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A whimsical, award-winning children's book in which woolly mammoths help explain the principles that guide the workings of machines has made the transition to CD-ROM.

The Way Things Work, written by David Macaulay, a Caldecott Medal-winning author and illustrator, explains the principles that allow airplanes to fly, axes to split wood, and instruments to make music.

Many software reviewers say that, in transferring the book to CD-ROM, Dorling Kindersley Publishing Inc., a London-based company with offices in New York City, has created a user-friendly disk that incorporates the best features of multimedia.

It not only contains Mr. Macaulay's vivid, detailed drawings, but also allows users to set into motion animations that illustrate exactly how various machines operate.

They note that, unlike some electronic-publishing ventures, the text of The Way Things Work has not been merely dumped onto disk with little thought about how the computer might enhance the presentation.

The 384-page bound version of the book, for example, progresses in a linear fashion, describing progressively more complex inventions.

The disk, however, presents users a title page of options that allow them to explore such areas as "Principles of Science," "Inventors," or "Machines A to Z." For example, clicking on "telecommunications" rings an animated telephone and leads to a page of text.

The title page also contains electronic links to an animated "mammoth movie" called "On the Conveying of Messages," definitions of different methods of transmission, and descriptions of several related machines such as satellites and telephones.

Mr. Macaulay's recent appearance at the annual meeting of the National Science Teachers Association in Philadelphia highlighted the popularity of his work with hundreds of science educators.

Mr. Macaulay seems keenly aware of his role as a teacher.

Pointing out a cross-section of a lawn sprinkler from the book, he noted that the simple machine is quite ingenious because it uses the water passing through it as a driving force to rotate the sprinkler head.

"Why these things aren't made of clear plastic, I don't know," he said. "Because they are terrific teaching tools."

Though he is enthusiastic about the CD-ROM's ability to use animation, Mr. Macaulay said he was ambivalent about the electronic version of his work.

"How do they compare? I don't have any strong feelings," he told his audience. "I still like books."

--Peter West

Vol. 14, Issue 28

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