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Children`s Books
by Gillian Chan

Spy Science is an attractive and interesting book which will appeal to many children-or such at least are the initial impressions. Jim Wiese, an elementary school science teacher from British Columbia, obviously finds espionage and its everyday applications fascinating. He writes engagingly and it is hard not to be carried along by his enthusiasm. He has analysed the skills, equipment, and techniques involved, and used these as the basis for devising experiments and activities for children to undertake. The instructions he gives are clear and are well-served by Ed Shems's cartoon-like illustrations. Where relevant, Wiese also describes how a particular technique or piece of equipment was used in real-life espionage.

So far, so good. Spy Science might seem to be an ideal present for bright, curious children, or an excellent resource for a teacher to use, but the more I thought about it the more uneasy I became.

The basic premise of making science interesting and relevant is obviously worthy and Wiese has done a fine job of this in his earlier books Roller Coaster Science, Rocket Science, and Detective Science. What is at issue here is the subject-matter of this latest in the series and the underlying implications of some of the activities and experiments Wiese suggests.

Spying is intrinsically secretive and, at times, duplicitous. I am not sure that these are qualities anyone should encourage children to develop. Explaining to a child how to steam open letters, how to tail someone, how to eavesdrop, or how to check whether anyone has entered his or her room, might seem fun, but there is a potential for unpleasantness and even abuse if taken too far. Wiese is obviously aware of this, as he is careful to stress caution and to design the activities in such a way as to limit possible harm. For example, when attempting to eavesdrop on a conversation he indicates that this is to be done with the knowledge and co-operation of the speakers. He also constantly stresses that some of the experiments must not be attempted without adult help and supervision, but surely he is not so naive as to believe that every child who comes across the book will follow his instructions to the letter.

Espionage goes on. That is fact, be it at a national or industrial level, but is it something to be proud of or to glorify? Ultimately Wiese's book ultimately does glorify it with an "isn't this nifty" approach. Spy Science will undoubtedly appeal to many children, but adults need to think about how they feel about the book's subject-matter and be willing to supervise its use. 


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