Did you ever read the Choose Your Own Adventure books? Good fun weren’t they? There was this feeling of ‘owning’ the story that was being written and a compulsive delight in thumbing the pages to find out whether your adventure was going to be successful…or a dud. But have you ever read a ‘Choose Your Own Facts’ book though? No – me neither. That was until Factopia fell into my hands.
Published by Britannica books, Factopia is a kind of mini-satellite to the magnificent All New Britannica Children’s Encyclopedia. Starting on page one with a single fact about ice-cream (nice nod to Shiga’s groundbreaking ‘Meanwhile’ here!) we are led through a ‘trail of 400 facts’, flicking backwards and forwards through the book (‘more on gold on page 136, but if you want to keep reading about pirates, turn the page!’).
In his fascinating and passionate discussion with Nikki Gamble of the Encyclopedia , Christopher Lloyd says in reference to its generative structure:
This is the beauty of seeing the whole, this is the beauty of seeing everything in a way where you connect things so you don’t leave them in little silos.
In such a way, Factopia explores on a more pocket-sized scale than the Encyclopedia the idea that facts spawn facts, hydra-like: one area of knowledge connects with another one (or two!), or maybe opens a door into a whole other universe of information, or perhaps leads us down a path of tangential interest…The possibilities of knowledge, Factopia seems to say, are endlessly fascinating.
The range of information contained within the covers is vast, veering swiftly from new born babies, to human bones, to dung beetles to spider thread, though the book always grips with an excited and breathless approach to content.
But, of course, this modest book in its quirky way can only scratch the surface of what’s out there. Some may find the book unsatisfying or even piecemeal in its arrangement and selection of content, and perhaps the Encyclopedia would be more to their taste. That’s fine of course, but for me, Factopia is doing something inspirational for the child-reader. Whether it’s from a quick dip, casual browse or even full cover to cover read-through, they will be left more amazed, flabbergasted, more knowledgeable…and perhaps with a new-found consciousness that is sparking more questions than they started with. And that is what the best information books should do.
Factopia presents a child’s view of knowledge – and I mean that as the highest of praise: a joyous, seemingly random, almost overwhelming celebration of the world around us.
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