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The Power of Personification
from graphic novel guest blogger, Francisca Goldsmith:
For some years now, business and technical publisher O’Reilly Media has been distributing a manga-based series devoted to offering narrative fiction-based instruction in mathematics and hard sciences. Under the No Starch Press imprint, we can find explanations and demonstrations of Linear Algebra, Statistics, and other heady advanced conceptual disciplines contextualized within sports matches, schoolyard tales and similar real world arenas. Bunpei Yorifuji’s Wonderful Life with Elements: The Periodic Table Personified amps up the approach by removing the exterior fiction capsule and literally grooming and dressing up the topic itself.
With the exceptions of the alphabet and Latin declensions, the use of pure memorization has fallen into disuse in contemporary classrooms. This isn’t because teachers and/or students are lazy but rather due to the pedagogical insight that context is more likely to lead to authentic learning. The Periodic Table, which certainly looks impressive and which packs a huge amount of information into its formulaic portrait of the elemental building blocks of our physical world, also presents the conundrum of being so codified that understanding the elements slips into the background. Yes, the information is all there, but learning the abbreviations, weights, relationships, and other attributes of each element becomes a burden that too often saps the student’s energy to get from “what” to “how” and “why.”
By clarifying the attributes using the simple, but elegant and comical, ploy of personifying each element, this cartoon approach taps intuition And that is the power of personification, whether in anthropomorphic poetry or religious painting. When we can see faces, note body shapes and compare fashion in the particular to fashion in general, we can draw inferences that advance a deeper level of understanding. There are still names to be learned, families to note. But the elements themselves become knowable, and the Periodic Table becomes a family tree instead of a high concept formula of its own.
YORFUJI, Bunpei. Wonderful Life with the Elements: The Periodic Table Personified. tr. from Japanese by Fredrik Lindh. illus. by author. 208p. charts. diags. illus. index. No Starch. 2012. Tr $17.95. ISBN 978-1-59327-423-8.
Adult/High School–This clever and effective little book could have the power to make chemistry literates of students, and their parents. While curriculum design in history has moved away from brute memorization of the raw material of dates and place names, the entryway to learning the Periodic Table continues to be, for most, learning the printed pattern and what the various Latin abbreviations and corners of each element block signify, rather than what any of this means. The unique, humorous and diligently complete treatment found here, however, turns that flat code collection into meaningful properties, attributes, and connections. Each element is depicted with a particular hairstyle, body type and clothing type–not chosen at random, but as representative of stability, weight, and usage in our daily lives. Each element is then treated to a page of depiction, references through smaller drawings to everyday items in which it occurs, and a paragraph of discussion that provides up-to-date context such as Vanadium’s possible contribution to lowering blood pressure and Tantelum’s use in mobile phone technology. Additional chapters discuss the elements related to diet, human anatomy, and current depletion due to modern mining and production of modern material culture. The art is both sweet and clear, with brown and yellow cartoons on uncluttered pages that pack a wallop of information which, indeed, brings the Periodic Table to life and meaningfulness.–Francisca Goldsmith, Infopeople Project , CA
Filed under: Graphic Novels
About Angela Carstensen
Angela Carstensen is Head Librarian and an Upper School Librarian at Convent of the Sacred Heart in New York City. Angela served on the Alex Awards committee for four years, chairing the 2008 committee, and chaired the first YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adult committee in 2009. Recently, she edited Outstanding Books for the College Bound: Titles and Programs for a New Generation (ALA Editions, 2011). Contact her via Twitter @AngeReads.
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