Review of The Message: The Extraordinary Journey of an Ordinary Text Message

The Message: The Extraordinary Journey of an Ordinary Text Message
by Michael Emberley; illus. by the author
Primary, Intermediate    Dlouhy/Atheneum    48 pp.    g
10/21    978-1-5344-5290-9    $17.99
e-book ed.  978-1-5344-5291-6    $10.99

What is going on in our brains, on our phones, and in the world when we send or receive a text message? Emberley’s skillfully crafted picture book answers this not-so-simple question in a delightful mix of illustrations, diagrams, and captions with a clear through-line narration that makes the complicated science behind our electronic interactions comprehensible. Readers follow along when a late-night text message awakens a child from their sleep, as a series of physiological events (“cells inside the eyes detect the photons, then translate the photon’s message into an electronic signal, which travels through soft threads of hollow nerves…straight into the brain”) results in a reply that must travel halfway around the world. Emberley illustrates every step in the process as the message travels through the air (“as a unique, invisible, electromagnetic radio wave”), through wires (both copper and glass), underground, and below the ocean before finding its way to the recipient’s — as we learn, the child’s mom’s — screen. Detailed illustrations feature numerous labels, and offset captions further illuminate the scientific and technological explanations, allowing the narrative to focus on the larger actions as the message’s digital signal races on. Readers will never again think the same way about the basic act of sending a text message. Back matter provides additional technical details, including an explanation of when and under what conditions satellites become involved in the process. A list of resources for further reading is included.

From the November/December 2021 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Eric Carpenter
Eric Carpenter
Eric Carpenter is the school librarian at Fred A. Toomer Elementary School in Atlanta, Georgia.

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