Books: Enquiring minds

The Titanic, Diana and the World Cup: non-fiction reviewed
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The Independent Culture
1997 WILL FOREVER be the year of Diana, and there's a restrained and informative essay on the woman who captured the imagination of so many children, in The 1998 Britannica Children's Yearbook from Encyclopaedia Britannica (pounds 22). A lot of other things happened as well, of course: here's Dolly the sheep, heroin chic, the Hong Kong handover, Melvin Burgess's Carnegie winning kids' novel Junk, the ghoulish cadaver "art" of Anthony- Noel Kelly, Sophie Dahl, and Tony Bullimore (in his own words). It's a shame the book is so expensive; it's packed with information.

The Titanic makes news every year. With colourful, oversized illustrations and fabulously detailed cutaways, Inside the Titanic by Ken Marschall and Hugh Brewster (Little, Brown pounds 12.99) invites us to embark on the world's largest ship and make the most famous sea voyage of all time. We see events through the eyes of nine-year-old Frank Goldsmith, a real passenger who lost his father and friends in the disaster.

We voyage into the more distant past in The Great Pyramid by Hazel Martell (Wayland pounds 10.99). Khufu's pyramid was built around 4,500 year ago and is still the largest stone structure in the world. The Egyptians began by cutting a trench round all four sides of the site and filling it with water. By marking the waterline and cutting away the rock to that level a perfectly even base was created. Full of facts, illustrations and intriguing conjecture. Others in the "Great Buildings" series include "The Parthenon", "The Colosseum" and "The Taj Mahal".

Young minds are taken out of history and into the cosmos with Is Anybody Out There? by Heather Couper and Nigel Henbest (Dorling Kindersley pounds 9.99). Along the way, in this search of life beyond our planet, the reader explores what alien forms might look like, and what could happen, if we ever make contact. Science illustrator Luciano Corbella provides the efficient, colourful graphics.

The Young Astronomer by Harry Ford (Dorling Kindersley pounds 8.99) introduces young enthusiasts to different aspects of Astronomy - from exploring the solar system to creating projects. This encourages the young astronomer to get moving with enjoyable activities like making your own telescope, quadrant and model of the solar system, using items you'll find lying around at home.

Dorling Kindersley, usually so sound, go from the sublime to the ridiculous with Ghosts & the Supernatural by Colin "The Outsider" Wilson (pounds 7.99). Full-colour photography, computer generated artwork and maps bring the reader face-to-face with the dark world of ghosts and superhuman powers - all to be taken with a giant pinch of salt. Photo captions are worryingly unambiguous: "photograph of a girl with the spirit of her dead sister"; "a telephone flies past a 14-year-old girl". Mmm. For X-philes only.

Drugs: Face the Facts by Adrian King (Wayland pounds 9.99) covers everything from Hooch to Kit-Kats to E and beyond, with sensible advice and awareness of the pressures on young people, both from without and within. A good book to leave lying around.

Positively hallucinatory are the pictures in Destination: Rainforest (National Geographic Society pounds 10.99). That publication's trademark wildlife photography is accompanied by informative text for young naturalists.

There is no escape: this is world cup year, and Ultimate Football by Ivor Baddiel (Dorling Kindersley pounds 9.99) is packed with information on national teams and top players and includes a free wallchart. More geared to getting up off the sofa is The Young Baseball Player (pictured) by Ian Smyth (Dorling Kindersley pounds 8.99), a guide shows new players how to master throwing and catching, fielding, base running and many other techniques.