Monday, 9 April 2012
Funky Non-Fiction for Kids
The Murderous Maths of Everything by Kjartan Poskitt takes a narrative approach and can be read cover to cover. It uses a framing story of a visit to the Murderous Maths Organisation to give the reader a tour of some fascinating mathematical ideas, concepts and quirks. As a tour type book, it covers different areas including weird arithmetic, interesting geometry and quirks in measurements. It proved interesting to my fairly maths-averse daughters and certainly succeeds in showing how maths can be fun without getting dangerously geeky.
The two Horrible Science books are quite different, and have both been enjoyed in quite different ways. The Horrible Science Annual features experiments as well as explanations of concepts and comic strips of discoveries and facts. As an annual, this is an assortment of various types of science topic rather than having a theme. My youngest particularly enjoyed the 'Make a Freaky Face' page, which has kids doctor a photo of themselves to make the eyes and mouth upside down. Looking at this picture upside down is fine, but the right way up is really freakish. Naturally, this would be a fun thing to do with pictures of everyone in the family, and maybe some celebrity pics from magazines or newspapers ... [NB I've also seen this done on QI with a hideous version of Alan Davies, so it's not just kids who enjoy this.]
How to Draw Horrible Science has probably been the most revisited of all these titles, and both kids have been pleased with the results they've had in following the instructions in this book. I particularly like the care with which this has been produced: the book is wire bound, so it always lies flat open and it's easy to work from. Lots of different styles of people and animals are included, as well as essential and scientific additions like gaseous emissions, indications of speed, bodily excretions of all types and ways to indicate temperature and movement in drawing.
The first History title is the Horrible Histories Annual which, like the Horrible Science Annual, dips into lots of different historical topics rather than taking a theme. It serves as a perfect introduction to the Horrible Histories series or adds extra content to an existing collection. In typical annual style, it features puzzles and comic strips on suitably gruesome topics such as the Witch Trials, poverty in the Victorian period and 'Revolting Revolutions'. And, being the 2012 annual, there is also a section dedicated to games and sports with the Olympics and similar events.
How to Change the World with a Ball of String is an easily browsable volume that covers scientific as well as historical information. Its organising idea is the arbitrariness of important discoveries and events, and introduces many key world events by drawing attention to their randomness. Headings such as "Discover a Continent ... by going the wrong way" and "Fight a War ... by sitting still" will entice children to read about Columbus's discovery of the Americas and the lack of movement in the Western Front of WWI.
Overall, these volumes are great examples of enticing and intriguing non-fiction for children which capitalises on kids' natural curiosity. Each of these titles clearly starts from an assumption that children want to find out about things, rather than working from a list of what kids 'should' know.