Tuesday, January 18, 2011
The DK Handbook
Dorling Kindersley is one of the most innovative publishers working in print today. Even consumers who steer clear of bookstores will recognize a DK product: the unmistakable DK layout is visually striking and wholly unique, At first glance it often looks like DK's primary emphasis is on illustration (typically color photography), making it is easy to underestimate just how germane the textual content is. But whether the product in question is a travel guide, a cook book or a children's reference book the written content works in tandem with the illustrations to bring about a profoundly informative reading experience.
Several DK publications have proven invaluable to our family. We have Eyewitness travel guides that are well-worn with use (particularly the one to San Francisco). In years past the girls relied on Eyewitness Ancient Greece, Rome and Medieval Life to give them clear direction through school projects. And of all the bicycle maintenance books I own, the one I refer to most is a portable, plastic-sheathed guide from DK that fits easily in my bicycle seat bag.
This morning the daily feed from Amazon recommended The DK Handbook. At first glance it struck me as an odd project for DK to attempt: a visually intuitive composition handbook for entrance-level university students. I glanced at the content available on Amazon, then went over to the official site for the DK Handbook and looked through what they had on offer, including the videos. The longer I considered the project, the greater its potential seemed.
The Amazon user comments are interesting. The raves seem to confirm the project's promise. The dismissals, of course, are predictably huffy and old-school. “After 30 years in education,” sniffs one user, “it seemed to me that most of the first part of the book is taught in fourth grade.” Well, that might* have been true 30 years ago, but today's university profs will regale you at length about just how wretchedly prepared entrance-level students are for basic composition.
Regardless of how well it finally achieves its mandate, the DK technique is revolutionary and always worth a closer look. It could well be that DK's visual approach is exactly what today's profs and students require.
*Actually, 25 years ago Canadian universities began establishing basic rhetoric classes as a requirement for first-year students precisely because this level of comprehension was not there.