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Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Lines, Bars and Circles: How William Playfair Invented Graphs. Written by Helaine Becker and illustrated by Marie-Eve Tremblay. Kids Can Press, 2017. $18.95 ages 8 and up

"Naturally, Will thought John was very annoying. Nevertheless, John was a good teacher. He taught Will how to measure temperature on a thermometer and to correctly and clearly record the information each day in tables and charts. Will found himself becoming an excellent mathematician. And a bit more like John."

Never having looked too seriously at the development of mathematical thinking, I had not heard of Scottish mathematician William Playfair. In this picture book biography, I met a man with flaws, and his own way of looking at the world. That is exactly what I find so fascinating about such books for young readers.

William's brother John, who cared for the young boy after their father died, instilled in William a love for mathematics and science. So, when he left home at a young age to find his own way, William was intrigued by the many exciting scientific ideas being developed during the 1700s that would change the world. There are references to the Industrial Revolution, the French Revolution and the development of the Scientific Method still in use today.

Helaine Becker brings to life the man who developed the bar graph, the line graph and the pie chart for use in representing complex information. There was much drama in his life, and the author does not back down from sharing that in an often humorous way. His work was not considered seriously during his lifetime, perhaps due to his past.

"They also thought of Will as a ne'er-do-well with a long string of business failures behind
him. They couldn't - wouldn't - believe someone like that could have invented anything
truly valuable."

Digitally rendered in Photoshop, Ms. Tremblay's artwork incorporates humour as well. Comic images add context and provide a few very funny moments. She shows readers exactly how the charts work, and then the disdain with which his work was treated.

Three pages of further information are useful for those whose curiosity about William is piqued. He was not successful while alive, but his work lives on in today's world.

"Today, infographics are used everywhere - in magazines, in newspapers, on TV weather forecasts, in science papers and government documents, and in kindergarten classrooms and university lecture halls."

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