Science Book A Day Interviews Mick Manning


Special thanks to Mick Manning for answering 5 questions about his recently featured book – What Mr Darwin Saw

Mick Manning and Brita Granström have been collaborating together, sharing both illustration and text, for twenty years. Their critically acclaimed books, published internationally and in many languages, mix words and images in all sorts of inventive and delightful ways. – From their Homepage

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#1 – What was the impetus for writing this book?

We wanted to do his biography in ‘our way’ for his bicentenary a few years ago and to explain to children about his amazing adventures and ultimately, his world changing and often misquoted theories of evolution. He famously said that publishing his ideas ‘felt like confessing a murder’ – he knew it would rock the world and make him unpopular with many people, including his old friend Captain FitzRoy – and he was right. He was mocked as an ape-man by the press and ridiculed by many Church leaders 150 years ago – and  still is in some parts of the world.

#2 – How did you decide to focus on certain aspects of Darwin’s life to use and what to leave out?

With a children’s non-fiction book you have to keep them running with you, you have to hold their interest or you are lost. So his childhood and adventurous voyage where ideal subject matter. We start by explaining he wasn’t that good at school and preferred catching rats with his dog!

#3 – When you are illustrating such a book, what are you trying to emphasise? How do you make the illustration work with the text?

We spend a lot of time on the research and on the logic of the layouts – planning out how we will make the story work. We used a large double spread image – enforced with some boxed illustrated facts. We use different sorts of images to impart information on different levels.We use different sorts of words too: Main text. A slightly more complex fact box text that offers additional information. Speech bubbles and thought bubbles are great too – this is a level of information that can give thought and reactions and is often the text that children first read – even slower readers feel they can tackle that and gain enough confidence to delve deeper into the main text perhaps later. AT the end we were asked to explain his theory on a double spread – no small task! We did it simplistically (but I hope successfully) with him (well mostly his children) having fun on a huge chalkboard as if explaining to a class of eight to ten year olds their dad’s theory. It adds a bit of fun to the end and explains things quite lightly.

#4 – What is the ‘take home message’ you want kids to leave this book with?

That science should be an adventure and free – not in the thrall of big business. That knowledge and truth isn’t always welcomed by those who need to hear it. That Darwin spent a long time preparing this theory – he didn’t come up with it overnight but spent years after his long voyage testing it and working on it. That Darwin was a brave man and a genius.

#5 – Are you working on a new project/book that you can tell us about?

We have just finished a book called The Beatles, now published; it is in the same series as Darwin and treats Lennon and McCartney with the same respect as Darwin or Dickens (another in the series). The book is about how the fab four from childhood to breakup in 1970 changed our society in so many ways. It is also about the 60s and the social revolution they were at the forefront of. Interestingly Lennon also had a similar reputation at school as Darwin!

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