Tag Archives: Non-fiction

Space Explorers

This book – 25 Extraordinary Stories of Space Exploration and Adventure – by Libby Jackson, and with the most gorgeous illustrations by Léonard Dupond, is the perfect Christmas present for your young person who is into space or who might want to become a space fan.

While it possibly doesn’t contain anything new, it is nevertheless an attractive compilation of what has happened in space up until now, starting with those first, short trips into near space and then on to the Moon programme and finishing with the International Space Station.

I would have loved it as a child, and I imagine there are plenty of children to love it now. Libby Jackson tells ‘the story’ interestingly, and as I said, the illustrations are enough for a book in themselves.

With a bit of luck, there might be more space adventures to come, both for the astronauts who go out there, but also for the many scientists on the ground. Mars next?

Very inspiring!

Space on Earth

All right, I admit it! Even though I am very keen on space and astronomy and all that, I have entertained thoughts like maybe it’s a waste of money to send men to the Moon. Even though I thoroughly enjoyed the Apollo programme, and I have a certain fondness for astrophysics. A witch can still be frugal and ask if it makes sense to spend quite so much money on this kind of science.

It seems it does. And I’m so glad to know why.

It seems the space industry doesn’t use up as much money as we believe. Also that the money spent on stuff to do with space returns to us here on Earth in the shape of lots of very important inventions and discoveries.

Sheila Kanani and Del Thorpe, Space on Earth

Sheila Kanani has written this short book called Space on Earth, and it wasn’t until I read it that I realised why it’s called that. Science for space has turned out to be very useful for normal life on Earth, too. Just think, we wouldn’t be able to take selfies without an invention originally intended for space.

The same goes for satnav and cordless drills. Obviously. Our speakers are a lot smaller nowadays, thanks to space. And let’s not forget solar panels. They are from space too.

Space blankets for premature babies, and baby foods (for that long journey to Mars), cochlear implants and cancer detection, all come from space technology. And for more lighthearted science, we have sunglasses and the right clothes for skiing. Swimsuits for swimming faster, and cycle helmets.

This is fascinating stuff, and it’s such a relief to know that space science hasn’t been just for the nerds among us. For each chapter Sheila also introduces the reader to the scientists who worked long and hard at finding the best solution to a problem. And I do like the illustrations by Del Thorpe. I want to believe that reading a book like this will tempt many more children to go into science, and especially girls. Sheila herself is an excellent role model. In fact, I’d like to think of her as a mentor.

I Used To Know That

Yeah, so Christmas was a while ago. But the order from our hosts, Dodo and Son, was to buy lots of non-targeted stocking-filler type presents. These were to sit in a basket and could be opened by anyone at any time during Christmas Day. You know, for when you got bored…

They said they’d started by buying some cheap books from charity shops.

This one – I Used To Know That – was probably one of them. I have to admit to having picked book-shaped parcels. Not that I needed books, but I felt I needed silly gadgets or socks even less.

It’s quite fun, actually. Caroline Taggart has gathered ‘stuff you forgot from school’ in a short, humorous and easy to read format.

The Resident IT Consultant and I discussed whether we’d forgotten the same things, and I pointed out that to some extent we would have been given sufficiently different material from which to forget. So, no, we have blissfully put different stuff behind us. Me more than him. I have always been the type to learn for the moment (=exam) and forget quickly to leave room for more like that. And so it went on.

Maths might have been ‘the same’ were it not for the two countries (languages?) having different ways of describing it. Grammar is both the same, and not. Classic authors? Not the same. Well, a bit. The more foreign, the likelier. Science? Hmm, not always easy wherever you do it.

History; I had my kings and he had his. US Presidents were the same, but we didn’t feel they were all that important. Dates to remember… well, I knew some of his, and him being special, he clearly knows about Freden i Knäred – as do I – but do you?

Then there are the planets, and they depend entirely on how old you are. How many did you learn, that you could later forget?

I had never come across litotes, but now that I have – thank you, dear book – I can tell you it’s something I use a lot. Whereas all I recall about anapaest is that it is one.

