The quicksand book
de Paola, Tomie, (Holiday House, 1977, 32pp.)
This tongue-in-cheek Tarzan-style picture book has a jungle girl sinking in quicksand while a know-it-all jungle boy lectures her about its properties and formation. After describing various rescue techniques, he pulls her free, only to fall in himself.
Science is everywhere
Howitt, Christine (text) Peter Bowdidge (photos) (Christine Howitt, 2010, unpaged)
This self-published book is a wonderful introduction to the world of science for preschoolers. Beautifully photographed and designed, the book shows young Joe and his Mum going for a walk. As they go through the garden and along the fence, jump into puddles and explore the park, Mum points out all the things that science helps to explain, such as what shadows are, where puddles go when the sun comes out, how rainbows are formed, why things fall towards the ground, why metal objects rust and how cheese is made. The layout and design are excellent, with text and a single item on different coloured pages on the left and a full-page photo on the right. The photographs are well-composed and the one of Joe on the first double-page spread is most engaging. At the end of the book are three pages of notes for parents, giving them some helpful suggestions for activities to do with their child. Available from www.scienceiseverywhere.com.au
(GENERAL SCIENCE; OUR WORLD)
The magic school bus at the waterworks
Cole, Joanna (Scholastic, 1986, 40pp.)
This book takes a rather fantastical look at a town's water supply. It is written from the perspective of a pupil whose class has the strangest teacher in the school. She makes the class grow mould on bread! And organises an excursion to the waterworks. On the way, the school bus passes through a tunnel and changes, and the children become part of the water cycle, being evaporated up into clouds, falling as rain, and eventually emerging from the school washroom taps. As well as their magic journey, the book presents 'water facts' that the children have to find. The lively full-colour illustrations by Bruce Degen are liberally sprinkled with bubbles containing the children's amusing comments. The story moves well, and is fun without seeming contrived.
The magic school bus inside the Earth, by the same team (1987), uses a similar approach to explore the rocks of the Earth's crust and right inside the Earth. An author, illustrator and reader discussion at the end draws attention to the fact that a bus would melt inside the Earth, and other physical impossibilities in the fantasy.
The magic school bus inside the human body, by the same team (1989), has a similar treatment but does not provide such a good overview as the subject is much more complicated. The quiz at the end is a more effective way of drawing attention to the liberties in the illustrations than the list in Waterworks.
A television series and several spin-off series of books have ensured this series’ continuing popularity. See www.scholastic.com/magicschoolbus/books for a full listing.
(OUR WORLD; HUMAN BIOLOGY)
Mount St Helens: The smoking mountain
Furgang, Kathy (Volcanoes of the World, PowerKids Press, Rosen, 2001)
The Volcanoes of the World series covers six different volcanoes which have experienced historically important eruptions, some recently such as this title or others in the past (eg, Mt Vesuvius). Each double page spread includes one full page of illustration and the facing page is simply worded text in large font on the relevant topic. The spectacular photographs combined with coloured pages and a simple glossary and index provide a very attractive and accessible introduction to a fascinating subject. Also Krakatoa: history's loudest volcano.
Into the deep
Norman, Dr Mark and David Paul (Black Dog Books, 2010, 32pp.)
This 25.5cm square paperback only uses conventional left-to-right double-page spreads for the first two and last openings. The rest of the book is to be read vertically by rotating the book so that the left-hand page is at the top. Down the side of each spread is a depth chart and placed at the appropriate depths are photos of the fascinating creatures that live in the ocean. As the distance from the surface gets deeper, the background of the pages changes until it is black. Simple captions identify each creature and give brief information about them while the distances at the edge of the page are put into perspective by occasional facts about human activity at certain depths, such as how deep scuba divers can go and how far deep-sea fishing nets reach. The outstanding features of this book are the unusual layout and design and the stunning photographs.
(OUR WORLD; ANIMALS)
Once I was a cardboard box… but now I am a book about polar bears
Poitier, Anton (text) Melvyn Evans (Five Mile Press, 2009, 24pp.)
Originally published in the UK by Potter Books, this book and its companion, Once I was a comic… but now I’m a book about tigers, are written by well-known author Tony Potter. The books are produced totally of recycled paper and board and the dual text explains to readers all about polar bears in the main text and how recycling of paper is done on the right-hand side of each double-page spread. The design and layout are excellent with large bold font, photos of polar bears and drawings combining to be clear and engaging. This clever concept works surprisingly well and young readers will be well-informed about both polar bears and recycling.
(OUR WORLD; ANIMALS; TECHNOLOGY)
Platt, Richard; illustrated by Richard Bonson (Viking, 1997, 32pp.)
Each double-page spread of this large-format book is devoted to a particular disaster which actually occurred. Detailed, historically accurate illustrations, often with cross-sections or following a time sequence, are surrounded by captions and paragraphs of text. Maps and boxes of scientific facts explain why the disaster happened. Topics covered include volcanoes, earthquakes, tsunamis, cyclones (Tracy is the historical example discussed in detail), plagues, fires, floods, landslides, the sinking of the Titanic and the crash of the Hindenberg. Illustrated by Richard Bonson.
Is a blue whale the biggest thing there is?
Wells, Robert E. (Albert Whitman, 1993, 32pp.)
