What is space? Where does space really begin? Why is Jupiter stripy? What is a light year? How are rockets launched?
There are few parents of young, curious children who have not been confronted with questions like these as their offspring begin to realise that there is a world even larger than the one immediately around them and they want to find out more.
So here is the answer – a new publication by DK that uses children’s questions and an inquiry approach to provide the answers. Using extraordinary photos and clear diagrams supported by child-size bites of text over 200 common questions about space have been answered at a level that the child will understand. Yet there is enough information for the really curious to want to investigate further. For example, in 2007 tiny animals called tardigrades survived for 10 days in space outside a spacecraft – but what is a tardigrade? (You can find out here.) There are even quick quizzes that encourage them to read the text closely, including picture captions, critical information literacy skills.
DK have a sound and deserved reputation for bringing non fiction to young readers in a way they can access and engage with and this new addition is no exception. Ideal for the eyebrow-raising questions for parents who can get themselves off the hook by suggesting they use the book to find out together, yet tantalising enough for those with a need to know more.
Anyone who has spent time with little people, particularly boys, will know that they often gravitate to the non fiction collections of the school library where they can get a THICK book (very important) and then pore over the pictures for hours at a time. If the pictures and diagrams are of high quality then they can absorb a lot of information from them even if they can’t manage the text yet.
In this new publication from non fiction experts DK the editors have mastered combining stunning illustrations with just the right amount of text to support the beginning reader, often only one sentence and using vocabulary that is appropriate to the age group whilst not “talking down.” Divided into four sections – All About Animals; Amazing Animals; Animal Antics and More Very Important Animals – it begins with a clear explanation of what animals are, differentiating them from plants, and then moves on to those of land, sea and air.
Using lots of colour, a clear, clean font of a good size, labels, speech bubbles and other literary devices, the young reader is taken on a journey through the animal kingdom that they will return to again and again, all the while honing their reading skills as they want to know more than just the pictures can tell them. At the back they are introduced to the concept of a glossary which explains the meaning of some of the more unusual words they might encounter like amphibian and exoskeleton, as well as an index that will help them find just what they are looking for.
With more and more research emerging about the need for children to develop basic literacy skills using print if they are to use and interpret online information efficiently and effectively,this is a must-have addition in both the school and home libraries.
Decades ago DK Publishing revolutionised the presentation of non fiction to young readers with bright photographs, information in manageable, well-labelled chunks and the clever use of white space so that the reader was not overwhelmed. Their Eyewitness series became a staple of primary school library collections. Now they have a launched a new series for the younger reader, using their familiar format but adding many more features so the newly independent reader can access information at their level.
Beginning with a durable paperback cover which folds out to be a quiz with answers and essential information relevant to the topic such as areas of study, a timeline or a phylogenetic tree, it then offers a page where the reader can jot down the things they have already identified that they want to find out thus supporting the inquiry method of investigation from the get-go. Then, as is customary with DK books, there are the usual contents, glossary and index pages which encourage and enable young readers to use the clues to get to what they want and in between are double-page spreads of basic information and glossy photographs and diagrams, all clearly labelled. So as well as being an ideal way of exploring print to find information they also serve as a model for students to present their findings if their searches have been assignment based rather than just curiosity.
To top it there is an easy-to-navigate website that offers more information and activities as well as support for teachers and parents. Like the books it is also a teaching tool for helping young children learn to use a website for information, one designed for their level and more authoritative and targeted than Wikipedia.
Despite the misguided opinion of some, there is a lot of research and reasons that primary school libraries, particularly, need to have a robust, attractive, up-to-date non fiction collection and this new series demonstrates the value of not only catering to those who prefer to read non fiction but also those wanting to find out more NOW! As well, the series is attractively priced so that parents can purchase individual volumes to accompany particular interests or investigations that their child is pursuing.
Miss 6 is fascinated with the human body and snaffled my review copy as soon as she saw it, not only asking and answering questions for herself but also learning vital lessons about using such resources. Now she is exploring those for information as often as those for her imagination. It won’t be hard to fill her Christmas stocking!
“In the vastness of space lies a tiny sphere that orbits an ordinary middle-aged star in a quiet backwater of the Milky Way. It’s one of billions of trillions of worlds, yet it is the only one that we know supports life… let’s go on a voyage of discovery to the four corners of the globe.”
Beginning with the beginning of the planet’s existence and told in a narrative style suitable for the newly independent reader who likes to read non fiction rather than dipping and delving for specific information, this is a beautifully illustrated book that takes the reader on a journey through physical earth, life on earth, the regions of the earth and the human planet.
With its retro colour palette, diagrams and pictures it reminds me very much of a similar book I used to pore over 60 years ago and which I still have, such was its importance to my understanding of the world. While today’s youngsters have television and the Internet to take them on similar journeys, nevertheless there is comfort and security in having something on hand that can be referred to over and over on demand; that gives enough information to satisfy a curiosity while also being a springboard to seeking further understanding if that is required.
