FAQ Weather

by Valerie Wyatt
Illustrated by Brian Share
Published by Kids Can Press
40 pages, 2000
ISBN: 1550748157

A World of Difference

by Dianne Young
Published by Whitecap Books
32 pages, 1999
ISBN: 1551109557

Animals in Motion

by Pamela Hickman
illustrated by Pat Stephens
Published by Kids Can Press
40 pages, 2000
ISBN: 1550745751

The World of Marine Mammals

by Adrienne Mason
illustrated by Garth Buzzard
Published by Orca Books
61 pages, 1999
ISBN: 1551430460

Comets, Asteroids and Meteorites

by Cynthia Pratt Nicholson
illustrated by Bill Slavin
Published by Kids Can Press
ISBN: 1550745786

Learning With Kids: Five Books That Bring it Home

Reviewed by Sienna Powers


These days, children are entertained to pieces. And while there's nothing wrong with entertainment, there's a reason we eat dinner before dessert, right? Mental nutrients are just as important as the happy psychological stuff that happens with a good dessert. The trick -- with dinner and with mental activity -- is to make the eating and the learning just as enjoyable as the stuff that's purely for fun.

Books are like that too. While it's relatively easy to find a beautiful and amusing storybook for a young child, finding learning tools that small children will enjoy can be more of a challenge simply because our needs here are so defined. Like any children's book, the illustrations -- photo or painting-based -- must be beautiful and arresting, with depths for the child to sink into. Also, the information must be well presented. The tone must be appropriate -- no talking down, but understandable -- and whatever the lessons the book presents must be clear.

FAQ Weather by Valerie Wyatt and illustrated by Brian Share succeeds quite well on all kid counts. FAQ Weather takes a kind of MTV approach to weather for young children. The pace is fast, the topics are many and the science is unimpeachable. Intended for children aged eight to 12, FAQ Weather takes a brisk approach with everything from "What is fog?" and "What is smog?" to "What is acid rain?" and "How hot and cold can it get?" The answers are given in fresh and simple language. But not too simple: no one will get the idea they're being talked down to. Share's illustrations are very rich and -- trite as it sounds -- are a real pleasure to peruse.

One of the best things about FAQ Weather is a very good index. Probably the ideal scenario for this book would be a deep and enjoyable browse on the first pass followed by many returns for access to that index to resolve questions and disputes as they arise over time.

A World of Difference is aimed at readers age four to seven. But it's the kind of little book that's enjoyable at any age because it answers some questions that a lot of us have had. What's the difference, author Dianne Young asks and answers, between a seal and a sea lion? A bobcat and a lynx? A dolphin and a porpoise? Young talks briskly about these and other animals whose striking similarities often make it tough for laymen and children to get a handle on how to tell them apart. Young helps us make the distinctions with snappy descriptions and eloquent photos.

The best way to tell the difference between a dolphin and a porpoise is by their teeth. Dolphins have cone-shaped teeth, while porpoises have teeth with flat tops.

But what if you don't get to play dentist with a dolphin or porpoise? Is there another way to tell these two apart?

There is another way, of course, and Young shares it with us along with supplying some illustrative photographs to underline her point.

Along the way, Young supplies us with interesting factoids on all of the creatures she covers. We learn, for example, that a "newborn baby elephant is a little taller than your kitchen counter and weighs as much as your refrigerator!" Young manages to pack a very good punch into this slender book.

Animals in Motion: How Animals Swim, Jump, Slither and Glide by nature writer Pamela Hickman is an interesting text on how various creatures make their away across the earth and water. Aimed at seven to 11-year-olds, Hickman is very good at breaking down the scientific reasons that animals move the way they do into bite-sized chunks that children will easily understand.

When a bird flies, it does more than just move its wings up and down. The power in bird's flight comes when its wings move down and forward at the same time. On the downstroke, the wing's feathers are flattened out to make it more solid. The larger the wing, the more air it pushes against...

As the sub-title suggests, Hickman covers a pretty full range of creatures. How snakes slither; how snails slide; why and how hopping animals hop; what propels a cricket; where cheetahs get their power and so on. Unfortunately, Pat Stephens' illustrations are not as strong or consistent as Hickman's explanations. While some of Stephens' paintings are exceptionally good -- for example, there's an illustration of a tree frog that is the focus of two pages -- many more are flat and somewhat uninteresting. Stephens' work shows promise, but lacks the snap and richness that a really excellent children's book demands.

Adrienne Mason's The World of Marine Mammals takes an up close and personal look at its subject for children aged 8 to 12. Relying less on illustration and more on information, marine biologist Mason takes her readers on a tour of the deep; adds in a few workbook-style projects (how to make a fossil, how to experiment with bouncing sounds) and adds in several single-page profiles of marine biologists along the way.

The result is a highly readable book rich with fascinating tidbits. The profiles are a nice -- though unusual touch -- as well. The budding marine biologist is provided with a host of role models of both genders and it's interesting reading about their work and, in some cases, what led them to the paths that they've followed.

Comets, Asteroids and Meteorites is the sixth book in the Kids Can Starting With Space series and the fourth written by Cynthia Pratt Nicholson. All six have been engagingly illustrated by Bill Slavin. Written with children aged seven to 11 in mind, Comets, Asteroids and Meteorites includes all sorts of interesting subject-related information and trivia as well as several workbook-style projects that children could easily and safely try on their own. For example, with a plastic bucket, some flour, cocoa powder, a sifter, an old newspaper and three marbles, readers are invited to make their own craters. There's also a page of comet-related Internet resources and a very good glossary and an index. | April 2000


Sienna Powers is a transplanted Calgarian who lives and works in Vancouver, B.C. She is a writer and conceptual artist.