Odd Science – Incredible Creatures

Authored by James Olstein
Illustrated by James Olstein
Published by Pavilion

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Odd Science – Incredible Creatures. ‘Quirky, strange and cool’, says the quote inside the front cover of this non-fiction title from James Olstein, and I think I agree. I’ve spent a long time looking through this book, sharing it with other children and adults and discussing it, trying to decide, “do I like it, or not? And if not, why?”

We are currently in, what some have termed, ”The Golden Age of Children’s Non-Fiction Publishing” with a plethora of subject matter, design, size, illustration and content competing for our attention. Indeed, Pavilion is a publishing house known for its high quality, contemporary design, and this title doesn’t disappoint.

Indeed, the first thing I noticed about the book was the design – attractive, unusual layouts with muted colour schemes and stylized animals – it’s different, and it stands out. I did, however, question whether the illustrations provided the reader with enough detail for them to recognize each animal. I showed it to my class of 6 and seven-year-old children: the more well-known animals (giraffes, elephants, butterflies) were easily picked out. However, they struggled to identify prairie dogs and red pandas, even when given photographs with which to compare.

The text accompanying each image is brief, two or three sentences at most, but the book is filled with, as the inside cover explains,’ all sorts of strange secrets you don’t know’,  and, even as an avid David Attenborough fan, that proved to be true! Who knew that a baby alligator’s gender is determined by the temperature of the nest?

This book would be the perfect present for a keen naturalist. Existing general knowledge of the natural world would undoubtedly be necessary. And, armed with that, Olstein’s’s book provides material for young nature lovers to wow their friends with many weird and wonderful facts.

The book is arranged into sections: for the main part by animal type, e.g. bears, otters, whales. However, towards the end of the book, this changes and there are a few pages titled: perception, tongues or defences, and these are very interesting. For children who love facts, here they will find out the speed of the fastest land animal, who has the longest tongue in the animal kingdom and even… (and the answer will surprise you) which animal is the strongest on earth. (I won’t tell you…. And stop googling it, that’s cheating!)

Odd Science – Incredible Creatures may be slightly over-designed, but it more than makes up for that in content – I agree: “quirky, strange and cool”!