Pictures? Of things? Showing what they look like? How very passe. What everyone wants nowadays are cut-away cross-sections, showing all the cabins and the engine rooms inside the Queen Mary, or all the squidgy bits in the human eye. From levers to lasers, from motor bikes to monsters, these colourfully illustrated and finely detailed volumes from Franklin Watts offer just that.
In books like these it's the designer who is the real star of the show, and in this case it is David Salariya. Everyday Things gives us the inner workings of Yale locks, cars, cameras, telephones and fax machines. The pages are inhabited with flying cherubs who float around and point at things, but otherwise the tone is an attractive mixture of the down-to-earth and awe-struck wonder at the wiring of a plug.
The pages are very full, with large illustrations dominating the centre, and smaller ones round the edges. These carry lots of extra facts, telling us, for example, that fax machines actually date back to the 19th century or warning the reader not to take electrical gadgets apart, though with this series that seems rather a forlorn hope. The only drawback is that the explanations are not always as clear as they might be: there's a great big cherub in the zip fastener picture, but no real illustration of how the thing works.
Machines or vehicles lend themselves particularly well to this sort of illustration and Fantastic Transport Machines will evince some nostalgic memories in older readers with its cut-away drawings of the Orient Express or Empire Flying Boats. The sheer complexity of these machines, both in their technology and in the social structure they contained and reflected, makes for fascinating browsing, though there's a whiff of snobbery here. It was revealing to learn how passengers of different classes were segregated on the Queen Mary, but the cut-away drawing only seems to show the First Class areas, while the Orient Express drawings show the well-heeled travellers dining and going to bed, but not where the porters and stewards kipped down for the night.
After the dino-mania that followed Jurassic Park, we ought to be used to all the different types of dinosaurs, but still they keep coming. Never mind Tyrannosaurus and Diplodocus, did you know about the egg-eating Oviraptor or the titchy Compsognathus? Sensibly, instead of keeping to strict chronological arrangement, the book arranges them according to type and function: carnivores, herbivores, big dinosaurs, little dinosaurs and so on. The pages are packed with the sort of fine detail that children lap up eagerly, especially on this favourite of all primary school topics, and the dinosaurs are themselves cut-away to show all their ribs and intestines.
Incredible Creatures also begins with dinosaurs, goes through fascinating David Attenborough territory with weaver birds, jumping spiders and other such delights, and emerges in the fantasy world of dragons, mermaids and the Abominable Snowman. Since no-one has ever seen these, illustrating them is hard enough, but giving us their bone structure? Never mind; the detail in these books is outstanding. They will make popular additions to any school library, if you can tear the librarian away from them.