Exploring Space: From Galileo to the Mars Rover and Beyond by Martin Jenkins and Stephen Biesty
|Exploring Space: From Galileo to the Mars Rover and Beyond by Martin Jenkins and Stephen Biesty|
|Category: Children's Non-Fiction|
|Reviewer: John Lloyd|
|Summary: A welcome return to clarity and other such old-fashioned traits, for this book that enters a crowded market but cannot fail to stand out.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 64||Date: February 2017|
|Publisher: Walker Books|
I take it as read that you know some of the history of space exploration, even if the young person you buy books for doesn't know it all. So I won't go into the extremes reached by the Voyager space craft, and the processes we needed to be expert in before we could launch anything. You probably have some inkling of how we learned that we're not the centre of everything – the gradual discovery of how curved the planet was, and how other things orbited other things in turn proving we are not that around which everything revolves. What you might not be so genned up on is the history of books conveying all this to a young audience. When I was a nipper they were stately texts, with a few accurate diagrams – if you were lucky. For a long time now, however, they've been anything but stately, and often aren't worried about accuracy as such in their visual design. They certainly long ago shod the boring, plain white page. Until now…
Yes, this was startlingly different to the several other similar books I've seen in recent reviewing years. And all the changes, all the reverting to the old style, with good honest cut-away diagrams, and fancy-free, crisp white page – you know what? It's all to the good. One or two illustrations are still fanciful – a man in a lab coat just holding the 84kg Sputnik 1 as if he's buying a watermelon is one example. But the scale portrayal of launcher rockets through the ages, the multi-captioned picture of a communications satellite, and the schematic of a potential Martian habitat – all are necessary for a book of this type, all convey information in a handy mixture of written and pictorial media, and all are just so much more pleasant on the eye for not being presented on garish, clashing, colour paper or against the uniform black of space.
Similarly old-fashioned, to my mind at least, is the feel I got that this book is not pitched at just one specific audience. It would probably sit well in a primary class, but my guess is it has some detail that would serve someone readying for a GCSE, if general science courses were to feature such topics. (It also ticks my requirement of teaching me something, for I don't think I've heard of the daftly-named Dyna-Soar space plane before now.) Thank heavens that not everything is crammed on to two pages per subject, but a full story can be told in longer chapters, and well done the designers by interrupting said chapters with pictures that combine to form their own narrative, such as the ones portraying different telescopes through the ages. There's no dumbing-down here, there's no sense that the topic lacks the wonder needed to grab the young audience – what we get is a straightforward guide to how we have looked up, and tried our best to grab a piece of what we found there, whether that be rock or pure knowledge.
I know I'll be fickle and laud the next astronomy book that comes along for never dwelling on anything for longer than a single spread, and for giving a kinetic feel to what might be to some a dry topic. But on the day I read this book I loved it, and felt like knocking half a star off every mark for every similar book I've come across. Today, at least, I declare that this is how you do books like this, and I'm very happy to see such refreshingly plain yet involving material being produced.
I must thank the publishers for my review copy.
I'll concede there is a third way of presenting such information – with the use of pop-ups, tabs to pull etc – and The Ultimate Book of Space by Anne-Sophie Baumann, Olivier Latyk and Robb Booker (translator) is a great example of that for the very young.
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You can read more book reviews or buy Exploring Space: From Galileo to the Mars Rover and Beyond by Martin Jenkins and Stephen Biesty at Amazon.com.
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