However, the illustrations are not as clear as might be expected for a ready reference resource of this type and being unpaged, and lacking a contents page and an index make its use more a personal one than an essential element of a library’s collection. It is one to recommend to parents who are looking to boost their for home libraries so their children can start to understand what this planet is and how it works. It may become as loved as mine did and decades on form part of a collection of adored childhood reads.
As world events and personal dramas seem to envelop us, books like this tend to put mankind and indeed Earth into perspective in the scheme of things and we are left with a wonder and an awe of this ‘third rock from the sun” as well as a sense of hope that despite everything and everyone, this place will endure for our lifetime and that of several lifetimes to come.
Young children are always fascinated with their bodies and how they work and this new publication from DK is the perfect starting point for those who are ready to delve a little deeper. Divided into nine sections, each dealing with a different but related phenomenon of the body, with bite-sized chunks of information in accessible text interspersed with colourful informative diagrams and photos, this is would be an ideal addition to the family reference library ready to consult when questions are asked as well as the school library collection. Having it out on display so students can leaf through it as they wait will spark lots of curiosity and a desire to find out more. The perfect introduction to the role of the encyclopedia as a starting point to finding out a little and sparking the desire to go to a more specialised book to find out more.
DK have been at the forefront of introducing non fiction to young readers for decades and this is no exception.
This is an ideal reference tool for young readers who want to see the world at a glance, rather than having to click through screens that can become confusing and lost.
Clearly divided in to 10 sections – each continent, Early Earth, Polar Regions, The Oceans and Reference – it brings the planet’s geography alive with 3D maps, lots of pertinent facts and illustrations about the landscape, population, landmarks, climate and wildlife. Each section also takes a particular focal point and expands on it – South America is the Amazon Basin; Australia and Oceania is New Zealand – providing a ready reference tool that kept both Miss Nearly 11 and Miss 6 poring over its pages on a recent wet afternoon.
Globes and maps have a fascination for children – they love to discover where they came from, where their family and friends might be and also the settings of their favourite stories so to have a book that provides not just maps but so much more is a treat. While many school libraries are doing away with their reference collections, having a beautiful volume like this on permanent display so students can flick through it at their leisure will not only grab their attention but may have them demanding more information about a particular region.
Miss Nearly 11 was particularly fascinated by the Early Earth section as she knows Australia is ancient and we regularly drive through an area littered with huge granite boulders, the remnants of long ago mountains now weathered away. Miss 6 liked Australia but also New Zealand where she had a holiday in 2015! Definitely something for everyone which would be a superb addition to the collection that students will keep returning to.
Forty years ago when most of the world was dancing to Saturday Night Fever George Lucas created a collection of characters who lived “a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away”. Star Wars was launched and Hans Solo, Princess Leia, C-3PO, R2D2,, Eowks and Darth Vader became part of our vocabulary and light sabres and X-wings were in everyone’s home!
Fast forward to 2017 and Star Wars has more fans now than then and it holds the Guinness Book of records record for the most successful film merchandising franchise ever. So on this, the 40th Star Wars day, this visual encyclopedia will be greeted with enthusiasm from fans new and old.
The publisher describes it best…
“Covering more than 2500 characters, creatures, planets, vehicles, Droids, weapons, technology and more from the Star Wars universe, this visual tour is the ultimate compendium for the epic saga and beyond.
With a full history of the galactic politics, the Jedi Council, and the Empire, Star wars: The Visual Dictionary walks fans through the entire timeline of Star Wars. Galleries of images and information on every page, including lightsabers, languages, clothing and more are showcased with fascinating facts and trivia…Discover the food, architecture, transportation and more from this galaxy far, far away. Each section of the book focuses on different topics to dedicate special attention and detail to every part of the universe, no matter how small. From the planets in the outer rim to Padme’s bridal wear, nothing is missed.
A celebration of all things Star Wars, this visual museum is the perfect addition to any fan’s bookshelf.”
Given that I couldn’t keep the books on the shelves in my primary library two years ago, this would also be a great addition to a library’s shelves too.
Those of us of a certain vintage will remember a film from a few decades ago called Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines(or if not the film, at least the earworm of its title tune). The subtitle was How I Flew from London to Paris in 25 hours 11 minutes and the film focused on a fictional 1910 competition, when Lord Rawnsley, an English press magnate, offered £10,000 (about $A2 000 000 today) to the winner of the Daily Post air race from London to Paris, to prove that Britain was “number one in the air”. Set less than a decade after the Wright brothers made that famous first flight at Kittyhawk in 1903 it offered a look at those early days of aviation and the costs and risks involved for those who live in an era when air travel is taken for granted.
But while the focus of flight was centred overseas, Australia was producing its own heroes who were also thinking about how humans could fly – people like Dr William Bland whose drawings of an Atomic Ship were displayed in the Crystal Palace in London in 1854 and Lawrence Hargrave who experimented with box kites to investigate the concept of wings in 1894 and whose work led to that iconic flight of Orville and Wilbur.
