Scholastic’s Horrible Science series, mostly written by Nick Arnold and illustrated by Tony de Saulles, has been a remarkable success. The great thing about these books are that they appeal as much to individual children as they do to schools as educational books. They are as likely to be bought as a birthday present as for a science lesson. That’s because they are one of the few examples of popular science for children (as opposed to textbooks, reference books or science picture books).
To celebrate the series, Scholastic has brought out this “science in one go” book – and it’s a great attempt to cram a quick overview of everything you should know about science into 96 bulging pages. Perhaps the biggest triumph, given it is such an overview, is that the book remains very enjoyable and readable. There’s little sense of rushing over things, just because it is condensed.
As usual with the Horrible Science books it’s a crazy mix of cartoons and comic-style humour with facts and adventures in science. However, there is one break from tradition. Where one of the strengths of the Horrible Science books to date has been that they are ordinary paperbacks (hence both affordable and manageable), this one-off special has taken a leaf from Dorling Kindersley’s “how to make a book” manual. It’s large format, hardback and often adopts a DK-style, two pages to a topic approach. But a quick glance at it would inform anyone that this isn’t one DK’s lushly illustrated volumes, but the more anarchic (and dare we say fun) Horrible Science equivalent. In fact the weakest sections are where there are full page illustrations with a key – they lack the readability of the usual Horrible Science production.
While we’re in mildly negative mode, let’s get a few moans out of the way. We were a little surprised to learn that matter is like “frozen, cooled down energy” (so what temperature is energy, then?) And sad to see that de Saulles still hasn’t got over his solar system model of the atom. There was a touch of inconsistency – we hear that we’re all the same age because our matter dates back to the start of the universe, then we are told the oldest rock is 4.3 billion years old. So people are a lot older than rocks, then? It was a shame that Arnold misses out the really amazing thing about mitochondria. (No, we’re not going to tell you.) And then there’s the character Tinpot, a robot who lives to the end of the universe, slowly rusting away and being depressed, which might to older readers seem a touch reminiscent of Douglas Adams’ Marvin, who at one point sits around to the end of the universe, slowing rusting away and being depressed…
… still these are minor gripes indeed. It’s a great book as an introduction to all of science (okay, all except things like relativity and quantum theory and…), it keeps the interest and oozes with fun and horrid facts. The structure of starting with very small and working up very large works well. And young readers love it. What more could you ask?
Review by Brian Clegg