Friday, January 4, 2013

"A Teacher Every Day"

David Macaulay in his studio.
David Macaulay teaches with every book he writes. He imparts information like a student who can't wait to share what he's learned. That's why Jet Plane: How It Works feels exciting. It's facts delivered with the urgency of, "Can you believe how this all comes together?" 

Macaulay likes to figure things out, and then explain it all clearly and precisely, one revelation leading to the next. That makes Jet Plane ideal for beginning readers. He also goes a step further, anticipating how a young first-time flier might feel: What's that noise? ("That is the landing gear folding up into the hold.") How do the pilots fly safely at night? How does the plane stay up in the air? With cutaway views of the plane's inner workings, and shots of the control panels, he answers all these anxiety-making questions and puts children at ease. And for those simply interested in the technology, they come away satisfied, too.

In a memorable quote from Henry Drummond, in the play Inherit the Wind, he says, "[Y]ou may conquer the air, but the birds will lose their wonder and the clouds will smell of gasoline." Macaulay shows us that there is as much wonder in how a plane flies as a bird taking to the air. We may have more appreciation for a bird's aerodynamics after learning about all that's required to achieve flight through invention. The author-artist's contagious enthusiasm can't help but infect us, too.

Macaulay once told me, in an interview about The Way We Work, which explores the wonder of the human body, for School Library Journal, "I am a teacher every day. It works because I'm a student every day. All good teachers are students. I get so excited and emotionally tied up with the things I'm learning that I want to pass them on. That by definition makes me a teacher." May we ever remain teachable, and may Macaulay long conduct the classroom.

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