David Macaulay is a Caldecott Medal award winner and MacArthur fellow. He is renowned for his whimsical illustrations, humor, and ability to explain complex topics with simple genius in the bestselling classic The Way Things Work and over 25 other beloved children’s books. He’s teamed up with DK on a brand new book to explain simple machines, with the help of two zoo animals, Sloth and Sengi, in How Machines Work: Zoo Break! Read on to find out more about the process of creating this fun-filled new book.
DK: You’ve written nonfiction books on quite a variety of interesting topics. How did you come to simple machines?
David Macaulay: I was asked by DK to join them on project that would extend some of the ideas from The Way Things Work, but for a younger audience. Whatever else I do, one of my favorite things is making the complex more accessible to readers of all ages, so how could I say no?
DK: The educational elements of this book flow seamlessly with the story of Sloth and Sengi’s escape antics. How did you decide what machines to include, and balance information with plot?
DM: We then needed to wrap the information in a story that would lure the young and innocent into our science trap. The balance was achieved over time by trial and error and the insightful guidance of DK art director Stef Podhorodecki. It wasn’t always a pretty process, but we had a clear sense of what needed to be covered and a limited number of pages in which to do it.
DK: Sloths seem to be underused characters in literature. How did you settle on Sloth as your protagonist?
DM: I think sloths actually appear throughout literature just not in their animal form. Just look up lazy characters in literature on line. The word “underused” is in their job description. I don’t remember how a sloth was chosen or by whom. I suggested a sengi because they belong to the same extended family as elephants and by association mammoths. Mammoths belong to the big book so sengi was a nice compromise. This speedy little critter needed a steady and unspeedy partner, an opposite of sorts, and sloth applied for the job. Finally, it just seemed easier, sloth-like almost, to let their animal names serve as their real names.
DK: Do you have a favorite machine or escape method in Zoo Break!?
DM: Without a doubt the big machine at the end is my favorite. Perhaps it’s because designing an illustration around that many fixed flaps and surviving gives be great pleasure. But also, pulling all the simple machines together in that way is just plane fun.
DK: Do you see Sloth and Sengi going on more adventures in the future?
DM: What they do in their spare time is their business. And unless someone invents some new ‘simple machines’, they should enjoy their retirement.
DK: Who do you see as the audience for this book? Do you imagine this fitting in with a school curriculum?
DM: I’d like to think the book will appeal to readers of all ages, especially readers of all ages who like reading books together. This one is for everybody, but it certainly does make that extra effort to reach the younger end of the scale. I do hope that teachers themselves will find the book engaging and useful enough to want to share it with their students.
DK: You write about everyday objects in a deeply curious, intelligent, and humorous way. Where do you think this fascination with the everyday comes from?
DM: My fascination with the ordinary comes from having been allowed first as a kid to play and take full advantage of my pre-TV, unencumbered English childhood, and second having been encouraged as a grown up by projects like this one to keep playing. The good things in life, the things we often take for granted or don’t notice at all, are there for the viewing. We just have to learn to stop and look and question as often as possible. The rest will take care of itself.
How Machines Work: Zoo Break! follows the mad antics of Sloth and his sidekick Sengi as they try to find their way out of the zoo with the help of machines. Their efforts are brought to life through novelty elements including pop-ups, pull-outs, and lift-the-flaps, allowing readers to explore in greater depth how and why machines work. Spreads highlight the use of simple machines in everyday objects, such as scissors and clocks, mixers and whisks, bikes and brakes, while the story contains clear and simple text to engage the reader.