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Born in Scotland more than 250 years ago, William Playfair was a dreamer who saw the world differently from other people. Unfortunately, this difference sometimes got in the way of his success. Early on, as he attempted to apply his unique perspective to a series of career opportunities - in order to gain riches! fame! glory! - he instead suffered one failure after another. Then, while writing a book about economics, Will's innovative vision inspired an idea that would set him apart: he created the first modern line graph. Next came a bar graph and later a pie chart. These infographic inventions provided a way for numbers to be seen as pictures, which made them easier to understand and to remember --- and thus changed the way the world would interact with data forever.
With this story of an unconventional man whose creative expressions revolved around math, science, engineering and technology, bestselling author Helaine Becker has created the perfect picture book introduction to STEM education. It would easily find use across curriculums in the classroom. On one level, it is a well-told and engaging biography of an intriguing man, illustrated with humor by Marie-Ève Tremblay. But it also explores math concepts such as measurement and geometry, as well as history, with sidebars on subjects such as the Industrial Revolution and steam engines. In addition, the book teaches the important lesson that everyone should follow their own curiosities to wherever they lead.
The comprehensive end matter includes historical notes, as well as more detailed explanations of the three types of graphs:line graphs, bar charts and pie charts.
$18.95 Cdn/$17.95 US
"Readers may be surprised to learn that Scottish entrepreneur William Playfair, who invented pie charts and other types of graphs in the 18th century, wasn’t particularly methodical or disciplined. As a child, Playfair preferred drawing and playing pranks to mathematics, and his adulthood was marked by professional and personal blunders: “Every venture failed. Worse, his schemes often got him in trouble.” Becker (Monster Science) takes a fittingly irreverent approach to Playfair’s story, and Tremblay’s (Inside Your Insides) playful digital artwork does the same, even using a red dotted line to “behead” Louis XVI in a spread that mentions the French king’s appreciation of Playfair’s graphs. It’s a modest and quirky underdog story that underscores the rewards of outside-the-box thinking—even when that thinking isn’t always rewarded in one’s lifetime."
"It can be difficult to find a picture-book biography dedicated to an obscure ne’er-do-well who couldn’t keep a job, failed at numerous business ventures, and barely managed to avoid the guillotine during the French Revolution. Yet these events pretty much sum up the life of Scotsman William Playfair, the hopeless dreamer credited with inventing the bar graph, the pie chart, and the line graph. It may be difficult to realize that these representations had to be invented, since they’re so embedded into our modern data
displays, or that they were dismissed for more than a century, since eighteenth-century Enlightenment
doctrine deemed illustrations creative, unreliable flights of imagination. The accessible text manages to convey these abstract ideas while following Playfair’s unlucky circumstances, occasionally relying on insets to explain historical context (scientific method, the Industrial and French Revolutions). The humorous illustrations ease this story along for young audiences, and extensive endnotes fill in gaps for adults. This attractive package about an overlooked subject is a great choice to inspire nascent dreamers and makers."
"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...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."
"A picture book biography of the inventor of the three most frequently used infographics: the line graph, the bar graph, and the pie chart. William Playfair (1759–1823) grew up in Scotland, was educated by his mathematician and scientist brother, and later worked for inventors Andrew Meikle and James Watt. So why don’t more students know his name? The author suggests that even though Playfair was a creative thinker, he was not taken seriously during his lifetime because he was also a scoundrel and a schemer. Another reason is that scientists preferred numbers to Playfair’s colorful visuals, which they saw as imaginative rather than scientific. It took more than 100 years for Playfair’s ideas to become a popular way of displaying data. A mix of informative and witty illustrations add to the value of this educational, well-written work. (Drawings of Playfair’s graphs enhance the narrative and also teach kids how to interpret said graphs.) Back matter further explains Playfair’s life and his innovative methods of presenting material. VERDICT The author’s evidence-based speculation about why Playfair’s charts didn’t initially catch on and the smart and playful art combine to produce a welcome option for STEM and biography collections."
"The title of this book hints at its two main themes. Lines, Bars and Circles: How William Playfair Invented Graphs is both the biography of an ambitious man, William Playfair, and a historical and mathematical look at the use of graphs to represent data in a compact and useful manner. This is a funny and appealing story of the life of an unusual man as well as a look at an entire historical period of scientific advancement. In some ways, this is an unexpected choice of topic as William did not succeed in having his ideas accepted in his lifetime, and he certainly had a number of character flaws. Perhaps this is part of what makes the book so engaging.
Helaine Becker has written a complex story in clear and straightforward language with lots of humour and references to the 1700s, the stimulating historical period in which the three major types of graphs were first proposed and used. Science and inventing are presented as exciting activities contributing to the many ideas that were being developed, changing the world into the one that we know today. The three sidebars, on the Scientific Method, the Industrial Revolution and the French Revolution, expand on this aspect of the story. The sidebars can be omitted if the book is being read as a story or included if the point is to gather information about science and history. The final three pages also contain further, detailed information, including the original graphs that were published at that time.
There is a nice balance between the story of the man and the ideas of graphing instead of presenting a table of data. Both are enticing, encouraging readers to go find more particulars about William Mayfair, the man, or a number of other inventors from the time, or about the Industrial Revolution.
Marie-Ève Tremblay has perfectly matched the tone of the writing as the illustrations are also irresistibly humorous. For example, when the story says, “After a few years, though, Meikle’s workshop felt too small to hold all Will’s grand dreams”, the illustration shows Will lifting the roof of the house and stepping out into the world. The images in the biographical parts of the book emphasize the intimate world in which Will lived, and the more technical areas show some of the wonderful machines which are the very things that Will wanted to use to find fame and fortune. Even the graphs are shown in the same way. It is amusing to see William pushing one of the bars up to vertical in the bar graph and even more so to see him in his apron ready to slice the pie graph.
Lines, Bars and Circles is a light hearted look at a single life, a historical period and the invention of graphical representations of data. It would be a valuable addition to a school library while being equally useful in a personal collection, succeeding both as a research tool and as a biographical story."
Highly Recommended. -CM Magazine
"Helaine Becker tells William Playfair's story with the upbeat air necessary for innovation and discovery, though she doesn't leave out the weaknesses in his life's drama. It must have been difficult to decide what to share from his biography, but Helaine Becker has chosen wisely to share with readers that information which supports the basis for William Playfair's inventiveness and its value without dragging in tedious details of his life. There's a playful tone to her text and Marie-Ève Tremblay's lively illustrations respect that. Readers will enjoy seeing a larger-than-life William Playfair stepping out of the roof of his home, heading out to follow his dreams. And cooking up a pie chart while wearing an apron and oven mitt. Even King Louis XVI losing his head is depicted lightheartedly!
Though Lines, Bars and Circles is the story of William Playfair and the development of graphs, Helaine Becker and Marie-Ève Tremblay make it into a whimsical story of thinking outside the box and persevering, even when failure seems to be the norm and dreams appear to be dashed, providing good life lessons for William Playfair and everyone."
- Canlit for Little Canadians
"Becker’s picture book biography celebrates those of us who see the world differently from other people. The narrative hits the mark for a child audience, and Tremblay’s art, rendered digitally, adds the right touch of humor to the text." - Nonfiction Detectives