August 09, 2012


Technology: A Byte-Size World! Created by Simon Basher. Written by Dan Green. Kingfisher. $8.99.

Basher Science Sticker Book: Science That Sticks! Kingfisher. $8.99.

      And now there are 11 – maybe 11½ .  The Basher Science line continues to grow and continues to intrigue preteens with its presentation of facts within a manga-derived realm of characters representing the various topics under discussion.  What that means is that the books don’t anthropomorphize science concepts so much as character-ize them.  Technology: A Byte-Size World! contains representations of a microchip (envisioned as a 10-legged insect), concrete (eyes, mouth and swirl of hair on a stack of concrete blocks), a laser (seen as wearing a lab coat), a rotor (on a smiling helicopter), an ion thruster (part of a determined-looking interplanetary spaceship), and many more.  The pictures are amusing, even wry, but not so the facts.  Each page gives a three-line basic description, a couple of paragraphs “spoken” by the character, and three “just the facts” lines at the bottom.  One item at the top of the “Space Suit” page, for instance, says, “Has legs that are color-coded to identify the occupier.”  One at the bottom says, “Number of parts in a typical space suit: about 18,000.”  And the first-person material says, among other things, “My hard, fiberglass torso protects your vital organs, and a gold coating on the clear, plastic bubble helmet blocks out most radiation.”  Similarly, “Steel” says, “A mighty, heighty tower of strength, I build the world’s tallest buildings.”  One top-of-page note says, “Hard-as-nails alloy made from iron mixed with a little carbon,” and one at the bottom of the page says, “Typical carbon content: 1.2%-2%.”  But, you may wonder, what is steel doing in a technology book?  Well, “technology” is defined quite broadly here.  The book explains the spring (“This bouncy fellow stores mechanical energy when deformed”), the screw (“An axle with a sloped spiral track called a thread”), paper (“Made in a paper mill out of a mesh of tiny cellulose fibers”), and the toilet (“First flushing system: 1596”).  Of course, the book also includes computers, mobile phones, flash memory, particle accelerators, smart cards, robots and other items more conventionally thought of as technology.   But by mixing those items with the printing press, sail, battery, and wheel and axle, Technology: A Byte-Size World! helps preteens learn just how diversified the tech field is, and just what the words “technology breakthrough” would have meant at different times through the years.  Like its 10 predecessors, this latest Basher Science entry is a winner.

      And what about that “maybe 11½” comment?  Well, the half book is a whole book – of stickers, and nothing but stickers and places to put them.  There are plenty of science words in it: “hematite” on the “rocks and minerals” pages, “Oort cloud” with “Solar System,” “Tripod fish” in “Oceans,” and such amusingly drawn weather characters as a Cyclopean hurricane, a lightning-eyed thunderstorm and a smiling and puffy cloud.  Other sections are called “Planet Earth,” “Physics,” “Chemistry” and “The Periodic Table.”  The stickers are cleverly designed and fit neatly into the anime-style drawings: ghostlike talc, shivery-looking ice storm, spouting blue whale, amusingly drawn representations of force, inertia and mass, and many others – more than 60 stickers in all.  Stickers are not provided for the Periodic Table page, but every element gets its own little drawing, and the table goes all the way to element 118, although it does not include the just-approved names for elements 114 (flerovium) and 116 (livermorium).  Young readers already familiar with Basher Science books may enjoy this sticker collection, but they may be past the target age range for this book, which is for kids ages 7-10.  Those not yet familiar with the Basher approach may be drawn into it by the book of stickers – or may simply be bewildered, since the book contains no explanatory material at all.  Therefore, Basher Science Sticker Book gets a (+++) rating – it is fun to look at and ties neatly to the more-substantive books in the series, but it really is the equivalent of only half a book, lacking the content that makes the other Basher Science books so attractive.

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