The origins of the now-ubiquitous line graph, bar graph, and pie chart are rarely considered. This title introduces the Scotsman who first plotted and promoted these tools for easily communicating complex information.
When the father of William Playfair (1759-1823) died, his brother John took over the young dreamer’s education. John’s scientific training had a lasting influence, according to extensive backmatter, which quotes Playfair: “He taught me to know, that, whatever can be expressed in numbers, may be represented by lines.” (There are no citations, nor a bibliography, although Playfair’s books are mentioned in context.) Becker chronicles a career of dabbling that included apprenticeships with inventors, among them James Watt. She writes clearly with a child audience in mind, highlighting the drama surrounding this economist, entrepreneur, thief, and scoundrel and explaining why graphs did not gain traction in his lifetime: reputation and ideas were inextricably linked, and the prevailing notion was that science was best expressed in numbers and formulas, not frivolous illustrations. Insets summarize the scientific method and the Industrial and French revolutions. Rendered digitally in a predominantly turquoise, blue, and green palette, Tremblay’s caricatures (all white before the book reaches the present day) provide comic relief, as when a dotted line severs Louis XVI’s head. Two graphs and a pie chart are depicted and deconstructed; original versions occur in the author’s note.
An unusual and useful curricular choice for today’s students, who frequently learn through infographics. (Picture book/biography. 6-9)