A Guest Post by Seth Fishman | Explaining E=mc^2 in a Picture Book
Today is POWER UP: Your Incredible, Spectacular, Supercharged Body's book birthday. To celebrate this special occasion, I am turning over my blog to Seth Fishman. Thank you, Seth!
When writing my initial picture book, A Hundred Billion Trillion Stars, my editor casually suggested, ‘Hey, why don’t you add a spread explaining gravity. That will be helpful.’ And I thought, sure—I love explaining “gravity” in 51 words as much as I love adding spreads into picture books!
And now, as if that wasn’t punishment enough, it was Albert Einstein’s Theory of Special Relativity. You know this one, I’m sure. E=mc^2.
In my new picture book, POWER UP: Your Incredible, Spectacular, Supercharged Body, I make some pretty bold claims. Most notably, that a child’s pinkie has the energy to light up a major American city for a full day. To make that (fact-checked) claim, I had to rely heavily on a) Einstein and b) the average mass of a kid’s pinkie, which I’m sure you’ve spent hours thinking about.
I set aside a spread thinking I did it with gravity, surely I can explain E=mc^2 on two pages.
I tried things like Energy equals the mass times the speed of light (squared), which is basically the same thing as saying Energy equals how much of something is there (mass) multiplied by an enormous number (the speed of light (299,792,458 meters per second) squared (which is a HUGE HUGE number)). And THAT is the same thing as saying, “a LITTLE bit of mass (pinkie) is equal to LOTS of energy.”
But, I suppose, that paragraph didn’t go over too well.
The thing is, many adults (myself included) don’t understand the full implications of the equation, or even gravity. And I had to realize that I was just making it hard on myself. What I really needed to do was explain that your body was capable of awesome (correct use of the term) things and that it needs to be taken care of to shine, to Power Up. I think, in the end, that’s been what I’m aiming at—writing books that parents, librarians and teachers learn from as much as the kids so that they can read with genuine wonder in their voices.
And it’s not like I didn’t REALLY get to explain E=mc^2. In both of my books, I have Author’s Notes. Never have seen them before in picture books and, well, I feel like I’m cheating. But if they help parents/teachers/librarians provide context to the world around, I’m down for cheating.