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The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books:
February's Big Picture

The Big Picture is a monthly in-depth look at selected new titles and trends.

A Drop of Water: A Book of Science and Wonder; written and illus. with photographs by Walter Wick. Scholastic, 1997.

"We are going to spend an hour today in following a drop of water on its travels. If I dip my finger in this basin of water and lift it up again, I bring with it a small glistening drop out of the water below and hold it before you. Tell me, have you any idea where this drop has been? What changes it has undergone, and what work it has been doing during all the long ages it has lain on the face of the earth?" -Arabella B. Buckley, The Fairy-Land of Science, 1878

Both this opening quotation and the book it introduces invite readers to see the world of science in a new way, with eyes refreshed by a unique visual interpretation of the everyday. Children (and librarians) are already familiar with Walter Wick from his collaborations with Jean Marzollo on the "I Spy" series (I Spy Christmas, I Spy Funhouse, I Spy School Days, etc.), in which objects, identified in rhymes, are hidden in elaborately constructed, theme-related sets designed and photographed with meticulous, joyful intensity by Wick. But this title is a departure from that series' deliberately cluttered, crowded fun.

In A Drop of Water, Wick turns his camera's eye to fifteen simple science experiments involving water and its properties. A discussion of "water's smallest parts" is illustrated by a greatly enlarged photograph of the head of a shiny, silver pin covered with shimmering droplets of water. (The extraordinary nature of this photograph is further emphasized by an insert of the pin at its actual size.) The elasticity of water is vividly and graphically depicted in a series of photographs showing a drip from a faucet as it drops into a pool of silvery liquid, causing mercurial ripples. A brown egg splashesinto a clear glass of water, the splash captured so perfectly it looks like blown glass. An experiment with soap bubbles presents the usual soapy sphere, followed by unusual curlicues and cubes. Sequentially arranged time-lapse photographs illustrate the processes of condensation, evaporation, and cloud formation.

Outstanding visuals combine with science facts seemingly without effort. A page full of snowflakes set against a shaded blue background is fascinating not only for its visual impact, but for the simplicity and elegance of the scientific concept it illustrates: "When a snowflake melts, its intricate design is lost forever in a drop of water. But a snowflake can vanish in another way. It can change directly from ice to vapor." A sequence of five photographs shows a single snowflake as it gradually disappears. The dramatic interaction of water and light is shown in the photo of a single glass of water refracting the rays of a beam of light, resulting in a luminous rainbow cast on dark paper. From surface tension to capillary action, from condensation to evaporation, Wick leads the reader from experiment to experiment in eminently clear language and extraordinarily vivid images that makes simple scientific concepts memorable and magical.

This title is an elegant synthesis of science and art: the spare, almost architectural purity of Wick's compositions for each individual image or sequence of images is riveting; the close-up photographs are breathtakingly distinct; and the clarity provided by the combination of concept, text, and photography of this quality is noteworthy. Concluding notes give tips on how to successfully complete each experiment.

In an author's note "About This Book," Wick gives some background on his career as a photographer, his fascination with science, and hiscollection of science books from the nineteenth century, explaining thatmany of the experiments in this book are the same as or similar to those used in books to introduce science to children a hundred years ago. The need to communicate scientific concepts to the young with clarity and precision is a given. The ability to do so is a combination of knowledge, craft, and art, and Walter Wick apparently has a gift for all three. (Imprint information appears on p. 226.)

--Janice M. Del Negro, Editor

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This page was last updated on February 6, 1997.