How the Weather Works by Michael Allaby, Dorling Kindersley pounds 14.99. A lavish way to answer all those questions - "Why does it rain?" "Why are some clouds a different shape from others?" There are illustrated projects and experiments (how to recreate a storm surge, explode air or scatter light), and acres of glossy photographs to make up a complete "cloud atlas". The text includes background information (the history of science, discoveries and mini-biographies) as well as simpler explanations that add up to as much metereological knowledge as any non-specialist could need. It's not clear just who the book is intended for: the children in the pictures are quite young; some of the information quite sophisticated. But there is probably something for anyone aged 7 to 90, and certainly a huge amount of educational rainy-day play for those with a Blue-Peterish turn of mind.
Bird Behaviour by Louise Dawson and Mike Langman, Hamlyn pounds 7.99. Short, classic young ornithologists' guide, endorsed by the RSPB. Sections on mating, nesting, social life, senses, migration, etc follow some well summarised general and evolutionary background. Just the book for the young twitcher (8+) who likes a good old-fashioned approach.
Cover-Up: A Curious History of Clothes by Richard Tames, illus Mark Draisey, Macdonald Young Books pounds 10.99. This is a terrific subject, involving as it does just about every facet of social and economic history, and providing a relatively pain-free way of absorbing it all. There is a lot of good stuff in this book, but it treats its information in a way so relentlessly jolly that you soon feel like begging for a little relief from its hearty jokes and headings ("Senators Prefer Blondes", "Knickerbocker Glory!", "Bustle without Hustle", and so on). The author seems to believe that children can't absorb more than 10 lines of text without help from a hectic barrage of exclamation marks, capital letters and varied typefaces. However, there's still plenty here that is entertaining and valuable for 9s and over.
The Most Amazing Pop-up Science Book by Jay Young, Watts pounds 15.99. Every season brings its crop of pop-up books, but this is in a class of its own. Find a dead fly to put under the magnifying glass, look at the world through the camera obscura, and use the periscope (hole cleverly cut into the back cover) to peep over things. Packed with facts, this also has a cunning device on every page, and it's all done with mirrors, plastic lenses and paper technology. In "Good vibrations" a magnified image of a compact disc shows the musical layer inside protective plastic; we learn that Pliny the Elder was the first person to notice that light travels faster than sound; and a flexidisc with tinfoil stylus actually plays "Mary had a little lamb", as recorded by Edison in 1877. Kids will have a hard time prising this from their fascinated parents.
100 Greatest Explorers, Dragon's World pounds 8.95. It starts with a crossword and a quiz, moves on to the 100 page-long mini-histories - with dates, maps, portraits and photographs. The net is cast fairly wide, and includes latter-day ground-breakers like Yuri Gagarin and Neil Armstrong as well as more obscure figures such as John of Pian de Carpini (c1180-1253 - a Franciscan monk who was sent by Pope Innocent IV, although already in his sixties, on a dangerous peace mission to the Mongol court, since you ask). Only one woman - Mary Kingsley - gets a look in: "Mary Kingsley was unusual as an explorer both because she was a woman and because she showed kindness and understanding towards people she met", we are told, and cerainly the tales of derring-do greatly outnumber those with any humanitarian value. Spiffing fun, though, for all would-be adventurers of independent reading age. (Below) Vivian Fuchs and Edmund Hillary eat a meal in their tent on the Trans-Antartctic expedition of 1957-8.