Reviews /

In the Sky

Authored by Harriet Evans
Illustrated by Goncalo Viana
Published by Little Tiger

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In the Sky: Design Inspired by Nature

I enjoy books that invite me to take a look at the world differently, and In The Sky does just that.

The concept for the book is an examination of the way nature has inspired innovation, engineering and architecture. Studying how animals solve problems that enable them to be successful in the wild presents lots of ideas which humans over the centuries have tried to emulate. These ideas have spawned inventions from the earliest flying machines, which used the concept of flapping wings, to the futuristic Lockheed Stratoliner based on the shape of the bar-tailed godwit (the bird that holds the record for the longest nonstop flight).

I was fascinated to read how a penguin, owl and kingfisher have all influenced the design of the Japanese bullet train, which can reach speeds of over 200 miles an hour. And that German scientists have developed a technology inspired by a spider’s web to create glass that can be seen by birds (thus preventing them from flying into windows) but remains invisible to the human eye. These are just a few of the hundreds of snippets of information packed into the book.

The information is organised around key themes such as the hexagonal shape of the honeycomb, which a double page-spread allocated to each topic.

It is a technical book, and it’s good that technical vocabulary is used and included in the glossary. The addition of a pronunciation guide for less familiar technical words would have been useful. Although terms such as chlorophyll, mycelium network and proboscis may be familiar to adults, they often look strange to younger readers. Pronunciation guides can support them at the point of reading, so they don’t have to resort to locating another source (most won’t bother to do this).

For the most part, the layout is clear. It is evident which blocks of text fit with which images.  The text is clear and readable, presented in a font which is easy on the eye, especially important for younger readers when they are meeting the challenge of reading nonfiction texts, which are usually more demanding for them than fiction. There is plenty of space between each block of information which is placed around colourful pictures.

I did find the design overly fussy with bright colours competing for attention so that it wasn’t always a comfortable reading experience. In fact, I put the book down a few times to return to later. The number of colours on the page combined with random swirls and squiggles was off-putting and didn’t help unify the themes on each page. And the shiny paper stock felt more like a glossy magazine.

Some of the diagrams were a little strange—for example, the diagram within the bubble showing photosynthesis below. You do need to understand photosynthesis to understand what this diagram is showing. To check that I was just in the criticism, I asked a couple of eleven-year-olds and another adult to tell me what it showed. None of them could explain it without prompting. To be fair, there is a clearer diagram on the proceeding page, so perhaps it is redundant here.

In spite of the reservations about presentation, the content is appealing and informative. It would be a good addition to the school library to generate interest in STEM topics, which are often presented more drily.