So there you have it.

The Search for Earth’s Twin

Whenever the Resident IT Consultant says ‘I thought you might want to read this’ to Daughter, she never does. She made an exception for this book, however. Stuart Clark’s well-written The Search for Earth’s Twin, was a book she read, and then said she might read again.

The Resident IT Consultant had bought two copies, one for her, one for us, because it was going cheap at The Works. First he read it and then I did. I didn’t want to commit, so started by giving it the once-over, which resulted in me reading all of it as well.

Stuart Clark, The Search for Earth's Twin

This is Daughter’s world. ‘Everything’ in the book is relevant, and I kept coming across names of people that pop up in our daily conversations. I feel I finally know what it is she does, and I intend to put this book into the hands of anyone careless enough to ask what it is she does.

It goes from Doppler in the early 19th century, and from there on most of the names you might recognise from school physics books have done their bit. Published in 2016, Stuart even covers some of what is happening right now, like TESS, which was launched in mid-April this year.

So not only could I read about the acronyms I’ve had thrown at me for nearly three years, but I half understand some of the physics, not to mention the agony for the people involved, when they were not believed, or when they were scooped, or the funding disappeared despite theirs being a very good idea.

The one thing that made me uncomfortable was finding Geoffrey Marcy being used as the red thread through the history of searching for exoplanets. Stuart Clark’s compelling first chapter describes the young Marcy in 1982, with his doubts for the future, and this would have been a great opening, were it not for more recent developments. Bad timing, but these things happen.

Still, a fantastic read about astrophysics today for the layman. And we seem to have another two copies of the book, in case of emergencies.

Board books and sex

OK, so this isn’t as bad as you think.

Remember the board books I told you about a few weeks ago? There were some tiny board books about pioneering women, and then there were those ‘Quantum’ board books on physics and maths and all that.

I was wondering what actual parents, and other adults, who buy books for their little ones, will choose, depending on the sex of the baby/toddler/preschooler.

I think we know, don’t we? No boys will be given the female pioneering role model books. People will feel there is no need. Boys lead, and they won’t need to be encouraged to think that girls can. They do need that, of course, but I suspect adults won’t think like that. Until it’s too late.

Probably a few more girls will receive the quantum books. By the time you’d think of getting a book like that for someone, I dare say adults can tell that girls might be minded ‘that way’ too.

I would like to be wrong.

Here We Are

Here We Are, by Oliver Jeffers – the picture book he wrote and illustrated as an introduction to the world we live in, when his son was born a couple of years ago – is truly inspiring. I sort of wish I’d thought to do something of the kind, if only I could draw pictures the way Oliver can.

He has long been among my favourite illustrators, and this book proves how good he is.

Starting with Ursas Major and Minor, and moving on to our solar system, and then Earth, Oliver moves ‘down a level’ for each page spread. Our planet is dry and wet, hot, cold, flat, sharp, and so on. Fish and treasure in the sea in one direction, and breathable air, the stratosthingy and outer space in the opposite direction.

Oliver Jeffers, Here We Are

Then there’s people, all different, but all the same, too. We should look after our bodies as not all parts grow back if detached. Animals; quite a few kinds of them. Day and night, taking it easy and being busy.

And to remember to ask Oliver any questions (although that might only be an invitation to Master Jeffers, and not all of us), and if he’s not here, there are quite a few others on Earth.

I’d really have liked having this book to hand 25 years ago. Life can be so abstract and hard to explain, when there isn’t as much shared language as you tend to have later.

Ground Control to Major Tim

Not every country has an astronaut, so it was pretty exciting when we had Tim Peake up there in space. It almost feels like an age since he worked on the International Space Station, but it was only a year or so ago.

Clive Gifford, Ground Control to Major Tim

Here is a picture reference book written by Clive Gifford for fairly young readers, showing what it was like for Major Tim. We ‘all’ knew about his tweeting and performing to the crowds when he was up there, but not everyone knows what else he did.

Or, for that matter, what Tim had to do to get to the kind of situation where he was a contender to go into space in the first place. What work do you do, and how does one train for life in space?

