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David Macaulay's Keen Curiosity Launches an Armada of Books

BY now, most people know David Macaulay as the man who illustrated and wrote the bestseller ``The Way Things Work.''

The book was an enormous undertaking, depicting and explaining exactly how a zipper zips, how a can opener opens, how an electric guitar makes noise, and a whole lot more.

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Now the author introduces a new book: ``Ship'' (Houghton Mifflin Company), a journey into maritime archaeology and the construction of a caravel, a 15th-century sailing ship. From a ``way-things-work'' view, ``Ship'' could could be described as how shipbuilding works and how underwater archaeology works.

Exploring and explaining has always come naturally to the British-born author and longtime drawing professor. His works are testimony to the fact that curiosity leads to knowledge.

Macaulay's editor Walter Lorraine describes him as ``a most imaginative, creative mind who has unusual association. He thinks in the four-dimensional terms that are necessary to do a really exceptional book.'' He has a knack for making complex information accessible, yet his concern is for people and places, says Mr. Lorraine. ``It's related to the human condition.''

Trained as an architect, Macaulay created his early books around the intricacies of structures: ``Cathedral,'' ``City,'' ``Pyramid,'' ``Underground,'' ``Castle,'' ``Unbuilding,'' and ``Mill.'' His books have sold more than two million copies in the United States and have been translated into a dozen languages. ``Black and White,'' a more whimsical story book, was awarded the 1991 Caldecott Medal for most distinguished American picture book for children.

But Macaulay doesn't gear his illustrative journeys specifically to children. Picture books are for everyone, he maintains.

``One of the things I try to do in all the books is draw in such a way as to include the reader,'' said Macaulay during an interview at his alma mater, the Rhode Island School of Design, where he is now head of the illustration department. ``I assume [the reader] is like me - curious and capable of being interested,'' he says.

MACAULAY'S talent for creating a ``real sense of being there'' -

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as he puts it - is inherent in his illustrations as well as his writing. In ``Ship,'' for example, readers see not only illustrations, but also plans, diagrams, maps, and documents.

``Ship'' is a departure for Macaulay in several ways. His early illustrations relied heavily on cross-hatching in pen and ink. And while ``Ship'' is also pen and ink, it is more painterly, employing a good deal of watercolor. ``Ship'' is also two stories in one book.

The first part takes place in the Caribbean Sea, where underwater archaeologists search for a caravel and uncover maritime artifacts. The second part is a diary, set in the 1400s in Seville, Spain, where a ship called Magdelena is being constructed to sail to the Americas.

Whereas Macaulay's earlier books were what he describes as ``adaptive reuse of existing information,'' ``Ship'' was more exploratory in the making. No original drawings or replicas exist to indicate how the caravel was constructed. So, like an investigative reporter, Macaulay sought to find out and document as much as he could to uncover a 500-year-old mystery - and, at the same time, show how others are attempting to add their pieces to the puzzle. ``Ship is not about what happened. It's about what we think happened and why we think it,'' Macaulay explains.

He consulted maritime historians, and traveled to Mexico, Spain, and Brazil to witness underwater excavation and early-style ship building. ``They were the space shuttles of the 15th century,'' writes Macaulay of the caravels.

His admiration for inventors and the way they make ``things work'' never wanes. ``The simplest things are always the most amazing,'' Macaulay says. His favorite invention happens to be the lawn sprinkler.

``We are innately curious people. I personally feed on my love of learning about anything,'' Macaulay says. He hopes his treatment of subjects prods people to follow their curiosity, to question and delve deeper.

``If I have dealt with it in the right way, they see the world around them better,'' he says.

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