BOOKS FOR CHILDREN: Hot metal megabugs

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The Independent Culture

2 The Great Animal Search by Caroline Young, illus Ian Jackson, Usborne £5.99. Hyper-detailed drawings of wild-life scenarios around the world set the task of spotting as many examples of a species as you can. A riot of creatures great and small crowds these packed pages, transporting you to the magical underwater world of Australia's oceans, the harsh life in the mountains of East Asia, and even the humble farmyard of Britain, where your task is to match the babies with the mothers: the baby crow in its nest, the rabbit peeping out of the discarded colander.

2 Birds by Suzy-Jane Tanner, David Bennet Books 99p. One of 12 in a mini- series (literally: the books are about 3in by 2in) designed to charm minimalists with small pockets. Clear pictures and text that is never silly make these more than just a gimmick. Other titles include Leaves, Seeds, Flowers, Bugs, Fish.

2 The Usborne Illustrated Encyclopedia: The Natural World, Usborne £9.99. With vast amounts of information in a easily accessible and full-colour format, this is one for dippers and browsers rather than readers. Families of animals are grouped together so that their differences and similarities can be spotted, and there are sections on habitats, evolution and ecology, as well as experiments to do at home.

2 Megabugs: The Natural History Museum Book of Insects by Miranda MacQuitty with Laurence Mound, River Swift £12.99. Yuck! Lots of magnified pix of gooey, prickly, squidgy, scaly, hairy insects and moist grubs in glistening full colour. Headlice foraging in human hair, weevils dwarfed by the grains they feed on, and a praying mantis feasting on a tasty snack of cricket's leg - it's all here, with serious, informative text to accompany the Megabugs exhibition.


2 Our Universe: A Guide to What's Out There by Russell Stannard, Kingfisher £9.99. The Open Univer-sity's physics professor takes us on a whistle-stop tour of the universe: fabulous facts and amazing posers stud the text, and every chapter ends with quiz questions (answers provided at the back) to stimulate further enquiry. What relevance does the Goldilocks story have to the Big Bang? Stannard fizzes with fun and information.

2 Scrolls to Computers, illus Robert Ingpen, Dragon's World £8.95. This history of art and communications from cave paintings and the Venus of Willendorf to the CD casts the net wide. The technologies behind early pottery, glass-blowing and metalworking are soberly explained, then it's on to different alphabets and numerical systems, the art of paper-making, studying the stars and long-distance communication. Attractive, rather old-fashioned colour drawings make even the most high-tech subject seem approachable. Also in the series: Science and Power

2 The X-Ray Picture Book of Everyday Things & How They Work, Watts £8.99. Budding engineers and "But how?" pests would enjoy this clear and simple take-it-to-bits guide. Beginning with such simple items as nutcrackers, zips and tweezers, and introducing basic scientific concepts, it builds up to bar-code readers, cars and SLR cameras, all adorned, for some unfathomable reason, by chubby little putti grunting and grimacing as they press buttons, pull levers and tug handles. Just as long as it doesn't tempt your little cherub to start dismantling things. Also in the series: Incredible Creatures

2 Mighty Machines: Tractor, Dorling Kindersley £4.99. More muck spreaders, combine harvesters, mowers, balers and fork-lifts than you can shake a stick at, in this no-nonsense book for anyone fascinated by farm-life and chunky vehicles. Every page has a panel of Amazing Facts, and huge photographs of farm vehicles stud the text: jolly colourful vehicles they are, too. Also in the series: Truck.


2 How Would You Survive as a Ancient Greek? by Fiona Macdonald, Watts £8.99. The "time spiral", illustrating key events of the past 2,500 years, whooshes the reader back to the age of the ancient Greeks, where a panorama of a Greek city lures you into the text: What are these people making? Who keeps fit in this gymnasium? What deals are done in this shady arcade? All facets of life from religion to war to entertainment, clothes and eating are illuminated by clear, simple illustrations and text. On every packed page there's something new to discover: whether it's a recipe for ancient Greek bread or an explanation of how a coin-operated water dispenser worked. A great reminder of how colourful Greek life was. Also in the series: How Would You Survive in the Middle Ages?

2 Fact or Fiction: Pirates by Stewart Ross, Aladdin/ Watts £8.99. This look at the myths surrounding piracy proves that truth is stranger than fiction. Its pages yellowed to look like parchment, this is a thrilling pictorial guide to nefarious doings on the seven seas in history and in fiction, with special appearances by Captain Hook, Errol Flynn and Byron (who wrote a fanciful poem, The Corsair). Even Captain Pugwash makes a brief appearance. Details of how a flintlock fires, how a sextant works and where sailors went to the loo complete this fascinating survey of brigands through the centuries. We could all learn something from the eminently practical Pirate Code. Also in the series: Cowboys.

2 What Happened Next? Great Explorers by Richard Tames, Watts £8.99. Turn the pages and find out what happened next in this racy account of the travels and tribulations of Cortez, Columbus, Magellan, Cook and Amundsen. Tabloid-style headings give a sense of immediacy to their stories, and items are dotted round the page like cuttings. Heavy type and rigid lay- out give a slightly old-fashioned feel.


2 Creative Crafts: Fun With Nature, Hamlyn £7.99. The Blue Peter sticky- backed plastic ethos lives on: how to make party lanterns out of watermelons, squidgy toys stitched from scraps and stuffed with beans, wrapping paper with fruit-print patterns, collages, seed necklaces, container gardens, and that old favourite, the orange stuck with cloves, which in my experience only ever went mouldy in the airing cupboard. Heather Amery makes it all look suspiciously simple. Also in the series: Making Puppets.

2 Amazing Magic Tricks by Dave Brown and Paul Reeve, Dorling Kindersley £7.99. Make coins disappear with a magic tube! Construct a bag with a secret pocket to baffle your friends! Perform incredible feats with bits of rope! Smart secrets of the magician's art are revealed in this guide to making your own tricks and props. There's even a trick that goes "wrong", where you try to push a coin through a table and end up pushing the glass that covers it through instead. Brown and Reeve know that a few stars and spangles will impress the audience no end, too. It's all magical, mendacious fun.