Children’s Books About Careers

December 23, 2014
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When our children were young, they asked what their father, a lawyer, did at work. I told them, “He gives advice to people.”

But that was hardly an adequate explanation. They eventually learned what lawyers do through family discussions, visits to his office, and their expanding notions of the world as they grew older. I tried to find books on the subject, but there were few written for children about adults’ jobs, professions or careers.

There still are few books written about such matters. I began thinking about how needed they are when our grandchildren started contemplating what they might be when they grew up. It was easy for a boy who wanted to play for Arsenal to know what soccer players did. The girl who wanted to be a children’s book illustrator also understood what that job entailed. But other professions, not part of a child’s world, are mysterious.

So I found some books, not many, on the Internet that address careers and could be good holiday presents for children. Two, by Jacqueline J. Buyze, a lawyer herself, explain what lawyers and judges do. A Story of Lawyers, written in verse with legal terms highlighted and defined in a glossary at the back, tells how lawyers are trained and how different kinds of lawyers practice their profession. Her books, while not perfect, are among the few that children might find interesting.

With only two, sometimes four lines per page, the book might seem as if it designed for a young child. But many of the explanations are abstract and seem more appropriate for a ten-year-old. Some explanations might not answer a question a child might have. For example: What exactly does a corporate lawyer do that helps companies buy, sell and merge? The author provides no answer.

The author’s description of estate lawyers seems to apply more to financial planners than the kind who create wills and help clients plan for passing on assets—a term she explains.

The need to rhyme sometimes forces the author into sentences of little relevance as in the description of civil lawyers: “They work hard for the clients and frequently worry.”

The illustrations are strong in both depicting scenes of a law practice and lending character to the people portrayed. Some of the faces are priceless—the hapless criminal sitting behind bars, the court officer trying to stay awake, and the jury, a motley collection of humanity. Buyze’s other book, A Story of Lawyers with Views from the Bench, is a description of the courts. Adults who are vague about civil procedure would probably find this book helpful.        Architecture is another profession that may need some explanation for children, who intuitively grasp that buildings are built by carpenters, electricians, plumbers and ironworkers, but may be fuzzy on the architect’s role. The Future Architect’s Handbook by Barbara Beck, tries to clear up some of the behind-the-scenes work that architects provide. Beck takes us on a tour of a house with its site plan, floor plan, elevation and other architectural drawings. The problem with this book is the typeface. The designer chose a san serif font and packed the text into confined spaces. It is hard to read. Despite this flaw, the book is a good introduction to the profession for children.

Architecture and law are old, traditional professions. What about the new ones? Computer programming is now about 50 years old, but operating a computer provides few clues about the job of a computer programmer.

Few books give straightforward clues as to what a computer programmer does. But one does address programming and the mathematics behind it in an intriguing way.

Lauren Ipsum: A Story about Computer Science and Other Improbable Things by Carlos Bueno, a engineer at Facebook, chronicles the adventures of Laurie, in her Alice-in-Wonderland-like quest for home as she wanders through Userland, as quirky a place as Wonderland was.

In Laurie’s story the word play and fantastical creatures have to do with math, engineering, thinking straight or computer programming. Graphic designers will recognize the title’s play on words that describe the Latinate, gibberish filler text they insert before they get the real text.

Other terms — Hamiltonian path, recursion, different meanings of infinity — all come after creatures called “Jargons” chase the lost Lauren. She meets such characters as Fresnel Goodglass, Trent Escrow, Kevin Kelvin, Hugh Rustic, and Winsome Losesome, names referencing scientists, situations or silliness. Laurie gradually becomes expert at figuring out passwords, solving puzzles, and untangling mathematical knots.

            Kids of a philosophical or mathematical bent will probably like this book. I found it interesting for adults too —especially those who know little about computer programming and math. If you’re a novice, I recommend that you read the book while checking Wikipedia for every ninth word. Or check the glossary at the back of the book.

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