July 10, 2014


Scholastic “Discover More”: Human Body. By Steve Setford. Scholastic. $15.99.

Scholastic “Discover More”: Polar Animals. By Susan Hayes and Tory Gordon-Harris. Scholastic. $12.99.

Scholastic “Discover More” Stickers: Sharks. By Laaren Brown. Scholastic. $6.99.

     The ever-expanding Scholastic “Discover More” series keeps finding more things about which kids can discover more – in books whose strong visual orientation is coupled with careful attention to detail in the small amount of text provided per page. Human Body is intended “for expert readers,” which means the information is fairly detailed, but the presentation is as enthusiastically exclamatory here as in all the books in the series: “Life would be difficult if you had to stop breathing to digest a meal!” “Medical illustrators knew as much about the human body as doctors and professors did!” “In fact, you are mostly water!” The relative complexity of the presentation “for expert readers” is more a matter of detail than anything else. For example, the analysis of what elements people are made of is a bright, multicolored two-page spread that not only explains the body’s “big six” elements (oxygen, carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, calcium and phosphorus) but also lists seven other elemental components – and gives percentages for everything (calcium is 1.5%, for instance, while iron is 0.006%). There is actually a considerable amount of factual information crammed into the illustration-heavy pages. On the pages about hair and nails, for example, is a note that red-haired people have about 80,000 scalp follicles, while ones with blond or brown hair have around 146,000 – and, in a separate note, split ends (of any hair color) occur because “on an old or damaged hair, the cuticle peels off [and] the keratin fibers below unravel.” Tremendously blown-up photos of eyelash mites and head lice are as dramatic and scary as they are intended to be, while fact after fact provides insight into bodily systems, explaining why you can never hear your voice the way others hear it, noting that children laugh 300 times a day but adults only 17 times a day, saying that the fastest nerve signals travel 250 miles per hour, telling why we shiver, pointing out that our skin completely renews itself every 28 days, and much more. As an introduction to anatomy that has far more information in it than many traditionally laid-out books for young readers, Human Body is an excellent way for kids to find out a lot about what makes people tick, with illustrations so well done that even adults can appreciate and learn from them: the layout explaining and diagramming synovial joints, for instance, is one fine example among many here.

     Polar Animals is a smaller-size book that is designated as being “for confident readers,” which means it has equally intriguing photos (a two-page spread of basking walruses is a high point) with simpler writing providing information that is every bit as engaging as the contents of more-complex books in the series: “The arctic tern travels 1.25 million miles in a lifetime (that’s the same as going to the Moon and back three times!).” “The Arctic woolly bear moth is a caterpillar for seven years before it turns into a moth.” “No one is sure why a narwhal has a tusk. …Tusks can grow to 9 feet!” “Half of a whale’s or dolphin’s brain is awake at all times.” There are more photos and fewer explanatory diagrams here than in Human Body, but the overall layout of the book is quite similar, giving precedence to visuals – mostly photographs – and fitting sentences or short paragraphs of information amid, between and around the visual material. Polar Animals is not primarily about humans, but it does contain information on ones who live in the polar regions, with photos of Inuit people herding, hunting, fishing and managing their lives in a forbiddingly cold area. The concluding interview with a scientist gives additional insight into how polar animals are studied and by whom. This “Discover More” entry is interesting in its own right, and can be a gateway to the more-complex books in the series as children become more-adept readers.

     Not much reading at all is required for Scholastic “Discover More” Stickers: Sharks, which is just what the title would indicate: a book in the form of the “Discover More” series, but containing stickers (260 of them) to peel and adhere to various pages. In truth, the book looks like a “Discover More” entry (a thin one), but its approach is less informational and more for fun – for example, it includes a variety of bad jokes: “Why did the shark cross the coral reef? To get to the other tide.” Some factual information is certainly present, including some that is fascinating: “When a great white is sick, it thrusts its stomach out of its mouth, then pulls it back in.” “You’re more likely to be killed by a hair dryer than a shark.” But the emphasis here is as much on entertainment as on information, with, for example, pages called “Hand-build a hammerhead” and “Produce a predator” – to both of which readers are supposed to add stickers to produce “something REALLY terrifying!” The stickers themselves range from parts of shark bodies (for the create-a-shark pages) to ones showing specific types of sharks and ones used to populate ancient oceans or a modern reef. This thin book may be fun for kids who already have some knowledge of sharks and just want to remember a few selected facts while they enjoy placing stickers here and there. But it falls short of other “Discover More” books by compromising its factual elements with too much irrelevance and too much material that is simply silly. Unlike the other “Discover More” books, it therefore gets a (+++) rating.

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