My First Canadian Science Encyclopedia

by Kate Scarborough, Philippa Moyle, Teresa Foster,
40 pages,
ISBN: 155110508X

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Children`s Books
by Peter Bain

If this is a first science book, it shouldn't be the last. Although it is entertaining and reasonably accurate, it is only an encyclopedia in breadth, not depth.

The authors' explanations, such as they are, are clear and straightforward. Yet when they say that "animals hide themselves by blending their bodies into the background," they follow this by a brief description of the cheetah and grey tree frog, while classic and more dramatic examples like the chameleon are absent. The discussion comes under the term "hiding" instead of "camouflage", even though the book isn't shy about using big words, terms like "carnivore" or "annelids" (soft, multi-segment animals such as earthworms). It also falls prey to the occasional tautology: you "stop growing when you reach your full height."

The book starts with a brief discussion of what science is (it's what scientists do, apparently) and then goes into particulars: "astronomers study the stars and planets in space," "botanists study plants to find out how they live and grow," and so on. The rest of the book spends a couple of pages each on such areas of natural science as "How your body works", "The world of plants", "Water", and "Making things move". Many topics contain simple and well thought-out experiments, such as using butter to stick frozen peas to plastic, wooden, and metal spoons and then putting the spoons in hot water to measure the relative heat conductivity.

We do get a Canadian perspective on science (not just in spelling "vapour" with a "u"). Along with mentions of Darwin and Aristotle, there are brief biographies of Alexander Graham Bell, Roberta Bondar, Abraham Gesner (the inventor of kerosene), and others. Unfortunately, these snapshots are all too brief. Einstein's profound and elegant work on relativity is condensed to the statement that he "worked on the science of time and light."

The book touches very lightly and sometimes misleadingly on its subject-matter. It fails to distinguish between scientists and engineers or inventors; scientists, it says, "invent many of the products we use today." It also misses the essence of scientific investigation: the objective investigation of natural phenomena by hypothesis and experiment; we're told that chemists merely "find out what things are made of by doing lots of experiments."

While it is a fast, easy read, it skimps on content that should hardly be a stretch for children aged about five years or a bit younger. After a look at this "encyclopedia", parents should move on directly to more sophisticated science books for children. 

Peter Bain is a electrical engineering consultant in Ottawa. He is married and has two daughters and a cat.


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