Introductory Essay

Physics is all around us. It impacts our technologies and our way of life. Understanding physics and the physical sciences helps us learn so much about how things work and the laws of the universe. However, physics is a complex topic that is difficult to teach to adults, let alone be tailored towards children. Authors have been doing this since the late 1700s by breaking difficult topics into easier language for children to understand and by using images to illustrate complex concepts. This exhibit can show users the tactics and tricks used to explain complicated topics to children. These exhibits also depict how children and children’s books were perceived during this time period.

A major characteristic of physics related children’s book during this time was that the language was also heavily wordy and involved vocabulary that one would not see in children’s books today. However, accompanying these words were diagrams and pictures that explained concepts in more depth and with more visual accuracy and less discrepancy than words. The illustrations used often had captions and other labels to help children understand them. Pictures without words or explanations can be just as confusing as text without pictures. Even if the book had a textbook-like feel, images were an integral part for it because words would not have been understood by a child at that time.

A helpful diagram from Stories of Starland

This information explains a great deal about how children reading these books were assumed to be naturally smart. Because all of these books consistently did not include language that children could understand this tells us that children in this era were regarded more comparable to adults in the knowledge that they possess. The advanced rhetoric is that in use in academic papers today is comparable to language used in these books.


Examples of verbose text from The Boy's Book of Inventions.

The pattern of explaining physics through images continues in our society today as well. For example, Minute Physics is a channel on youtube that explains physics concepts to a younger-aged audience. This is a similar audience to those who would be reading the books in the collections shown above.

This exhibit is important because the nurturing of youth, especially in difficult and useful subjects at an early age is critical to the advancement of our technology. It is important that children had the resources then to inspire them to make change in their adulthood. The mapping of this in the period where children’s literature allows us to look at how it has changed. In regards to visuals and pictures, not much has changed. The pictures/visual aids still paired with words that fully describe what is happening.

Individuals that would be interested in viewing this exhibit are new authors that are interested in writing a physics or physical science book for children, or children that are interested in learning about physics. They can use this exhibit to show them what books and topics they can find in the Baldwin library.