"Wired," by Anastasia Suen, illustrated by Paul Carrick. Charlesbridge Publishing, 2007, 32 pages, $6.95.
While many parents may struggle with technological concepts and Internet gadgetry, it doesn't seem to take long for children to become comfortable with science bringing the world to their fingertips. They trust in the virtual and believe what they can't see.
"Wired," written by Anastasia Suen, and illustrated by Paul Carrick, offers 21st century children a wonderful opportunity to master the mysteries of electricity - the what, how, and why of electrons, circuits, and voltage. In the process, it both reinforces logical thinking, and imagination.
It's a challenging project: defining electricity and explaining its production, distribution, and operation in a 32-page softbound picture book for elementary school children. Even so, former teacher Ms. Suen, author of more than 100 children's books, successfully accomplishes that step by step, with the help of the inventive illustrations of Paul Carrick, a native Islander.
While the text patiently introduces concepts, repeats terms, and explains applications, Mr. Carrick manages to fill the pages with drama and atmosphere, color and strong design, whimsical detail and textures.
"Wires from the power company connect to wires from your house," the text reads, and pictured on the double-page spread is the side of a house surrounded by white picket fences at odd overhead angles. The grounding rod, conduit, electric meter, and service head on the side of the house are neatly labeled. The green lawn is dimensional and textured, and if readers look closely they will discover a black cat looking out from a black window.
"It reminds me of what excited me when I looked at art books as a child," Mr. Carrick said in a recent phone conversation from his Boston apartment. "A sense of wonder. A sense of magic. Details and color."
His talent and developed aesthetic is in his genes. Mr. Carrick is the son of award-winning children's book author Carol Carrick and the late Donald Carrick, an award-winning illustrator. Paul illustrated two of his mother's books, including "The Polar Bears Are Hungry."
So next to an explanation of "hot" and "neutral" wires, and how they "travel through the electric meter," is a crosscut view of an interior complete with a lit fish-filled aquarium, a hanging portrait, and clouds floating inside the frame of a window.
Sounding as if he enjoyed the process, Mr. Carrick explains that he constructed each illustration like a bas-relief, using white styrene sheets, with each form as much as half an inch thick. The project took about six months to complete.
"Building miniatures has been my hobby for years. I spend almost as much time at my workbench as my drafting table. This was a way to combine both." After covering the pieces of thin plastic with a spray primer, he painted the forms with acrylic colors.
Initially known as a fantasy artist (nightserpent.com), Mr. Carrick says, "My artwork is geared toward light and drama, "adding, "For this book, the priority was clarity."
Although he had little contact with the author, Ms. Suen, all the material was checked by experts from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who verified the presentation of information.
"Wired" is a straightforward, accessible book that includes a list of safety rules, a glossary of terms, and an index. It does not condescend to its young readers. It is the sort of book that makes you want to borrow a child to whom you can read a passage like this: "As electrons dance in circles, they move electricity from the power plant to your house and back. As long as the electrons keep dancing through the wires, electricity keeps flowing." And then have the child answer your questions.