (“Power boxes”) and pen and pencil (“Writing sticks”) to the periodic table (“The pieces everything is made of”) and tectonic plates (“Big flat rocks we live on”). The ten-hundred word restriction means the reader is occasionally stumped. It took me a while to figure out the “Big tiny thing hitter” was the large Hadron collider, and I’m not sure kids will understand it any better than I did, but good for Munroe for the effort. Giant fold-out pages offer additional space for bigger ideas like skyscrapers and the sky at night. Along with a glossary of the ten hundred words used in the book, from “a” to “yourself.” No z word. There’s a table of contents that lists each entry by its ten-hundred-word limiter and its real-world identifier, though I skipped over that and took on the challenge of figuring it out myself, which was a lot of fun. Young scientists will clamour for parents to curl up with them on the couch with this book, explaining ideas still further, and they’ll also hide under the covers with a flashlight until those power boxes need charging again. I waited weeks for this to arrive from the library, and I’ll definitely be getting my own copy as well as a couple as gifts for family. Forget the e-book for this one, and don’t try to buy a version for your tablet. This one is best held in the hand.
More discussion and reviews of this book: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/25329850
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About Michelle Mallette
I'm just trying to keep track of the books I've read - what I liked and what isn't worth re-reading. My work as a librarian has included youth services so you'll find a wide range of interests from picture books and teen dystopia to adult sci-fi, road trip novels, and nonfiction. Comments and communication is always welcome.

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