Wednesday, April 8, 2015

STEM Starts Here by Librarian Donald LeBlanc

STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. These books by David Macaulay engage young readers and adults with the foundations of STEM.
David Macaulay has been writing and drawing award winning books since 1973. 

Cathedral was his first book displaying his signature drawing style and historical text on building. Cathedral won a Caldecott Award, the first of many prizes Macaulay has acquired. A detailed history of the construction of a cathedral is described in line drawing and explanatory text. The process is explained from the cutting of trees for forms to the digging of the foundation. Descriptions of the laborer’s duties and skills are outlined. Construction of cranes to move the building materials around are described and illustrated. The design is explained in terms of engineering in how the loads are distributed and dissipated to produce a stable structure. The pictures are unique in style which captures your attention and the scale allows the drawings to dominate over the text.

Pyramid , another early work is another pre-primer for the engineer. Tools and the necessity of them to complete the task are again explained. The laborers’ tasks and responsibilities are explained and illustrated. The geometry of the design and how it was implemented is described and illustrated. The physical building process is illustrated in some detail again in a method that grabs the reader’s attention and brings credence to the old saying that a picture is worth a thousand words. The necessity of planning at several levels becomes apparent to the reader. The book is a work of genius in displaying the engineering arts by drawing rather than text.  Pyramid came out a few years after Cathedral.

In 1983 David Macaulay went wordy. Mill brought a quantum leap to his subjects in that the structure he describes has a revolutionary addition – moving parts. The added complexity required more text to explain the operation of the structure despite the exceptional illustrations. Moving parts usually require a means to control or regulate them and these mechanisms are introduced, explained and illustrated. As in all his books the historical environment is there, but more as back ground to explain the value of the structure in economic terms. Physics, economics, history, material science, statics, dynamics, all at grade school level, are delivered in a manner which invites curiosity rather than an unachievable challenge.

Mr. Macaulay was trained as an architect at New England College of Design. His connection to STEM is through math and engineering. A smattering of each is presented in his works. The lure of creating a unique building or structure as portrayed in his work is his inspiration and access to STEM. Check these books out and see if you or your kids have caught the bug.

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