Macmillan Children’s Books, £5.99, ISBN 978-0-330-50895-7
Brains, Bodies, Guts and Stuff is exactly what it says on the cover – this is a collection of scientific trivia that provides answers to all-important questions such as “Why are some farts eggier than others?” and “Could you make candles out of earwax?” Of course, these questions are all lead-ins to discussions about the biology behind our various bits and pieces – at least, those bits and pieces that can be mentioned in a book for kids without some folks screaming for a bonfire.
This concept of using supposedly gross stuff as a carrot to get kids to read up about science is a cliché by now, but I’m all for it if it gets kids to read these things and develop an interest in figuring out how the world can work for everyone’s betterment. It’s tough to balance humor with facts, however, and Glenn Murphy gets the balance off here. The humor has a big try-hard feel to it, often making me feel like I’m following the awkward efforts of an awkward uncle anxiously trying to emulate the way he imagines cool kids would speak. This tendency to want to sound cool in a “Hey, your Uncle Elmer wants to hang out with your school mates – in his cool clown suit!” manner often gives rise to long running sentences that may cause readers to scratch their head and reread those sentences a few more times before they get the message.
The author also tries to present topics like the immune system and viral replication in a manner that kids will get. I respect that. However, some of these topics can be hopelessly abstract without the use of illustrations, and illustrations are something this book don’t have enough of. In the section of viral replication, for example, the author jumps right into how information coded in DNA or RNA is inserted into the cell’s nucleus from the virus, blah blah blah. The assumption here is that the kid is familiar with what a nucleus is, what a DNA is, and so forth. If the kid knows these things, would he be reading something as basic as this?
I guess I’m just confused as to whom this book is reaching out to. The liberal use of jargon and terminology suggests that the reader should have some entry-level knowledge – the section on skin injury and repair, for example, assumes that you already know what a “fibroblast” is – but the information here is barely above entry level in the first place. It’s just seems more advanced because the author skips the introductory bits and jumps right into the middle of the movie, so to speak. Perhaps Brains, Bodies, Guts and Stuff is meant to be read for fun then? But the tortuous writing often makes this book a tough one to get through – the hardest thing about it is often not the science – it’s figuring out why the author arranges words into sentences the way he does here.
Brains, Bodies, Guts and Stuff is best read by people with OCD who need to read everything they get their hands on, or people who get this from a used bookstore and have way too much time on their hands. Oh, and before you ask, I’m in the latter category.