It's True: Pigs Do Fly
by Terry Denton
Illustrated by Terry Denton
Published by Allen & Unwin
96 pages, 2004
Bugs in Your Bed
Reviewed by Sue Bursztynski
A number of years ago, Australia's Allen and Unwin published a series called True Stories, which consisted of books about 18,000 words each, illustrated and with photographs, just the right size for a child's hand. They were written as entertainment, on the assumption that many children enjoy factual reading as well as novels, but they could also be used for school assignments if desired. The series was enormously popular and cheap and sold extremely well. If you're old enough, you may even remember a series called The How and Why Wonder Book, which was also very popular, though it was less polished. Many school libraries still have both the How and Why and True Stories books.
I'm not sure why Allen & Unwin stopped publishing True Stories. Children -- especially boys and reluctant readers -- do enjoy non-fiction. However, the Allen & Unwin non-fiction book is back with this series, about the same price as the original True Stories books, though these books are shorter and aimed at a slightly younger audience. They are also written in a quirkier style than the earlier series and are humorously illustrated by some of Australia's top children's book illustrators. There are six books in the series so far, with more planned. I have read four of them.
It's True: Pigs Do Fly is by the very popular Terry Denton, who is better known for his art than his writing. It is a deliciously funny history of flight, with appropriate cartoons. It begins with the kite and ends with an anecdote about the "flying" pig of the title. Like the earlier series, this could be used for a school project and features a quiz at the end. It is, however, written in a chatty, over-the-top style, and readers will probably remember most of the information as trivia. The only quibble I'd have, as a teacher-librarian, is that boys like to read about war planes and these are stuffed into one page just before the end. But then, it's not that type of book, more the sort of book that a child will read during a library reading period and feel good about having completed.
It's True: There Are Bugs In Your Bed, written by a couple of experts in this area, Heather Catchpole & Vanessa Woods, is possibly the best of the four I've read. The information is accurate, but it also has the sort of "gross-out" factor that children love. Each chapter is about a different type of bug: "Monsters In Your Bedroom," "Gunk In Your Bathroom," "Squirmy, Slimy Things," etc. Tapeworms are in there, along with scary spiders, cockroaches, mosquitoes and other "yukky" creatures. There is also a chapter about the useful things bugs do and a recipe for "slime." The illustrations by Craig Smith are wonderfully cheeky and there are some fascinating facts. Did you know, for example, that a cockroach can live for a month without its head?
It's True: Crime Doesn't Pay, by Beverley MacDonald, is an entertaining history of crime, including a history of criminal law and methods of solving crime. Artist Andrew Weldon, who has done some popular books of his own, supports the text amusingly with his cartoons. Again, you could probably use the information for trivia quizzes, history and even science, but don't need to. The entertainment is enough. Like the bugs book, it has the odd bit of "yuk" factor, such as maggots offering information in forensic science, helping to date the death of a murder victim.
It's True: Your Hair Grows 15 Kilometres A Year is by Diana Lawrenson and was illustrated by Leigh Hobs. It has some entertaining information, but is the "bitsiest" of the titles mentioned here. To be fair, it's harder to do a history of hair than it is to do a history of flight or crime, so the book is mostly filled with hair trivia that is interesting in its own right, but doesn't quite work in the context of this series. Still, it should appeal to the child who likes to spend lunchtime poring over the Guinness Book of Records.
It's good to see a new, inexpensive non-fiction series available for children. This should work well in the school library or the classroom and will make a nice gift as well. | June 2004
Sue Bursztynski is a children's and fantasy writer and librarian based in Australia.