You learn Russian, as you will be working with people from Russia. You have Heston Blumenthal prepare key lime pie for you. You exercise. The photos all look jolly, but I’d take a wild guess and say that it was all hard work. And not entirely without its risks.

This is the kind of book I know little boys will be pointed towards. I’d like to feel that lots of girls will also read about Major Tim. I know I would have loved it as a child. Please do something to interest all children in space!

50 things you should know about space

I said about Raman Prinja’s last book that it had everything you’d want on astronomy for children. This was true, until I came upon his new book, 50 Things You Should Know About Space, which is wonderful and the kind of book every child should have. I believe this even if they’re not into space (how could anyone not be, though?). Yet.

Raman Prinja, 50 Things You Should Know About Space

The Professor of Astrophysics has managed to fill this new book with what has been my life for years now; the Kepler telescope, Goldilocks, exoplanets, the Atacama desert, and so on.

Beginning with some historical facts before moving on to our own Solar system, Raman looks at how to find new worlds, what to find them with, and how to land on a comet, which is the sort of thing that might come in handy one day.

And there are new, even larger large telescopes on the horizon, that will see more and better than the ones used today.

Apparently some of this is rocket science. So much for people who are always saying things are not. Some things simply have to be.

I was so excited about this book that I was wondering who I could pass it on to once I was done with it. I’d like to inspire a small human to take an interest in this kind of thing.

But then I thought, pass it on?

Fling and Sling

Or Fling, Sling and Batter your way to Victory as the full title reads. It’s ‘all you need to know about medieval weaponry.’

What’s more, this ‘book’ written by Philip Steele is as much toy as book, since you can build a working catapult with the 15 model pieces and the two rubber bands. (I like the preciseness of the number of rubber bands…)

Fling, Sling and Batter your way to Victory

It’s actually quite interesting. I learned things I didn’t know before. You know how when you read medieval novels (ones set in those days, rather than being quite that old) and there is fighting, they will mention ‘stuff’? Well, I’m the kind of person who just reads on, not necessarily able to visualise quite how these warriors are fighting each other.

Mobile towers (no, not anything to do with phone reception) and battering rams are both concepts from past reading. And it’s not until now I actually know both what they look like and how they work!

I’m not totally sold on catapults, however, and the trebuchet looks lethal. I know which end of it I’d prefer to be. And ‘storming the breach’ looks much more dangerous than the words suggest.

I suspect that real catapults didn’t depend on rubber bands, either.

This is very hands-on non-fiction reading.

Atlas of Adventures

Atlas of Adventures is a huge – and rather yellow – book, and it’s one I would have read endlessly as a child. I want to believe that there are many children today who would love to pore over a volume like this. I hope that the thirst for information and a wish to learn while you play is as common in the world of Google as it was in the olden days.

Lucy Letherland, Atlas of Adventures

Each page features a new continent, a country or a particular area, with beautiful pictures by Lucy Letherland. There are two ‘main characters,’ a girl and a boy, who travel to all these places and experience something typical in each of them.

I’ve tried to look at both illustrations and activities with a jaundiced eye, aware of the risk of stereotyping, and while I’m sure there will always be a bit of that (if there wasn’t, we’d all be portrayed as identical, and we’re not; equal, yes, the same, no), this looks a fine book to me.

Lucy Letherland, Atlas of Adventures

The choice of where to stop is sometimes obvious, sometimes not. This makes for good variety. I don’t believe that ‘every gaucho wears a poncho’ but I dare say that many do. It’s a typical thing, not a prerequisite for gauchos. Haggis hurling and thermal glass igloos are other interesting facts.

In short, it simply seems like a fun book, and you ought to be able to spend ages looking at the pictures and reading the snippets of facts, over and over again.

The main hurdle I foresee is where to store the atlas. It’s big, and it’s yellow. (I know, the colour makes no difference.) On the other hand, maybe it will be used so much that it won’t need a shelf to crouch on.

Lucy Letherland, Atlas of Adventures

(I took the liberty of borrowing the images from Lucy’s blog.)