2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on August 28, 2009
This book is such a hoot! The photos are hilarious and the text equally clever. Its large size makes it perfect for reading and showing to a group, but I got it just for our own use at home. Though it is described as being for ages 4-8, my son at age 10 is enjoying it. The humor is just right for pre-teens and just enough information is given to penetrate the fog and stay in a child's busy mind. I see from another review that this book is part of a series. After reading this one, I'll be certain to look into the rest of the books.
on October 11, 2012
First, a description of the book.
This book has 22 topics, each of which gets a two-page spread. About a page and a half of that is taken up by a large photo, with a sidebar on the right filled with text. Most of the photos are obviously Photoshopped, such as the sailfish swimming in a column of water down a traffic-filled freeway; a few of the photos are probably-but-less-obviously Photoshopped, like the cowboy whose whip frames an airplane jet. Most of the topics cover something that is known for its speed - the supersonic car, the fastest bike, the cheetah, and so on, but two are known for slowness (sloth and NASA Crawler). A few topics are focused around a comparison - computer speeds vs. brain speeds, coyote vs. roadrunner, horse (sprint) vs. human (endurance). About ten topics cover animals; six or so cover technologies; and a few cover natural phenomenon (like the speed of light).
The book is clearly meant to be both humorous and full of facts. Measurements are given in U.S./"English" units, followed by metric units in parentheses.
What I didn't like:
The humor was somewhat over-the-top and focused on puns, which is not my favorite form of humor. (Example: "And in 2004, a man in Wales beat more than forty horses and riders on a 22-mile (35.4 km) course. Humans? Slow? Neigh!"). A couple of the pictures were quite cheesy. (Example: horses and cowboys flying through the air all akimbo as the Kyoto maglev train speeds through.) However, since this book is meant for kids, and my kids all enjoy that sort of thing, this was a very minor quibble.
What I did like:
Overall, the book did a good job of engaging the reader's interest. (Both mine and my 9yo daughter's). The photos were visually striking, and the text was both humorous and informative.
Ben Hillman clearly went to some effort not to just throw facts at you without also trying to put them in perspective. ("Emperor penguins can swim in short bursts at 13 miles per hour (21km/h) - more than twice as fast as an Olympic swimmer!"). He mostly succeeded. I would say that there were more facts presented than anyone is likely to remember, but the frequent comparisons (both verbal and visual) do help the reader gain a better perspective than before. Many of the photos were well-done, capturing in a beautiful or humorous way something that was directly relevant to the text. (I was especially struck by the possibly-photoshopped picture of the 6-or-7-story tall bamboo growing out of the apartment window-box.)
There was a bit of vocabulary that my (advanced) 9yo did not know ("simultaneously", for example, and I don't think she got the description of computer flops), but overall she picked up on the message just fine (brains are way faster than computers). So I would recommend the book for grades 4 to 10 or so, as being most likely to get the vocab and appreciate the humor. Kids in lower grades may appreciate it and understand it better if it is read aloud to them; the pictures do indeed lend themselves to that.
As a homeschooler, I am thinking of having my daughter graph the various speeds mentioned in the book, in order to help her get a sense of scale and familiarize her with the units used for speed. I used the book as part of a 4th-grade introduction to physics, with this month focusing on speed/forces. The book was interesting enough that I plan to have my younger kids read it as well, when they do this section.