50 Things You Should Know About....

The 50 Things You Should Know About... non-fiction series from QED covers a wide range of topics from Prehistoric Britain and Wild Weather to the World Wars and Space and is aimed at children aged nine to 13 years.

We asked our teacher and librarian reviewers to tell us what they thought of the books and how useful they might be in the library and classroom, as well as for home use.

The books are attractive with plenty of illustrations and bite-sized chunks of information designed to attract young readers and they scored highly on 'browse-ability', said our reviewers.

"The first thing to say about these books is they are beautiful to look at," said librarian Alison Urquhart. "They have appealing covers that make you want to dive in. The pages are colourful but not garish and split the information into manageable, bitesize chunks." Another bonus is the covers which are stronger than the normal flimsy paper back covers, she added, reducing the need for backing in the library without going fully to a hard back edition.

Primary teacher Sue Wilsher decided to share a selection of the books with a group of Y6 children from her class. Their initial impressions were very favourable, she reported. "Both the boys and girls loved the appearance and layout of the books. One called them 'tempting', saying they should be called '50 Things You didn't know that you didn't know about'as the books are so full of interesting facts!"

The children found the books easy to navigate but, during this session, Wilsher found they were more interested in browsing and finding intriguing snippets of information. "Soon I was bombarded with calls asking whether I knew that Henry VIII was called 'Old Coppernose'? Do I know what 'fragmentation' is? Do I know about 'Cheddar man'? and so on!"

The children also enjoyed the illustrations, which they felt helped them to understand the text, and they particularly liked the facts that edge most pages. "They felt this was a flip-book of facts at their finger-tips!" Wilsher added.

The information in the books - which each run to about 80 pages - is set out thematically, allowing easy browsing of topics which is especially great for reluctant readers who enjoy "Top 10 facts" type books, noted Urquhart. The books also include a comprehensive index which means they can be used in the classroom as well as a homework resource.

Secondary school librarian Melanie Chadwick said, "The books remind me of the Guinness book of records in their mix of photos, graphics, and text bites." Where the books were diagram-heavy, like 50 Things You Need to Know About the Human Body, the text was probably more useful to KS3/4, she said. "The diagrams make it look more text-booky; more photographs would make it a lot more appealing especially for younger years."

She felt the books offered a number of well thought out features for readers. "I like the way text is split into sections, with coloured text boxes and arrows and with varying sized fonts - it's immediately obvious that the more detailed or technical info is in the smaller font. This will help students reading or scanning the book for information they need or information at their level, making it child-friendly; small chunks are definitely more appealing than long."

Chadwick particularly liked the index strips along the bottom of some of the pages which provide links to other pages that readers might want to go to from this one. "This is a well thought out feature which definitely appealed to kids, as this is how they use the internet."

Indeed Urquhart felts that the series fills an interesting gap between browsing the internet and reading more hefty tomes. "In an age where children are used to browsing the internet for a surface level of information and creaming off facts, these books fill the void between the web and those dusty, wordy printed text books. Children would be able to browse in a similar 'dip in and out' way that they are used to doing on the internet and gathering the facts they require. To that end, the clarity of presentation of the books helps to fulfill that purpose."

Teacher Sue Wilsher's selection of books included 50 Things about Space, The Tudors, Music and the Environment, which she felt were well suited to older primary children both in content and reading challenge. "They would make an excellent addition to both class and school library to engage and inspire children to find out more."

The books would also appeal to secondary readers up to year 8 said Chadwick. "As well as primary children, I think they would appeal to older reluctant readers because of the layout and graphics, pictures and photos, and because they are succinct; they're not aimed at poor readers, though. KS4 reluctant readers would likely pick these for their homework over a more traditional book on the topic, and would be able to get the information they needed."

The books can be used on a variety of levels, says Urquhart. "There are single facts for fun browsing; there are medium sized chunks of information for those wanting an overview of a topic; but there is also sufficient information on some topics to allow the reader to delve deeper. Obviously if you are looking for an in depth text on one of these topics then a '50 facts' type title is not going to provide that, but the information is presented in a way that is easily accessible."

They would also be useful in a library research lesson introducing a topic, Chadwick said, adding, "Top marks for including a decent index, as this is where some of these type of books fail - they are no good for school work without an index."

Among her favourites was the 50 Things You Should Know about Wild Weather. "It was less dry than the others(!), by which I mean it's got more wacky facts - for example, references to red rain and animal rain. Like the other books it is very colourful and clear and has a lovely cover."

At primary level, the 50 Things You Should Know about Music "fills a real gap on the library shelves", said Wilsher, as it covers a whole range of musical styles from different historical periods and cultures, as well as looking at the instruments and notation. "As well as being interesting, it is useful as quick reference for a teacher."

There are other books that our teachers and librarians would like to see, for example covering the Victorians, subjects around 'Looking after yourself', and perhaps Social Media. Publisher QED told us that more '50 Things' titles are in development, so look out for further books next year on Vikings and The American Civil War.

The full series currently includes the following titles:

50 Things you should know about the Second World War
Author: Simon Adams
ISBN: 9781784930356

50 Things you should know about the First World War
Author: Jim Eldridge
ISBN: 9781781715895

50 Things you should know about the Human Body
Author: Angela Royston
ISBN: 9781784931346

50 Things you should know about Prehistoric Britain
Author: Clare Hibbert
ISBN: 9781784933050

50 Things you should know about Wild Weather
Author: Anna Claybourne
ISBN: 9781784933043

50 Things you should know about Space
Author: Raman Prinja
ISBN: 9781784934729

50 Things you should know about the Tudors
Author: Rupert Matthews
ISBN: 9781784935344

50 Things you should know about Inventions
Author: Clive Gifford
ISBN: 9781784935610

50 Things You Should Know about Music
Author: Rob Baker
ISBN: 9781682970225

50 Things you should know about the Environment
Author: Jen Green
ISBN: 9781784935627

50 Things you should know about The Titanic
Author: Sean Callery
ISBN: 9781784935641

50 Things You Should Know About....
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