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Children's Books - age range 9-11*
Review - The Story of Astronomy and Space - Louie Stowell & Peter Allen
Don't be put off by a title that sounds like an essay by an ten-year-old - this is a well-illustrated and fact-packed guide to astronomy and space. I thought initially from the layout, which is more text-oriented than many, that this was aimed at secondary school students, but the wording is too basic for that audience. That's not to say that there aren't any illustrations, but the smaller format (it is big for a standard paperback, but the rather nice plastic-coated cover is significantly smaller than a typical illustrated book for this age range) and quantity of text means that it also gets in an awful lot of facts.
In eight chapters we get a quick introduction, the basics of the Sun, stars and Earth, the planets, the history of astronomy, two chapters on spaceflight, one on the history of telescopes, the life story of the universe and as an excellent bonus star charts so you can visually explore the heavens. Unlike some similar books there isn't an over-heavy bias towards the most exciting bit - space travel - it has its proper place, but it doesn't dominate.
Overall the content was excellent. Although there was one slip into fantasy land (suggesting NASA could have a moon base by 2020), even the space travel side was mostly accurate and didn't resort to the wishful thinking that can be common. Just occasionally the whirlwind speed with which it goes through topics was a shame. For instance Herschel just gets a passing mention, missing the opportunity to tell a great story. But on the whole the speed with which the book slams in the facts and fun is admirable.
If I have any criticism it's that I wish the book had a bit more structure. Each page has typical three or four chunks of text which are often not directly related and there is no flow. Each piece of text stands alone as a bit of a plonking statement - there could be a bit more light and shade and more connection between the texts. As it stands you could put each one on a card, shuffle them and it wouldn't make any difference.
Even if this makes the book a better dip-in title than it is for reading end to end, it has plenty to enjoy and to delight the reader. The mix of history and up-to-date science is good and the illustrations fit well with the text. Likely to be appreciated by any space-loving young person.
Reviewed by Brian Clegg
* Our age range recommendation is an estimated guide, but individual readers outside the range could still enjoy the book!
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Last update 16 April 2011