Hidden Systems: Water, Electricity, the Internet, and the Secrets Behind the Systems We Use Every Day by Dan Nott (author and artist) is an enlightening nonfiction graphic novel divided into three main parts. The first part explains the development and infrastructure of the internet. Next, Nott outlines the history and current forms of electricity. He closes with an examination of water systems, which includes the natural water cycle and how humans use water. These three systems are hidden in plain sight and taken for granted until they malfunction, or cease to function altogether. Nott’s goal is to provide an understanding of how these vital systems actually work and how we need to improve them to reduce harm to the environment and to communities. In doing so, we can also sustainably ensure necessary access to all people.
The book is well organized with a table of contents, symbols key, introduction, conclusion, citations and a bibliography. The book is text-heavy, but the historic and scientific explanations are well supported by the illustrations. The panels are mostly in a grid pattern with artwork that depicts people inventing and interacting with various technologies as well as the physical components that comprise these infrastructures. Humorous facial expressions and asides make this book fun and encourage the reader to pay close attention. The restrained color palette keeps the packed pages from looking cluttered. Overall, Nott’s artwork is detailed and wrought with care.
Hidden Systems is cataloged as a children’s book. I found many concepts in this book to be complex and better suited for older readers and teens. Some of these concepts include colonialism and inequity of access. For example, communications systems that began with telegraph lines map geographically with colonial outposts that used communication to maintain control. Much of today’s infrastructure still follows those original lines, so that places of power are more advanced with communications while historically subjugated places are trying to catch up (p. 26-31). Another complex concept is that poorer communities and communities of color typically bear the burden of ill health caused by emissions from coal-burning power plants (p. 113). A mention of dams being financed with debt by the World Bank (p. 210) could confuse the reader who lacks knowledge of the global economy. A teacher, parent, or other adult may help a younger reader parse through these facts.
Recommend Hidden Systems to curious older kids and teens with interests in engineering, inventing, and science in general.
Hidden Systems Water, Electricity, the Internet, and the Secrets Behind the Systems We Use Every Day
By Dan Nott
Penguin Random House, 2023
NFNT Age Recommendation: Older Teen (16-18), Teen (13-16), Tween (10-13)
Creator Representation: Queer,