Underground Critical Context - Essay

David Macaulay

Critical Context

(Survey of Young Adult Fiction)

In classrooms where research in social studies, science, and technology is conducted, Underground provides knowledge, pleasure, and an ideal model for investigation. Previous works by David Macaulay introduced architectural monuments of civilization, enabling understanding and appreciation of the constructed environment. The three award-winning books Cathedral (1973), Castle (1978), and Pyramid (1975) represent a trilogy in the canon of books for young adults and for a general audience.

His previous book concerning a city represented an earlier time and a community above ground, City: A Story of Roman Planning and Construction (1974). This work was included in the Children’s Book Showcase in 1975. The combination of text, illustrations, and format that the award recognized is a hallmark of Macaulay’s work. This excellence is also evident in Underground, in which black-and-white drawings convey the excitement of a city and diagrams explain the most intricate details of engineering feats. A third color, brown, is introduced in Underground, adding contrast. The density of text is greater than in some of Macaulay’s earlier books, but the information presented is no less clear and is in keeping with the subject. Thus, the most complicated concepts can be easily understood, and the whole is unified, from the introduction to the satisfying conclusion.

David Macaulay is an artist, illustrator, author, researcher, and teacher whose books teach and inform. They are picture books, but, as Macaulay has said, “Information told more through pictures than words does not necessarily have an age limit for appreciation. Picture books can be universal in their appeal and efficiency.” Underground is such a book.