When we think of Australian aviation heroes we tend to think of Charles Kingsford Smith, Bert Hinkler and perhaps Nancy Bird Walton but in this book the experiments and exploits of a number of other great aviators are brought to life adding to our incredible story of innovation and invention. Written by authors who bought their own vintage aeroplane in 2000 and wanted to know its history, it brings to life the lives of those pioneers through imagined diary entries, easily written facts and numerous archival photos and illustrations in a way that makes them accessible to young readers with a thirst to know more. Fascinating reads within themselves, each story makes the reader want to investigate further – why were the long-distance, record-breaking flights so important to Australia? Why were women not allowed to fly until 1927 and who broke the barriers? Who is Deborah Wardley and why do girls owe so much to her? There are so many more heroes than the ten covered in this collection – offering students the opportunity to add another chapter to the timeline, or to investigate flight itself, including how the technical difficulties were understood and overcome without the aid of computers.
The best non fiction doesn’t tell us all the answers – it poses questions that make us want to investigate further. Amazing Australians in their Flying Machines certainly does that. Could well be among those nominated for the CBCA awards next year.
The Periodic Table Book: A stunning visual encyclopedia of the elements
208pp., hbk., RRP $A35.00
Watch any quiz show on television and there is bound to be a question about the Periodic Table, that, odd-shaped mysterious, multi-coloured chart that decorates the walls of science classrooms and labs and which to many, including me, remains a mystery even after it is studied and memorised.
The Periodic Table
However, in this bright, brand-new publication from DK (Dorling Kindersley) those new to the wonders of chemistry are able to understand it better through the use of clear explanations and thousands of photographs and diagrams, starting with an explanation of just what an element is. “Everything in nature, from the mountains and the oceans to the air we breathe and food we eat are made up of simple substances called elements… The elements are rarely found in their pure form. Mostly, they are combined with each other to make compounds, which make up substances around us. To find out more about the elements, we need to take a good look at the periodic table …it shows the key information for each element, grouping them into similar types. With this information we can use the elements to make the things we need. Every element has its own story of where it comes from, what it can do, and how we use it.”
So it’s a bit like baking a cake – you put some butter, sugar, eggs and flour in particular proportions together and the chemical reaction amongst them when heat is applied leads to a cake we can eat, rather than four separate ingredients that are not so palatable. Or. as my son the chef keeps telling me, “It’s about how the ingredients work together that produces the dish.”
Using the stunning DK layout of photos, bite-sized chunks of text and white space that is their signature style, it begins with an explanation of what elements are (that even I can understand), through to ancient ideas about alchemy, a very clear explanation of inside an atom (I do remember that it was a New Zealander, Sir Ernest Rutherford who first split it but never understood what that meant or its impact),so the reader is taken on a on a visual tour of the 118 chemical elements of the periodic table, from argon to zinc. It explores the naturally occurring elements, as well as the man-made ones, and explains their properties and atomic structures. Each has a ready-reference summary of its atomic structure, physical and chemical properties, and the compounds it occurs more frequently in, as well as photographs of it in its raw state, its origins and uses (who knew that sodium was a key element of both mummification and fireworks) so that everything begins to make sense. There is even one of those charts tucked into a pocket at the back, perfect for the bedroom wall, the toilet door or the classroom.
While I have managed to reach a senior age without knowing too much about chemistry, it is very different for today’s students as so many new technological developments, medical breakthroughs and as-yet-unknown jobs rely on a knowledge and understanding of chemistry, the elements that make up this world and others, and how and why that periodic table is what it is. With STEM being the primary focus of so many curricula, this is a must-have for both the beginner and experienced junior scientist. Instead of just memorising “Happy Henry Lives Beside Boron Cottage, Near Our Friend Nelly Nancy MgAllen. Silly Patrick Stays Close. Arthur Kisses Carrie” or “Here He Lies Beneath Bed Clothes, Nothing On, Feeling Nervous, Naughty Margret Always Sighs, Please Stop Clowning Around” or singing The Periodic Table Song students will understand the basis of chemistry as a subject and see the relevance of it to their own world.
Perhaps if I came from an era of where it was more than reciting so the chanting was accompanied by explanation, connection and understanding, I would be a better cook today. No, perhaps not!
What do Demeter and Persephone, Finn MacCool and the fish of Maui all have in common? Well, they are included in this collection of stories from around the world beautifully illustrated by Anya Klauss.
In times long past before the truth was known, many of the things like the sun’s passage across the sky or the formation of the land were a mystery to those observing them so they made up stories to explain the particular phenomenon. Even though they came from far-flung places and diverse peoples. their common thread was to explain the seemingly inexplicable so that the world made sense to them. Whether it involved giants, mythical beings and creatures, magic or sorcery, each story sought to demystify and through their telling through generations across thousands of years they have endured, even though science may have intervened to expose the truth.
As well as being a wonderful introduction to these sorts of stories and embracing a range of cultures, such myths can also be the entry point into scientific investigations for young and not-so-young scientists. If Maui did not fish the North Island of New Zealand out of the sea, how did it get there? If the changing of the seasons are not caused by Demeter’s love and loss, how are they formed? A great way to link literature and science and start our students on their own quests.