Earth: A Visitor’s Guide
by Ian Harrison
Published by Dorling Kindersley Publishers
360 pages, 2007
The Book of Everything
Reviewed by Sue Bursztynski
Anyone working in the school system finds that most teachers believe firmly that for kids to be considered as readers, they have to be reading fiction. If it’s not a novel, it isn’t really reading. Or, at best, there’s a grumbling concession that, “Oh, well, at least they’re reading something.” The implication being that they’re reading something inferior. Yet studies have shown that boys in particular prefer to read true information. Boys who won’t touch the class novel, who come to the library begging for “a thin book, miss” because their English teacher has told them they have to review something will sit quite peacefully reading a book about sport, a car magazine or chuckling and exclaiming over the Guinness Book of Records. And non-fiction books for children sell well and continue to sell, depending on the subject matter.
Earth: A Visitor’s Guide is a book of fascinating facts and trivia for those readers who enjoy the Guinness Book of Records. It is more than just records, of course. There is a photo of a 70-year-old woman who is so covered in tattoos that she looks dressed even when naked and has a large number of body piercings, but there is a lot more.
There is, for example, a section of bizarrely different road rules in different countries. In Utah, for example, birds have right of way on all roads and in Turkey anyone caught driving under the influence will be driven far out of town and made to walk back under police supervision. In Washington State, anyone intending to commit a crime is legally required to stop on the outskirts of a town and phone the chief of police before entering town.
The facts don’t stop. Did you know that in Tudor England, the ruler had someone whose job it was to wipe the royal bottom after it used the toilet? That the first artificial limb was made by an escaping criminal in ancient Greece, who had to cut off his own leg to get away? There are also some debunkings of previously accepted “facts” and a section on urban myths. There is even a recipe for a football-sized scotch egg and some unusual origami patterns.
There are chapter headings in a table of contents at the front and a handy index at the back, so that the reader can look up anything that interests them, but this is really a book to browse through and discover entertaining facts. My nine-year-old nephew, who adores this kind of book, chortled his way through pages at random and described the book as “cool!”
Like many Dorling Kindersley titles, Earth: A Visitor’s Guide is beautifully presented and illustrated. Unfortunately, like many other titles, it has tiny print, presumably in order to cram in more information. My nephew is a good reader who has made his way through some difficult books, so the small print doesn’t bother him, but what about the reluctant readers for whom a book like this is a godsend? Such children might browse through the pages with larger writing, but would have to give up on the rest; and that would be a pity. The author has worked hard to come up with information that is delightfully entertaining and it’s all true!
Verdict: the book is excellent, the layout could be better. Oh, yes, and it’s “cool!” Now, if I can only sneak a copy past the English teachers at my school... | October 2007
Sue Bursztynski is the author of several children's books, including the CBC Notable Book Potions To Pulsars: Women Doing Science and Your Cat Could Be A Spy. Her fiction has been published in various SF magazines. She publishes two blogs, a general one at http://greatraven.blogspot.com and a review/SF blog at http://suebursztynski.blogspot.com. She lives in Australia.