September 07, 2006


Scholastic Question & Answer Series: Did Dinosaurs Live in Your Backyard?; Do All Spiders Spin Webs?; Do Whales Have Belly Buttons?; What Do Sharks Eat for Dinner?  By Melvin & Gilda Berger. Illustrated by Alan Male (Dinosaurs); Roberto Osti (Spiders); Higgins Bond (Whales); John Rice (Sharks). Scholastic. $5.99 each.

     Any kid with free-floating curiosity about this and that should love these thin paperbacks, each of which packs plenty of information, in easy-to-digest form, into 48 pages.  The “free-floating” characteristic is important, because there is no guarantee that Melvin and Gilda Berger’s books will answer the specific questions that a particular child may ask.  But the Bergers answer so many questions, so interestingly and accurately, that they should pique a child’s interest in looking up additional answers elsewhere, if they are not included in these books.

     Each book is laid out in four main sections.  The Dinosaurs book, for example, includes “The World of Dinosaurs,” “The Rise of Dinosaurs,” “The Triumph of Dinosaurs,” and “The End of Dinosaurs.”  Each section contains multiple questions, each with its own brief, to-the-point answer.  For example, in Spiders, “How do tarantulas defend themselves?” has an answer that begins, “By shooting out hairs.  A tarantula uses its legs to brush hairs off its body and into the eyes and mouth of an attacker.  The sharp, hooked hairs sting and hurt the enemy, giving the tarantula time to scamper away.”

     Each book’s illustrator conveys realistic images of the topic, including good close-up views of small creatures (such as spiders) and a good sense of scale for large ones (such as a human diver swimming next to a blue whale).

     The questions themselves are all over the place – the sectional system is more an organizational tool than a good guide to what the Bergers discuss from page to page.  Among the questions in Dinosaurs are whether dinosaurs lived alone or in groups; who created the name “dinosaur”; why some plant eaters had very long necks, and which had the longest; whether some dinosaurs had two brains; and which dinosaur had the biggest head.  Among the Spiders questions are whether spiders make sounds; how many eggs a female spider lays; how long spiders live; and which spider becomes part of its own web.  (By the way, the answer to the book’s title question is that not all spiders spin webs – though all do produce silk threads.)

     In the Whales book, which also discusses dolphins, are such questions as how long whales can stay underwater; whether they can drown; where their ears are; how whales sleep; and what the difference is between dolphins and porpoises.  And the answer to this book’s title question is yes: whales, like other mammals, do have belly buttons.  As for Sharks, this book asks how strong a shark’s jaws are (twice as powerful as a lion’s!); why sharks must keep swimming all the time; which sharks make sounds; and which shark is called a swimming garbage can (the tiger shark, which will eat anything).

     Making facts fun to learn without “dumbing down” the underlying information is quite an accomplishment.  These books in the Scholastic Question & Answer Series do just that.  Give them all extra credit.

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