PRODUCT REVIEWS

Usborne Books: 100 Things to Know About...Series

Usborne's fabulous '100 Things to Know About...' series introduces children aged 8-11 years to a wealth of facts about a range of subjects from science and space to food and the human body. We asked teachers and school librarians how they would use the books to entice young readers and learners.

Did you know that Neil Armstrong's boots are still up on the Moon (together with 180,000kg of litter left by visiting humans), or that more than half your bones are in your hands and feet?

Each book in the '100 Things to Know About...' series devotes its pages to exploring particular aspects of the book's subject area in clearly laid out pages with colourful designs and short sections of text, encouraging young readers to browse and discover.

The series includes the STEM titles 100 Things to Know About the Human Body, 100 Things to Know About Food, 100 Things to Know About Science and 100 Things to Know About Space. A further title, 100 Things to Know about Numbers, Computers and Coding, will be published in November.

EASE OF READING

The front cover of each book offers a taster of what's inside with 'headlines' to hook the interest of the young reader, while the 100 facts inside its pages are supported by a number of concise points and illustrations.

"This series would be a welcome addition to any KS2 book corner and I am sure given their attractive presentation they would be popular books for reading at leisure," says teacher Samantha Phillips, who feels the "bright and colourful" books are ideal for children aged seven to 11 years.

The books are easy to navigate and well laid out, says teacher Sue Wilsher. "The clear font and short snippets of information and use of diagrams would make them appealing and user friendly for Y3/4 children, and older readers."

The series gets good marks for ease of reading, particularly with the font and colours used says teacher and consultant Jacqueline Harris. "One of the first things I look at is ease of reading and these are very good - despite using the different coloured pages, all the text is clear and the font is particularly good, even on pages that are quite 'busy'. It is also easy to work out the order of reading on each page."

The 100 Things to Know About Food caught Harris's eye: "I found this book the most interesting overall, partly because it is original and partly because I'm a bit of a foodie! I liked the shark fact - that people eat more sharks than sharks eat people, and that you can't make jelly with kiwis."

NON-FICTION AND RELUCTANT READERS

The series would work especially well with reluctant readers, says Phillips. "For these children this series will inevitably be their 'go to selection', providing snippets of thought-provoking information on all sorts of things, from the world's first nose job to discovering that Neptune was discovered by mathematicians and not by astronomers."

These are books that will appeal instantly to those who love facts and finding out snippets of information, says Wilsher. "I would definitely have them in both the school and class libraries, making sure they were rotated in classes to maintain interest. Having them available to be borrowed and enjoyed encourages reading for pleasure." She might also use them for non-fiction guided reading, "but the discussion would need to be carefully planned".

All too often non-fiction texts are used only in the classroom for topics and research, rather than being used to promote reading for pleasure, says Harris. "I would use these books in exactly the same way as I'd use any book, fiction or non-fiction. If you talk about a book, act as a role model - read a little bit of it out loud, read the blurb or in this case the covers - you can encourage children to read anything for pleasure. These are very nice books and I would genuinely want to recommend them to children."

USING THE BOOKS FOR RESEARCH

What about using the 100 Things to Know About series in class to support an understanding of non-fiction and to use them for researching topics? The books have many of the features you might expect in a primary school non-fiction text with a comprehensive index and glossaries, headings, sub-headings, diagrams with labels and captions. However, the books don't have a contents page and this makes it harder to use the series for research purposes, says Harris. "For example, is there a whole page on Jupiter in the space book or are there mentions throughout the book?"

USING NON-FICTION TEXTS TO INSPIRE WRITING

Rather than using these books as one would a standard non-fiction text for research or longer project work, Phillips would want to use the books to their strength. "These books would be great for providing that initial insight or idea for a piece of work because they lend themselves to discussion either with a small group in a guided question and answer session, or when trying to encourage an individual to be more independent with their research by limiting the information available to just this book," she says. For example; if asking a child to find out and write about volcanoes it would be possible for them to write five or six short sentences using the information from this book. (100 things about science, no.38), she explains.

The 'fact' format of the text also lends itself to supporting work around non-fiction writing, says Harris. "It might be fun to use this format to write your own book using 10 facts about a particular topic, in this way, for example, 10 fruit facts written in a slightly off beat, comic style with diagrams and pictures." This would be a challenging activity that would work well for upper KS2. Wilsher also suggests that the presentation of the spreads could be used to inspire children in laying out information for posters or leaflets, which they could use to present their findings about a subject.

In summary, says Phillips, this series of books would be "an ideal gift for an aspiring scientist, astronaut or doctor, providing information in a clear concise way, ideal for young minds".

Fact highlights from the 100 Things to Know About... series (Usborne)

Did you know that...

Spider silk is twice as strong as steel wire
- The secret to its strength is its elasticity - it can stretch a lot without breaking

Whales have finger bones...even though they don't have fingers
- Whales and humans are both mammals and they share a common ancestor. That ancestor passed on a similar bone structure to all its descendants.

Dodging asteroids in space isn't actually very difficult or dangerous
- Despite what you see in games and movies, in real life, large asteroids are so far apart, it's harder to hit one than miss one.

Nobody has gone beyond the Moon - yet.
- Since the first spaceflight in 1961, only 548 people have ever been to space. 24 have flown around the Moon, 12 have walked on the Moon, but none have gone beyond the Moon.

Usborne Books: 100 Things to Know About...Series
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