‘XKCD’ Mastermind Randall Munroe to Brighten Up Textbooks This Fall

Reading Time: 2 minutes
XKCD Textbook Illustrations
I especially like how the original text is shown to start the piece (art by Randall Munroe)

Soon your child will come home from school and start talking about “Up Goer Five.” At which point you’ll correct them and say “You mean Saturn V?” To which they will retort “Well, that’s not how I learned it at school!”

And they will be 100% correct.

Randall Munroe, creator of the deceivingly simple, always funny, yet amazingly heartfelt web comic XKCD as well as the popular What If? and Thing Explainer books will be bringing his own special brand of educational illustration to Houghton Mifflin textbooks this fall.

Popular entries from Thing Explainer, where Munroe explains highly technical or complex topics using only the 1,000 most common words in the English language, will appear in HMH Chemistry and Physics books for the 2017 school year. In addition to “US Space Team’s Up Goer Five,” students will be greeted with:

  • The Pieces Everything is Made Of (aka The Periodic Table)
  • Bags of Stuff Inside You (The Human Torso)
  • Tiny Bags of Water You’re Made Of (Animal Cells)
  • Heavy Metal Power Buildings (Nuclear Reactors)

You can download a few preview pages with even more of Munroe’s art here.

Randall jumped at the collaboration, saying “I love learning about the science that governs the universe around us and want to share the delight of discovering how things work and why. When I was a student, I often came across charts and diagrams that opened my eyes to whole new areas of the world, and I’m excited to have a chance to pass that excitement on to others.”

Seeing Munroe’s Thing Explainer pieces translated to textbook format (all while preserving his distinctive art and text) is surreal. It’s jarring at first, and I imagine the first impression for some students will be eye-rolling (as it is with all teens). Read through the illustrations, however, and you’ll find that, while the words might be simple, the concepts presented are assuredly not. I actually think when you strip away technical language and are forced to use a limited toolbox, you explain things better. That’s certainly true here.

This is only the beginning of Randall Munroe’s educational content–he’s working with Houghton Mifflin to develop four new exclusive pieces for the 2017-2018 school year, along with digital animations created from Thing Explainer artwork.

I think it’s a great idea all around–Randall Munroe’s work has a simple charm that makes it easy to love and hard to dismiss, which is a perfect sweet spot to cram in a bit of education.

If you’re lucky enough to be taking Physics or Chemistry this fall, keep an eye out for Thing Explainer pieces! (The rest of us will just have to settle for the original book.)

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