Quill and Quire

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Science on the Loose

by Helaine Becker; Claudia Dávila, illus.

Torontonians Helaine Becker and Claudia Dávila, who worked together on the fun and useful how-to manual Like a Pro, have teamed up again for Science on the Loose. This book is brimming with fascinating facts and easily conducted experiments requiring little adult supervision. In fact, most of the experiments can be performed while lounging on the sofa.

One of the book’s strengths is its choice of riveting topics, all drawn from common experience. Becker tackles both ordinary happenings (such as yawning, passing wind, or being bitten by mosquitoes) and scientific issues that dominate the media (black holes, global warming, and genetics). This book is a crash course in scientific literacy. With a warm sense of humour and excellent analogies, Becker effectively explains the captivating oddities of the natural world and our own bodies.

In the morass of tedious non-fiction for children, this is something of a gem. Children will be naturally interested in determining whether they are right or left brainers, from which relative they inherited their double-jointedness, how much their senses depend on context, and how quickly they can condition their pet using a knowledge of Pavlovian reflex.

That is, if the book’s  illustrations and design don’t turn them off. The generic style and lack of detail in Dávila’s illustrations scream “textbook” – in utter contrast to Becker’s lively prose. The page layouts are dizzying, too, teeming with bubbles, sidebars, and shout-out graphics in pukey hospital-gown colours. However, readers may overlook this in their quest to find out how to walk through a wall like Harry Potter on Platform 9¾.