Using the blue whale as the standard unit of measure, this humorous picture book aims to show the young reader just how big the universe really is. Ludicrous drawings of jars containing 100 blue whales, towers of 100 Mount Everests and bags of 100 planet Earths try to give the reader a feel for how enormous it is. Apart from one page using feet and tons, exact measurements are not given.
A drop of water: A book of science and wonder
Wick, Walter (Scholastic, 1997, 40pp.)
Walter Wick is the photographer behind the very popular 'I Spy' series of picture puzzle books. In this scientific picture book, he uses his considerable skills to introduce young readers to the properties of water. Superb freeze-frame photographs of drops and splashes, bubbles of amazing shapes, snowflakes and dew-encrusted spiders' webs are supplemented with a simple straightforward text about molecules, surface tension, water vapour, ice and the water cycle, among other water-related topics.
Bodies from the Ice: Melting glaciers and the recovery of the past
Deem, James M. (Houghton Mifflin, 2008, 58pp.)
Bodies from the Ice has been listed as an Honour book in the American Library Association’s Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Medal award for 2009. Following on from earlier titles, Bodies from the Ash and Bodies from the Bog, this title discusses bodies which have been found in mountainous regions around the world. In addition to well-known discoveries such as Ötzi the iceman from The Alps and the body of missing English climber George Mallory on Everest, the book also discusses the Inca mummies found in Peru, unidentified European climbers and a native American Indian body found in Canada. This volume is not only about archaeology, however, but also about glaciers and mountains. It is very well-designed and contains many illustrations including photographs, historical documents and maps.
Rock and mineral (Revised ed.)
Pellant, Chris and staff of Natural History Museum (Eyewitness Guides, Dorling Kindersley, 2003, 64pp.)
Like other Eyewitness Guides it covers its subject with numerous photographs on white background, and with captions and a brief text. Explains what rocks and minerals are, types of rocks, and uses – for tools, building, pigments, ore, gems, etc. For the older end of the 7-12 age range.
Green, Jen (3D pop-up explorer, Walker Books, 2008, 30 pp.)
This is not a pop-up book for the very young child. Rather it contains a lot of information about ocean ecology, including different habitats, life forms and food chains. Slightly larger than A4 landscape in size, the widthways arrangement of the pages has been used to great effect in the design, layout and illustrative content. This includes five three-dimensional pop-up pages which show very effectively life in a rock pool, on a tropical coral reef, in a kelp forest, in waters below 200 metres deep and around ‘black smokers’. The book is indexed and all photographs, diagrams and illustrations are captioned, with much of the information in these paragraphs. The only flaw is on p 21 where the text mistakenly claims that 'Great white sharks can grow up to half a metre long' instead of 'up to six metres long'. (The publisher has been advised of this and it should be fixed in the next printing.)
(OUR WORLD; ANIMALS)
Time: the measuring of time from the Egyptian calendar to the atomic clock
Rochat, Caterina (Watts, 1995, 48pp.)
Originally produced in Florence and illustrated by a team of three Italian illustrators, this book covers the history of the measurement of time. In layout it is not unlike the Eyewitness Guides with an introductory paragraph or two on each new topic with further information in lengthy captions adjacent to the illustrations. Some double pages feature a large central illustration while others contain several smaller ones. Contents cover calendars, clocks and seasons, including important figures who have contributed to the field and experiments for the reader. Part of the “How Science Works” series.
Our patchwork planet: The story of plate tectonics
Sattler, Helen Roney; illustrated by Giulio Maestro (Lothrop, Lee & Shepard, 1995, 48pp.)
In this unusual book for children, the topics of plate tectonics and continental drift are described clearly and illustrated effectively with maps, diagrams and photographs. The contents follow a logical progression and the book concludes with a reading list containing references to journal articles as well as books. Bright blue borders, captions, endpapers and page numbers tone with the colours used in the illustrations to produce an attractive explanation of a complex subject. Illustrated by Giulio Maestro.
Icebergs and glaciers
Simon, Seymour (Morrow, 1987, 32pp.)
Combining magnificent full-colour photographs with glossy blue, black or white pages of text, this large picture book format title covers the creation of glaciers, ice caps and sheets, and icebergs.
The heart of the world: Antarctica
Tulloch, Carol (ABC Books, 2003, 45pp.)
This very full introduction to Antarctica begins with its geological history and uses numerous small clear photographs from many sources, and some lively diagrams and sketches by the author. It describes Antarctica's unique position in the world, the ice sheets, sea ice, climate, wildlife, human history, and the role of international cooperation. Most information is provided in a very readable text, but some details, such as descriptions of animals, are presented as captions to photographs and in boxes which give the personal views and activities of scientists from different disciplines.
(OUR WORLD. AUSTRALIAN)
The state of the planet
Nicholson, John (Allen & Unwin, 2000, 48pp.)
This introduction to many of the world's environmental problems is suitable for upper primary and secondary students. With less illustrative content than most of John Nicholson's books and more detailed text, issues such as deforestation, loss of biodiversity, pollution, global warming and energy usage are discussed in a balanced manner. With sections on what is being done and what the reader can do to help, this book is made less depressing and more relevant to its young audience. It also has an introduction by David Suzuki.
(OUR WORLD. AUSTRALIAN)