There’s nothing really wrong with this book – it’s a neat idea, basing a children’s popular science book around our fears – but for me it didn’t really work.
Part of it was that I felt the age targeting wasn’t quite right. It was packaged like a book for 10-year-olds, but the text was too long and too wordy for anything other than a secondary school audience. What was in there was mostly fine, with sections on scary wildlife, natural disasters, medical emergencies, unlikely accidents and more – yet it failed to have that real ‘grab you and excite you’ feeling.
There were a few specific issues too. It’s rather unfortunate timing that in the section on viruses we are reassured that there’s not much chance of the reader experiencing a pandemic… at exactly the time the World Health Organization announces one. After warning of the dangers of throwing around probabilities, Glenn Murphy does just that, sometimes not specifying (for instance) if the risk is per exposure or per lifetime. And, yes, he refers to the USS Enterprise’s first officer as Doctor Spock. That’s the childcare man.
Perhaps worst, the way it’s written, with a very knowing sense of humour, isn’t necessarily the right voice for a young audience. There are assumptions here I’m not sure would play through. For instance in the section on sharks we’re told ‘And above all – they play the cello as they eat you. Daaaaa-dum, daaaaa-dum, dum-dum-dum-dumm-daaa-dum.’ Possibly a bit dumb. I would imagine this Jaws reference would go over the head of many young readers, and there’s no attempt to explain the context. Even if they have heard the Jaws music (the movie dates back to the 1970s, remember, it’s ancient history), would they know it was played on a cello?
So there’s plenty of good material in here, and bits of it read quite well, but overall it doesn’t quite hit the spot.
Review by Jo Reed