Exploration is at the heart of scientific endeavour. It’s that Star Trek feeling, the urge to “boldly go where no one has gone before” (in the politically corrected Next Generation version of the mission). It is all too easy in an application driven world, to forget that knowledge is an end in itself, and though blue sky research may lead to something effective, that’s really not the point. Exploration, at it’s best, is not the same as the mountain climber’s excuse “because it’s there” – it’s only exploration if you go there to find something out, to increase the span of human knowledge (and “I’m finding out if I can climb it” doesn’t count).
This, then, is a book about exploration, and though it gives important room to geographical exploration and the exploration of history through artefacts, the most significant theme running through the book is scientific exploration from its most basic to particle physics and, inevitably the exploration of space.
But don’t think this is just another kids’ pop sci book – it’s rather different. Firstly, it’s aimed at a younger audience than most, and that’s great. Secondly it’s in verse. Although George Gamow’s books featured the odd bit of opera, this must be the first popular science book we’ve come across entirely in rhyme. And thirdly it is strikingly illustrated by Enrico Moreiro’s paintings.
So does it work? On the whole, yes. The poetry is straightforward – and the subject matter sometimes feels a little odd put into rhyming couplets (“Please tell me, Professor, what’s the use/Of setting all those electrons loose?”), but has a pleasing effect and carries a powerful message. The paintings aren’t to everyone’s taste – they’re rather old fashioned in feeling (see the cover illustration) – but are well executed and to the point. It’s a very unusual book, but no worse for that.
If you are looking for a different children’s science book for a younger audience, why not make a break from the popular themes of the day, all those oh-so-practical science books about computers and electricity and all the rest, and open the reader’s eyes to the wonder that in the end is the whole point of doing science. After all, young children don’t just want to know “what”, they so often ask “why” – and this is a chance to give them an answer.
Review by Jo Reed