What Randall Monroe pulls off in Thing Explainer reminds me a bit of what Dr. Seuss did with his early books for young readers: he purposefully uses a minimal amount of words to explain the complicated world (although Dr. Seuss sought to teach young people how to read with The Cat in the Hat and Green Eggs and Ham).
In the case of Thing Explainer, Monroe limited himself to 1,000 common words, and no more (he lists them at the end of the book). That may seem like a lot, until you realize the complexity of the world he is explaining — such as computerized data centers that make up cloud computing, and the space stations, cells, and the human body, and more.
What Monroe brings to these explanations is his witty sense of visuals and webcomic ability, which are always on display at his xkcd webcomic, but here, his visuals are given full pages (the book is oversized, and I would probably recommend going with the physical book over a digital book, but that’s just me). He may only use stick people, but those stick people are hilarious in their poses and verbal asides, and they fit in perfectly with Monroe’s visual design of our modern world, told in simple language.
It’s fun learning.
My students are in the midst of expository writing right now, and I might see if I can get a few of Monroe’s drawings out of the book and up onto my classroom walls. The pencil one in particular is very interesting and inviting, and it would surely draw the attention of my students (we’ve been doing diagram drawing all year long for creative writing).
Monroe also created a “simple writer” website, for trying out yourself how to explain something in few words, using his database of common words. I popped this entire blog post into it, and discovered many words above and beyond the complexity point.
Peace (in the thing, explained),